As Westside Gunn confirms his retirement, which is set to commence in December, we take the time to revisit our last conversation with the Griselda heavyweight. This interview was originally published in May 2020.
Eight years ago, Buffalo native Alvin Worthy made it his personal mission to bring balance to the rap game. A modern-day renaissance man, he’d already dabbled in rhyming with a 2005 mixtape, and he’d been designing clothes since his early teens, before becoming unavoidably immersed in the street life and serving some jail time as a consequence. Concerned with the economic disparity between the underground and the mainstream, he took it upon himself to gain wider recognition for traditional East Coast-inspired rap music. Despite the respect that he demanded of his peers, his objective wasn’t necessarily met with enthusiasm. When he pitched the music as a business opportunity to street corner investors, many expressed concerns about its danceability. Luckily, setting trends wasn’t new to Worthy, and the doubts of others weren’t about to sway him.
When we connect with him over the phone from his home in Atlanta, where he is currently in quarantine, Worthy — known to the world as Westside Gunn — has already done more than enough to prove those early skeptics wrong. “The underground raw boom bap, it hasn’t been this respected in two decades,” he states, without exaggeration. His particular blend of rap is a connoisseur-approved concoction of coded street tales, ‘fit checks and gunfire ad-libs, decanted over sampled-based beats. In 2017, his label, Griselda Records — home to himself, his brother Conway The Machine, and cousin Benny The Butcher — signed a deal with Eminem’s Shady Records, dropping their major label debut WWCD last year, as well as inking a management deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation. “Five years ago, you wouldn’t have had a Drake talking about Griselda, or LeBron James playing Griselda publicly. Now it’s the cool thing to do.”
Released in April, Wes’ latest solo album, Pray For Paris, completed in solitary while he quietly recovered from Covid-19, is his most accomplished to date. Inspired by a last minute trip to the French capital at the invite of Virgil Abloh, it sees Westside Gunn opening up to a new audience, without compromising the essence of what core fans already love about him. Unsurprisingly, it’s being discussed on social media alongside albums that span all genres, and no longer reserved for conversations amongst hardcore rap fans. “That’s the first time I’ve had that, and that’s the dope thing about it,” he says. “That’s just the elevation right now. I wanted to have a point to prove when I painted this one in particular. I wanted to spread my wings more on this and just show people what else I could do, and I accomplished that with this project.”