Editor’s note: This article contains profanity. The author quotes Westside Gunn’s lyrics to review his latest album.
East Coast rapper Westside Gunn took audiences on a cruise down the brutal streets of New York masked as a romantic French painting with his latest album “Pray for Paris,” released on April 17. The album features notable artists Joey Bada$$, Tyler, the Creator, and the rest of the Griselda trio: Benny the Butcher and Conway the Machine.
“Pray for Paris” is the 14th installment in Gunn’s discography after being in the hip-hop underground scene for nearly two decades. The album serves as another peak in his career, demonstrating his ever-growing, complex lyrical skills flowing over mellow piano samples paying tribute to the nostalgic ‘90s, old school hip-hop Gunn represents. The album is also inspired by Paris, where Gunn attended Paris Fashion Week for the first time in January 2020. When Paris Fashion Week ended, he rushed to create “Pray for Paris” and completed six songs within 48 hours. The final result — a beautiful canvas painting an elegant picture of gangster life in New York stroked with gritty details of ruthlessness, savagery and newly acquired riches.
What stands out about the project are the samples used throughout, which reveal how talented Gunn’s ear is at selecting unique sounds to convey his story of rags to riches. The samples also help glamorize the brutal wordplay Gunn and his featured artists present throughout the album. For example, the opening track is a brief sample of the historic auction selling Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” for $400 million. This is meant to represent how valuable Gunn considers himself to the rap community. In “Party Wit Pop Smoke,” Westside Gunn continues to reference the painting when he says, “Fashion Week, I gave ’em headstarts to Mississippi / Submachine guns, somebody fucked him, brains hangin’ off the frame / Blood on the Salvatore Mundi, we rock cocaine.” The contrast between the violent imagery and the beautiful artistic paintings Gunn references in his albums depicts how tainted Gunn is by his past hardships with violence and drug dealing despite being newly lathered in success and riches.
“Party Wit Pop Smoke” also shows how Gunn is growing with his music as he continues to assimilate with new hip-hop sounds while staying true to his East Coast boom-bap roots thanks to new school rapper Tyler, the Creator. Tyler produced the song “Party Wit Pop Smoke” for Gunn, which not only shows how competent Tyler is as an artist, but also gives Gunn the opportunity to deliver a continuous stream of dexterous imagery over sparkling piano keys and faded jazz singing.
Other notable samples are the humorous skits Gunn incorporated into his songs “French Toast” and “George Bondo.” But most impressively, Gunn samples the sound of a tap dancer clicking his heels in “LE Djoliba,” the last track of the album, as if to say his artistic performance has ended and everyone may return home. The clicking heels serve as the final stroke of texture the album needed, completing the album’s concept of a French painting inspired by romanticism and impressionism and leaving listeners astounded by the project’s well-roundedness.
“327” is impossible to ignore, featuring new school artists Joey Bada$$ and Tyler, the Creator, as everyone on the track rap battles one another about who lives the most luxurious lifestyle while being accompanied by boom-bap drums and soulful melodies. The song also serves as an exciting bridge between West and East Coast rap since the track hosts rappers from both sides of the U.S., continuing the endless debate about which coast best represents hip-hop in 2020.
Considering Westside Gunn is receiving the acclaim of established artists such as MF Doom, The Alchemist and Jadakiss on top of delivering consistent projects since 2005, he has a right to express his arrogance as he sets the mood for the glamourous trip listeners will embark on in “Pray for Paris.” The album is cohesive, dazzling and inspiring for those who are in the position Westside Gunn used to be in his past. Westside Gunn displays mastery of his unique craft defined by dark metaphors and vivid imagery to paint his ravishingly cold past with the aid of graceful piano samples, soulful jazz and competitive bars.
Angela Silva is an Entertainment Staff Writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.