Conway The Machine has established himself as one of this era’s elite lyricists. With the help of his brother Westside Gunn, the Buffalo native has helped his city emerge from the shadow of New York to claim a spot on the Hip Hop map.

But Conway’s journey has only just begun. After making a name for himself as part of Westside’s Griselda Records, the two signed a deal with Eminem’s Shady Records in 2017. Two years later, the Griselda crew is preparing to drop their Shady debut in November with solo albums from Westside and Conway expected to follow.

In September, The Machine decided he wasn’t gonna wait around for his major label debut though. Instead, he dropped a new project titled Look What I Became... as a prelude, giving fans nine tracks to enjoy while they wait.

Following the project’s release, HipHopDX caught up with Conway to discuss his career and his latest work. The hard-working MC opened up about Griselda’s success, his relationship with Eminem, competing with labelmate Benny The Butcher and much more in the first half of a two-part interview.

HipHopDX: The Hip Hop world outside of Buffalo started taking notice of you with 2015’s Reject 2. I remember catching up with your work about the time the Don’t Get Scared Now EP dropped in 2016. I’m curious — what was your career like prior to that breakthrough? Can you paint a picture of what it was like coming up in the Buffalo scene?

Conway: Just a bunch of battle rapping and local shows and stuff like that. I would go on the road and do like little showcases and shit like that in different cities like in Atlanta, New York City or wherever I had to go. But it was mostly just battle rapping and local showcases. It was pretty cut and dry that I was probably one of the best to come out of the city at an early age.

HipHopDX: Westside has often spoken about how you’re the better rapper and always holds you in such high regard. When did his vision for Griselda first surface?

Conway: Griselda Records came when we did the Hall & Nash mixtape with me and Westside Gunn. That was actually the first project under Griselda Records. So, it was like a spinoff of the clothing line he created. That was the birth of Griselda Records, that tape right there.

HipHopDX: When it comes to the label’s origins, from your perspective, could you see that Westside’s vision was something that would get as big as it’s become now? Or has it caught you by surprise just how big it’s gotten?

Conway: No, I’m not surprised. We always knew what it was, what we had. We knew the potential that we had. With Daringer production, with me and Benny doing the heavy lifting with the lyrics and all that, and my brother just holding it down behind the scenes with the business side of things and also doing the heavy lifting too with his projects. The shit he coming with — the style and just curating fly shit for the culture. I knew what we was gonna bring early. That’s why I was so eager to be a part. And not just to be a part but just to do what I can to speed it up a little. Because I know it’s going to come tenfold.

HipHopDX: Griselda has made huge strides independently, but the big news came when y’all inked the deal with Shady Records. How did the deal come together? Did you initially connect with Eminem, Paul Rosenberg or someone else in the Shady camp?

Conway: We connected with Paul. We was looking for management at the time. So, we was really just trying to figure out what works on the management side of things with Paul’s management company. He pulled Eminem’s coat to our shit. Eminem heard our music and heard “The Cow” — that record and other stuff I did — and he just was like, “I want to do something bigger and better for those guys.” So, that’s how we ended up doing the deal that we did with Shady Records and Interscope.

HipHopDX: You obviously got to work with Eminem on the single “Bang.” How much of a relationship have you developed with Em? Have you had any deep discussions with him or learned any lessons?

Conway: Absolutely. We had some talks. We kicked it a few times. I went up there to Detroit and holla’d at him. I seen him kicking it backstage at some shows and shit. I always try to get a little lesson or jewel or gem, a tip, some advice, some encouragement.

I’m like a sponge, so I kind of already do that with everybody. But I definitely I wanted to do that with him because it’s Eminem. He’s one of the biggest artists ever — biggest-selling artist ever and one of the most dope lyricists ever. So, I’m really big on lyricism. I know he’s big on lyricism. With him and the same thing with Royce Da 5’9, I want to learn as much as I can from them boys. It’s conversations and talks. And mostly, it’s just what can I do to get better? How can I get better at this craft? And I just watch and learn from them two in particular. I fuck with them niggas.

HipHopDX: You mentioned how the Shady deal came from y’all initially looking into management. I know Westside and Benny just linked up with Roc Nation, so I was wondering what is your situation as far as management?

Conway: The same situation.

HipHopDX: Gotcha.

Conway: We all moving as one unit. I was in the same situation, I just wasn’t there that day [when it was announced].

HipHopDX: Makes sense. This new project you just put out, Look What I Became, is executive produced by Westside. What’s the dynamic like between y’all in the studio? What does your brother bring out of you that maybe somebody else can’t?

Conway: I guess the comfort. I’m just more comfortable knowing that once the music leaves my hands … it’s hard to explain. It’s like you know you got LeBron on your team or something like that. If I need a basket, I can just pass this shit to KD. It’s that comfort knowing I’m in good hands. Once I send these songs to bro, I know what’s going to happen and how fly my shit going to be. That’s what I get. He makes it easier. I feel more relaxed and more free.

HipHopDX: On this latest project, your lyrical prowess is unmistakable. You spoke about learning lessons from Eminem and Royce. I’m wondering who are some of the MCs that inspire you as a writer and make you want to compete at that elite level?

Conway: Definitely guys like Em, Royce, JAY-Z, Sean Price, Elzhi, Black Thought, [Andre] 3000, Scarface, Ice Cube, Prodigy, Kool G [Rap], niggas like that. Westside Gunn. Just guys like that.

HipHopDX: On “Tito’s Back,” it was fun hearing you and Benny going back and forth. Do you feel like there’s a competition between y’all that brings the best out of you in the booth?

Conway: I think so. I hope it do for Benny too. Actually, I know it do for Benny because steel sharpens steel. I love being in there with him ’cause I know he’s about to come up with some shit that’s next level and if you ain’t coming with your A-game, then [it’s a problem]. Not only that, we the type of guys who don’t hesitate telling each other, “You coulda said that a little better, you coulda come a little harder, you should change that, say this, shit like that.”

I know for a fact that when Benny on the track with me, even with Westside, I know I got to come with my A-game ’cause I know they coming out swinging. It’s definitely competitive shit for me ’cause I don’t want to have the wack verse. [Laughs] That’s how we grow with it when we go in there like that when we doing shit together. We push each other. So, it’s not necessarily just competitive like we trying to outdo each other, but we are writing like we’re trying to outdo each other and that just brings the best out of us.

HipHopDX: I think the way you describe it, that unity in the studio with the Griselda crew, definitely reminds me of Wu-Tang Clan. It’s like how they went at it in those early days trying to have the best verse on a song and brought the best out of each other.

Conway: Exactly. It’s like that. We just push each other. We don’t hold no punches. We just try to bring our best. Daringer come with his best production. He won’t even play nothing that he feel isn’t up to par. We not even going to spit nothing that we don’t feel is up to par. We in a room full of generals who know they set and who been doing this long enough and who are good at it — great at it. We respect each other’s opinions.

So, if I’m spitting some shit and Benny be like, “Nah, you can come a little harder,” I’m definitely going to take that and be like, “Absolutely.” Ball my shit up and throw it out. Same with me with him or West. “Nah we should leave that joint off of there and use this.” That’s how it was with this Look What I Became album. I had more songs, but we sat down and trimmed the fat on the project like, “Nah, we should leave these shits off and do these joints.” We work like that.

HipHopDX: I spoke with Benny last year and he was telling me about how the city of Buffalo influenced y’all’s sound so much. I wanted to get your perspective on that too. How has Buffalo influenced your music and your sound?

Conway: For me, it’s just being a product of my environment and just the circumstances and shit. I overcame the life I lived. This shit is inspirational — being in and out of jail, getting shot, just being in all types of different missions and going through shit in life, selling drugs, dropping out of school. My music is about my life.

This is my life, these are my stories. It comes from the soil from here. That’s where it come from. That’s how it inspires me. I’m in Buffalo right now. I record here, I do everything here. Just being in the city and just seeing the city, riding through the hood, being in the hood and shit. I might see somebody and they story might resonate with me and I done made a song about something they going through, shit like that. It’s big in my music.

HipHopDX: You mentioned getting shot and on the interlude “Bell’s Palsy,” you touch on it. You’ve spoken about the physical effects before, but how did it affect you mentally at the time? What was it like going through that?

Conway: You can imagine, man, it was dark days. It was a lot of people didn’t think … they thought it was going to take a turn for the worst. Girls I was fucking with at the time stopped fucking with me. Niggas that was supposed to be homies fell back and stopped coming through. It didn’t look like I was going to be anything but in a fucking wheelchair or something like that.

Of course, it weighs on you mentally. And then just seeing my face like this from the Bell’s palsy, that shit just have you not wanting to leave the house. I didn’t want to leave my room. Just going through that — I didn’t like to look at myself. I was insecure. I didn’t like when people looked at me. I thought they was just thinking shit and saying shit and laughing. It did a lot to my mind. Ask anybody that go through that, hell yeah, that shit do a lot to you mentally, man. It almost coulda took a turn for the worst ’cause I was mentally trippin’.

I’m just thankful for people that was in my corner that kept me on track with the right mindstate and helped me get my confidence and my self-esteem back. ‘Cause I gave up, just like anybody would. Shit, I thought it was over. Everybody else gave up on me, shit, maybe they right.

Check back soon for Part 2 of DX’s interview with Conway The Machine.