If Griselda’s commitment to their Buffalo roots wasn’t fully illustrated by their menacing New York sound, it’s definitely showcased all throughout the finer details of their long-awaited major-label debut What Would Chine Gun Do.
The album title pays homage to Chine Gunn, a.k.a. Machine Gunn Black, a fellow artist and family member who was murdered in Buffalo before the group caught their big break. The album cover features Claire, a homeless icon in Buffalo. Griselda’s gritty members, Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine and Benny the Butcher, are all linked through the branches of their family tree in some fashion — Gunn and Conway are brothers while Benny is their cousin. WWCD’s soundscape is even entirely constructed by Buffalo in-house producers Daringer and Beat Butcha. Griselda’s major label partnership with Shady Records and management deal with Roc Nation may have exposed the trio to a network of contacts that span the globe, but Buffalo remains the lifeblood of WWCD — the connective tissue that binds every dusty loop, explosive adlib, and iconic verse.
Griselda’s sound is New York hip hop stripped down to its purest form: boom-bap, bars, and bravado. It’s this no-nonsense approach that attracted lyrical legends Eminem and Jay-Z in the first place and the premier reason why each member has already launched their very own solo careers complete with a flood of albums and cult followings. While Westside Gunn has made waves this year with his Hitler Wears Hermes series and hit project Flygod Is An Awesome God, Conway and Benny have been no slouches either — releasing their own slew of music in 2019 including Look What I Became and The Plugs I Met, respectively. The constant stream of content from the talented crew has drummed up enough hype to make their first major collaborative effort feel like a reunion of super rappers. Think Avengers, but the “heroes” rock Fendi ski masks and bricks of cocaine attached to their utility belts.
As WWCD begins, it’s immediately clear that the three-headed monster of Griselda thrives by bringing out the best of one another. The group has never hidden their love for professional wrestling (you can catch little references to the sport in their previous works) and the album is structured like a never-ending WWE tag-team brawl. The track “Chef Dreds” is a whirlwind of Griselda spitters jumping in and out of the ring — delivering blow after blow with their own distinctive styles. Gunn kicks things off with a chokeslam of bars surrounded by a healthy dose of his signature “doot doot doot” gunshot adlib. Benny follows that up with a leap off the top rope, threatening to throw the “barrel at your pumpkin” and comparing his bullets to Corona bottles. After a few more Gunn lines, Conway appears out of thin air, pinning you with images of his “diamonds dancin’ like Chris Breeze.” The beatdown doesn’t end there, however, as each rapper continues trying to one-up each other with a lyrical barrage of stunts and intimidating threats. You never know who’s going to come at you next.
Griselda’s charm lies in their seemingly never-ending list of quotes that are scattered across every track. These bars vary from bone-chilling to hilarious to just plain absurd, but each is sure to garner a reaction of amazement or non-stop laughter. Benny eviscerates the dusty chime loop on the cut “Moselle” within the first two bars of his stellar verse, humorously spitting “I’m 5’8’’ but 6’11’’ when I stand on my bricks.” Gunn floats on a “Dr. Birds” beat that sounds like it samples a toddler’s Fisher-Price xylophone, ordering fashion designer Virgil Abloh to “write ‘Brick’ on my brick” in his trademark high, creaky voice. Conway serves an eerie verse on “City On The Map”, including the line “I’ll probably be in your projects with all my ice out / Run up, one of my youngins gon’ put your lights out.” Picking a favorite lyric is next to impossible, as each Griselda rapper pulls their weight on a project filled to the brim with top tier performances.
My gripes with WWCD are few and far between, but unsurprisingly involve the occasions where there’s a break in the lyrical fury. There are a couple of oddly-placed interludes, particularly the soft Keisha Plum poem during the second half of “May Store” where her voice is drowned out by the production, as well as the track “Kennedy.” As much as I enjoy Gunn drunkenly informing me that he’ll blow my face off, it sucks up some of the energy I gained from “Scotties.” Also, while most of the features on this album exceeded expectations, with 50 Cent unleashing a career-revitalizing verse and Novel stealing the show on “The Old Groove,” Eminem’s ‘how do you do, fellow kids’ verse on “Bang [Remix]” was a rough way to close out the project. It left a sour taste in my mouth after the near-flawless streak of songs and I could’ve done without Em mentioning Ja Rule — “eloquently” saying he “shoved an Oscar up his wazoo.”
When you press play on any Griselda project, the structure is simple. A sinister beat with dusty drums and a menacing bassline concocted by Daringer or Beat Butcha greets your ears. Aggressive bars by the Buffalo trio rip through your soul like bullets in a Buffalo blizzard. You know exactly what you’re getting from Griselda, from song-to-song and verse-to-verse, and the project would run the risk of suffering from monotony if the combination of Gunn, Conway, and Benny weren’t so captivating. Their consistent approach reminds me of a power hitter stepping up to the plate in baseball — you know the at-bat will either result in a crushing home run or a disappointing strikeout, but your eyes can’t help but be glued to the action the entire time. Luckily, Griselda is knocking every track out of the park on WWCD.
At a Griselda Records concert in 2017, Raekwon appeared onstage, snatched the mic and boldly declared that the Buffalo crew is “carrying the torch” for East Coast gangsta rap into the next generation. WWCD proves that the New York legend’s instincts couldn’t have been closer to the truth. Griselda is not only successfully repopularizing the grimy street epics that flooded the music industry during the early-nineties golden era, but also carving their very own unique path in modern hip hop culture. With an exceptional major-label debut under their belts, it’s time the world finally hears the collective brilliance of Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine and Benny the Butcher.