Matthew Tirabasso ’23
Westside Gunn is a 38 year old rapper from Buffalo, NY. He is the paternal half-brother of Conway the Machine and cousin of Benny the Butcher. Together, with his relatives, they compose the Griselda rap group, which was signed to a deal with Jay-Z’s label Roc Nation in 2019.
When “Pray for Paris” was released on April 17th, 2020, it marked the first time I would hear of Westside Gunn’s musical career. I remember looking at the album’s vivid cover on my Instagram and Twitter feeds, thanks to the many people who were ecstatic about the album’s sound.
The album’s fascinating cover was created by famous fashion designer Virgil Abloh, and depicts Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath, David having donned Westside Gunn’s neck chains. When I look at the cover, I reflect on the duality of the album’s unique style. It portrays vanity and artistic style through the instrumentals, and showcases its conflict with the harsh reality of Gunn’s life of crime and rapping as displayed in the lyrics.
The first time I listened to “Pray for Paris”, I was not fond of Westside Gunn’s voice. It came to me as a shrill and piercing. However, after giving the album more of a listen, I realized that it was an acquired taste and there are underlying themes that I may have missed during my first encounter. I have relistened to the album this past week, and here are my thoughts.
TRACK BY TRACK ANALYSIS
400 Million Plus Tax
Album opener with no music. Just an audio sample of the auction for da Vinci’s “Salvatore Mundi”. NO RATING
Throughout the song, the piano keys have a striking bounce alongside the drums. These are also accompanied by vain synths. Gunn’s flow and lyricism follows the same “ino” rhyme-scheme and allows Gunn to piece words together with ease:
“You ever threw up from smellin' too many kilos?, The 'migos, Nigos, we reload the free throws, The Margiela peacoat, the regal, Four story house I got off Ebro, the VLONE, Rest in peace Vino (Ah), rest in peace Kino, the Spiegel, The seagulls, April fresh ego, Slam you on your neck like Bruno Sammartino, - Westside Gunn
Overall, this track is good and is able to set the stage for the rest of the album. 7.2/10
“George Bondo (feat. Benny the Butcher, Conway the Machine)”
One of my favorites tracks from the album, solely due to the fact that the Griselda trio links up and spits their heat and mind in each bar. Another piano-synth-melody-combo is put at play, and is used effectively. 8.6/10
327 (feat. Billie Essco, Joey Bada$$, Tyler, The Creator)
The most popular track from the album has a lush beat and great lyricism thanks to the featured artists. What struck me the most about this track is the introspective reflections from Gunn, Joey, and Tyler.
“duckin' my third felony,
Take your shine, two for five, me and mine,
Runnin' from suit and ties, you say you the flyest, then who am I?”
- Westside Gunn
“I'm from an era of hard knocks and quiet storms, Rap songs about crack rocks and firearms” - Joey Bada$$
“Long way from that metro bus taxi service, Long way, loco gangs tried to taxidermy” - Tyler, The Creator
French Toast (feat. Wale, Joyce Wrice)
Gunn’s minimalist first verse is accompanied by a smooth and layered echo effect that has grown on me as one of my favorite parts of the album. Followed by a great hook and incredible features by Wale and Joyce Wrice, this song is fun to sing along to.
Gunn’s rapping ability is once again displayed in a tour de force on this track. It perfectly meshes with the buzzing horns of the beat produced by Conductor Williams. One of the few problems I have with this track is that it leaves you wanting more. Leaving you wishing it was somewhat longer.
Allah Sent Me (feat. Benny the Butcher, Conway the Machine)
Like the other tracks of the album, the beat, as produced by Daringer, is incredible. What I noticed while listening to the track is that it feels intentionally empty, and menacing. The song opens with one of the main flaws of the album, Westside Gunn’s singing. Although he can write a hook, his vocals can be hit or miss. Fortunately, Benny the Butcher and Conway the Machine are able to trade bars with Gunn and add onto the menacing beat with lyrics reflecting of the harsh reality they have experienced. 6.6/10
$500 Ounces (feat. Freddie Gibbs, Roc Marciano)
The samples of the beat cause the song to have a sound reminiscent of the mafia. I was delighted to see Freddie Gibbs, one of my favorite rappers, on this song. Everyone comes through in this track with their verses, but it is still underwhelming.
On this track, Westside Gunn utilizes his skills of reflective lyrics, clever wordplay and smart use of syllables to create a story about his past in Buffalo. One of the problems with this song is that it feels that it is putting you to sleep and feels like an ending.
Claiborne Kick (feat. Boldy James)
While the track already seems slow, it is accompanied by an even slower and reverbed Westside Gunn chorus. Boldy James’ verse does come out to be a little slow as well, but it has an incredible rhyme scheme:
“Stood tall on that murder rock, the threat is on the compound,
Twenty-man tanks here, twenty-four hour lockdown,
Was wanted on the net by the detects, number one suspected,
Callin' home collect, Auntie Nette the only one acceptin',
One count felony firearm, two counts of drug possession,
Three counts of felonious assault without a murder weapon,
On the west side with 'bout thirty blicks, got the most gun collection”
Shawn vs. Flair
This song is one of the brighter songs on the album. Westside Gunn compliments the beat, produced by legendary hip-hop artist DJ Premier, with his high-pitched voice. As I listened to the album for the first time, I took note of the hook of the song:
“Ayo, you ever ate burgers on a Wednesday? (Wednesday) You ever ate chicken on a Thursday? (Thursday)”
Although it does come off to be somewhat of a gaffe at first, I later realized the chicken and burgers in the line are what Westside Gunn would eat when he was in prison. This line continues to show that Gunn is an incredible songwriter and lyricist.
Party wit Pop Smoke (feat. Keisha Plum)
The lush instrumentals of the beat produced by Tyler, The Creator creates an enigmatic feeling with Westside Gunn and Keisha Plum’s vocals. Both have phenomenal verses on this song, which perfectly capture the theme of the album.
LE Djoliba (feat. Cartier Williams)
The final track of “Pray for Paris” is one of my favorites in Westside Gunn’s entire catalogue. The melodies of the sample used in the beat create a feeling reminiscent of the end of the world, and tie into the fact that this is the end of a luxurious journey with Gunn. Since this album was heavily influenced by Gunn’s trip to Paris, this song may refer to the fact that Gunn could return to his crime-riddled life of the past because his trip is over.
Overall, this album is incredible. Each track is carefully produced and has outstanding lyricism. The feature verses act as complimenting touches to an already complete work of art. I highly recommend it to anyone, even if you are new to hip-hop or music in general. Although Westside Gunn’s voice may sound too high at first, this album is an acquired taste, and one certainly worth acquiring.
400 Million Plus Tax: NO RATING
No Vacancy: 7.2
George Bondo: 8.6
French Toast: 7.8
Euro Step: 7.4
Allah Sent Me: 6.6
$500 Ounces: 6.8
Claiborne Kick: 7.0
Shawn vs. Flair: 7.1
Party wit Pop Smoke: 7.0
LE Djoliba: 8.2
FINAL AVERAGE: 7.4