Conway The Machine opens up about his retirement plans, building his DrumWork label, creative chemistry with J.I.D, and whether he's ever used autotune in the booth.
The year is nearing its midway mark, and Conway The Machine has yet to let up. Having already released If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed with Big Ghost LTD and La Maquina shortly thereafter, an emcee of lesser ambition might have opted to take a breather. Yet Conway is still sitting on another album, arguably his biggest yet -- God Don't Make Mistakes, his debut solo release on Shady Records.
"It should be coming out this summer, God willing," explains The Machine, when asked about the project during our Zoom conversation. "I'm excited for the release, I know the fans been waiting. I want my fans to hear it and love it as much as they wanna listen to it and enjoy it and appreciate it and value it. So it's coming. Some things that need to be ironed out and tinkered with, but it's coming."
As for his endgame, which once was thought to be retirement, it would appear that Conway has altered the plan. "I haven't completed my mission yet, which is to be regarded as hands down one of the best that ever did it in everybody's mind," he reflects, laying his lofty goal on the table. "I feel like I still got work to do. I feel like I'm just getting started. I'm really just at the beginning and just getting started. I'm taking in everything, one song, one verse, one album at a time."
For more from Conway The Machine -- including his philosophy on running his DrumWork label, linking up with J.I.D, and what happened when he used autotune in the booth -- be sure to check out our exclusive interview with the Griselda lyricist, edited for length and clarity.
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HNHH: Conway, what’s up?
Conway: What’s up Boss?
Good to see you, how you doing.
Yeah, I mean, I really appreciate you taking the time. I see you're super busy these days.
Yeah man, it’s all good man. Appreciate you having me on.
Of course, of course. Saw you guys recently announced the tour dates
Mhmm, I’m excited.
When was the last time you hit the road? It must have been in a while now.
March, February of 2020, so it's definitely dope. It's exciting to be back on the road and doing my thing again. Being in tune with the fans and stuff, I'm excited, I can't wait. The Love Will Get You Killed tour is going to be full of electricity and I'm gonna do what I do best.
Definitely. Since you released so many new projects since your last tour, have there been any songs that you've been really excited to perform in a live setting?
"Calvin" off of Lulu, a bunch of stuff off of From King To A God. I mean everything. It’s just been so long like I’ve done so many collabs and so many projects, since we had to shut down due to the pandemic. I'm just excited to actually perform those again. You know I get a jolt of energy when I get on stage and get to doing some of the songs I do. I can't wait to see the reaction and the feedback from these songs when I perform them on the tour.
It's crazy too, because around the time that shit shut down, you guys had dropped off What Would Chinegun Do. I feel like that project didn't even get a chance to breathe on the stage, you know?
For sure man. It definitely would have been exciting, but you know, we here, and the next tour gonna be even better. I'm just excited to be back. I know the fans are excited to actually be at ease a little, to be able to go out and go to a concert or go to a movie or something like that. I'm happy to be back to some form of normality.
Yeah, I agree. I miss it so much, checking out shows. Something I wanted to ask you, actually, and this is going way back -- I noticed you have songs referencing some of Rob Zombie's movies, like House Of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects. I was just wondering, what was the significance of those films to you?
Them shits was just ill. I just thought it was dope. That was pretty much it. I just thought they were dope movies and storylines. I just needed something to base my alias, my alter ego. You know how some go to the comic books, like how Ghostface is Tony Stark. My alter ego was Captain Spaulding, for some reason I just resonated with that character.
"I just thought [Rob Zombie movies] were dope movies and storylines. I just needed something to base my alias, my alter ego. You know how some go to the comic books, like how Ghostface is Tony Stark. My alter ego was Captain Spaulding, for some reason I just resonated with that character."
I think it's the rawness of the film too. The way the camera is kind of handheld and shaky at times. I think that you and Daringer would be the perfect team to score a horror movie soundtrack, in my opinion.
[Laughs] That'd be fire.
Definitely. I recently watched your appearance on Brackets with B Dot, where you had to narrow down the best rappers from a group that went solo. I thought that was a great watch. I really appreciated seeing the scope of your hip-hop knowledge. You’re a student of the game clearly and I liked your choice of Dre as the winner in that one.
According to the criteria that they wanted me to judge on, I feel you'd be hard-pressed to try to find someone who had a better career than Dr. Dre after leaving NWA. The career that he had is probably unparalleled. A lot of them guys that was in that bracket as well, like Busta Rhymes is unparalleled after leaving Leaders Of The New School. Ghostface, he didn't leave Wu-Tang Clan, but just as having a solo career...It was a tough one man, it was dope. I thank B Dot and Complex for having me on there, they made it tough for me. But I just felt if we're just going by it career-wise, you're not gonna find anybody that had a better career than Dr. Dre, in my opinion.
Yeah, well said. I'm curious, are you more fond of The Chronic era Dre or the 2001 era Dre? What sound spoke to you a bit more?
Both. Both styles actually spoke to me sonically. But it’s nothing fucking with that Chronic, Doggystyle era Dre, there's nothing fucking with that.
I'm partial to 2001 myself but I kinda "came of age" during that time so there's a lot of nostalgia there.
I'm a 90s kid. I'm a 90s baby so, for me that with that album, “Nuthin but a G Thang”, "Dre Day," all that shit, man. Doggystyle album all the way through. He literally single-handedly saved this shit for real, for real.
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Circling back to your own moves -- the DrumWork label is really getting a lot of shine. Especially after a couple of scene-stealing verses from Jay Skeese and 7xthegenius on La Maquina. “Sister Abigail” was a big highlight track -- I think I think a lot of people really appreciated that one. How did that one come together, and what was it like working with Jae Skeese and 7xve on an old-school lyrical posse cut like that?
It was just something that we wanted to do. We were actually in the studio initially working on a Drumwork compilation album, doing songs and collaborating. So I had just got that beat from the homie JR Swiftz, and we did that joint. It had been in the tuck for maybe a month. We kind of had that record tucked away. Also “Grace”, we had the “Grace” record kind of tucked away, that was gonna be on the compilation as well. But that shit was so raw I was like I gotta fuck with this “Grace” joint for me. Actually, “Grace” is what inspired me to do another album. Like you know what, this will be a better way to introduce DrumWork -- another album from me, with them all over. We put that out there, and then we follow that up with their projects, and then the compilation. So that's kind of how we did this as the “Sister Abigail” shit.
"Me and Jae Skeese and Love, we're not from the same walks of life. We don't have the same content. I talk about the things that I've been through in the streets and that aspect of it. Jae Skeese and Love talk about totally different things. So it just kind of meshes well. It was dope to see how well it meshed together. They inspire me more than they probably know. They made me step my pen up and have my shit together when I’m in the booth with them.
But to answer your question about what it’s like being in the studio with them -- it's actually new energy, a new inspiration because we don't really talk about the same things. Me and Jae Skeese and Love, we're not from the same walks of life. We don't have the same content. I talk about the things that I've been through in the streets and that aspect of it. Jae Skeese and Love talk about totally different things. So it just kind of meshes well. It was dope to see how well it meshed together. They inspire me more than they probably know. They made me step my pen up and have my shit together when I’m in the booth with them. I'm excited for what they about to drop, what they want to release, and what they got going on in the next couple of months coming up.
I'm looking forward to that too. They're kind of like proteges in a way, cause it's your label. But to have proteges who keep you on your toes in the booth that must be pretty fun -- a little healthy competition.
Hell yeah, absolutely.
I know you're used to that by now, with West and Benny in your circle.
Yeah, them two especially. With Benny and even West you got to put your best foot forward, man. You got to come with it when you're in the studio with them. It's just refreshing to see that I get that same feeling, that same vibe, from Love and Skeese.
What were some of the lessons that you learned coming up with Griselda that you want to apply to your own label moving forward? Are there any big takeaways from that rise?
Pretty much to just stay hungry. Work smarter not harder. Don't be afraid to bet on yourself, roll the dice, and bet on yourself. That's what I take with me into this DrumWork shit and to pretty much any business endeavor that I indulge in. I'm not afraid to bet on myself. There's more than one way to do things, more than one way to skin a cat. Just work smarter not harder.
Looking at a label like TDE for example, a lot of fans kind of get at them about like where are the projects? I'm wondering when you're on the other side of it, how do you decide who gets to drop when? Is it a hard process to make those decisions at times?
Honestly, it’s never a process at all. We’re our own entity, the three of us, we really do what we want to do. I have no idea when the bros are planning to drop. I see it on Instagram just like everybody else. I’m just like “Oh Benny bout to drop on Friday, we gonna hold ours til the next month.” Shit like that. I’m sure they probably move the same way. I see it on Instagram and Twitter like everybody else. I guess I’m not as in the loop as I should be. [Laughs]
A the end of the day, the music is what matters. Speaking of Instagram, I was really excited actually when I first saw that, you, J.I.D, and Ludacris were getting on a track together. Personally speaking, you and J.I.D are two of my favorite emcees.
Wow, dope, thank you.
The fact that you guys have this creative chemistry, with a little bit of that healthy competition...it kinda reminds me of two fighters with very different styles -- who are both super dope at fighting-- and when they get together and it's this crazy combination. What was it like connected with J.I.D, and were you familiar with his work beforehand?
Yeah, I’ve been a fan for the last couple of years. I've been a fan of Ludacris since the beginning. I met J.I.D in 2017, 2018 at a festival in Minneapolis, Soundset with Atmosphere, Slug. I met J.I.D there and, you know, we kind of crossed paths and he's like, “Yo, I'm a fan of your shit” and I’m like “Yo, I'm a fan of your shit!" It's just love ever since, and we stayed in touch after that. We worked together before on a joint or two, but this one right here, we were excited. Even though we weren't in a studio together when we made it, just the energy -- like you said it was dope vibes, good chemistry. I just like fucking with little bro, that's my man.
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I actually saw the clip on your Instagram with Ludacris and J.I.D on the video set, and Ludacris was speaking pretty highly about “Bruiser Body,” the intro to La Maquina. It made me think of how the intro is one of the most important tracks you could have on an album in my opinion because it sets the tone of what's to come.
One hundred percent.
When you were putting the project together, do you think it’s a fair statement to say that “Bruiser Body” captures the spirit of La Maquina more than any track?
Oh man, I hadn’t thought about that like that. We just sat down like we always do, and we listen to everything, we figure out what joint goes where. We just felt like the energy, the way it comes on when I'm talking that shit those first four bars. It just felt like it needed to go first. Now that you say that, I feel like it does, I can agree with that. It does capture the whole aesthetic of what I’m trying to bring to La Maquina.
God Don't Make Mistakes is up next. A very anticipated album. It's the Shady debut. Prior to signing was Shady, were you familiar with the record label during their prime? Around the time with 50, Obie Trice, D12 back in the day?
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
How's the album shaping up right now?
It’s in their hands now. It’s finished. We're happy with everything on our end, but it should be coming out this summer, God willing. I'm excited for the release, I know the fans been waiting. I want my fans to hear it and love it as much as they wanna listen to it and enjoy it and appreciate it and value it. So it's coming. Some things that need to be ironed out and tinkered with, but it's coming. All systems go. So hopefully this summer we gonna get that.
I imagine there's some, some features under wraps, that you can't fully reveal -- I get that. But any teasers of what's to come?
Probably just the transparency on some of the records, with some of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes. I got Wayne on there, I got Rick Ross, West, Benny, the usuals. Daringer produced a lot of it. It’s a classic Conway album. It’s giving you that feeling that I provide. I'm just super excited for fans to own this piece of art in their possession.
I can't wait to hear the new flows. You've been bringing a lot of new flows to the table with every album. You mentioned “Calvin," crazy flow on that one. You're spitting so many different flows on La Maquina -- what are some of the artists whose flows really inspire you? Not necessarily the bars, but specifically the flow?
Rest in peace, DMX. Prodigy, rest in peace. JAY-Z, Nas, G Rap. There's really not a lot of people that inspire my flow. I like to think of myself as a one-of-one. I'm just different. I'm otherworldly -- n***as never seen nothing like it before. I like to think like that of myself. Nobody's flow really inspired my flow. Maybe there were some flows I appreciated and liked more, but nobody’s flow inspired my flow. I’m me and I pride myself in that.
You're very versatile as well. You never really know how you're going to approach it or what you're going to do -- it's like that unpredictability.
Yeah, dope. That’s what makes a dope MC to me -- when you don’t know what to expect.
For sure. I got to ask. When you're in the studio and you're working on the vocals, have you ever dabbled or at least tried the autotune?
How'd that turn out?
[Laughs] Not that good. I’m not that good at it!
I'd be curious to hear that.
It's not as not as easy as it look, I'll just say that. [Laughs] It’s not for me, its not easy as it looks. It didn’t sound good, man. It sounded like fuckin...I don't even know. It wasn't a good look.
"[Auto-tune] is not as not as easy as it look, I'll just say that. [Laughs] It’s not for me, its not easy as it looks. It didn’t sound good, man. It sounded like fuckin...I don't even know. It wasn't a good look."
I respect the honesty. So, before we go I just want to ask one more thing. I know you've previously hinted at your retirement from rap. Are you still looking at the endgame or has anything changed?
It's kind of changed a little, man. I've pushed it further into the back of my brain. I haven't completed my mission yet, which is to be regarded as hands down one of the best that ever did it in everybody's mind. I feel like I still got work to do. I feel like I'm just getting started. I'm really just at the beginning and just getting started. I'm taking in everything, one song, one verse, one album at a time. I'm in a good space, mentally, physically. I'm surrounded by good people. Who knows? I don’t even want to think about that right now. I just want to keep working, keep grinding and keep making people happy with what I'm bringing to the table musically. Keep impacting people's lives and influencing other artists. There's no reason for me to stop now.
"I haven't completed my mission yet, which is to be regarded as hands down one of the best that ever did it in everybody's mind. I feel like I still got work to do. I feel like I'm just getting started."
I'm really glad to hear it. I love everything you're doing right now, from the music to the charity work as well. You're killing it.
Thank you, man.