On the recently released Pray for Paris, Westside Gunn shines on the mic with dizzying wordplay and razor-sharp verses that leave you screwing your face whenever a filthy bar is heard. The Griselda captain is on his third studio album and 20th project overall, yet he feels like his skills are getting even better despite being in the game since 2004.
Much like LeBron James, who was playing some of the best basketball in his career in his 17th season this year, the Griselda captain sees himself in the same light when it comes to Hip Hop. With Pray for Paris, Gunn has leveled up every facet of his sound from the production to his rhymes, which have been the best they have ever been as of late. That’s not to say his previous work has been lackluster, but Westside Gunn is on a different type of energy at the moment. “I’m going so hard right now,” he tells HipHopDX over the phone. “There’s no one that’s putting in more work than what Griselda and I are doing. We’re making history right now.”
For the last eight years, Westside Gunn has been carving a lane for himself in a congested Hip Hop scene with a genre of rap that’s been dormant for some time. The Griselda brand of gritty, street rap has been making its way into the ears of listeners and the mainstream at a steady pace, all thanks to the work of their fearless leader. You won’t hear him on the radio or see any of his visuals on any video countdown, but he makes sure you’re familiar with the boys from Buffalo.
Westside Gunn has always believed his talents were a step above the competition, so he always chose to focus on his team first rather than himself. Nearly every project that released from Westside Gunn had the Griselda brand front and center with the members of the crew getting their fair share of the limelight. He tells HipHopDX his mission was never to be the best rapper out, his formula instead, was to build up those around him so that the music and the Griselda effect can hit harder with a full team as opposed to just one person leading the charge. It’s hard to argue that formula isn’t working for him given the fact Griselda was dropping pure cocaine bars on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
Like a playmaker running the offense with his team on the court, Westside Gunn has a pass-first mentality that has proven to be successful. Just take a look at Griselda’s Fire In The Booth freestyle with Charlie Sloth from a few months ago where Gunn walked off to let Conway and Benny the Butcher slaughter the microphone. “My job was always to make Conway the best Conway. My job was always for Benny to be the best Benny. I don’t care about muthafuckas saying if I’m the best MC in the world or none of that,” Gunn says. “Just wait and see what’s about to happen.”
That mentality has trickled down to his latest album Pray for Paris where Gunn has his guest features display some of the best their talents have to offer. Tyler, the Creator not only dished out a stellar verse with Joey Bada$$ on “327,” but he produced one of the best beats on the album with “Party wit Pop Smoke.” Wale makes a serious claim for the best feature on the album with his fiery verse on “French Toast” while Freddie Gibbs, Roc Marciano and Boldy James lay waste to The Alchemist’s production on “$500 Ounces” and “Claiborne Kick,” respectively.
Whenever a rapper claims they’re the best in the game or compare themselves to an extraordinary figure in another field, Hip Hop heads normally take it with a grain of salt. In Westside Gunn’s case, he’s confident everyone is going to believe he’s the LeBron James of Hip Hop when it’s all said and done. He believes the reason why they haven’t acknowledged it yet is that “they haven’t caught up yet.”
HipHopDX: You worked with a lot of people that aren’t the usual suspects like Tyler, the Creator, Wale and Freddie Gibbs on Pray for Paris. Why branch out this time?
Westside Gunn: It’s just always about me growing. You have to grow but still, keep it original and be yourself. The project is about growth but it’s still a Westside Gunn sounding record. I love curating art, bro. I start off with a blank canvas and I just love to paint. I’m not a rapper, I’m an artist, there’s a difference. There’s a lot of people that are great, great, great, great, rappers, but I’m an artist. There are some people that love Westside Gunn and some people that hate Westside Gunn, you know what I’m saying? I just focus on what I love to do and if you like it, you like it, and if you don’t, you don’t. It’s just me elevating. I also always feel like Griselda doesn’t get their roses. Not how we should. So, like every project, I have to get better and I have to get more popular for the crew, for the brand, so we can get our roses.
If I start getting lackluster now, after all I did with Flygod, Flygod is an Awesome God, the Hitler series Hall & Nash, Griselda Ghost, and Supreme Blientele. All those are fucking classics, bro, and it’s like, you still not going to give me my rose. What the fuck do I got to do? Dye my hair or some shit? When it comes to actual projects, I’m damn near untouchable, so if I start going backward and if you didn’t give me my fucking roses with all of that shit, you really not about to give me my roses now. So, I have to elevate.
HipHopDX: Speaking of Tyler, you had him not only produce a record for you, but you had him featured on “327”. Can you talk about what it was like working with him?
Westside Gunn: He’s dope, man. Tyler is not afraid to be himself and that’s what it’s about in Hip Hop. Like I said about Westside Gunn, I do me and if you like it, you like it and if you don’t, you don’t and that’s the same way with Tyler. He doesn’t give a fuck and he’s going to always be himself. It doesn’t matter who he is around, he’s going to say some wild shit, or do some wild shit but he has fun living a life that he gave himself. That’s what it’s about. That’s what I always respected about him. That verse is nuts too. He asked me if I thought it was too much and I’m telling him he killed it. I loved it and it’s like I played that shit for some of the grimiest muthafuckas and they loved it. It’s like, be yourself bro, that’s all you got to be. Hats off to that fool. He dumped and you know who else dumped? Wale dumped on “French Toast.”
HipHopDX: He did. How did you get Wale in his bag like that?
Westside Gunn: I told you I’m the LeBron James of Hip Hop. That’s who I am. I’m serious, too. I’m one of the illest artists and I also got the illest team around. My job is to make people around me better, you know you got to come with it with me. Any feature I ever had would be these people’s best verses. Muthafuckas go in because they know they can’t have any weak shit with me. I love making music with other people because if you see somebody featured on my shit, I guarantee they’re going to go crazy on it. That’s what I love, man. As I said, I start off with a blank canvas and I just curate the art and you just these pieces, man, that’s just legendary for Hip Hop. That’s what I’m telling you, bro. Listen to my projects, and listen to my features and just compare those verses to the shit that they’ve been doing lately, and you tell me if it’s not one of their best.
HipHopDX: How do you feel about everything you’ve done in your career up until this point. Not a lot of people know the work you’ve put in to get to where you are.
Westside Gunn: I’m ahead of my time. I already know what people are going to say 10 years from now, bro. People have been painting me on murals for the last five years and I’ve never even had a song on the radio! I get DMs every day of somebody tattooing my face on their body, bro. Every day. Literally. You can’t listen to me on the radio, you are not about to turn on Revolt and I got all types of videos on there, none of that shit. It’s the culture, bro. In 10, 15 years from now, people will be thinking about what Westside Gunn did at a time where people thought it couldn’t even be done.
I remember when I started with Hitler Wears Hermes and people thought I was bugging because everybody, all they wanted to do was pop bottles and be in the club. Be on this down South shit or like when Chicago started jumping and people want to be on their drill shit. People thought none of this shit that I was doing was going to pop off. So, I took that chance because I knew what I had to do. I already had the vision and the formula. So, now still, fast forward seven and a half years later, I’m still dropping one of the best projects I ever made, with no effort.
HipHopDX: Say you really put the effort in, do you think you can make one of the greatest Hip Hop albums of all time?
Westside Gunn: I could. I really could, because then guess what I’m going to do. Now, I’m going to call Hov, now I’m going to call Nas, now I’m going to call all of these muthafuckas, and then that’s going to be the album. That might be my last one. That might be how I might have to end it. I could really do that if I want to. That’s what I’m saying. So, how do you think Hov’s verse is going to sound? How do you think the Kanye verse is going to sound? How do you think the Nas verse is going to sound? How do you think the Raekwon verse is going to sound? I can have Raekwon and Ghostface going back and forth on some old school shit on my record. How do you think that’s going to sound? I can do that! I’m telling you, bro. Just watch. Just pay attention to what I’m going to do.
HipHopDX: I want to ask you about the tracks that you and your brothers are on. “George Bondo” and “Allah Sent Me.” When you guys get together on a track, it’s straight to business. What’s the formula behind you three when it comes to these bars and is there a sense of competition between you three?
Westside Gunn: Man, it’s no secret. We just have fun and we’ve been doing this shit together for 20 years. We have been together our whole life, but I’m talking about actually making records together. We don’t ever write shit. It’s like I’ll say something, then Conway says something, then Benny says something and so on. New records never take longer than 15 minutes to me.
But I think Benny and Conway, when they get on records together, they kind of be like, “I wonder what’s the other muthafucka going to say?” They go crazy. You know what I mean? Me, personally, I’m just me, bro. It doesn’t even matter to me. I don’t even look at shit like that. There’s no pressure. Whatever I think of or say, that’s just what I say, none of my verses take longer than 30 minutes, none of them.
HipHopDX: That’s not easy to do with the stuff you talk about in your raps.
Westside Gunn: That’s my style. It’s never easy. Even when people think they know what I’m saying, they really don’t. You know how many times on fucking Genius, all that shit ends up being wrong? None of it is ever right. I’ve never looked and seen my verse right one time on there, unless I actually, literally wrote it out myself and sent it in. I’m talking about not one verse. Not one, bro. Like, nobody ever knows and they think they do but they never get it right, and that’s why I love myself. I’m so unorthodox and crazy and I’ll talk about shit in 2006 that muthafuckas won’t get until now. Muthafuckas are just now catching on to shit I said on Hitler Wears Hermes. I was talking about Tom Ford and all that shit and muthafuckas ain’t know who Tom Ford was until Hov came out with the song “Tom Ford.”
HipHopDX: Sort of like a painting where someone may not understand the meaning of it until way later?
Westside Gunn: That’s what I’m saying! That’s why I say, I’m an artist. Every last project is an art piece. That’s how I approach every last project. Every last project is going to be different. If you get it, you get it, if you don’t, you don’t. You might have to listen to the shit a thousand times to finally understand it, and you still might not understand it, but you might understand it a little just to make you feel better. That’s why I say when some people be like, “Oh, man, I don’t fuck with Westside Gunn” it’s because you don’t fucking get it! It’s not for everybody. If you all want me to simplify shit, I can do that all day. Then, guess what? I’m going to be a hundred times more popular. If I simplified my shit, I’d be a hundred times more popular, then Pray for Paris would be nominated for a Grammy. If that happens, man, oh shit. But why do that? The muthafuckas that win or get nominated know they can’t fuck with me.
HipHopDX: Someone that has a close relationship with the person you compared yourself to is JAY-Z. You guys have been seen a lot with him over the last few months. You also put that IG post of him wearing your merch. What’s the relationship like with him?
Westside Gunn: That’s my guy, man. He’s real genuine. A man I respect greatly and it’s mutual. It’s not one of those fake love type shit like its genuine love. We speak at last a few times each week. We got a lot of plans, man. Whatever I want to do, he backs me 110 percent. I’m not a guy who asks for shit. I’ve been moving like my own boss since day one and I’m a grown-ass man. Of course, I want better, but I’m good. But it’s mutual respect and this is just about building the brand. I represent his brand now and at the end of the day, we got to take this shit to another level for all parties. Fuck all the business and shit, it’s really like a genuine real relationship, so it’s nothing but love and respect. You don’t see Hov rocking other people’s shit. So that’s what I mean. It’s all love, man. Man, I’m telling you, bro. You haven’t seen anything yet. The shit I’m about to do is about to be legendary.
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JAY Z wearing the PRAY FOR PARIS crew and @rocnation x GXFR hat infront of a Kerry James Marshall Painting is absolutely one of the most ICONIC moments for the CULTURE this image is HISTORY!!!!! #PRAYFORPARIS #ICON #ART #Fashion #LEGEND #ROCNATION #GXFR #KERRYJAMESMARSHALL #Historic #CULTURE #HOV #jayz ?????????? ??????
HipHopDX: Is there a track with him in the works?
Westside Gunn: I mean, it’s all about timing, man. When it comes, it’ll come. This corona shit got shit going left right now, it’s all twisted. It’s crazy because Hov hit me in February like, “yo, come out to L.A.” You know, we had the tour going on, so I told him we were going to link right after the tour I was on. We were going to lock in for a few days straight and I was going to show him everything I got planned but then all this wild shit happened. I ended up getting sick and going fucking crazy and shit. I ended up sending him the album and ever since he got it, man, it has been love. When I congratulated him and Jay Electronica, he hit me back saying Pray for Paris is next.
Check back for part two of HipHopDX’s interview with Westside Gunn coming soon.