The rap renaissance is upon us. Hip hop artists today are setting trends across music, fashion, film and social media. While he may not be Galileo or Michelangelo, Westside Gunn is certainly here to leave his mark on history. 

In the past three months, Westside Gunn has released two impressive albums that have landed him respect and notoriety. The first, Pray for Paris, dropped in April and received high praise from critics around the industry. With help from Tyler, The Creator, Joey Bada$$ and fellow underground champion Freddie Gibbs, the album received an 8/10 from Pitchfork and drew lots of attention from the hip-hop community. 

On July 3, Westside released FLYGOD is an Awesome God II, the follow up to his 2019 mixtape, FLYGOD is an Awesome God. He creatively uses soul and blues samples to accent his braggadocious boom-bap rap and simple drum and bass beats to guide and complement his winding flow. Westside, also calling himself Flygod, takes charge of the album and doesn’t look back, showcasing his artistic, inspiring and diversified talent. 

 

A Bright Future Comes From a Dark Past

The introduction to the album finds AA Rashid, a Qabala teacher and author who uses hip hop as an educational tool, rattling off a monologue about how hip hop culture has taken over popular media. This theme carries throughout the album where Westside repeatedly uses fashion references to flex his flow and display his far-reaching influence. Gunn himself has close ties with the fashion industry and attended Paris Fashion Week in 2019 after receiving an invite from Off-White designer Virgil Abloh. This trip turned into the inspiration for Pray for Paris and proves his versatility as a trend-setter.

 

Westside Gunn 2

Continuing to draw on popular culture, Westside’s next two songs reference the related tales of two star athletes to explain his own complicated past. “Michael Irvin” and “Jose Conseco” glorify the lavish yet dangerous lifestyles these famous figures led. In between ad-libs, the songs subtly describe how early violence and poverty can cause some people to make criminal choices no matter how rich or famous they eventually become. On “Jose Conseco” he spits, “Double up to a Geiger, sharpshooter aim, my third house in my cougar name / My lil’ n*ggas still shoot for fame / Moms don’t work, pops skated, you don’t know the pain.”

Gunn spent around three years in prison as his work was just starting to take off in the early 2000s. He grew up around violence in Buffalo, New York, and lost his cousin Machine Gun Black to a drive-by shooting in 2006. “All of us was in and out of jail at that time,” he told The Face earlier this year.“A lot of drug-selling, a lot of guns, muhfuckas was having shootouts and then going right to the studio to make a song.”

 

Family, Friends and Griselda

While overcoming his past struggles with crime and violence, Westside has carried family and friends to sustainability with him. The Flygod founded his label Griselda Records in 2014 with help from his brother Conway the Machine and cousin Benny the Butcher. The family hails from Buffalo and often work together on their projects. Though Conway does not rap on the album, Benny spits a verse on “Buffs vs. Wires”; over a slowed blues sample he raps, “Biggie Smalls in a Coogi, Al Green in a mock neck / Russel Simmons my mindset, I’m old Hov with a Pyrex”

 

Another notable performance on the album comes from Armani Caesar, a fellow Buffalo native and fashion lover who signed to Griselda earlier this year. In recent years, she has drawn comparisons to Megan Thee Stallion, Nicki Minaj and City Girls, but she prefers to define her own style. Caesar can create both speaker-blasting bangers and innovative, almost poetic pieces. She flexes her resourceful bars and effortless ability to flow on the track “Lil Cease,” rapping “It’s like I never got the joke, I’m always last laughin’ / Armani here to stay, you bitches fast fashion.”

Westside Gunn also teams up with Keisha Plum, another female Griselda member, on “Rebirth.” The Flygod shares intricate bars and Plum seductively interrupts with her own spoken word style. Gunn’s winding and detailed rhymes extend into every one of his bars, and he doesn’t shy away from graphic depictions of his vices. Meanwhile, Plum prefers to speak in structured stanzas, ignoring rhythm and preferring poignancy. 

 

Renaissance Means “Rebirth”

Westside Gunn’s version of the renaissance is filled with fashion flexes and self-admiration. His lyricism fully embraces the “mafioso” crime rap persona yet remains conscious of the consequences that come with the lifestyle. It approaches violence and organized crime as an art-form while exposing the power and pain hidden underneath. 

However, Flygod is an Awesome God II and Gunn’s other recent work shows there is much more to his talent and character than the surface may show. No matter his public image, he is a master of himself, a creative renaissance man who follows his own heart to produce unique and unadulterated art. As the Flygod’s influence spreads throughout the industry, the renaissance will expand, thrive, and continue to produce great and talented artists. 

 

 

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