Westside Gunn has established himself as one of the most interesting figures in Hip-Hop in the past 4-5 years. Ever since his breakout project, FLYGOD, released in 2016, Griselda (led by Gunn, Conway and Benny) has been on an upward trajectory largely due to Gunn's artistic vision and ambition. While Conway and Benny have established themselves as the superior rappers of the group, Westside has carved out a niche of being a master curator for projects, praised for his immaculate beat selection and ear for the perfect features. “Pray for Paris” is shaping up to be another addition to his already great discography. There has been a lot of hype among old and new fans alike for this, question is – will he be able to live up to the standard he has set for himself?
The album beings with “400 Million Plus Tax”, a skit that plays an auction where an art piece is sold for $400 million. Gunn has always expressed his love for art and considers what he does as art, so this intro comes to no surprise. We are then treated with the first proper song of the album, “No Vacancy” produced by DJ Muggs. Muggs provides a luxurious piano loop that gives the beat an elegant feel while Gunn comes on with his signature fly/drug talk. It’s one hell of a way to introduce the project, it really sets the tone pretty well.
“George Bondo” featuring Conway and Benny follows right after. Daringer (Griselda's signature producer) provides the trio with a grimy backdrop that will instantly feel familiar to any Griselda fan. Gunn does his thing, but Conway and Benny leave Earth with their verses. Benny has my favourite bars with "Think it's a game until I Patrick Kane somebody homie. That's slidin' through with a stick, shootin' one by the goalie" (Patrick Kane is a professional hockey player by the way). When these two guys bring their A game (which is most of the time), there aren't too many rappers out now that can keep up.
The album then transitions to “327”, a smooth record featuring a great hook by Billie Esco and guest verses from Joey Bada$$ and Tyler, the Creator. This collab seemed very unlikely, catching people a bit off guard when the tracklist was revealed, but in typical Gunn fashion – it works perfectly. This is one of the best Joey verses in a minute and Tyler spits a really dope verse as well. It’s so refreshing to hear him just snap on a beat. “French Toast” featuring Joyce Wrice and Wale is probably the song that strays further away from Gunn's usual sound but somehow, it doesn't feel out of place. He mentioned that he wanted to do something for the ladies, and it sounds great. The beat from Camouflage Monk has a smooth piano loop with boom-bap inspired drums to let you know that this is still Griselda and it works perfectly. Gunn's delivery of "I'm out here in Paris, crushin' on you" in the hook with Joyce harmonizing in the background provides an overall beautiful and catchy sound. Wale comes in during the second verse and talks his shit in typical Wale fashion.
The stretch from “Euro Step” to “Shawn vs. Flair” provides a more comfortable sound for Gunn and company. From the soulful loops of Versace (this is a good time to mention that the immaculate production was made by Jay Versace), to the moody, drumless backdrop of “Claiborne Kick’, this stretch contains a more recognizable Griselda-like sound for the artists involved. Freddie Gibbs and Roc Marciano deliver absolutely filthy verses on the Alchemist-produced “$500 Ounces”. I honestly can't even decide who outshined who on this one, the verses are both THAT good. Boldy James comes through with his signature monotone laced style and gives Gunn a great verse over another great Alchemist beat on Claiborne Kick. The legendary DJ Premier contributes to the album with his signature boom-bap sound with the scratches on “Shawn vs. Flair”. Tyler, the Creator makes another appearance, this time behind the boards on “Party with Pop Smoke” and provides one of the most soulful beats of his production discography.
Not much negative to say about this album honestly. There isn’t any real flaws. While Gunn isn't the most lyrical rapper, he oozes charisma and confidence in every bar he quotes. Songs like “Euro Step” showcase some of his best rapping performances yet. Only song that doesn't really add anything to the album is Allah Sent Me, another Griselda collab that features more of a back and forth delivery from the 3 artists. After the greatness of “George Bondo” earlier, this just pales in comparison, the passion isn't as high on this track.
This is Gunn's most accessible project yet, but there is enough drug and gun talk to satisfy even the most die-hard Griselda fan. He has all but mastered his sound and even switched it up a bit on some songs to further show his versatility. Also, the skits are all compelling, thematic and dope. The project is West's best sequencing and a full illustration of his artistic ability. While I still think FLYGOD (his 2016 LP) is still his best work, “Pray for Paris” provides another worthwhile notch in his belt and could battle for the top 2 spot. Westside Gunn said late last year that he feels that Griselda is the best group out in rap right now and with projects like this in the discography, those claims have a great deal of validity behind them.
Written by: Alandre Davis | Twitter @dre__843