By: Tommy “T- Rod” Rodriguez
While it isn’t a change-up from his previous sound, Westside Gunn’s newest album exemplifies why he is so captivating as an album artist.
Westside Gunn is the definition of prolific consistency. A Buffalo rapper that has clawed and curb-stomped his way to cultural relevance with a nonstop stream of gritty boom bap records, Gunn’s formula is a simple one.
Deal, spend the profits, and rap about how you did it.
It may seem two-dimensional, but Gunn has succeeded on turning his songs into a science. He manages to mix in a high-pitched voice, designer clothing, and wrestling references into an environment that manages to feel incredibly cohesive. He is ripened with age, but still hungry.
Pray for Paris, Gunn’s latest album, is no exception to the rule. While listening to this album, I picture Gunn sitting as a kingpin in a gothic New York mansion, a drum machine and ammunition at his feet. With dope beats, dope rhymes, and truly lavish aesthetics, Gunn has proven that high-class ignorance has a place to stay in today’s hip-hop landscape.
One of my favorite aspects of Pray for Paris is its mix of hip-hop tradition and modernism. Listening to the extravagant strings, crunchy drums, and old-western piano of a song like “Versace” reminds me of a slow jam off of classics like Supreme Clientele, but the beat is produced by none other than Vine star Jay Versace. Gunn’s performative smoothness on the track is not sexual, however; rather it’s as smooth as a pocket knife through the ribs. Gunn glides over the album’s smooth aesthetics with a sort of finesse that he can produce with his one-of-a-kind voice. Even when his flow gets a little more choppy like on “Euro Step”, Gunn holds the reins of a cocaine circus; he is the ringleader, even if he gets lyrically outdone by his peers like on the cinematic “$500 Ounces”. Freddie Gibbs and Roc Marciano absolutely relish the chance to flex their lyrical skill, providing a worthwhile re-listen to catch clever bars (see below). Other guests show up on the record to drop memorable quotes, including Joey Badass and Tyler the Creator on the sinister posse cut “327” and the murderous Boldy James on the atmospheric tones of “Claiborne Kick”.
“All our mamas would watch us, boy, we were neighbors/But how you look a n**** mom in the face when you shot her baby?”Freddie Gibbs on “$500 Ounces” is a perfect example of Pray for Paris’s feature list: they don’t miss.
Pray for Paris’s guests are stellar throughout the project, but Gunn is still the core voice, and he sounds great. Despite having recently caught and beaten COVID-19, he sounds incredible. When he introduces tap-dancing samples on the vivid storytelling-closer “LE Djoliba”, he evokes a Tony Montana sense of pride in criminal activity. When he verbally spars with an in-rare-form Wale and the lovely vocals of Joyce Wrice on “French Toast”, I can picture him luring Parisian cuties to his loft with promises of quick riches. His performance truly sells the ridiculous wealth he promises across the album, making each song sound less like a bragging contest and more of a tour through Gunn’s twisted (albeit successful) lifestyle.
No Westside Gunn album is complete without an appearance from Griselda members Benny the Butcher and Conway, but the duo make only two appearances on the record. Their chemistry, as usual, is excellent, serving lyrical assists to each other over the album’s more sinister moments on “George Bondo” and “Allah Sent Me”. Gunn has the most commanding and eccentric voice, but the appearances of his Griselda affiliates (including the aforementioned Boldy James) bring up the only core issue of the album…
Even as a master showman and charismatic lead, Gunn can occasionally stumble into a few clumsy technical issues. His flow is occasionally choppy and rough, taking the gravitas of his voice and replacing it with a clumsy (albeit acceptable) sound. Gunn’s songwriting hasn’t improved on the record, but it hasn’t regressed either. He hasn’t progressed to hitting lyrical home runs, but has kept up a high batting average with consistent base hits.
And that’s what Pray for Paris is. Front to back, it’s consistent. The presentation is equal parts eerie and decadent, Gunn’s stage presence and voice keep the show going smoothly, and the features offer some of the best verses this side of 2020 rap music has to offer. Gunn hasn’t changed up his supply, but if what we’re getting is this consistently enjoyable, then I’ll keep going to him for my hip-hop fix.
Tracks to Save: “George Bondo”, “327”, “French Toast”, “Allah Sent Me”, “$500 Ounces”, “Versace”, “LE Djoliba:
Tracks to Skip: “Euro Step”