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.

Joey Bada$$ – 2000: Review

Whether thematically or through an expansion of congruent or parallel tales in sequel albums, we’ve seen them match the quality of their predecessor at times, but not at the consistent peak of the original. We’re talking the Blackouts, Blueprint 2, Man on The Moon 2, Marshall Mathers LP 2, and Only Built For The Cuban Linx Pt. 2, to name a few, but we have had rare contrasting improvements, like with Tha Carter II, but ultimately, sequels are way too common. So, when a new one is released, the hype scale skews up and down depending, and there is no in-between. Joey Bada$$ joins the lot with his latest album, 2000, an update to his debut 1999 mixtape that bridges the two with lyrical content and production style, and your hype scale should heighten. Like 1999, 2000 has an excess of boom bap and jazz rap. 2000 reminds us that Joey can command a smokey jazz lounge with crisp flows and emotionally draining lyricism.

When P. Diddy utters these words rhythmically, “Can you say New York City?/Now as we proceed/To give you what you need(Bad Boy),” you get the ting that you’re in for something extraordinary. Though it isn’t the right word to define most choruses on the album, Joey Bada$$ at least reaffirms Diddy’s words, specifically calling him the baddest. Equipped with spectacular co-productions from Statik Selektah, Chuck Strangers, Kirk Knight, and Erick the Architect, amongst others, Joey comes with smokey flows and poignant lyricism, offering a breakdown of his person in front and behind the microphone. From expressing his career doubts throughout or a continuous bounce of confidence like in “Where I Belong,” Joey acquiesces with fluidity as we picture his emotions in these larger-than-life scenes within the verse. Doubling down on “One Of Us,” there is smooth progression between tracks, maneuvering our emotional reflection. 

Unfortunately, Joey still hasn’t grown much when writing choruses. That isn’t to say he’s an albatross, but it’s stagnated, and at times, mundane 1-2-3-4-5 old school choruses don’t have that same pizzaz. It makes individual songs have some that come across like speed humps on a residential road like the potent “Eulogy.” Joey Bada$$’s weakness for writing captivating choruses stays near the front, especially on some highlights: “Cruise Control” and “Brand New 911.” It doesn’t get pushed aside, but its verses and production are enough to keep you returning. The crisp and smooth boom bap–soul hybrid beat from Mike-Will-Made-It, Marz, and Cardiak on “Cruise Control”  focuses on the nuances of the genre, using pianos subtly beneath the percussion, guiding it through the confines of slight decentness. Joey has the right approach for the melody, but it isn’t that interesting. It’s another track that adds affirmation to Joey’s coolness when exuberating confidence that ends with Nas giving us a short speech about Joey’s character, grind, and talent. 

“Brand New 911” has more of a nothing burger of a chorus–fortunately, it isn’t one of those asking for a highlight, and we get lost in the whim of vocal gun noises and slick verses from Joey Bada$$ and Westside Gunn. Like Gunn, most features acquiesce with Joey’s boom bap/Jazz centrism, further giving us highlights to replay, like “One Of Us,” with the Larry June or JID on the aforementioned “Wanna Be Loved.” They properly balance with Joey’s solo tracks that there wasn’t a moment that left me feeling like they didn’t fit. However, that’s more due to the quality of work focused on, unlike Chris Brown, who comes as his haphazard self, offering nothing but an underwhelming verse in an otherwise underwhelming track. But in essence, 2000 is more of a reflection of his career, specifically in growth, as we hear him tackle varied reflection points, like that high feeling of achieving success on “Make Me Feel.” 

See, Joey Bada$$ dropped 1999 and got talked about as this old soul bringing a modern flavor to a style that wasn’t as prominent as the 90s, especially with his quintessentially driven flows. He had swagger and ways of weaving smooth, hypnotic fluidity through multi-syllabic bars, and I remember hitting me when I heard him go toe-to-toe with Capital Steez on “Survivor Tactics.” The growth of Joey Bada$$ has been gripping and pertinent amongst others in the New York scene of the 2010s like groups Pro Era, Flatbush Zombies, Underachievers, Phony Ppl, and more. His growth since Capital Steez’s suicide and his manager’s death; it’s been a rough ride for Joey. Though it wasn’t pertinent, the subtle darkness loomed at the sounds never got brighter with immediate releases from Joey. I remember how Summer Knights reflected darker overtones, and Joey reflects how everything’s been since. We heard it throughout 2000, but significantly on “Survivor’s Guilt.”

Ending with “Survivor’s Guilt,” we hear the emotional weight Joey Badass bared throughout the years, despite having proper clarification to defend particular actions. Like how he flies a bit high and mighty and still can’t offer sound reasonings for having someone like Chris Brown on a track–friendship isn’t the best defense, and it minimally dilutes its gravitas, especially with how poignant “Survivor’s Guilt” is. Though, as a whole, 2000 has a lot that merits multiple listens, specifically with the first half–that alone will offer a rewarding experience with hearing contrasting and parallel allusions between 1999 and 2000.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Westside Gunn – Peace “FLY” God: Review

The sheer persuasive prowess that Westside Gunn brings behind the microphone has no bounds. Though I’m being facetious, there is something to how he incorporates vocal gunshot noises before, between, and sometimes after a verse, boasting its poignancy. He’s done it in various ways, and yet, this time, it feels slightly different. Coming straight off the tail end of Paris Fashion Week, where one assumes he visited the Louvre, Westside Gunn delivers a mixtape with a construct akin to an abstract painting. Peace “Fly” God is Gunn’s new mixtape that’s grimy, rough, and naturally flowing; it has these soundscapes take us through exceptional complexions that parallel the artistic energy flowing through his veins at the moment. It’s altruistically flawed, creating a world unparalleled to the apropos standard Hip-Hop he has delivered with his Hitler Wears Hermes series. It follows similar thematic styles of the past; however, the way it’s constructed on these distinct canvases offers an elegant perspective into Gunn, Estee Nack, and Stove God Cooks. 

Peace “Fly” God isn’t something that hits you immediately. Its sonic composition shifts the parameters of what to expect, eventually hearing its fluidity through the verses. It’s a balance between abstract and core-drum beats that continues to batter you with slick bars–and to a lesser degree–flows. Unfortunately, there are moments where you’re left dazed by the production, and the rest becomes the same song and dance. However, Westside Gunn gives us some more gun sounds than the boom, boom, boom, boom, and that’s been enough to retain my attention, especially in the lackluster “Derrick Coleman.” All of that is pertinent in “Jesus Crack,” which takes content from a shallow puddle, but there is swagger and a smooth Brand Nubian sample. Beyond constructing a bold 8-minute epic flex, Westside Gunn takes a chance with Don Carrera’s atmospherically gritty and ghostly production. It’s a notable contrast to Madlib’s soulful work in the second half. 

Production doesn’t come from those two exclusively–Daringer and Conductor Williams taking the helm at the end–but they handle the bulk. In some ways, it plays like Westside Gunn’s journey from thoughts to microphone–feeling the highs within bars about gang life, hustling, and high fashion. It gets delivered to you through the varying production styles, which feed off lustrous moments like the wickedly wild piano overlays on “Ritz Barlton,” followed by a trove of spiritually connected verses that expands on each topic, like fashion on “Big Ass Bracelet.” It sees Gunn and Stove God Cooks focusing on the glitz while reminding us of their grit. Gunn does so with sequences like, “In the ghetto, AP strapped the coke out a soupie (Whip)/Neck full of Veert pearls, lookin’ all bougie” and “Anybody violate, I annihilate (Boom, boom, boom)/I switched the band on the Dick, you rockin’ time today.” Within the context, he offers a distinction that splits surface and reality. Stove God Cooks does similarly, after proclaiming to be a Jay-Z–MF Doom hybrid, with lines like, “​​Either way you die alone, my shooter Pat Mahomes (Brr)/My bullet thrower/I was court-side watching Syracuse play Villanova (Go).” Cooks echoes the accuracy of his shooter’s aim while reminding us of the casualness of his success.

The casual flaunting continues, focusing slightly more on the excess of their success. The flows are grounded and fluid, specifically Westside Gunn, who takes on two Madlib productions solo. They give you a proper descent into his emotional side, like with “Open Praise,” which twists the view of gang life violence, giving us a darker side than arrogance. From the flows to his emotionally gripping singing a the end–he sings about love and envy. There is a consistent quality within the penmanship of these artists, especially their gripping details and stylistic directions. However, the deliveries don’t consistently acquiesce. “Derrick Coleman” is one where the platter we get doesn’t offer anything new. It has crisp production from Madlib, but the flows make it feel more atypical. It’s similarly the case “Big Ass Bracelet.” We get a trove of complex beats that feel like mosaics, painted with great detail. Unfortunately, not all strokes look the same. There are minimal stumbles that deter me as the last two tracks mentioned, but it’s enough to find a place amongst the many releases by Westside Gunn.

Don’t get me wrong, Peace “Fly” God is fantastic and covers ground exponentially. It’s disappointing; however, there are still quality tracks which evokes the replay button, like “Ritz Barlton” or “Horses On Sunset.” It gives fans something to digest while awaiting his follow-up Michelle Records. So enjoy the appetizer cause Westside Gunn’s 2022 is only just getting started.

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.

Westside Gunn – Hitler Wears Hermes 8 B-Sides Review

Two things may not be pivotal to you, but these things root themselves in a sub-group of hip-hop that remains dormant within pop — fortunately, it doesn’t matter with the grand scheme as fans back their favorite artists from the get-go. One is their bold approach toward shock value — usually done to stir eyes before the sound flows through the headphones and into your ears; the other is maintaining consistency with a series of projects under one title. Rappers like Lil Wayne, Curren$y, Wale, and Young Jeezy are some names that may come to mind quickly. Unfortunately, like some of these rappers, it has to come to an end, and it did for Westside Gunn this past weekend. WSG has released the B-Sides for the final tape in his Hitler Wears Hermes series, which is a marginal improvement from the A-Sides — there are fewer songs with Stove God Cooks features and a little more variety. 

Hitler Wears Hermes 8 B-Sides is a culmination of the best parts of the series, from the production to the multi-faceted lyrical layers weaved by Westside Gunn. Referring back to the last paragraph — along with being a series of projects, it carries a shock factor through intricate drug and flex raps and a title that shakes the dimensions of PC and woke culture in terms of phrasing. Hermés is a luxury clothing brand, and in some respect, WSG sees himself as this erratic icon that shifts perspective through his bars and influences a new wave of lyrical hip-hop. You can also make the argument that Hitler, in this regard, represents an anti-pop rap movement that currently houses some great lyricist who lacks the exposure of someone like Moneybag Yo and Fivio Foreign. Griselda transfixes that notion, and Hitler Wears Hermes 8 B-Sides continues to back WSG’s growing prominence.

Hitler Wears Hermes 8 B-Sides isn’t the best of the series, but it sticks true to the nature of these projects as WSG contributes in peak form, despite trading bars with other more established rappers like Jay Electronica and Tyler, the Creator. WSG holds his own, despite releasing many projects over the past two years — for some, it becomes oversaturated or bored by the work due to partial redundancies. There is very little of that on the B-Sides, as it becomes warped into a transcendental flow for mixtapes — DJ and All.

Like many DJ Hosted mixtapes, Hitler Wears Hermes 8 B-Sides contains one to keep the hype in rotation, even though it isn’t as typical as the more centered projects like a Gorilla Grillz tape. It takes cues from the New York Area with the transitions and hype, transporting us to the past where producers like DJ Green Lantern and DJ Clue, amongst others, were sovereign entities for the metro area — similar to DJ Drama in the South and Don Connon in the midwest. Today, we DJ Drama has prevalence, more so than others, but another DJ continues to make his name known through his hosted mixtapes, especially in the south, Trap-A-Holics. It goes in an uncanny direction, starting with an instrumental and Trap-A-Holics keeping a subtle presence after “Julia Lang.”

Westside Gunn isn’t a novice to having a host DJ on his mixtape, with DJ Drama low-key delivering the Gorillaz Grillz flair to the mixtape while never hindering WSG’s mainstay — the vocal gunshots behind the verses. And DJ Green Lantern produced and hosted Hitler on Steroids, with other singular song producers, like The Alchemist, Jay Versace, and Madlib, to name a few, they bring distinctions to the sound; unfortunately, the producers who do the most end up hitting or missing on a few.

In between the slightly atypical production, WSG carries the weight of steering the project with some high-profile features and contemporaries of equal status, like Mach-Hommy of New Jersey or the other Griselda and Buffalo, NY cohorts. Fortunately, they hold their own over the production that sounds tailor-made for a definitive style, slowly exploring little by little. Sometimes, it matches the energy from the rappers, like on “Survivor Series 95,” which uses ominous mood-setting orchestral strings — fitting perfectly with the kind slow and effective flow deliveries.

“Free Kutter” is another example where the production matches the energy of the rappers leading the charge, especially Jay Electronica, who takes command of the microphone and raps gymnastics over Westside Gunn as he keeps up with one of the more repeatable songs. Unfortunately, this isn’t usually the case for certain parts of the mixtape, like 2 Chainz’s verse on “Forest Lawn,” as he turns into a sort of — nothing character — creating a surge to slightly fast forward to Armani Ceasar’s verse, which has a lot of personality compared to 2 Chainz. And on “The Fly who couldn’t Fly Straight,” it muddles WSG as it pushes him to the side as Tyler, the Creator ends up as the memorable part of the song.

However, this doesn’t discredit the countless layers Westside Gunn brings to her verses, like on the Madlib produced, “Richies,” which sees WSG bringing a cadence to the broken duality behind rags-to-riches — in the literal sense. Similarly, he shows that consistent veracity with “Best Dressed Demons,” matching bars with Mach-Hommy over the bleak piano keys that guide the percussion and quiet string sections to keep with the atmospheric nature of the mixtape’s production. WSG isn’t always this consistent, but as the saying goes — you win some, you lose some. It’s a testament to WSG that every Hitler Wears Hermes starts and ends on a high note. And the B-Sides is no exception, as WSG reflects on those we lost — personal and impersonal — on the song “Big AL,” before artist Keisha Plum ends the mixtape on an introspective note, leaving you with a moment to reflect on this journey.

As the mixtape Hitler Wears Hermes 8 comes to a close, Westside Gunn rides off in Gucci and Hermes in s new ride as he continues his prominence in hip-hop. Some rappers don’t see their respective series end or continue with consistency — Lil Wayne’s Dedication series started to dissipate after four. Westside Gunn keeps it authentic, without falling into similar redundancy that made others poor — as well, similarly to Cabin Fever 3 by Wiz Khalifa, which feels like a retread of the same song and dance. I implore you to check this out and the rest of his HWH series, as it is one of the better series of mixtapes that we’ve received over the past decade.

Rating: 8 out of 10.