If rap is a game of opulence, then Westside Gunn has always played to win. Every story pulled from the sewer drain of his experiences on the streets of Buffalo, New York intersects at the pleasure end of a Hermes bag or a Balenciaga cap, an eternal mix of Dom Perignon and lobster with fried rice. It’s a combination that’s befitted many a mafioso rapper of the past—Raekwon, JAY-Z, and Pusha-T all built empires out of the spoils of street war—but Gunn and his Griselda Records cohorts were never interested in Purple Tape fan fiction. They’re here for the art of it all.
From his Hitler Wears Hermes mixtape series to his critically acclaimed debut album, FLYGOD, Westside Gunn writes Hennessy-soaked scriptures of yore, but with brighter colors and a pair of designer sneakers for good measure. Each song stands as its own well-crafted piece of rap but with little to no creative direction. If Griselda label mate and blood brother Conway is the technician, then Gunn, at his best, is the muscle, carrying out high-end glam raps—think Ghostface Killah, Action Bronson, or Roc Marciano—to their logical conclusion. He’s not just shooting for his life; he has a “Stick with the double drum, Black as Africa.”
Standing cock-eyed in front of a concrete wall, AK in one hand, pulled down Fendi face stocking in the other, Gunn gets reacquainted with fans on the album cover for his long-awaited sophomore album, Supreme Blientele (aka Chris Benoit aka God Is the Greatest), the precursor to his forthcoming debut on Shady Records. It’s a startling image, one where grime and style coalesce just in time for the art show to begin.
As the three album titles suggest, there are several common themes across the project. For starters, Supreme Blientele is a blatant Ghostface homage that sets up crime scenes both lavish (“Fur on the Gucci loafers, lord you see the ankles / Rosborough pullovers, I’m rapping like two Hovas” from “Dean Malenko”) and stained with the drug-running recollection of the bite-sized “Amherst Station.” Chris Benoit—the album’s original title—is a nod to Gunn’s wrestling fandom and the abundance of wrestling references throughout this project, which would be cool if it didn't serve as a pseudo dedication to a man who orchestrated a family murder-suicide. God Is the Greatest, on the other hand, is Gunn counting his blessings and remembering fallen soldiers; the fading wail at the end of the hook on “Elizabeth” is one of his most affecting performances yet.
The skits are even more telling: a news report about an undersold Kerry James Marshall painting; a clip from Kanye West and Charlamagne Tha God’s notorious interview about living a “Hermes level of existence”; his daughter Westside Pootie stunting on rappers attempting to bite the brand. More now than on any of his previous releases, these moments feel like connective tissue, helping stitch together a picture of a man who is simply happy to see his friends come home from jail and pay his mother’s bills. His style is the substance.
Luckily, Gunn has a team of old and new school luminaries ready to match that flair. Griselda in-house producer Daringer delivers the grimiest of loops, but shines brightest when he tries his hands at sun-soaked soul (“Amherst Station”), Pete Rock offers analog ride-alongs to match impressive verses from Conway (“Brutus”) and Elzhi (“The Steiners”), and 9th Wonder brings the BPM count way down with subdued blues twang on “Wrestlemania 20.” From start to finish, the production is a feast.
As far as features go, Keisha Plum ends “RVD” with sweet and savage poetry befitting of The Warriors making their way back to Coney Island, and CRIMEAPPLE continues to establish his silver tongue over the hazy guitars of “Spanish Jesus.” But it’s Griselda running mate Benny The Butcher who came to kill on his three separate features; his stories and conviction might finally earn him the respect Gunn and Conway are just starting to revel in. It's Benny's monster verse on “GODS Don’t Bleed” that opens the album (“How you on parole with a curfew and some beef?”, “You put it on tracks, these rappers copy and pastin’ it / Take Belichick’s playbook but still won’t beat the Patriots”).
Make no mistake about it, though, this is the FlyGod’s show. His personality is as golden as his ear for beats, and Supreme Blientele is proof positive that Gunn and Griselda are much more than just '90s nostalgia. In fact, the album is worthy of standing proudly in the custom Fendi frame that’s already being prepared for it.
Three Standout Tracks
The Alchemist could produce records for an infant and they'd sound good, but his developing bond with Gunn is special. Jazzy, low-tempo horns and the zig-zag of a saxophone fly as Gunn raps about people he knows. “I know niggas who caught bodies and they’re still a teenager” and “I know some niggas claiming fake blood,” in particular, take me out every time. When the FlyGod says “bool,” IHOb shudders. The hook might just be the most tender thing he’s ever recorded. If only his homies could see him now.
“Brossface Brippler” ft. Benny & Busta Rhymes
Another Alchemist loop, this time a slow thudding march with a wailing chorus. Gunn’s flow is so smooth, but Benny’s playing for keeps on his third and final guest verse. MVP status goes to Busta Rhymes for working a Salt Bae reference into these fiery cocaine raps. I’ve loved Busta’s post-We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service hunger; hopefully, he's working on his first full-length album since 2012's Year of the Dragon. Pusha-T might need to watch his back.
“Wrestlemania 20” ft. Anderson .Paak
All the drums and whistles are stripped away by the iconic 9th Wonder for a simple blues lick and some vocals from our crook operator, Anderson .Paak. This must be what he and Gunn were working on in the studio in May 2016. .Paak only delivers the hook here, but these two are a very good match.