Westside Gunn Is Striving To Be Hip-Hop’s Greatest Orchestrator
The times have changed. Essential albums like Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele remain undeniable classics, yet their influence feels lost upon hip-hop’s youngest generation. Still, there are those who strive to keep the art-form alive. Such is the mentality of Buffalo’s Westside Gunn, the rapper slash founder of Griselda Records.
Alongside a close-knit team, including his brother Conway, Benny, and Daringer behind the boards, Gunn has kept the streets buzzing with an original brand of merciless “East Buffalo shit.” Now, the rapper has come through with his most complete project to date, Supreme Blientele, also known as Chris Benoit.
I recently had the honor of speaking with Gunn, on the afternoon before the project officially hit streaming services. Coming off a congratulatory phone call with Roc Marciano, Westside appeared to be in high spirits, still buzzing from the success of his recent album listening party in Los Angeles. A natural conversationalist, Gunn opened up about his latest album Supreme Blientele, which he considers to be a personal classic.
Westside Gunn: The main difference is I treated this like more of an album, and not a mixtape. Everything else I be doing is spur of the moment. For example, Vader the wrestler died yesterday, I made a song last night. That’s what I do, when a wrestler dies, that’s my tradition.
But this project, this was the album. I took a little bit more time. I switched the production – I usually go just Daringer and Alchemist. This time, I switched it up, I got the Pete Rock, the 9th Wonder, Statik Selektah, Roc Marci.
It’s more of a complete project, you get every kind of vibe. This was just the mood I was in. Sometimes I be in the mood for just mixtape shit and just bodying shit, but it was time to give the people a solid dope album.
Absolutely. You commissioned three artists for three separate covers. It’s clear that you have quite a vision for this album, which is refreshing in an era where the “album” isn’t necessarily being appreciated like it once was. Do you still feel like the album is worth valuing?
I do. I really do. I like to measure people on how they can make a project. You know how you got some people rated as some of the best lyricists of all time, but with no disrespect, when they make an album, it’s like ehhh. When they spit, you can’t deny em’ and say they not top ten, top fifteen, but when they make an album it’s like ‘I hear one joint, let me skip two, this one was cool, I had to skip three more.”
It’s hard nowadays to make an album, so I kind of measure people by their albums and not one song. I listen to people’s projects from top to bottom because I’m an artist as well. My music is my art – it’s one big painting. A lot of artists come out with singles for their album, I really don’t. I like people to hear it for the first time, from top to bottom – it’s all one piece to me.
As for the three different covers, I collect art for real. A lot of people rap about it, but if you come to my house, you’ll see some of the crazy shit. It’s like a museum in my house. From arcades to everything, toys, cars, got a four foot statue about to get shipped from Hong Kong. I feel like a kid. When it comes to art and wrestling, it keeps me still young. That’s my inspiration.
If you look back at my career since day one, even when I did the Hitler projects, my first cover was an art piece. I never showed my face. I wanted my music to speak for itself. That’s what it’s always been about.
That’s dope. You told me you just got off the phone with Roc Marciano. What was it like working with him on this one?
It meant a lot. Roc is a pioneer of my style. He’s one of the guys who inspired me, so for him to call me like he did, and say ‘this is a masterpiece.’ Once he said that, I knew I had something. If I can impress him, and Rae, and Ghost, I feel like I did my job for the culture.
Speaking on Ghost, it’s pretty clear that you value Supreme Clientele, as anyone should. It’s probably one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. What did you draw from that project specifically, as opposed to other Ghostface albums?
Supreme Clientele is his second album, and this is my second album. I just felt like when he did Supreme Clientele he was next level. It was like Ghostface 2.0. You know? This was something that, at that time, was so left field and crazy, you can arguably say it’s in the top ten albums of all time hands down. It was Ghost to the next level. That’s what I just feel with Westside Gunn right now. It’s like, starting now, this is a new Westside Gunn. This is the Flygod 2.0.
He just did what he wanted to do. Said what he wanted to say. Production was crazy, features were crazy. I felt like this was the equivalent. This was the 2018 version of Supreme Clientele. I just wanted to pay homage, man. Ghostface is one of the illest of all time. He was actually my inspiration, so for me to keep rhyming and finally be able to be heard, and be seen, and start getting respected. Now it’s nothing but love from him. I’m taking it back to those days again. This is the sound that’s been missing.
No doubt, you really brought back that raw aesthetic.
I’ve heard everything that came out this year. Everybody’s projects. All the seven song projects. Everything. Nothing is sounding like this. At all. Even just the production, if I took all the words off the album, just the production is probably better than anything out this year.
Now that you’ve officially launched the album, did you do anything special for the occasion?
I just had the listening party in L.A. I literally got off the plane about an hour ago. Man, I got a standing ovation. You know how people wait till the shit over? People was already giving standing ovations by track three.
People want that classic street sound. It’s sad how it’s absent from the game these days. On that note, I grew up in the nineties, so I remember the whole “CD era.” Every Tuesday, going to buy the new CDs, listening front to back. Your album takes me back to that time.
That’s the thing man, I come from that era. I’m not a young boy. I’ve been there, done that, lived that. I can’t really speak on things I don’t know, or make music on different cultures I’m not tapped into. This is that raw, street, East-side Buffalo shit. That’s the only way I can describe it. You can’t even say it’s some ‘New York shit.’ Even a lot of heads from New York ain’t sounding like this, in definitely over a decade.
Looking back at the Griselda movement for a second. Not many rappers can say they’ve started a label from the ground up. I know you’ve put in a lot of work to get Griselda off the ground, but what were some of your biggest obstacles?
Honestly, I really wouldn’t say there were too many obstacles, bro. It was just about the respect. I knew once I could get it out there a little bit, and get the respect from certain heads, everything else would fall like dominos. Once I started, it’s just been pushing forward and grinding, and everything’s been working out. That’s why I saw God is the greatest.
Back in the day, there were obstacles cause we were from Buffalo. Nobody has ever made it from Buffalo, so that was torture. Nobody coming to Buffalo to check for us. It didn’t matter how good we could rap. Then Benny’s brother Machine Gun Black died, and I went to prison right after, and when I came home, I got back in the streets again. I violated though, and I had to go back to prison. At that point, I didn’t even want to rap no more. I was just so far into the streets.
Still, I was always good at business. A natural born hustler. If I go into a meeting, be prepared, I turn into a whole other person. I knew once I got to certain people, and on their radar, the rest would be history. But like I said, when I came out again, that’s when Conway got shot in the head. There was just so much street shit, shit was all over the place. After a while, I was finally ready to leave the street shit alone, and put a hundred percent behind this music. It’s been nonstop ever since.
You helped put Buffalo on the map, and now you’re breaking bread with Eminem.
No doubt, no doubt. It’s crazy how life works. That’s what I tell people, man. Just keep grinding. As long as you got the vision. Dedicate all your time and effort to it. All my money, all my time, was going straight to Griselda. Any event, anywhere I needed to be, I was going to these places by myself. When I did the Flygod album, I was going to people’s studios and shit like that, going to different cities. L.A, Chicago, I went by myself. I had the drive, bro.
For sure. Now, you clearly have a tight relationship with your brother, Conway. Throw in Benny and Daringer, and you’ve built up quite an interesting team of talent.
That’s the thing. We’re all family, so we grew up together our whole life. That’s the difference between Griselda and other people. We taught each other how to get better. I remember when Benny didn’t even rhyme at all. He was the little cousin! I taught him how to rap, you know what I’m saying? I can remember those days. Machine Gun, rest in peace, I remember when he didn’t know how to rap. We always been in this shit together.
You know how you got certain teams that are good in the NBA, but you can tell they don’t really hang out, they really not cool. They just come show up and play ball. But Golden State, they click. It’s like a family. That’s why it’s damn near unstoppable. Not only are they good, but they treat each other like a family. That’s what Griselda is.
There’s no ego, there’s no ‘who is better than who,’ or ‘this person has more views,’ we don’t even think like that. This industry shit can never come in the way of us, cause we been together our whole lives. My mom and Benny’s mom grew up they whole lives together. My grandma and his grandma is sisters. This is our whole life. That’s the advantage that we have, that other people don’t.
I respect that. Circling back to the album for a second, I have to comment on that “Brossface Brippler” track. That song is crazy. Everyone was on fire, from Alchemist lacing his rawest beat in a minute, to Busta Rhymes on his straight up Dungeon Dragon shit.
This was the classic Busta! This Busta was like you said. When Disaster Strikes Busta. That’s the thing about this project. Of course I’ma say it, cause it’s my project, but this is a modern day classic. The features alone, everybody who played a part in this album did their thing. And Busta – the people who have heard the song are like ‘damn, we haven’t heard Busta sound like this in a while.’ That got a standing ovation. Busta came out of nowhere and just killed that shit. It’s just something different right now.
I’m a good executive producer. I know how to put together projects. I never claimed to say I’m the best rapper, I never said that, ever. Conway and Benny is better rappers than Westside Gunn, but Westside Gunn is the orchestrator. I can put together some of the best albums of all time. I have a good ear and good vision. It’s just about teaming the right people together, and creating a sound that nobody else is doing. Bring the new heads with the old heads, bridging the gap.
When all is said and done, what do you hope to accomplish with Supreme Blientele?
I want to make people go back to the old projects. You know what? This project might be the first some people have ever heard of me. I want them to go back to everything else like, ‘damn, he been doing this shit for three years already? I’m late!’ If I could accomplish anything from Supreme Blientele, it would be to finally get respect for putting it all together. I still get slighted in everything I do. I don’t know why. But everything happens in time. I’m blessed.