Griselda Records is a real family affair. Consisting of rappers Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine, and Benny The Butcher, the group appeals to fans with their new era boom-bap aesthetic, which some rap fans and media have erroneously defined as revivalism. More than a sound, however, it is the trio’s familial connection—Gunn and Conway are brothers, Benny is their cousin—that makes the GxFR brand work. All three emcees are equally skilled, but organic camaraderie is what brings out the best in Buffalo’s first crop of rap stars.
In 2017, Griselda turned their independent grassroots success into a major label partnership with Eminem’s Shady Records, and a management deal with Roc Nation. Almost two and a half years later, their long-awaited debut album Wwcd—short for What Would Chine Gun Do?—has finally arrived. The album’s cover is a candid photo of a local homeless icon named Claire, further solidifying the group’s sense of duty to their hometown. With their in-house producers Daringer and Beat Butcha in tow, it’s time to hear the Buffalo boys’ major label statement.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: No skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Every song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish. DOOT DOOT DOOT DOOOOO.
1. “Marchello Intro” (feat. Raekwon The Chef)
Oh shit, The Chef’s in the building! He’s showing love to Griselda and giving out game. This lecture reminds me of the speech Raekwon gave at the group’s sold-out Webster Hall show several years ago. On some real shit, he is passing the torch. Building hype like a teaser trailer. “We move like militants.” Knowledge darts. What a way to start an album. The pressure’s on for real.
2. “Chef The Dreds”
These drums are dripping sewer water. Gunn is starting things off. The ball’s been passed off to Benny. They sound so energized. And here’s Conway! They’re showing out early. “The bullets as big as Corona bottles.” Benny with the IMAGES. I’ve never heard them jump in and out of a song together like this. Grimy gymnastics in full effect.
A sample set for an episode of Scooby-Doo. A bit slower than the first song. Conway is talking shit early. His laugh ad-lib is funny and menacing. He’s giving Jadakiss a run for his money. “I’m 5’8” but 6’11” when I stand on my bricks.” Benny is destroying. He makes you taste the dust on the chimes dancing over this sample. “We wore Fear of Gods to the Last Supper.” Gunn’s raps are so lavish and perfectly suited for his voice. Where’s his Fashion Week invite?
4. “Cruiser Weight Coke”
Griselda is trying to keep as much of this album for themselves as possible. I appreciate it. These organs are jumping already. “My OG used to be the source like Benzino.” Always love to hear rap geek talk, even if it is about a clown like Benzino. Benny’s hitting a different flow, similar to the one from “5 to 50” on The Plugs I Met. He sounds so confident. We’re only three tracks in, but Wwcd is missing beat variety of Plugs. These boys be rapping, though. Gunn with some storytelling bars. This stanza almost sounds like a hook. We were promised grimy, and grimy is what the trio is delivering. This one will hit during the winter.
5. “Freddie HotSpot”
The piano keys sound like a jazz club in the back of an 18-wheeler. Benny is always ready to attack. He’s flowing over this beat on a wave of white. Spooky. Conway is getting personal. All three emcees are rapping for people who will never see the kind of success they’ve achieved. The conviction is palpable. “Freddie HotSpot” has my favorite beat so far. More of this variety, please. Griselda would sound nasty over some R&B production. Or maybe even on Earl Sweatshirt's “EAST” beat. Okay, lemme stop. I’ll be back.
6. “Dr. Bird’s”
Twinkle, twinkle, little Gunn. This was the first single, right? Glad I held off on listening until now. Gunn likes Fear of God. He’s an OG hypebeast. “Told Virgil write ‘Brick’ on my brick” is a hilarious streetwear bar. I’m having flashbacks to the IKEA rug, and I need to catch my footing. Everyone’s vocals sound clearer on this song than the previous five. “Hall & Nash and Benny is like Jay Worthy, Kareem, and Magic.” Cocaine and basketball references are flying. Benny is bulldozing. He’s the pitbull snarl to Gunn and Conway’s laidback menace. This outro beat is nice. Why won’t the Griselda boys rap over stuff like this? It sounds like meat falling off the bone. I’m drooling.
7. “The Old Groove” (feat. NOVEL)
I expect to be able to two-step to any song with “Groove” in the title. This is not that. “In the Guggenheim, I had to fold a TEC.” I would read a book of poetry by Westside Gunn. Title: “Shit Looked Like Jermaine Dupri Whipped It.” What a great line. This album has the kind of tag-team mayhem I was expecting from the Beast Coast album earlier this year. Drug raps and punchlines. That’s it. It sounds tailor-made to get fans through the winter. “They top 5 got all three Griselda members.” If you don’t love yourself, who will? The breaks between these verses are a touch too long. Novel came in. Oh shit, the GROOVE finally showed up. “It’s all about the yams.” Okay, then. I didn’t expect to hear Raheem DeVaughn’s cousin with an 8-ball tear this beat up. This switch-up was a nice surprise. A standout selection.
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Chine Gun tribute right off the back. And more Off-White talk. Gunn and Conway are playing hot potato with the bars. A nice changeup. “My whole family on, we like the Jacksons.” I love the bond these three have, man. Daringer has a great ear for samples but always sets them to the same BPM. He’s like the Jetsonmade of grimy beats. Would DaBaby on a Daringer beat be too much to ask? A solid song, either way.
9. “Kennedy” (feat. Tiona Deniece)
A piano playing in the background. Gunn is throwing adlibs around while he and Tiona sing about blowing your fucking face off. All I’m imagining is Gunn drunkenly slumped up against a piano at a jazz bar’s closing time, and I can’t stop laughing. What would a Westside Gunn show at the Blue Note sound like? Or a Postmodern Jukebox remix of a Griselda song? What was I talking about? This interlude has wacky energy, even if I don’t know why they put it on this album.
10. “City On The Map” (feat. 50 Cent)
Griselda brings the best out of its marquee features. I can’t wait to hear them make 50 Cent good again. "City On The Map" is what I imagine a Buffalo winter sounds like. What a nasty chop. “I probably be in your projects with all my ice out." Conway sounds cold and more energetic here. Here comes Curtis! He sounds like a street alumnus thinking back on all his achievements. “Hollow tips burn faster than rubber on spinning tires.” FIERCE. This song is just 50 and Conway. Machine getting a big boost here. This record is making my winter playlist. I'll be back.
11. “May Store” (feat. Keisha Plum)
Griselda and pianos go together like Kanye and religious capitalism. The bass line is sinister, too. The boys are marching with a lean in their step here. “May Store” is dope fiend smiling from inside the park bushes at midnight music. I’m fucking with this. It’s not a Griselda album without a Keisha Plum outro! Her poetry slides through these beats like butter on bullet holes. I could listen to her talk all day. All of her interludes remind me of the radio host narrator from The Warriors. Where’s her album? She needs some time to spit on her own. Another keeper.
12. “Lowery” (AA Outro)
AA outros are a tradition on Gunn albums. I can’t believe this album is almost over. Feels like it was just getting started. Very similar to Raekwon’s intro but more homegrown. If Wwcd was a television season, “Lowery" is the final credit roll.
13. “Bang (Remix)” (feat. Eminem)
Oh, wait, one more track. A remix of Conway and Eminem’s song, huh? Okay, let’s go. With his forceful voice and clear diction, it’s easy to forget half of Conway’s face is paralyzed. He always gets respect from me for managing such a delicate balance. Gunn and Benny verses before Eminem spits out a thesaurus. “Pitch for my family like Sandy Koufax.” Benny is so sharp. Tana Talk 4 gonna be a classic. “Bang (Remix)” is the only song on the album with a hook, and I’m not feeling it. Here comes Eminem with his “awfully hot coffee pot” flow. The beat is sped up a bit. “I shoved an Oscar up his wazoo.” It’s taking a lot for me not to turn this off. Eminem, now 47, is still rapping like a 13-year-old with a boner. Ending this album with that verse was A&R malpractice. Unplugging.
Final (First Listen) Thoughts On Griselda’s Wwcd
On Wwcd, the Griselda gang dig their feet further into the lane they’ve been cultivating for the last five years. This album is meat-and-potatoes rap served with a side of grit on a Balenciaga placemat.
Westside Gunn, Conway, and Benny sound rejuvenated, zipping in and out of each other’s sentences, and letting each other breathe when necessary. Each member shines across Wwcd, but none more than Benny, who walks away with quotables for days (“I’m 5’8” but 6’11” when I stand on my bricks”).
The eclectic ear Westside Gunn brings to his solo affairs, like this year's Hitler Wears Hermes 7, wasn’t employed as shrewdly on Wwcd. While Daringer and Beat Butcha’s ears for sampling are divine, many of the chops blend across Wwcd. This particular approach isn’t faulty, but a listener’s mileage will vary depending on their tolerance for lockstep breakbeats.
A good chop is a good chop (“Freddie HotSpot”), but the moments when the album breaks away from this template, like the triple-time of “Cruiser Weight Coke” and the smooth funk on the back half of “The Old Groove,” showcase a side of Griselda I wish they were more willing to explore.
Griselda’s steadfast commitment to one sound has always been a part of their appeal. Their growing legions of fans expect a particular brand of rap, and Wwcd delivers in spades. No concept, no message, no filler; just bars and beats. Chine Gun would be proud.