Griselda moves with a bone-deep reverence for hip-hop. The collective, label, and rap chimera made up of Buffalo’s Westside Gunn, Benny The Butcher, and Conway the Machine are more than rap purists. They’re the cornerstone of classic-meets-present hip-hop. Since their deal with Shady Records in 2017, the trio has released a grip of solo efforts all while teasing their collective major-label debut. Finally, two years since the deal, the debut album, WWCD, is in our hands. Rejoice.
Griselda’s WWCD feels nothing like a formal debut album. None of Griselda’s members needed formal introductions into the hip-hop arena. The trio of rappers already has a deep solo catalog to each of their well-respected names. Some of their solo work has even been regarded as the decade’s best. As such, WWCD is no traditional debut album. Though it hits on all the bells of a group’s debut—chemistry (“Chef Dreds”), storytelling (“May Store”), worldbuilding (“City On The Map”)—the record is so much greater than its debut label.
WWCD opens with a Raekwon intro, which could be seen by some as virtue signaling or pandering to the old heads. It is not. The open is an exchange of mutual respect, speaking to Griselda’s hold on hip-hop. Neither Rae nor Griselda necessarily needs each other. One is a legend, and the other is crafting their legacy. Rae’s words do not need to christen the group. Through their celebrated solo work, they’ve already established themselves. In that breath, Rae’s intro serves as a cherry on top of the miles-tall Griselda sundae. This introduction is about years of respect given and earned; it is a welcome co-sign, but not a requisite fulfilled for listening.
Following the intro, we get 12 tracks of coke dreams, dealer tales, and street hustling. WWCD is grime and grit, and Pyrex-opulence. Griselda has a knack for taking the highwire tales of classic mafioso raps and bringing them into the present-day, again, without pandering. We are not stuck in the past. No beat on WWCD feels like a hold-over from Wu’s era. We’re not wiping the dust off old drum loops and sending them into the Spotify ether. Also, to note, there are no bars about taking down the whole of “mumble rap.” No out-of-place flexes revealing deep insecurity. The only thing to WWCD is pure hip-hop essence, bottled and sold to the eager streamer.
We feel this essence in the title and sonics of “The Old Groove.” From the title, we see Griselda signaling their roots, unashamed to be of a distinct hip-hop lineage. With the production by Beat Butcha and Daringer sounding like water drops from a storm drain hitting the steps of a cobbled alleyway, we’re welcomed into a nearly seven-minute rap fest.
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Westside Gunn takes the lead here, not burdened by a concept, and his narrative feels easy and haunting in equal measures. Conway’s announcing “Griselda the championship team” gives fans a hero to root for on the cut. By this point in the album, seven tracks in, we realize WWCD is delivering a lesson in cohesion without concept. This approach is how you use yourself as a narrative through-line. Not every album needs to be a long poem. Solid, connected work can be born of chemistry and conviction, too.
Take the ghoulish “Cruiser Weight Coke.” Conway opens the song with a plodding verse of free-association raps. His delivery is akin to a pack of slow-moving elephant’s feet, how he trudges through the Beat Butcha and Daringer production. But, secretly, the real treat of the track comes with Benny’s first bar: “Griselda the label but you n****s know better to play with us.” The self-reference makes WWCD immediately feel classic like its world hemmed together by bricks with “BRICK” written on them. They don’t need to mention any other acts because they’re in their league—and they know it.
By operating in their own microcosm, Griselda inadvertently establishes themselves as some of the best in the business. Besides, the confidence it takes to see yourself as your only sparring partner is pure hip-hop, too.
Griselda’s reverence for hip-hop is only matched by the admiration for each other. As a trio, their seamless transitions from one rapper to the next, as on “Chef Dreds,” goes beyond chemistry. They cede the floor to each other gleefully. Think of how smoothly Benny The Butcher glides in on the final moments of “Chef Dreds,” how he means every word of “We the hardest ‘til I’m laid in a coffin.” Think of the way Conway inserts himself throughout the verse as the steady timekeeper of the group. “Chef Dreds” is one long verse, and one display of hip-hop brotherhood. It’s pure, and it’s inviting, and it’s a technical marvel.
Then there’s the tremendous feat of Gunn’s ad-libs. The “doo doo doo” is not only synonymous with his name but also great fun to mimic. The ad-libs work in tandem with Benny and Conway’s self-referential bars to craft something insular that also manages not to be narrow. Griselda’s world is enveloping, but not short-sighted. They don’t compromise their aesthetic for the sound of today, but they don’t die on the sword of hip-hop’s past. That’s why there are no samples on WWCD—Griselda is forging a fresh path. The group doesn’t need to rely on the past to make their mark on the present. WWCD should be a lesson to all aspiring artists chasing after hip-hop’s Golden Age: Stop. Be your own Golden Age. It’s working for Griselda.
WWCD goes deeper than revivalist raps. Griselda isn’t responsible for reviving anything. They’re moving the culture forward with the past merely as their inspiration. In 10 years, we’ll be looking back at WWCD and remarking on the path it forged for New York hip-hop, the same way we look back on Roc Marciano’s career. A new decade is upon us, and with that, a new blueprint is being printed for the wide-eyed rappers of tomorrow. Griselda are the printers, and their press is pure.