During his first trip to Paris, France in January, Westside Gunn was enamored by what he saw. He fell deeply in love with the city streets, the Romanesque architecture and Parisian culture so much that he almost didn’t leave. “Paris has opened up my eyes to so much and I was just inspired by it,” he tells HipHopDX. “I just wanted to have a deep attachment to the city.”
On his fifth day there, the attachment Gunn was speaking of came to him as an idea. While trying to find a studio to kill some time and record, the thought of an EP — inspired by the vibe he was feeling in Paris — came to Gunn’s mind. He ended up making one and planned to release it soon after he returned to the United States, but Gunn had other plans for it. The EP turned into a full-length album after the project needed, what Gunn calls, “the grimey shit.”
“I was still off that high from all the shit I did out there in Paris, but I got back on my grimy shit when I came home because that’s what I give the people,” he says. That album would become Pray for Paris, Westside Gunn’s third studio album, and his biggest one yet. He planned to have a special album rollout in Paris where a huge marketing campaign was set up, and all the music videos and a mini-movie would be shot to accompany it, but things went awry.
Coronavirus then slammed the United States and Gunn contracted the lethal virus, putting a halt to any of those big plans. He kept his diagnosis a secret, telling only his family and select close friends what was going on. He followed self-quarantine rules and felt like things were ok once the two weeks in isolation were up, but little did Gunn know his battle with the virus was just getting started.
After thinking he was fully healed, Gunn decided to hit a blunt he saved from smoking with Benny the Butcher the day before. The minute the smoke traveled to his lungs, Gunn began aggressively coughing and he struggled to catch his breath due to his asthma. “It was so bad I had to be rushed to the hospital. I thought I was out of here and had already made calls to have everything in order, just in case,” Gunn revealed. “You know how you feel a little better and you just go overboard? That blunt sent my ass right to the hospital, man. I thought I was going to die.”
Fortunately, Gunn made it through the scary ordeal, taking more precautions as he was sent home to continue his fight with the virus. Gunn’s near-death experience didn’t keep him down for long as it lit a fire within him to go harder than he’s ever gone before. What was to be a regular album from the Griselda captain turned into a source of strength and motivation for him to defeat the virus. “I thought this shit couldn’t happen to me. Not this way at least. I was just motivated and knew I had to take over the fucking world,” he says.
The time in between his trip to the hospital and the release of Pray for Paris had Gunn enhance the album through his interactions with his peers. He credits Virgil Abloh, Kanye West, and DJ Premier as some of the very few people who inspired him to keep his fight with the virus going. “I was having conversations with people like ‘Ye who showed me all these designs he was working on that inspired me to design even more too,” he says. “That’s what built this project, my connection to Paris and the people that spoke to me when I was sick.”
With rumors of retirement looming over him, who knows what Pray for Paris could’ve been if Gunn never contracted the virus. But he’s making it loud and clear that he’s far from calling it quits just yet. “Pray for Paris was the motivation to get better because it was just like, yo, man, this project has to be the one to start taking me to another level.”
Check out the rest of HipHopDX’s conversation with Westside Gunn as he talks more about Pray for Paris, his health, whether he still plans on retiring, who would he do a Verzuz battle with, working with the legendary DJ Premier and more.
HipHopDX: You basically shocked the Hip Hop community when you revealed you’re a coronavirus survivor. How are you feeling?
Westside Gunn: Yeah, man. That shit was crazy. Right now I’m still trying to get my breath and my lungs back. I’m an asthmatic and I smoke like a chimney, like I’m an ounce a day smoker, so you know that shit will just fuck you up if you’re an asthmatic. I’m just trying to really still get my breath right. I still do breathing treatments, like three, four times a day and still kind of relaxing. In about another week or two I’ll probably be back and start doing little 30 minute walks, just trying to get my wind back up. I’m still short on breath though. This runs through your whole chest like a tornado, so just the chest pains are mild but I’m getting there, bro. I’m not one of those dudes that cry about this shit, man, I’m a G. It could’ve been worse. I could’ve been dead. There are people dying and I’m happy to still be here.
HipHopDX: Can you tell us what was going through your mind dealing with that pain and thinking it was going to be the end for you?
Westside Gunn: I really thought I could smoke again. I didn’t understand the power that the smoke had over me. I got comfortable and Benny came through and we kicked it smoking like a blunt or two. When I woke up to hit that half of a blunt the next day, it was over. The calls were made, you know, the kids get this, the clothing company will run like this. So, yeah, it was that bad, but when I came back home I took it easy. I sat on the couch and didn’t speak much on the phone at all. If I spoke to anybody, it was through texts I didn’t pick up any calls. I’m going to be honest with you, this whole project is what pushed me to get better. Certain conversations with people motivated me to get through this shit because I got to fucking take over the world, bro. That’s why I’m going so high right now. The love and support from my family, friends and the fans when I posted clips of Pray For Paris while I was sick motivated me to just get through this shit.
Don’t ever call me a Rapper.. IM AN ARTIST!!!!! I’m diff and I always knew I was diff shit be so over ppl heads some think I’m even trash bc they don’t understand it but that’s wat happens with Rare ART, i can’t… https://t.co/4tK1BrhuBk
— WESTSIDEGUNN (@WESTSIDEGUNN) April 16, 2020
HipHopDX: With you speaking of being motivated by this new album, do you still have plans to retire?
Westside Gunn: Of course. Listen, man, I’m an artist, not a rapper. I’m a man of many, many talents. I might come out with an R&B album next year. I might drop rap to start singing like you don’t know what the fuck I might do. I might come out with a rock ‘n’ roll album and start me a fucking band. Who knows? I do so many things and I’m behind so many dope projects that are still coming out. I’m in Hip Hop for life and that’s never going to change. I’m too tapped into the culture and I’m one of the illest people in it. Like, that’s never going away, bro. I’m not going anywhere. Trust me, man. Hip Hop? I am Hip Hop.
HipHopDX: Is Pray for Paris going to be the last project from you or there’s more coming out?
Westside Gunn: Yeah, I still got three more this year, man. I’m going to do my Shady album. I have to do another Hitler Wears Hermes tape. I have to do that one, I mean that’s the culture and that’s how I started. Then, of course, I still got to do GunnLib with Madlib. So that’s three for sure. But you know, you might wake up one day to a surprise of me two dropping two at one time. You might wake up one day to a part of two of WWCD. You never know, bro. We make projects in a day or two. I might just feel like rapping and you got a whole new project.
They wanna act like this never happened in NYC 🤷🏽♂️ https://t.co/NJVzoWKZJW
— WESTSIDEGUNN (@WESTSIDEGUNN) February 12, 2019
HipHopDX: I want to go back to that night at Webster Hall where the New York City greats passed the torch down to you guys. How do you look back on that now, at this point in your career, with Pray For Paris out?
Westside Gunn: Raekwon saw it then. It took longer for a lot of other people to see it, but he saw it all the way back then. You know, some people see things early. It was The Lox, Wu-Tang Clan, and my brothers in Griselda on stage in one night. That’s history and a legendary night in Hip Hop. That was my favorite night of all time, that Webster Hall night. That was a week before Prodigy died and that made it even more special because he was there. That was the first Griselda show where we performed for the first time together. That night was crazy and that was just the beginning.
HipHopDX: What was it about the city of Paris that made you want to title your album Pray For Paris?
Westside Gunn: I really wanted to attach myself to that city, at least have a password to that city forever for the rest of my career. I went out there for fashion week and you know I’m a fashion guy. I’m walking around, getting wild with all my jewelry all looking crazy. Everybody’s looking at me like walking around with my big ass homie. He’s about 400 pounds and we were going around that motherfucker looking crazy. It was just dope as hell, but you know, just the vibe was so ill. Being front row at all the fashion shows, and being in the shops and seeing all the people, it was just the city, man. I really appreciate that it was nothing but love.
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Virgil invited me to Paris and had me Apart of the @off____white FW show, shit is krazy bc this is one of the most influential ppl of my life and inspired me to even start GRISELDA by FASHION REBELS, I’m forever grateful!! Sat front row with Migos, Pop Smoke, Tyga, J Balvin while my song played is a dope feeling especially bc he surprised me I didn’t even know he was gonna play my shit 🤲🏽🤲🏽 I had to celebrate by smoking the biggest blunt in front of the Louvre while paparazzi took a million pics, AND this outfit ain’t even out yet 🤷🏽♂️🤷🏽♂️ #FLYGOD #ICON #LEGEND #BUFFALOKIDS #ART #FASHION #ParisFashionWeek #PFW #Trendsetters #OFFWHITE got my lil bro @uptownchase wit me we about to turn up this Buffalo Shit waaaaaaaay up 🐐🐐🐐🐐🐐🐐
Virgil showed wild love out there. It’s something I will never forget, man. If it wasn’t for corona like I said the rollout was going to be out there. You know how I do my whole campaign. How I would’ve done it, like, in the streets of New York and L.A., and everywhere. I was going to do it in Paris and I was planning on going crazy like having the release party out there, but you know, everything happened. But it’s all good because Paris isn’t going anywhere man. When we can move again, I’m still going back out there man. It’s just one of those cities, man.
HipHopDX: What was the most important moment for you while you were out there?
Westside Gunn: My song being played at the Off-White fashion show. I couldn’t believe it. It was surreal, bro. When the beat dropped, it was just like, this shit can’t be fucking real. It was crazy because I thought it was the instrumental but then I hear myself start rapping and I’m like shocked. That shit just fucked me up. But you know I had to keep a straight face but on the inside, I was a fucking kid, bro. I couldn’t even fucking believe it. It was just like, man, it was surreal. Shout out to Virgil for that, like that’s something I would never forget.
HipHopDX: Let’s talk about the “Shawn vs. Flair” track you did with DJ Premier. I know you had him watch the WrestleMania 34 match between them. Why was that match important to this album?
Westside Gunn: The whole ending was amazing. The whole match from top to bottom was art. It’s one of the illest matches of all time. I was just in that vibe and I was in a WrestleMania vibe. It was just beautiful to me. It was crazy because it wasn’t necessarily like the match itself. Preemo just hit me and I was watching the match. It’s one of the illest matches of all time that I was just already was, like, watching just to inspire myself. He asked what I was doing and I put the match on FaceTime, and we watched it and spoke about it. I made that record in like, 15 minutes, bro. On two takes because, you know, I don’t have my breath all the way back. That’s why it’s kind of short, too because I really couldn’t breathe. I had to get that shit out. You know what I’m saying? That’s why I end up saying like the first part again at the end. It was like I had to, like, stretch it, because I couldn’t breathe. As soon as I got off the mic, I hopped right back on the breathing machine.
HipHopDX: With the style of rap that you do and how legendary Preemo is, what does it mean to have a track produced by him?
Westside Gunn: If you don’t have a Preemo record, you not it. Period. You can’t ever say you are a god or a legend if you don’t have any Preemo in the clip. That’s just real facts. You don’t go to him because he comes to you. That’s the thing. I’m pretty sure he just sold beats to some motherfuckers, and that’s how they were able to obtain a beat, but I’m talking about a real Preemo beat, the respect, the honor, the trophy. He comes to you. Primo not giving you no fucking beat. It’s a respect thing with him.
About two weeks ago, maybe I was playing one of the snippets of the record on my phone and somebody had screenshotted the tracklist I wrote down. Preemo saw that tracklist and was like, “Yo, this is the tracklist? Is this the album over?” And I’m like, “Shit, yeah, it’s over, but shit if you got something, I’m going to add it on to it.” But, mind you, Primo doesn’t even know I’m sick. So, he’s like, “Well, shit. I got to get on the album,” and that’s how it happened.
HipHopDX: We saw Preemo do the battle with RZA on Instagram. I want to ask you what’s your favorite Preemo beat of all time?
Westside Gunn: Shit. Oh, man, that’s a good ass question. That’s a hard one too. It has to be the Jeru the Damaja joint. What is it? “Come Clean?” Yeah, yeah, got to be that. That’s that shit. That’s the one that if I think of Preemo, I always think of that. With the drop with the syncs and all that.
HipHopDX: If somebody were to ask you to do a battle, who would you want it to be with?
Westside Gunn: It’d have to be Roc Marciano because our styles are so similar. I think we fathered a lot of people in this game. He fathered a lot of peoples’ styles. I fathered a lot of peoples’ cultures. There are people that try to do my adlibs, people that try to dress like me, people try to pick their beats like me, people try to rock they shit like me and everything. You got to understand, when it comes to this style and this kind of music, I’m the only person that rides around in a Lamborghini or Maybach wearing hats, jewelry, and collects art, and sits in the front row everywhere, and does all that shit.
You don’t see anybody doing what Westside Gunn does. Even the dull rappers. Nas isn’t on stage shouting them out. Drake isn’t on Rap Radar talking about their brand. So much shit doesn’t happen from all the legends like these people. From the Wu to Eminem to Kanye even all the way to people like Travis Scott, Migos, fucking all of them. I’m talking about everybody, sports stars, actresses, actors. They talk about what Westside Gunn has done, bro, people have never seen this shit. It’s just different and I’m different. I don’t want to be anybody in the world but me. I’m rare. It’s a one of one type of situation.
So, it’s like with Roc Marci, it’s mutual respect. I love his shit, and no disrespect, you know a lot of people used to be saying things like we bit off his style and we talk about that all the time. That’s my brother. Me and Roc have been making songs together for five years straight. I’m on his last album and he’s on my last album. So, that’s the only person I could think of. Anybody else wants a challenge I’m digging back to Hitler Wears Hermes and I’m wiping they ass out.
HipHopDX: How important is Pray for Paris to your career?
Westside Gunn: It’s a turning point, that’s it. It might be in people’s top three, it might be some people’s favorite. I just know it has to be the turning point and it will be. I already feel it. You can tell by the reactions and this is with no marketing, bro, nothing whatsoever. This is just off of me on the couch with corona making posts. Coming up with ideas, and moving smart, and building with the builders, and doing everything I need to do. This is the turning point. Even from here, now, we got to be running nonstop. It’s about to nonstop from now on.