Interviews

Westside Gunn Only Stops Working When He Wants To

Westside Gunn
Westside Gunn Photo by Justin Townsel
When Westside Gunn picks up the phone, he sounds at ease. On wax, his rap voice is a few registers higher than his talking voice, with lyrics that are consistently vain and uncompromising. In conversation, placid cordiality offsets every ounce of his self-assured confidence.

He's down to earth, but he knows his worth — and he'll let you know it too.

From his home in Atlanta, Alvin Lamar Worthy takes a scarce break from designing merch for his upcoming show during Miami Art Week. Five minutes into the interview, he's already dubbed himself a "culture god," referred to himself in the third person, and likened his fashion designs to art pieces. You only reach this level of self-admiration when there's enough to show for it. 

As commander-in-chief of Griselda Records and its corresponding fashion imprint, Griselda by Fashion Rebels, the Buffalo-born curator moves as though creative output is his only means of contentment. On first impression, "curator" might actually be his favorite word.

"I'm a curator, I'm an artist, I paint pictures," Gunn says. "I don't gotta be the person that sits there and raps all day — that's not what I do. And if I did want to do that, I could still do it with the best of them, but it ain't all about me. A great leader is someone who can lead and create other great leaders. I made other great leaders."

For the last few years, Gunn hasn't felt like he's had anything left to prove as a rapper. Fashion had always been Gunn's first love anyway. And by the time he released the mixtape Flygod Is an Awesome God II, one of the three projects he released in 2020, he felt better off retiring. He was nearly 38 with more than 20 projects out. Considering the shelf-life of a typical rapper, calling it quits wouldn't have been unreasonable.

Westside Gunn doesn't do typical shit, though.

Instead of closing the book on an already fruitful music career, he's shifted the album-making process from a self-oriented approach into an amalgamation of collaborators.

In time for Halloween this year, he dropped 10, the tenth and final installment of his infamous Hitler Wears Hermes mixtape series. A$AP Rocky, Black Star, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Busta Rhymes, the Alchemist, Swizz Beatz, DJ Drama, and several of Griselda's finest can be found all across the record. Stove God Cooks is on half of the tape's dozen tracks. Hand in hand with hip-hop royalty, Gunn's latest work is another collection of incisive vignettes that delineate street motifs and pompous frills.

"My shit feel like it's Illmatic again/My favorite fiend went to rehab/Two weeks later, he was back an addict again/He was three dollars short, had to drag him from the Benz wagon again," Gunn raps on the Conductor Williams-produced "Peppas."
Capturing vignettes of drug-related escapades can be a beautiful thing in front of the luscious crop of instrumentals present on 10 and the music that precedes it. Within the dense trap framework of the second track, "Flygod Jr.," Gunn's 20-year-old son guides his father somewhere more contemporary.

Gunn says when his son first asked to get a MacBook and beat-making software two years ago, he had one request in return: "I was like, 'Yo, if I give you this shit, man, I need you to make 50 beats.'" The first beat he got back turned into "Flygod Jr.," now made complete with a verse of his own and features from Doe Boy and DJ Drama.

Griselda has always been a family business. Gunn's brother, Conway the Machine, and cousin, Benny the Butcher, have always represented that. Saturday's event, Gunn Basel, could very well put their chemistry on display alongside whatever else Gunn has up his sleeve.

"Griselda gon' be in the fuckin' building, I promise you," he says. "I'm a do a show for Basel, but it's gon' be more than just me up there rapping. I might just do two songs, have a producer come and play five beats you never heard, and then go back to doing three more songs, and then [have] a special artist come out and do three songs. You never know what I'm a do. It's crazy as fuck."

The Flygod is simply there to have fun.

After teasing the prospect of a project with Benny and Conway, Gunn suggests that his highly anticipated album, Michelle Records, could very well be the end for the time being. The next phase of his career could be marked by his newfound relationships with the designers for fashion houses he's spent years rapping about and his devotion to wrestling culture through his Fourth Rope company.

A whole lot is going on in the world of Westside Gunn, and he welcomes that.

"Bro, sometimes I still just be in disbelief because so many people wish they could do this," he says. "I'm not one of those people that don't know I'm blessed. I literally just wake up and do what I do."

Westside Gunn. 3 p.m. Saturday, December 3 at SkateBird Miami, 533 NE 83rd St., El Portal; legendsonly.live. Tickets cost $60 to $250 via tixr.com.
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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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