Conway the Machine Epitomizes the Renaissance of "Real" Hip-Hop

Conway the Machine performs at the 2021 BET Awards.
Conway the Machine performs at the 2021 BET Awards. Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET
New York always has been and always will be touted as the nucleus for all things hip-hop.

Nearly 50 years since its genesis, the core themes and pieces that established the culture are still held to the highest standard today. Anecdotal storytelling, neck-cracking drum loops, clever sampling, and the most creative ways to tell the next person they can't mess with you — ask a rap purist what makes up "real" hip-hop, and they'll mention any one of these elements. All of them spawned in New York.

Brooklyn raised Biggie and Jay-Z, the Bronx produced Slick Rick and Big Pun, and Queens has Nas, 50, and LL Cool J. Even Staten Island birthed Wu-Tang Clan.

Where does Buffalo fit into all this?

As part of a three-headed dragon with two of his blood relatives, 40-year-old emcee Conway the Machine reps a New York city far removed from New York City. With his brother Westside Gunn and cousin Benny the Butcher, Conway helped establish the mafioso allure of the Griselda rap collective over the last decade. Today, the Buffalo native is more focused on cementing a standalone legacy for himself.

On Saturday, November 5 he'll be in Miami for a performance at Wynwood's Electric Lady as part of a slew of one-off shows across the country. Conway's deep discography of albums, mixtapes, and collab projects is a motion picture of street politics and felony charges. His February LP, God Don't Make Mistakes, is only his second studio album, but it's been well-received by critics and listeners for its shades of candid vulnerability infused with the heady bravado he flexes so often.

The album's third track, "Piano Love," drops a sample loop cold enough to freeze Hell. Conway's ear for those ghastly piano stabs might be hereditary since he and his kinfolk all have that in common. He tears the whole beat apart, too, spitting plainspoken chronicles about his tax bracket and that one girl he let hold his guns for him. "John Woo Flick" is grisly and teeth-chattering, featuring none other than Griselda's golden boys, Westside Gunn and Benny the Butcher.
The forbears of Griselda Records were late bloomers; Conway and Westside Gunn cofounded the indie record label at 30 years old alongside esteemed Haitian-American wordsmith Mach-Hommy in 2012. Bullet wounds to the neck and shoulder left Conway's face partially paralyzed that same year, and he's since rapped with a slurred drawl and permanent scowl he wears like a gold medal.

Somewhere in the mid to late 2010s, Griselda caught fire, with Benny coming into the fold as Mach distanced himself from the label. Conway and Gunn signed distribution deals with Shady Records in 2017 through Griselda and have since released some of their most successful, impactful music to date. The 2019 collab album WWCD features verse after verse of unforgiving, cutthroat lyricism.

Of the family trio, Conway the Machine might be the most overlooked. Albums like Westside Gunn's Pray for Paris and Benny the Butcher's Tana Talk 3 are placed on pedestals in underground rap circles, and even Tyler, the Creator went as far as using Gunn as inspiration for an entire album. By proclaiming himself a contractual free agent earlier this year, maybe Conway is making it a point to carry his own weight.

As he's stepped away from Griselda Records, his own label, Drumwork Music Group, looks to be his main priority. Benny ensures that the family remains tight-knit despite what the paperwork might say. Regardless of numbers or word of mouth, Conway the Machine has molded himself into a modern torch bearer for New York's hip-hop genealogy. He didn't get to this point for no reason.

Sometimes you gotta jump off the ledge and see how well you can float.

Conway the Machine. 9 p.m. Saturday, November 5, at Electric Lady Wynwood, 144 NW 23rd St., Miami. Tickets cost $20 to $140 via
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Olivier Lafontant is an intern for Miami New Times. He's pursuing a bachelor's in digital journalism at Florida International University. He specializes in music writing and photography and got his start as a writer for South Florida Media Network in 2021.

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