A modern-day gangsta rap classic.
During the Griselda On Steroids tour, Raekwon declared that the torch had been passed. A symbolic transition from the slums of Shaolin to the streets of Buffalo. One that marked mutual respect from a legendary emcee to a group of battle-hardened visionaries. For those who value the style of hip-hop that Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine, and Benny The Butcher deal in, Raekwon’s co-sign is a reiteration of a well-established fact. For Westside Gunn, who once spoke of becoming hip-hop’s greatest orchestrator, the scope of his vision is only beginning to manifest. Griselda’s What Would Chinegun Do, their first project distributed by Eminem’s Shady Records, is but another chapter in Gunn’s long-plotted out saga. Decked in a Balenciaga trench coat and a ski-mask, Westside’s reign will be one of high thread count and fast-flung lead.
While it’s time to start recognizing him as one of the game’s great visionaries, the stalwart work of Conway and Benny The Butcher are tantamount in elevating the brand’s excellence. Not only have both parties quietly established themselves as two of the year’s sharpest lyricists, but they’ve managed to prove one integral truth: real, while rare, can thrive in today’s market. Long have people frivolously wished for a return to “real hip-hop,” perhaps uncertain of what such a harbinger would actually look like, and yet wishing all the same! Perhaps the Griselda trifecta, along with the integral Daringer and Beat Butcha, are the closest manifestation thus far. Remaining unwavering in their approach to lyricism, the grassroots movement has risen into the only entity to work in tandem with both Jay-Z and Eminem on management and distribution respectively. And though they’ve been self-actualizing for years now, WWCD feels like not only a step, but a statement.
From the onset of “Chef Dred’s,” Westside Gunn’s feverish imagery pulls listeners headlong into his concrete realm. “Hanging out the Royce with the Russian, everybody duckin’, only five n***as got hit - fuck it,” he snarls, buried beneath endearing gunshot onomatopoeias. Channeling the spirit of The Lox, or the closer-to-home tandem of Ghostface and Rae, Gunn and Benny trade-off bars with effortless chemistry; there’s little in the way of one-upmanship, with verses being crafted for the song’s strategic benefit. Conway’s closing verse packs all the more blunt force after Gunn and Benny’s one-two punch, his bars rattling with confidence and gravitas. “We the upper echelon of the hard rappers,” he spits, without breaking a sweat. “The most sought-after, bar after bar after bar after.”
As with all things under the Griselda banner, cohesion is of the utmost importance. Cinematic production, cousin both to grindhouse cinema and Hitchcockian film noir, sets backdrops befitting of the visceral slices of life as presented. It’s as much a character as the antiheroes themselves, the mis-en-scene. Ominous basslines duel with screeching rock and roll organs on “Cruiser Weight Coke,” bolstering Conway’s drug-catalog bars before Benny slides through with a refined and focused flow switch. Noted fan of wrestling that he is, it’s no wonder Westside allows himself space for a grand introduction; the signature “BOOM BOOM DOOM” ad-lib, multiplied tenfold depending on the occasion, is his entrance music. “Trust nobody but Pootie, fell in love with the Uzi at sixteen,” he snarls. “Full-length mink on, bird with the Snoopy.”
While abstract sensibilities line the bars on occasion, there’s an immediacy that speaks to Griselda’s no-nonsense demeanor. Benny wastes little time in establishing his dominance on “Freddie HotSpot,” likening his squadron’s prowess to that of the Bucks, still globetrotting off this rap shit. His post-Plugs-I-Met output finds him all the more confident in his delivery, experimenting with flows as dynamic as his imagery. “Had to drop, but let you slide 'cause I could tell you was bitch,” he raps, after likening his clip-size to an elf’s stature. “I stayed in the suite for so long, I got mail at the Ritz.” Midway cut and lead single “Dr. Bird’s” rings out like a supervillain’s cruise music, evocative of “Mighty Healthy’s” gritty darkness back when Ghost dropped Supreme Clientele. Here, it’s the Machine who leaves the biggest wound in the carcass, dropping absolutely violating bars over and over. As chimes ring out, Conway lines up a scheme that pulls with magnetic force, his tale unfolding with sharp multisyllabic mastery. “Five-sixty Benz and I ain't need the tints, my weakest scent cost more than your mama need for rent,” he raps. “That's just one zip, the drum rip leave you rinsed, hide the body for a week and it's gon' leave a stench.”
Perhaps one of the album’s coldest moments arrives on yet another torch-bearing moment. Like a meeting of the families in one of the classic mafia flicks, “City On The Map” finds Griselda and G-Unit holding palaver, a symbolic and monumental milestone in gangsta rap history. A duet between Conway and Fif, the spooky tenth cut all but enforces the latter to bring his A-game as The Machine never takes nights off. For the first time in years, 50 sounds in prime form, likening himself to “the darkest cloud in the sky” during an appropriately chilly stanza. Yet for the most part, Griselda's own are more than capable of carrying the weight on their own, a strong core with no shortage of chemistry.
What might be the project’s most refreshing quality is the emphasis on a simple correlation: that of bars and personality. When Wu-Tang Clan hit the scene, part of the fun was unpacking each verse, learning the intricacies and stylistic flourishes of each individual emcee. Though three to the Clan’s lofty ten, Griselda’s members have plenty of character and distinctive nuances. Westside Gunn, the flashiest on the surface, prone to sudden outbursts of brutal violence though never lacking in calculation. Conway the Machine, formidable and imposing, the eloquent enforcer. Benny, the student of the Plug who has since become the master, sensei-patient until provoked. Together, they formed one of the most unstoppable forces this past decade has seen. How long before Westside Gunn pulls up to the Met Gala?