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Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is WWCD, the major label debut from the Griselda Records trio of Westside Gunne, Conway the Machine and Benny the Butcher.
I’ve yet to see a modern rap success story that enables the big homies to moonlight as underdogs until they snatch their stars out of the skyline. Griselda Records embodies the unthinkable: three Buffalo niggas with family ties, all over 35 years of age, with decades of potential federal time faced between them. There’s designer on these survivors; applying street(wear) principles to street music, the trio of Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine, and Benny the Butcher have ran laps around the back end of the decade. They’ve overfed their gluttonous core via fashion and fire, sharing space with virtually everyone in the old guard tapestry of East Coast hip-hop while revitalizing the boom-baptist aesthetic with all the trimmings. There’s kayfabe, excess, and relentless commitment to character. Stakes aside, Griselda’s here to rap, and that’s it. This time, it’s gotten them in the Shady Records office, offering another opportunity to apply the pressure even further.
WWCD -- short for What Would Chinegun Do, named after the late Machine Gun Black - is Griselda’s first major-backed compilation coup towards continued dominance. There’s nothing drastic or deceptive about it, down to the black-white photo of Buffalo’s homeless hometown hero Claire. For the uninitiated, it’s a relentless affair the way Griselda’s been all along: made in three days, no radio leaps, and minimal experimentation save for every time a member unlocks a new flow or adlib to smother the track with. Between Daringer and Beat Butcha, the 46-minute affair feels fully rooted in its stakes without overcompensating for the beauty that comes once all three MCs are locked in. Formidable in their own rights, each Griselda MC approaches WWCD with a similar urgency akin to much of their discography; they embrace their sinister twist on the competitive spirit. Everyone’s rapping like no one wants to get their ass kicked, and no one truly does.
It’s a sight to see: Gunn places more bass behind his high-registered snarl, Benny remains as hungry and unforgivable as he’s been since Tana Talk 3, and Conway’s as inventive and sinister once he falls deeper into his bag after the first third of WWCD passes. While Griselda takes a plethora of wrestling cues, their commitment to character can often prove rather unexciting, if not detrimental. Granted, it’s quintessential street rap for the tuned ear: the chops hit in a similar tempo, the bodies drop at an alarming rate, and Keisha Plum lends not a speck of hope to this dingy, grim landscape. But WWCD’s most interesting moments go as unserved opportunities, given the scintillating loose ends of samples that go unclaimed and the seven-minute suite that’s a good enough ride in the end, but doesn’t justify seven minutes to ride through to a similar destination. While each MC’s done thorough excavations of their characters in their own universes, the Griselda group meeting feels more like an extended shootaround (pun) that stubbornly resists the urge to get riskier.
That stubbornness takes nothing away from the rapping, though. Gunn finds ways to sneak humorous imagery into his most absurd reality, though he’s often the one to fall out of sync with the others. When Conway’s having more fun, he’s far easier to listen to. And Benny, for the most part, triple-doubles his way through WWCD to solidify his place as a ceaselessly-improving MC whose quotables become more shockingly consistent with each passing drop. (He keeps stealing the show!) Unfortunately the few guests don’t keep the same energy as expected from Griselda’s high baseline; the 50 Cent verse resonates far more in theory, and the Eminem verse is… Eminem. (Ergo, so technically good, yet self-indulgent to the point of boredom.) The intro/outro juxtaposition between a grizzled salute from Raekwon, and A.A. Rashid galaxy-braining his way around the world, maintains the Griselda oddities with great texture. It's a testament to how far they’ve come on their own. There’s also something gently unnerving about a .50 second interlude dedicating to a woman singing about blowing one’s head off.
For specialist street rap, the repetitive complications remain inevitable as three wordsmiths try to carve out yet another original way to flip a brick and run down on an opp. Granted, I’ve yet to become sick of the shtick, no matter how low-risk it remains even with high stakes on the line. WWCD thrives by feeding from confidence and self-assuredness as it lept outta all three contenders, building the specialist winterproof album prepped for dope-whippers and all in proximity. Even the ones in $150 hoodies. At best, it’s a stopgap for whichever new worlds can come from the ether of what Griselda’s done already. Hopefully that stubbornness doesn’t hinder anyone in the project from discovering their true potential outside of the OGs. Legacies aside, what’s with all the elderly murder shit wrapped in casual threats? Ain’t niggas runnin’ outta family members to pop in song form now?
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.
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