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Griselda - WWCD (2019)


If you're a hip-hop fan who hasn't heard the names Conway the Machine, Benny the Butcher, or WestsideGunn, then it's only a matter of time. Collectively known as Griselda Records, after Colombian coke-mogul Griselda Blanco, the trio of Buffalo rappers have been grinding their way to success for nigh on seven years. Each member has their own mixtape series, collabs between themselves, collabs with other rappers, and countless features on a whole host of New York projects. Success in the internet age is usually a matter of luck, but these homies sure mitigate the odds.

More than just a rap clique, it's a family affair. Gunn and Conway are brothers, and Benny their long-time associate. A string of shootings and incarcerations culminating in Conway's partial paralysis led the three to focus on music full time, hustling their way out the streets. It's an origin story most hip-hop fans have heard before, and one the genre is practically built on, but Griselda bring an authenticity that's surprisingly rare in modern rap. Every bar they spit comes from a place of struggle, making for shockingly effective tributes to New York's classic boom-bap sound. It's clear the music these guys grew up on; Nas, Biggie, Wu Tang, all household names at this point. More than just homage though, the group feel like they're continuing a legacy, something that's been recognised in recent years with Eminem signing all three to his Interscope subsidiary Shady Records.

Named to honour Benny's fallen brother, What Would 'Chinegun Do is, shockingly, the trio's first official album together and major label debut. Its success would likely see Griselda become a household name, and with features from Eminem, 50 Cent, and Raekwon the Chef, it seems they're on the right track. Though, aside from a few big-name guests, not much has changed about Griselda's creative process. WWCD was allegedly recorded over 3 days, with in-house producer Daringer handling most of the beats. Sticking with this formula eschews the notion of a glossy, over-produced debut and avoids Eminem's creative kiss of death. Simply put, they're keeping it real.

Raekwon opens the album on Marchello Intro with his best DJ Khaled impression, delivering a co-sign in typically heavy-handed fashion. The next five tracks get straight to the point as all three MCs trade deadly coke-rap quips, sans-features, atop a string of menacing instrumentals. Benny's style is most immediate, delivering cold-blooded quotables like "I'm 5'11 but 6'8 if I stand on my bricks" with a choppy flow that lends itself to complex wordplay. Conway's Bell's palsy grants him an unmistakably grimy lisp, overcoming facial paralysis through sheer will to spit each bar as if it's his last.

My personal favourite member, though, has to be Westside Gunn. Coming from the Ghostface school of nasally, charismatic spitters, Gunn brings a cartoonish flair to the group's grittiness; violent threats sung flagrantly off-key, high-fashion braggadocio next to crackhead shoutouts, and a slew of legendary ad-libs that punctuate every single gun or car reference with obnoxious onomatopoeia.

What results is an album that's hard to fault, at least as far as the core members go. Each track comes with a trunk-knocking drum loop and chilling sample-work that's perfect for trading throwback bars. While unmistakably 90s in feel, it'd be remiss to deny Griselda's own distinctive style, one that's earned them a cult following across the globe.

Spoken word artist and frequent collaborator Keisha Plum caps off May Street with some truly bloodthirsty poetry fit for what's potentially the album's hardest track. Choruses are few and far between as the trio feel content to let their skills do the talking, skills backed by a natural chemistry developed through countless years of shared experience. It's such a heady mix that the handful of other rap appearances feel wholly unnecessary.

Even City On The Map, which sounds like a classic 50 Cent cut unearthed, hardly benefits from featuring the man himself. A confusing beatswitch mars The Old Groove as its standout, head-bobbing feel is cut short by unknown vocalist Novel's best Anderson Paak impression. Lacklustre as they are, these guest spots cannot even compare to the trademark obnoxiousness of Slim Shady himself.

Strategically placed after the album's actual outro, Em ends Conway's incredible track Bang with his migraine-inducing staccato flow and eye-rolling bars that don't even bother to reference the record they're appearing on. It's a truly miserable finish, but an easily ignorable one thanks to some genius tracklist arrangement.

It's hard to talk specifics with WWCD as Benny, Conway, and Gunn are operating at a startlingly consistent level. From front to back there isn't a single wack verse spit by the three, something that can't really be said for the countless other projects they've dropped. Despite working within a derivative framework, Griselda's individual styles come as a welcome breath of fresh air for hardcore East Coast hip-hop. The record is sure to satisfy new fans and old-heads alike as an uncut introduction that's unapologetically dope. 



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