Mar 15, 2016

Review: FLYGOD - @WESTSIDEGUNN; A Niles P. Joint

I’m not sure a rapper has had a rise quite as meteoric and important as Westside Gunn.  Hailing from Buffalo in upstate New York, he’s been one of the most prolific East Coast rappers in the past year or so.  Dude’s  appeared on a batch of records, either his own or via guest appearance.  They haven’t gone unnoticed by us at What’s The Movement; hell we have a hard time keeping up.  His aforementioned importance comes in his style.  He brings back a classic NYC feel in lyrics and beat selection despite not being from the five boroughs (or Mt. Vernon or Yonkers for that matter.)  The attention to detail and commitment to quality had me eagerly anticipating his recently-released solo debut LP FLYGOD via independent label Griselda Records.  Some questioned if he could cary a full album, and he responded with 18 tracks his first time out.  He brought a mob of guests, so naturally I’m going track by track for this review.  

Dunks (feat. Conway) - It’s only right that he starts off his album with a collab with his blood brother Conway the Machine.  Over a pulsating instrumental with hints of mandolin (I think,) they trade verses and deliver a solid opener.

Gustavo (feat. Keisha Plum) - West delivers his first head head nodder/curveball simultaneously.  He finds a way to share a well constructed boom bap beat with poet Keisha Plum.  It’s one of the best on the album, but thankfully not the last heater.

Shower Shoe Lords (feat. Benny) - The piano in this song sounds like an Upper West Side penthouse apartment looks.  While I had never heard of guest star Benny, he holds his own.  The cut and scratched lyrics from Guru & Sean Price were a cool addition.

Vivian at the Art Basel (feat. Your Old Droog) - At first, I was kind of dismayed that there were two piano-driven songs back to back.  But the beauty of the album lies in the nuances in the music.  Based off the title alone, this piano paints a picture of waking up early in Miami after night one of Art Basel festivities and getting it together before you do it again.  Your Old Droog of course lays down a great verse but also polishes his hook making skills here.

Hall - This is one of Gunn’s rare solo songs.  To say he delivers is an understatement.  His flow is impeccable, especially over a beat that’s dominated by the sample, bass, and strings; drums are minimal here.  Wish it was longer but it gives way to an intro for the next song.

Free Chapo (feat. Conway) - Naturally a song referencing El Chapo & again featuring Conway would be on the album.  This instrumental is an inverse of the last.  Some guitar chords are present but the drums are most conspicuous.   It’s gritty and grimy and everything you’d want from the Buffalo brothers.

Over Gold (feat. Meyhem Lauren) - Scratch this one off of your list of dream collabs because it’s here and as good as you’d think.  Lauren drops off a raucous 16 and West closes it off.  Short and sweet, it has one of the project’s best instrumentals in a 60’s inspired infusion of horns and bells.  

Bodies on Fairfax (feat. Danny Brown) - This is another example of having two songs with similar musical hallmarks back to back without being repetitive.  The cascading bells & limited production make for a nice soundscape for the unlikely yet superb merger of Brown and Gunn.  Songs like this make the album unique.

Chine Gun - The thing that stands out here is the wailing saxophones that are best heard after 8pm, real nighttime vibe here.  I wish there was a second verse here but this seems to be more of a showcase for the horn than anything else.

King City (feat. Mach Hommy & DJ QBert) - More bells here but this time in conjunction with a faster tempo.  The change of pace suits West & Mach Hommy Well.  I hadn’t hear DJ QBert’s name in years but he reemerges to add crucial cuts and scratches to this song.

Omar Coming (feat. Roc Marciano & Conway) - The velocity slows back down as the Rex Ryan trio share the weeping guitar-soaked song.  This is Conway’s final appearance.  Good song, sounds like it could’ve come out of Scarface or any other 80’s drug related movie.

Mr. T - West shines solo once again over an airy yet assertive beat that sounds heavenly.  Sparse percussion lets the sample breathe.  You feel like you're floating listening to this one.  

50 in. Zenith (feat. Skyzoo) - Using an updated interpolation from Incarcerated Scarfaces, Statik Selektah gives West and Sky a light yet layered instrumental to work with that emphasizes harps & the snare.  Lyrically these two coordinate quite well.

Sly Green Skit - This is a (jailhouse?) interview with notorious Buffalo-based drug dealer Sly Green.  Instead of picking someone out of the litany of NYC street legends, the hometown antihero is featured.  Good choice.

55 & a Half - Westside Gunn’s flow is slow and deliberate on this one and it fits the dreamy sample and dirty drums.  He gives shoutouts towards the end.  Hell, it could've been the outro.

Albright Knox (feat. Chase) - The title references the famous Buffalo art gallery, keeping in theme with the album as art.  Chase is another rapper I wasn’t familiar with but he really takes control of the song.  The instrumental is bleak in a tragically beautiful way.  

Dudley Boyz (feat. Action Bronson) - I covered this when it came out and everything I said stands.  It’s an important piece to the overall puzzle of the album.  

Outro (feat. Bro A.A. Rashid) - Over a lounge piano and singer, Bro A.A. Rashid gives an impromptu monologue about real vs. fake, and art vs. bullshit in hip hop.  If you pay attention, you get a lot of gems from him.  
This was an album that I was most looking forward to in the young year.  West showed his ability to hold shit down for a full album after a few shorter projects.  His ear for beats is one of the best in the game as he’s able to get the most illustrious & exquisite instrumentals.  As I mentioned before, the ability to both discover and rhyme over beats with little to no percussion is a skill most can’t pull off.  Gunn’s flow allows it though.  The only issue I can really think of is his reliance on guest appearances.  On 16 songs (not counting the skit and outro) Gunn only has four solo songs, all of which contain one verse.  He has the charisma and ability to carry a full song on his own, but instead has an “everybody eats” mentality and brings in a cavalcade of guests.  Fortunately, none of them are wack and the album doesn’t suffer.  Westside Gunn sought out to make an album that could be considered art and at the end of the day, he did.  I usually hate comparisons, but it’s like the spiritual offspring of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.  FLYGOD is one of the best albums in a still-young year and seems to have the staying power & replay value to be a contender for Album of the Year.  Stay tuned.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5.


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