When you look up the word “prolific,” a picture of Westside Gunn pops up beside the definition. At least, it does in my dictionary. The rapper has more projects to his name than there are letters in “Westside Gunn,” and each project is more well-crafted and punchy than the next. Gunn’s hunger is his defining trait. As one of three central members in Buffalo rap group Griselda, Gunn, 37, deals in opulence and haunting coke tales. His penchant for high fashion and highly evocative bars comes through on his latest album, Pray For Paris. Not since Supreme Blientele, Gunn’s 2018 opus, has the rapper born Alvin Lamar Worthy sounded so intense and in pursuit of the next level of his career.
Pray For Paris is brimming with life. We have cuts with Freddie Gibbs and Roc Marciano, produced by Alchemist. This is powerhouse music, but with that Westside Gunn flavor. “Don’t worry ‘bout me bitch, I been dope,” Gunn boasts on “French Toast,” ever the charismatic spitter. Really, all of “French Toast” is one big charisma-bomb, from Gunn’s cheeky singing to the impressive verse from Wale. Earlier, on “No Vacancy,” Gunn sounds positively starved for success, as if Pray For Paris is his first offering, as if we haven’t all been bowing down to the FlyGod himself.
Take the breezy Conductor Williams-produced “Euro Step,” which has a wonderfully creeping lilt where Gunn gets busy and breathless. “Toast to my n****s in the field selling dope,” Gunn says to conclude the brisk cut. We imagine him with the finest wine, surrounded by bricks and jewels, and we love it. It’s these real-life-glimpses-meets-personality-laden-one-liners that sell Gunn as an all-time rapper. “We the last of the hard rappers,” Conway The Machine raps on “Allah Sent Me”; we cannot argue with facts.
With a catalog as deep as Westside Gunn’s to page through, it feels a formality to underscore the growth from song to song, album to album. But what else is there to say? Gunn just keeps getting better—I’ll be damned if this isn’t his prime, but only until the next one. The man is a master of curation, of making himself the main event, of making himself an undeniable icon in a rap game full of false prophets. Gunn has outdone himself once more, just like we knew he would.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: The new album, Pray For Paris, might be your best work to date.
Westside Gunn: You’re makin’ me blush! Blientele is incredible. Flygod is incredible. Hitler Wears Hermes is incredible… They all special for different reasons. I love all of ‘em. But the zones be different when I create ‘em. I can’t say which one is over which. One thing I can say, because I’m glad you said that, is I’m not going backward. If you’re saying what you’re saying, I’m only getting better. That’s a blessing.
You are one of the most prolific rappers. Where does your drive to grow and outdo yourself come from?
Elevation, wanting more. A lot of artists, after they second or third project, they start disappearing, or the music they drop gets lackluster. I motivated myself, man. I love the drive. I love to keep going and wanting to be the best. Sometimes, I think, where I’m from… We was overlooked. A lot more people had engines behind them pushing they shit. Everybody was getting their just due, and I always felt I wasn’t. I gotta work harder. I gotta make it to the point where it’s undeniable. Flygod was incredible—people didn’t know about it. If you get it, you get it, but everybody should get it. Maybe Pray For Paris will be the project where people are like, “Lemme listen to Supreme Blientele… Oh, shit!” For people to go back to those classic works, the album they’re listening to currently has to be impactful, or you don’t even wanna go back to the old shit. I’m building fans every day, and I have to go harder so the word will spread more.
With so many projects under your belt, how can you tell when you’ve improved as a rapper?
I can’t say “improved as a rapper,” but the hunger makes me wanna make better projects. I look for certain kind of production, certain kind of features. Every project is different, but the hunger is there. I think all day long of how I can improve. I just did a clothing drop a couple hours ago. I’ve been marketing myself, just sitting on the couch and pushing the buttons and making moves. Corona has everything on pause, so it’s not like I’m out there doing shows or listening parties. Ain’t no street campaign, but the fanbase has still been growing. I constantly wanna be better. Even when I think I’m one of the best ever, I still wanna top that status. If I’m in this game, I’m gonna forever be hungry.
Pray For Paris hosts some of your most fearsome raps to date. What was the genesis of the project?
I went to Paris for eight days. So, I did it, maybe the sixth day. I didn’t go to Paris to do a project. Rapping was the last thing on my mind when I got off that plane. I was enjoying the city, enjoying the fashion shows, sitting front row, meeting everybody in the fashion world… I kicked it with Virgil [Abloh] out there. I was influenced by just Paris. It was something I never experienced before. [With] everything that happened, I needed a studio. It was too many dope moments. I wanted to dedicate something to Paris because that trip changed my life. Something for the culture out there; I wanted Westside Gunn forever attached to Paris, because of what that trip did for me.
The music is better, the clothing is better, the way I’m thinking, visually, is better. Ever since [my trip]… I can’t wait to do everything else because I’m energized, motivated, inspired. I can’t wait for this project to come out. The few people that have heard it are all saying the same thing. I sent it to Hov, and I played it for Ye live. I got to watch his expressions listening to it for the first time ever, right in front of my face. Virgil loves it—it’s a blessing. All of that energy makes me hungrier. The next one? I gotta kill ‘em even more.
This was last year?
This was in January. I only had the studio for three hours, on the sixth, seventh day I was there, and I was like, “I’mma do an EP. I’mma do three songs one day, three songs the next.” I did that; it was done. I was technically gonna drop it soon as I got back to the States because it was so fresh. Once I got back, it was like… “If I add four, five more [songs], I could make this into an album.” I was like, “What am I missing that I don’t have?” I need this shit to get grimier. I wasn’t on my grimy shit [in Paris]. The more chill, fly shit, that was the project. That’s when I came back to the States and decided I was gonna do the album. Now you have the ones with me, Conway, and Benny. Now you have a Roc Marci, Alchemist record. I needed to add what I do.
When did you realize Paris was changing your life?
The first day! The culture shocked me—it was something I never felt before. Just walking the streets and seeing the people and listening to ‘em talk. The architecture was fucking amazing. Damn, people built this shit! My mind was blown. I loved the culture so much. I need to start [going out there] five days out the month, cook up, record… I’m upset because of Corona. I was gonna go back out there and do my entire campaign in Paris. Do the pop-up shop, do everything. Of course, you can’t travel. I’m making the best of it, and hopefully, the album does what it needs to do.
Let’s get into the meat of the project. “Euro Step” and “French Toast” are the sleeper hits for me. They’re brisk and mean cuts, but full of charisma. How do you make sure your personality comes first on wax?
What you see is what you get from Westside; what you hear is what you get from Westside. I don’t try to be nobody else. Certain production talk to me… That “Euro Step,” man, it was nuts. I was in Paris, and I needed beats. I went out there, and I didn’t have recording in mind. Conductor Williams, I already was watching his page, because he puts up videos of his production. I keep my ear to the street faithfully. When I was going on his page, he had just posted that beat he made—“Euro Step”—I hit him instantly. “Bro, I need that beat, take the post down.” That’s how it came! It was meant to be. It wasn’t even 10 minutes [since he posted it]. I uploaded the beat right then and there, and I was done with that shit in maybe 15 minutes, tops.
I had Billie Esco with me—he’s on the hook on the “327” record with Tyler [the Creator] and Joey [Bada$$]. Billie and Camo Monk is cousins. I used to work with Camo Monk a lot. [I told Billie], “Tell your cousin: Send me some beats.” When he told ‘em, he sent over the “327” and “French Toast” beats. When I heard “French Toast,” oh, man! I wanted to do something for the ladies. I’m tired of going to the shows and seeing a thousand dudes! Who else better to put on here than Wale? He on the radio for the ladies 365 days a year. That’s my wrestling partner, so that was just one call away.
Everything about Pray For Paris feels monumental. What does success look like to you at this point in your career?
Man… Success now is looking at my bank account and seeing so many zeroes I get dizzy. I know my family and they family gonna be good for life. Musically, I’m already [successful]. I don’t have to prove that point no more. Now, it’s just monetizing to the max for my family. I work hard for them. Before I’m a rapper, I’m a father [and] a son. I’m a provider. I want all of this to be able to take care of my family and even their family. That’s my goal. That’s when I know I’m good.
Finally, I want to ask about your experience with COVID-19. You posted to Instagram you didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for you, and that God had bigger plans for you than sickness. How are you feeling now?
I’m getting there. I take it day by day. Like I said, all of this is motivating me. This project is what’s keeping me going. It’s giving me something to look forward to and keep pushing. I’m not trying to sit around in a bed all day, wanting people to feel sorry for me. I need to keep working and trying to get healthier. I’m already asthmatic. I might have a little chest pain. That’s just the after-effect of, basically, a tornado going through my body. People die from the same thing I’m recovering from. The things it could do to your body is wicked, man. God has his ways to show you, but it just made me stronger. Today was the first time I’ve been outside. I’m back in the house now, probably be in here all week. I work so much and been moving so much mentally; I don’t even feel sick. My body might be sick, but my mind is everywhere else. The drive is overriding the pain.