It’s hard to imagine any Hip Hop denizen having as great a 2017 as Cardi B. – minus the social media scandals, of course.

Griselda and Shady Records signees Conway the Machine and Westside Gunn come close. Their Buffalo, New York brand of Hip Hop – a stew of brooding, hypnotic beats and katana-sharp lyricism – found more ears this year thanks to a BET Awards Cypher, numerous guest spots and co-signs by rap “who’s who” and a handful of well-received mixtapes.

Conway’s steely lyricism, in particular, has earned him praise as his crew’s assassin. It only begs this question: Does G.O.A.T. raise the bar on an already stellar 2017?

The answer is no, and that’s a good thing.

G.O.A.T. – “Grimiest of All Time” – is more of what we expect from Conway. His bars remain efficient and finely crafted and his presence is as menacing as ever – like the Gooch from Diff’rent Strokes. The guest spots are something else, too. The late Prodigy, Raekwon, Styles P, Royce da 5’9 (who cleverly outshines them all with the line “That’s what the gorillas did, I’m everything you feel you ain’t/Assassinate characters like Twitter did to Azealia Banks…”), Lloyd Banks and Griselda affiliate Benny The Butcher make solid contributions.
Go-to beatmaker Daringer, who produced nine out of the 10 tracks, provides that signature Griselda thump: grimy, melodic loops coating “barely there” drums that lumber along in the background – a side player to Conway and guests.

That formula also gives the project a certain sameness because there is virtually no variation in tempo throughout and the tracks are dark and monochromatic. “Bishop Shot Steel” and “Bullet Klub” aren’t deficient by any means, but compared to the other tracks, they underwhelm. The former is listless and plodding while the latter is bland and overlong at a 5:40 run time.

The Alchemist-produced “Trump” differentiates itself from the pack with its restrained fury that drones, seethes and bubbles as Conway spits his signature, exquisite gun talk: “I got him and his homies in your bushes now/Sniffin grams to stay up so he can put you down/Homemade ski mask on, pull it down…”

Yes, the title has little to do with the country’s controversial Commander-in-Chief and more to do with the literal definition, to get the better of someone else.

Elsewhere, “Th3rd F,” featuring Raekwon, sounds like a direct descendant of the Wu discography with its wailing soul sample and hard-edged lyricism. Nevertheless, it’s an off-kilter delight. But the previously released, Prodigy-assisted track, “Rodney Little,” named after the fictional character from Spike Lee’s Clockers, remains a highlight thanks to its minimal guitar sample. The vintage lyricism from the departed Queensbridge MC is enough to make you misty-eyed, though.

A credible argument could be made that Conway’s 2017 mixtapes More Steroids and Reject on Steroids are better than G.O.A.T.. Still, amid the doom and gloom, there is some gorgeous sludge to be found.