Buffalo, NY native and 1/3rd of rap collective Griselda, Westside Gunn gives the world another reason as to why the resurgence of grimy East Coast coke rap cannot go unnoticed with his most creative project yet. With vivid descriptions of unadulterated opulence funded by the moving of weight that would give the DEA nightmares, Westside Gunn weaves in his personal love for high fashion and George Condo paintings alongside the gun toting, white whipping bars that him and his contemporaries are so well known for. What sets Pray for Paris apart from other albums by artists like Freddie Gibbs or fellow Griselda members is the luxurious, sample-driven production across the project (with the exception of a nostalgic boom-bap Preemo beat on ‘Shawn vs. Flair’). Westside Gunn on this album transitions from putting his somehow-intimidating nasally voice over dark and murky beats to spitting over beautiful piano leads and more laidback drums, effectively highlighting familiar themes like he’s never done before.
The album sets the tone with ‘400 Million Plus Tax,’ which is a snippet of an auction of da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” selling for, of course, $400 million plus tax. Being a hardcore East-coast album, Pray for Paris presents a typical melding of high-end hedonism and street life brick-talk immediately as the intro fades into ‘No Vacancy,’ with the line “I whipped it with the left, I whipped it with the right,” over the aforementioned piano-centered instrumental choices, preceded by the first of a few hundred ammunition inspired ad-libs (“brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, boom boom boom boom boom,” — get used to it because there’s a lot more of this). Tracks like ‘George Bondo,’ ‘Allah Sent Me,’ and ‘$500 Ounces,’ carry very similar characteristics, which, while filled with great features and stellar wordplay, could make the album experience stale for anyone not interested in hearing the same things said with different words. Fortunately, there is a good sense of pacing on this project and knows when to switch it up while not straying into totally unfamiliar territory. Accomplished by features such as Tyler, The Creator, Wale, Keisha Plum, and tap dancer Cartier William, along with a couple of entertaining skits at the end of some tracks, add lots of character to make this album one of the more interesting hip-hop albums of the year.
Even when indulging in his typical drug-related raps, Westside keeps the music feeling fresh with an array of clever and funny bars while still keeping that gritty edge. Bars like “My shooter shot five n****s in a row, we yell ‘BINGO,’” and “the pole with the cooler, everybody go one day, but you going sooner,” show that while he can joke around, he isn’t playing at all. Beyond the luxurious production and off-kilter delivery, there are several individual moments in the track listing that keep you on your toes. ‘327’ features a surprising feature from Tyler, The Creator who has never showed up on this type of hip-hop before, delivering a celebratory and braggadocious verse on how great his life is now, dropping lines about his glowing skin and the matching glitter on his nails to his neck. Later on in the tracklist, ‘Euro Step’ showcases a tight performance and unrelenting flow unlike any before from the dozen or so solo projects he’s released in the past few years. Finally, the closing track, ‘LE Djoliba’ ends with Westside Gunn saying he had somebody “tap dancing on the blow,” followed by world-renowned tap dancer Cartier Williams delivering a rapid, original tap dance performance alone with only a dramatic, pitched gospel sample to accompany it and fade out after over a minute of runtime. The double entendre of the cocaine-fueled tap performance and the insertion of terminology that references his dilution/cutting of the product beautifully encapsulates Westside Gunn’s ability to fuse luxury and drug culture into its own piece of art.
Witty and refreshing, Pray for Paris exhibits a unique manner of presenting brick-related bars with playful and vivid language, varied features, and extravagant sonics from front to back, painting the picture of Westside Gunn’s character in nearly every way imaginable without overindulging into himself. If you can get behind Westside Gunn’s odd and nasally Ghostface Killah-esque voice, there is an insane amount of replay value to be found here from one of the most exciting movements in hip-hop today.
Recommended If You Like: Benny the Butcher, Pusha T, Rick Ross, Ghostface Killah
Recommended Tracks: 3 (George Bondo), 6 (Euro Step), 7 (Allah Sent Me), 8 ($500 Ounces)
Do Not Play: All songs
Written by Fernando Claudio-Lopez on 09/06/2020