The value of a DJ Premier co-sign has the quality of fine wine. It only appreciates over time. The latest rappers lucky enough to secure a nod from the legendary producer are Griselda gang members Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine, and Benny The Butcher. The Buffalo-based hip-hop group is bringing that dirty, grimy street shit back into hip-hop with a fervor, and this time, they’ve got a New York legend on their side with the release of their new single, “Headlines.”
“The beat was whipped up on the spot, the lyrics was thought of on the spot,” Conway says over the phone. “It came out so effortlessly and naturally because the energy was organic. We all felt comfortable and felt like we belonged, like this ain’t our first time working with him.”
That comfort comes across in the track, as “Headlines” sounds positively disgusting in the best, most hip-hop way.
As for the energy in the studio, it was no pressure; it was akin to a playoff game.
“I just was ready to spit some of the hardest shit I could think of to impress [DJ Premier],” Benny explains. “To carry on tradition. We already know the names of some of the people he worked with. I wanted to keep it along those lines, some shit that he would be proud of.”
“I don’t have too many things on my bucket list, but that’s one of them,” Gunn adds. “The respect was already there. It wasn’t like I had to go reach out to him, you know what I’m saying? He respected us enough to come check for us and give us that opportunity. It was crazy. Preem is like fam. It’s one of those dream come true [moments]. Anybody that grew up in hip-hop understands what a DJ Premier beat is.”
“That makes me feel good, man. To be 53 years old and still blessed to be alive and doing what I love, which is hip-hop music, and just music period… People still wanting to work with me and be part of my catalog, it’s a really incredible feeling.” —DJ Premier
Of course, the love goes both ways. For Preemo, working with Griselda is just as much of an honor.
“It’s a big honor because of the fact that I like that they bring back movements,” Preem says. “It reminds me of G-Unit when they were starting out. It reminds me Wu-Tang [Clan], when they were coming out. Gang Starr Foundation. Native Tongues. And then everybody in the movement has fans. Everybody has their own superhero. Same thing with Griselda.”
That classic energy is not lost on Griselda, either. According to Gunn, the group is the second coming of Mobb Deep or Wu. Their modus operandi is the spirit of gutting hip-hop essentials; that's what makes the group such a force.
“Me personally, I feel Griselda is legendary. It’s just so early, that people don’t see it yet,” Gunn says, citing a lack of mainstream recognition. “["Headlines"] just shows that right now Griselda is unfuckwitable. We showing everybody and showing and proving that we’re here.”
Gunn continues: “This just lets people know that these guys is built from that same cloth as the other legends.”
To which Conway seconds: “I think the best part of it is the essence and the organic rawness that Premier fans love and fans of Griselda love. Raw raps over hard ass beats. We really cut from that cloth, and we really give it up how we do it. To be on those types of beats, it really solidifies what we represent.”
As you may have gathered by now, Griselda represents the essence of hip-hop: unabashed street tales and narratives of struggle and triumph by way of tight lyricism. The guys stand for a sound and an era that may be mostly relegated to the underground but is healthy as ever.
“We could be doing 100 other things right now, but we sticking to the pillars of hip-hop and representing for the guys who groomed us when we was coming up,” Benny tells me.
“We ain’t playing. We at everybody’s neck. Foot on neck season!” Conway jeers.
Yet, joking aside, he has a point. While Griselda upholds the original pillars of hip-hop and gets respect from the likes of Wu and DJ Premier, they are doing everything in their power to advance a culture that is near and dear Preemo’s heart. Perhaps that is why there is so much chemistry on the track: the four artists are all moving with the same good intentions.
“I’m part of a culture,” Preem explains. “I represent the cultural side. I will always uphold it because I don’t want to violate the origins of what made hip-hop so great. It fed me, it got me houses, bought my moms mink coats, helped my friends in debt. Hip-hop did that. I refuse to ever abandon the respect it has given me, I give it right back.”
In this case, giving back is producing a killer track with the Griselda gang, who see themselves as the hip-hop standard for decades to come. “Griselda is a once-every-20-years type of thing that we got going on,” Benny begins, to which Gunn interjects, “I want [fans] to understand that this is just the beginning between Griselda and Preemo. We already talked about doing an album after we did the song.”
Talk about for the culture. In that breath, the Griselda legacy is as healthy as the whole of the hip-hop genre.
“I think, in the legacy of hip-hop, five, 10 years from now, we are Wu-Tang. We Mobb Deep. You know what I’m saying? We’re that caliber of artist. Right now, we’re just in real-time. Some people haven’t caught on yet. It takes a little time for people to get it, but five years from now, people will definitely say that Griselda is one of the illest things, ever, to happen to hip-hop.” —Westside Gunn
“Rap ain’t dead, it just lives in Buffalo, New York,” Conway concludes. Amen.