Westside Gunn – 10: Review

Hitler Wears Hermes 10, or simply 10. A decade later, Westside Gunn continues to be as ferocious as ever, weaving intricacies of his characters with auspicious production that shifts on a dime as he explores foundational growth as an artist. Though Westside Gunn isn’t present on all the tracks, his energy, and stylistic virtuosity breathe through them. It’s a semblance of Gunn’s craft, buoying rich writing over distinguished production as he reflects on ten years of the Hitler Wears Hermes series. Adding a platoon of features, Westside Gunn doesn’t deliver the best of the series as some come and go with typical expectancy but stands as a statement about his everlasting legacy through memorable adlibs and flows. Many mixtape series have a lasting impact, like Trap or Die, The S.O.U.L. Tapes, and Dedication, amongst others; Hitler Wears Hermes 10 stands tall amongst the many with its consistency and shifting intrigue from tape to tape.

10 opens with a beautifully delivered spoken word verse that captures the depth of art; despite the content, there are layers to the verses than the surface layer of humdrum some conservative people attack hip-hop for being. As Bro A.A. Rashad speaks in the “Intro,” “​​You, the listener, with all due respect/Some of us are here for the art/Some of us are here to try to be far too discerning/When it comes to cultural iconography/And narrative unfoldment within historical alignment to greatness;” it expresses this need to see more than just the apropos rhetoric on display. For Westside Gunn, he is more than the street-slanging luxury; he imbues an essence of humbled living after years of adversity. 10 has themes surrounding gang life, systematic racism, and more, as we see a solid contrast between tracks. With its features, they come understanding and delivering on the assignment, which boasts that success we’ve seen throughout the years.

Westside Gunn comes through with the heat on “Super Kick Party” and “Mac Don’t Stop” with the fierce integrity we’ve heard when he rides solo on a beat, but 10 rides or dies by the features. Though it isn’t a surprise, especially with the last two in the series, Westside Gunn brings in features and subverts our expectancy due to the stylistic area Gunn revolves. However, this time, that isn’t the case; Gunn brings features that offer nuance bars containing histrionics and boasting themes further. Everyone comes with reflections and physical characteristics that establish an identity, whether it features Busta Rhymes with the members of Wu-Tang Clan, along with Stove God Cooks, or Run the Jewels, again with Cooks. Gunn finds ways to incorporate that subtle celebratory aspect by conducting these tracks that fit the mode thematically while having an essence of grandeur.

Unfortunately, despite being a fan, 10 brings Stove God Cooks fatigue, becoming a slight deterrent with his presence being as frequent as Gunn’s. That isn’t to say he doesn’t deliver, but sometimes the lyrical repetitiveness and redundancies can come across as reductive, like on “BDP” and “Science Class.” The latter would have been nice to see Gunn with the last verse instead. However, there are moments where Cooks is fantastic, reflecting greatness when given a proper footing to spit, like on “Switches on Everything” or the glorious posse cut “Red Death.” Beyond Cooks, other features come and deliver on a high, save for Westside Pootie, which is cute but not that effective. Fortunately, most leave a lasting memory with their verses like the aforementioned rappers, Doe Boy on “FlyGod Jr.,” A$AP Rocky on “Shootout In Soho,” and Blackstar on “Peppas.” They assent with Westside Gunn’s style, especially the latter three, who blend into gritty, boom-bap beats, which are equally memorable.

Produced predominantly by Griselda signee Conductor Williams, 10 contains additional production by The Alchemist, Pete Rock, RZA, and Swizz Beatz, to name a few. Besides The Alchemist, the beats from the others bring that New York grit and swagger we’ve come to hear throughout the years. Westside Gunn smoothly shifts from the boom bap to the gritty street-percussion-heavy beats or sometimes jazzy golden age modernism. It helps round out Gunn’s history in the industry and growing prominence mixtape after mixtape. The production allows him to bring continuous intrigue, despite the dark tonal consistencies that shroud these beats atmospherically, but that’s the style fans get accustomed to–for the new audiences, just going through tape-by-tape, you’ll see growth in production choices and quirks within his lyricism.

Rating: 8 out of 10.

Conway the Machine – God Don’t Make Mistakes: Review

Conway the Machine has organized rhyme schemes and potent lyricism while broadening the transitions from song to song. One of few technical talents that fit him, and his Griselda cohorts, except each, come with different perspectives for style. Conway has brought about greatness on every front, from his ear for production and his masterful writing skills. It’s been the case through his many projects, from album to mixtape, and delivering an innate and hypnotic consistency for fans of lyricism over the more radio-centric sounds. When attempting to bring bangers, he doesn’t stray far from his identity, lyricism; it continues to be a staple of his craft. There’s constant activity on God Don’t Make Mistakes, his major-label debut. There is crisp production from a range of producers, who provide tonal consistency, and there is Conway’s lyricism that never falters.

God Don’t Make Mistakes is like a sucker punch that stops you in your tracks and forces you to sit and listen to Conway the Machine’s verses. More of an introspective composition, we see Conway attacking layers of his person, from confidence to early self-doubt and success. Conway opens the album with visceral confidence on “Lock Load,” featuring Beanie Siegel. Trading bars, Conway and Beanie bring energy and emotional depth to the lyricism. Conway raps: “Momma start thinkin’ I’m crazy, baby mama think I’m nuts/Ever since them n****s shot me, I just stopped givin’ a fuck,” in the first verse, using people in his life to define his attitudes as he progresses to rap more poignantly violent bars. It’s a softer percussion-based production, focusing on the atmosphere as the two add weight with their delivery. 

Unfortunately, there is a minor drawback in “Lock Load” – it happens twice – the audio levels of some of the features drown them out. It may bother some, but returning to piece the bars together with the production is part of its greatness. Beanie Siegel’s verse is audible in decibels, and it’s the same with TI on “Wild Chapters.” There is some disappointment since there are other tracks that have a proper polish for every artist – whether they are heavyweights like Lil Wayne & Rick Ross or underground rappers like 7xvethegenius, everyone delivers and make these tracks well rounded. It feels like those verses lacked that second look, but they are just blemishes on an otherwise outstanding album. 

However, it’s more than just a collection of fantastic verses and performances from Conway and the features that buoy God Don’t Make Mistakes to greatness. The producers bring an individualized identity on each track while keeping you invested, even when some songs don’t always work, like “Wild Chapters” with TI. It has agency, but it doesn’t land as strong as the others, specifically “Tear Gas,” “Guilty,” “Piano Love,” and “Chanel Pearls.” “Guilty” and “Piano Love” stand out as Conway’s solo performances, with the latter seeing Conway flexing eloquently over a piano-laced production from The Alchemist. The former takes the piano keys and gospel backing vocals to complement Conway’s introspective rap about a shootout that left him with Bell’s Palsy. It’s a testament to Conway’s talent. He breaks down barriers, bypassing his swagger simply to keep it real within less loud drum-banging productions.

With “Chanel Pearls,” well, it is an essential favorite – it has one the better productions on the album; the subtle simplicity gives it a sticky drum line, a 1-2-3 punch that allows an uproot from other instruments to build upon it. Piano keys return with elegance, particularly boosting Jill Scott’s rap verse and chorus. It tells a remarkable story – storytelling being a key talent – between two lovers, making it feel unique compared to others that do similarly. It roots itself into the emotions of the two, taking it to a personal level, allowing us to visualize the musical back and forth in our minds. 

God Don’t Make Mistakes comes with surprises. We continue to hear Conway the Machine go toe-to-toe with rap’s heavyweights; we hear him adapting his technical and writing skills to the content he wants to reflect on the album. What Conway expresses is his true self, reaffirming the notion of God accepting the flawed like those deemed “clean.” The constant motion of the album allows it to have a steady run despite its minor issues.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.