Griselda’s ascension to hip-hop royalty over the past four years has been astounding. By embracing a reliable formula mixing grit and grace, the trio of Buffalo rappers made up of Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine, and Benny The Butcher has flipped grassroots fandom into major-label success. While each member has made gains in his own right, Westside Gunn remains the group’s nominal figurehead, the sun around which every brick and pair of Off-White sneakers orbits.
Gunn’s ever-growing discography is giving prolific stalwart Curren$y a run for his money. He fits comfortably into the roles of the rapper, the executive producer, the curator, and the art/wrestling fan, sometimes on the same album.
In Gunn’s world, wrestling acts like The Steiner Brothers and Randy Savage describe tag-team street efforts and memories of uzi shells and street corners long past. Gunn’s imagination knows no bounds. Pray For Paris, his latest self-released project, out today, is shaping up to be his most ambitious work yet. Will Gunn reach his next level of opulence? Let’s find out.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no rewinds, pauses, or skips. A straight shot through followed by my gut reactions. DOOT DOOT DOOT DOOT DOOT DOOT DOOOOOOO.
1. “400 Million Plus Tax”
We begin with a sample from an auction. A piece of art just sold for $400 million. I respect how highly Gunn thinks of himself.
2. “No Vacancy” [prod. DJ Muggs]
Some pretty keys. Gunn saying “I’ll blow your brains out in broad daylight” over fancy foyer music is a wild moment to experience. “No Vacancy” is the most beautiful DJ Muggs beat I’ve ever heard in my life. “My shooters shot five niggas in a row / BINGO.” Westside Gunn has entered the chat. These are the raps I’d expect of a man who faced coronavirus and lived to tell the tale. Hell of an intro.
3. “George Bondo” feat. Benny The Butcher & Conway The Machine [prod. Daringer]
We’ve gone from beautiful to grimy. Word to Daringer, man. I heard a Benny grunt. “Just shot a nigga on an anklet.” House arrest don’t stop shit in a Gunn song. These piano keys are dripping with cavity juice. God, this shit nasty. And there goes Conway! “George Bondo” sounds like it would’ve fit perfectly on WWCD, and I mean that as a compliment. “Get nigga clipped while I’m with celebrities hanging.” Conway deserves a Netflix documentary. Benny came in swinging. “When you ain’t leave the house unless your gat match your sneakers.” Black Air Force 1 activity. “George Bondo” is a heater. Smoking gun left at the scene. Strong start.
4. “327” feat. Billie Esco, Joey Bada$$, & Tyler, The Creator [prod. Camoflague Monk]
Fuzzy and elegant, this beat is my kinda vibe. Gunn is skating across this joint. A steady groove so far. Joey Bada$$, I haven’t heard that name in a while. “Niggas don’t want smoke, they want marijuana.” He’s back in his 1999 bag right now. Perfect rainy day music. Joey’s verse was better than his entire last album. OH, IT’S TYLER! There’s something incredible about hearing Tyler say, “Glitter on my neck match the glitter on my fingernails” on an album like this. “This car came with a driver / I’m in the back playin’ ‘Frontin’.” Gunn got loosie Tyler rapping rapping on this one. “327” is my favorite song so far.
5. “French Toast” feat. Joyce Wrice & Wale [prod. Camouflage Monk]
This is the second time Gunn has started a song with “Bonjour.” Where’s the “doot doot doot dooo?” Is “French Toast” Gunn’s attempt at a love song? “V on your chest, that’s for Valentino.” Paris is giving us a different side of Gunn. I wonder what happened on the catwalk? Wale found an excellent pocket in this beat. Camouflage Monk has styled on these last two beats, by the way. “My SBs is old, your SBs is wack.” Always here for sneaker shit talk. “French Toast” is an interesting atmosphere for a Gunn song. Some of these beats are cleaner than we’ve come to expect from Griselda. I appreciate the risk-taking. I’ll be back. But it wouldn’t be a Westside Gunn album without some wrestling interludes...
6. “Euro Step” [prod. Conductor Williams]
I love this beat. Gunn is switching flows more than he switches trenchcoats. “Euro Step” is right; this makes me wanna skip down the street. I wish this were longer.
7. “Allah Sent Me” feat. Benny The Butcher & Conway The Machine [prod. Daringer]
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We’re back in the mud with Daringer, Machine, and The Butcher. “I need 100 right now.” I’d also love $100 right now. Where’s my stimulus check at? Conway and Gunn are on their Hall & Nash call-and-response shit. Oh, shit, Benny’s tapping in, too. Nice wind chimes to counteract these damp drums. “Feds ain’t find the work but found a bag full of soft rappers.” They didn’t come to play. These three were born to rap together. They sound like they could rap forever. “Allah sent me here to be a king” is right. The sequencing on Pray For Paris is crazy. Sliding between the gritty and the graceful has never felt as punchy as it does right now. I don’t know what to expect next, and I’m not mad. Bro, you’d better give that man his fuckin belt with all the diamonds. Okay, this clip could’ve been cut by like 20 seconds.
8. “$500 Ounces” feat. Freddie Gibbs & Roc Marciano [prod. Alchemist]
Alchemist with a bopper. Freddie Gibbs starting things off strong. He’s spinning a story here. “Got skeletons in my closet next to my Balenciagas.” A deadly pocket. Gunn is ceding the beginning of the song to his guests like he did on Supreme Blientele. Here comes Roc Marciano! He’s sliding. “Living comfortably off of gut instinct.” Gunn came right in to cap this song off nicely. I like “$500 Ounces,” but the beat is stealing the show for me.
9. “Versace” [prod. Jay Versace]
A Jay Versace beat, huh? He picked a beautiful vocal loop. Okay, here are the “doot doot dooo”’s I’ve been waiting for. I guess he saved them all for this song, holy shit. Gunn sounds great without drums. One of the most delightful surprises on the album so far. They need a whole project together.
10. “Caliborne Kick” feat. Boldy James [prod. Alchemist]
More Alchemist work incoming. Gunn’s voice is chopped and screwed, another big surprise. It matches the ghostly aura of the beat nicely. A wild Boldy James appears through the fog. Boldy James is a natural fit for Griselda. I’m glad they signed him. Boldy’s language is beautiful. “Russian cut my bezel / Caesar salad with the Russian dressing.” I love “Caliborne Kick.” Another highlight.
11. “Shawn vs. Flair” [prod. DJ Premier]
Coming in with a Prodigy sample. Bless the dead. A breakbeat and some synths? Interesting. Oh, of course, this is a DJ Premier song. It sounds crisp and clean with just a touch of grit. I can’t exactly call “Shawn vs. Flair” a favorite; it feels like this song is missing a verse. The beat is cool, though.
12. “Party Wit Pop Smoke” feat. Keisha Plum [prod. Tyler, The Creator]
Bless Pop Smoke and his family. Man. The beat is a reminder that Tyler knows his way around a MEAN sample flip. Why does Gunn say “mannequin” like that? I laugh every time. Keisha Plum outros are so soothing and vicious. “I kissed his cheek while I drove the ice pick in his eye.” Step on my neck. Unlike “Shawn vs. Flair,” “Party Wit Pop Smoke” sounds finished, but I want more. I was hoping we’d hear from Pootie. Talk your shit, queen! “And y’all still broke!”
13. “LE Djoliba” feat. Cartier Williams
Gunn’s trip to Paris has been an eclectic one. This Stevie Wonder sample is giving me life. “The way my neck look, they think I sold my soul.” Is this tap-dancing from the Paris Fashion Week show clip that was meme’d to hell and back? I’m laughing, and I shouldn’t be right now. “LE Djoliba” wasn’t necessary. I wish Pray For Paris ended with “Party with Pop Smoke” instead. Not exactly a sour note to end on, but Gunn could have cut this one.
Final (First Listen) Thoughts on Westside Gunn’s Pray For Paris
In the age of streaming and playlists, Pray For Paris further solidifies Westside Gunn as an album artist. He knows how to craft experiences from start to finish, what beats sound best next to each other, which features will yield the wildest results. Paris features some of his biggest gets yet: Tyler, The Creator has both a feature (“327”) and a production credit (“Party wit Pop Smoke”) while Wale makes his Griselda Records debut on “French Toast.” Names like theirs give Paris a lofty air even by Griselda standards.
Paris is also the most experimental Gunn project to date. Many of the beats—particularly “No Vacancy” and “French Toast”—are clean and expansive breaks in between the usual muddiness. Gunn tries on new flows (“Euro Step”) and even takes a stab at a love song. His ear has always been eclectic, but there’s newfound adventurousness to Paris you won’t find on the Hitler Wears Hermes tapes.
Unfortunately, some of the album’s surest bets don’t pan out. Gunn, Freddie Gibbs, and Roc Marciano’s solid but unremarkable work on “$500 Ounces” is overshadowed by Alchemist’s mesmerizing beat. “Shawn vs. Flair,” a jumpy DJ Premier production, feels unfinished, and “LE Djoliba” undermines the strong ending of “Pary Wit Pop Smoke,” giving the album a tacked-on post-credits ending sequence.
These rare lapses in Gunn’s sharp sequential judgment keep Pray For Paris from ascending to Supreme Blientele levels, but they aren’t dealbreakers. Westside Gunn’s world is still one of excitement and redemption. Pray For Paris is another reason to always bet on the FlyGod.