Westside Gunn deserves his flowers. Nobody has blurred the lines of music, art, sports, and fashion as he has. Unless you’ve been under a rock the past five or six years you know who Westside Gunn is. Alvin Lamar Worthy, known professionally as Westside Gunn, is a brash, gun-shot impersonating, wrestle-loving, limousine riding, Rolex wearing, kiss stealing, rap mafioso hailing from the mean streets of Buffalo, New York. I’m a huge fan of all things involving wrestling. Some of my favorite songs from West are named after my favorite wrestlers, “Macho on Coke” “Brossface Brippler” “Dudley Boyz” and “Hall and Nash.”
Once you hear “boom boom boom” followed by machine-gun adlibs you know what time it is. The adlibs are iconic. You know exactly where he’s at and if you don’t know West’s style you are about to find out. This is Griselda, the house that West built. The label which started in 2014 consists of Conway The Machine, Westside’s brother, and Benny The Butcher (WestSide and Conway’s cousin). My initial reaction to Westside Gunn’s songs was, “I can’t believe he rapped over this. This will never work.” It didn’t take long for me to start thinking, “Oh my God, I love this.” It’s like West’s throws a gallon of paint at a wall and the result is somehow an artistic masterpiece.
The world of rap music is run by corporate America; rich guys in suits and ties, big budgets, and grandiose visuals. I am not a fan of the commercialism of mainstream rap. I haven’t listened to the radio in 18 years. Most of that s*** on the radio is trash. I am not trying to be all “back in my day” here. But it should not be a revelation to even a casual observer to say rap has gone corporate. Hip-hop was supposed to be by the people and for the people. But as hordes of mostly young and Black people turned to rap as an expression of freedom, corporate bigwigs saw a product they could sell.
Everything became microwaveable. This has only been amplified in our brave new world of streaming—which, by the way, is one of the worst things about music. I loved thumbing through a cd booklet. It was important to know producer names, featured artists, and everyone involved. I will get into that in another piece, but at least Griselda gives you vinyl.
Westside Gunn does a good job simplifying things, bringing back quality over quantity, and returning to the feeling of raw hip-hop. He is stripping the pretty back to its bare bones. He combines lo-fi instrumentals with lucid imagery. His range includes melodic beats, eerie horror sounds, and gospel loops. Nothing that West does is by chance. Take the “Flygod” for example, a series of albums that include “There’s God and There’s Flygod, Praise Both”, “Flygod Is An Awesome God“, and “Flygod Is An Awesome God 2.”
This work is a visual living body of music much like DONDA (minus the multiple live album previews in a stadium). Westside traditionally poses for these album covers in designer ski masks. Each pose is art. There are multiple covers he is draped in Chanel, Fendi, Balenciaga ski masks. This current album’s mask of choice is a simple stocking with numerous holes. His designer mask-wearing flips the stigma of copping items—he’s rich, but also robbing the rich in a designer outfit. West is Robinhood.
In the “Hitler Wears Hermes 6” cover, West poses in a Luchador mask. Luchadores are masked Mexican professional wrestlers. The root word “Lucha Libre” translates to freestyle wrestling. Luchadores are agile wrestlers who often perform high-flying moves. Most Lucha Libre go through great lengths to never be seen without their mask. Westside is ultra-committed to the aesthetic; the limit is the sky on what he will spend on covers for projects. The GXFR website is the home to all things Griselda. Album covers are regularly converted into merch. When new merchandise is uploaded to the site it is sold out in minutes. I have never been able to buy anything.
Westside Gunn has created a phenomenal body of work, featuring artists on songs that probably would never work together. You might call this his weakness. The Flygod is not a rapper. By his admission he will tell you he understands he isn’t the strongest lyricist; he is an artist. His imagery here is crazy.
I had to Vert the Vanquish
Basquiat’s in the bandos, we tasteless
S.E. Gang, hammer on the waist
S***, leavin’ the club wasted, waivin’ it in n***** faces
Louis reekin’ out my f*****’ Porsche
Sweepin’ coke off of marble floors
Madusa head on the buckle, shit
I came with the semi-LV’s on the luggages
Blood bottoms with the spikes on it
Canary choke, par, pink ice on it
Fresh new MAC on the dresser chillin’
Watchin’ Run’s House, daydreamin’ ’bout Vanessa Simmons
—Westside Gunn, Hall & Nash
Gunn is the curator, the director of the orchestra. No, f*** that he’s a visionary. He is a student of manifestation, speaking things into the universe and letting them come to fruition. According to West, he’s always been creative even at a young age. He says that “he started his first clothing line in the seventh grade.”
“When people say I don’t have bars or I’m not nice. I just laugh. I’m reading it from a Rolls Royce. You’re probably writing it on your momma’s couch” —Flygod
Upon first listening to Westside, it’ll catch you off-guard. He raps with a high-pitched cadence. He might be just as, or more abstract, than Ghost Face Killah. (Salute to the god.) He is the Salvador Dalì of vocal recordings. He embraces the grimy. I like to call it “the beautiful decay”—a kind of raw vocalism that somehow breathes new life into words. This can be an acquired taste. It is like ordering a well-done steak for years and one day finally coming to your senses and getting it prepared medium-rare. The s*** looks all bloody, but it’s got all kinds of tastes you didn’t know a stake could have. That’s Westside’s music. You think you know but you don’t know s***.
The current album, Hitler Wears Hermes 8, starts with 35 seconds of nothing but abstract synths. This is Peak Flygod. AA Rashid enters with words of wisdom and denigration against style bitters. One of the best things to happen to my life is Westside Gunn musically linking with Stove God Cooks, who released one of my favorite albums of 2020, Reasonable Drought. Stove is featured on four songs delivering a virtuoso performance; he basically owns the tape. He raps with the fervor of a man who knows he belongs among the greats and now you know it too. Bro spits so good. If you close your eyes and listen you can hear a gas range oven crying in the background. This is fiery New Testament rap.
Runnin’ from the RICO, I still had perico on my shirt
Eleven hundred for an ounce, twenty thousand for a verse
Chopper made his shoulder jerk
Smell of money in the air on the fifteenth and the first
That bein’ broke s*** was a curse, I done killed your favorite rapper
Got a body in the trunk, we bangin’ Esco in the hearse
—Stove Jesus, Draymond
The album has the usual suspects, Conway and Benny make appearances. Jadakiss fresh from being the Michael Jordan of “Verzuz” pulls up. Rome Streetz makes his Griselda debut and does not disappoint. Mach-Hommy also delivers his usual high-quality raps. Mach’s “Pray for Haiti” and “Mach’s Hard Lemonade” are amazing works. Weezy F does Weezy-type things. By far my favorite feature on this project is from Sauce Walka. Boy was rapping like his head was on fire. The whole project is…. F***, you thought? It’s Griselda.
Drake and Ye both released albums this year (Certified Lover Boy and DONDA) around the same time as Gunn’s Hitler Wears Hermes 8. Please listen to all of those projects, but for me, Hitler Wears shines the brightest. In this final installment of Hitler Wears series, Westside puts a nice ribbon on it. The album title is a play on words from The Devil Wears Prada. West portrays himself as Miranda Priestly in the series. So, it’s only right that he’s teaching lessons, kicking a**, and giving fashion advice. He is constantly berating the opposition’s attire. He is continually reminding them he could get them the blueprint and they still would be as fly or rich as he. I love a good villain.
The album is nothing short of a class on culture. For heaven’s sake, there’s even a tutorial on how to pronounce “Richard Mille,” the popular Swiss watch everyone has but no one can pronounce. Westside cares about your unculturedness. Thank you, Flygod.