Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is From King to a God, the predecessor to Conway the Machine’s forthcoming Shady debut.
Regarded as the backbone of Griselda — the Buffalo movement staking their claim to the underground and beyond — Conway the Machine has spent the bulk of their unprecedented run embodying his moniker with every appearance. He's a rapper's rapper, a technician with many chips visible on his sleeves even as he pontificates on his greatness at will. He’s a man who’s proven everything against the odds, and won’t dare stop there. Between a barrage of solo works, mixtapes (not quite albums,) and collabs, Conway’s left a trail leading towards a masterwork we’ve yet to see, but he swears exists. He’s been compared to — and cosigned by — the greats, yet consistently cloaks himself in the promise that the best is yet to come. This unshakable sense of delayed gratification has left a cloud over an oeuvre that’s undoubtedly gripping at its peaks, yet longing for the definitive piece that’ll further etch Conway’s name in the hallowed halls of lyricists he’s invoked alongside.
From King to a God isn’t the work, but a formidable precursor to that fateful day Conway drops his Shady debut. While slightly relegated to the appetizer, the album hits every Griselda note, but excels when Conway delivers upon his promise in abundance. A man fully in control of his own narrative, he knows just how much to reveal to bait us into remaining attentive, but variable production quality and repetitive subject matter have proven rather distracting in his past works. From King to a God is another testament to whom Conway can bring out the woodwork to bring his grimiest visions to fruition. He’s rapping over Havoc, Khrysis, Premo, and even Murda Beatz and Hit-Boy. (And a Griselda album would ring hollow without a no-hook crew cut over a menacing child toy lullaby, as provided by Beat Butcha once more.)
There’s plenty we’ve seen before: recounting his laundry list of supporters, reminding us he’s the greatest, and what he’s overcome to stunt this hard. It’s functional by default, with enough flashes of inventiveness to elicit a listener’s chuckle akin to Conway’s sinister laughter. While he’s yet to score the club record at a mainstream baseline (which is not his point), Conway remains the most at home over elevated boom-bap that swells and surrounds his gruff energy, though he shines just as bright in the lighter takes as well. But the true delight comes when his vulnerability cuts through the grit; no one narrates loss and survival like Conway when he’s on all cylinders. We’re riding shotgun through his memories, and he’s only concerned with showcasing his truth; the Machine’s no longer bulletproof, and the excess proves unnecessary.
If nothing else, From King to a God proves what can happen under the proper controlled variables: when given enough room, Conway seizes the moment to further establish his versatility and reconfirm why he’s one of the most vivid storytellers in his lane when he’s on top of his game. His crew operates from a perfected formula, yet he remains the member taking the most forward strides to elevate past the niche no matter how often he’s punished for it. While he’s yet to perfect it, hopefully Conway’s one step away from shedding his awkward missteps and basking fully in the glory he’s professed to us for years. He’s close, skating the fringes of grandiose and gangsta in an effort to be legendary.