Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)
I listen to new shit every day, constantly checking for up-and-coming rappers, clicking on recommended links, watching videos and all that. And it’s rare that I discover a rap artist nowadays that really catches my interest. More often than not, they either got cookie-cutter styles or are just plain boring. No shots, just the truth. But that’s why when I hear a dude like Westside Gunn, I’m immediately drawn in.
The Buffalo spitter (who also now resides in Atlanta) has been on the underground rap scene getting his feet wet and building a rep for the past few years. But just recently, it seems like the co-signs have been rolling in heavily, and his music has started to circulate more and more. Action Bronson, Alchemist, Danny Brown, and Roc Marciano have all publicly acknowledged his dopeness. And Roc produced one of his latest Soundcloud releases, “Hall,” and yes, it’s fucking fire. If you like that gritty, concrete, hard body New York fly shit, Westside Gunn is the one right now. Trust.
Last week, Gunn and his older brother Conway released a new EP titled Ghost Griselda, produced entirely by hilarious Internet personality Big Ghost Ltd, who quiet as kept is mad ill with the production. Recorded in one session, the EP boasts nothing but bully bar bangers, all sample-driven and perfectly executed. It’s hoodie weather, Timberland boot shit, with no fluff or fuckery to be found.
But Gunn’s got a back catalog of crack that is also worth diving in a rabbit hole to check out. His Hitler Wears Hermes series (his personal favorite is 2) is definitely worth spinning repeatedly, as are more recent collabos like “The Town” with Sadat X. And it sounds like he has a flurry of extremely exciting features and projects on the way, so consider this all a warm-up.
In anticipation of Westside Gunn’s continued ascent, we caught up with him during a quick studio break in Atlanta for our latest Heavy Rotation to get a feel for what tracks inspire his brand of gully linguistics. Check out what Westside Gunn listens to when he’s not hard at work bodying beats below.
1. Kanye West “Dark Fantasy”
Westside Gunn: “That’s one of my favorite songs. It’s crazy, because the first time I ever heard that song I was actually in the FEDS. You can imagine, you’re locked up being in the FEDS, and they got a music room now. So you order the shit, and it come, but you only can listen to it in a particular room. I knew Kanye was dropping, so the day it came out, I signed up for it.
“So that was the first song on the album, and I’m listening and reading the credits and shit, and I’m like, ‘Kanye and RZA?! RZA produced this?!’ So I was already like, ‘Whoa.’ You got Nicki Minaj talking with the British accent in the beginning, and then when that beat dropped, and the shit he was saying, it was just like, ‘Wow.’ Kanye was already one of my favorites, but I think that album is his best album. It’s just something about that album that moves me, and that song started it all. Just off the rip, the beat, the shit he’s saying is over the top, it’s just hip-hop. Even the, ‘Can we get much higher?’ All that shit is amazing. That’s real music to me. You could tell it took a while to make that one song.”
2. Young Dolph ft. 2 Chainz and Juicy J “Pulled Up”
“I’m in the South, in Atlanta. So when I go to the club, or the strip club, or on the radio, they play a lot of turn-up. Young Dolph kind of remind me of myself. Not lyric-wise, but just a hustler, that got it out the mud by himself with no help. He’s doing him right now. And I can salute that. He’s the type that’s really driving the new foreign and all that, off of music. And I can respect that.
“It’s just real street. If people listen to my lyrics, it’s very street. Muhfuckers gettin’ money, and fly. Real street shit. And that’s how he come. It’s very fly to me. For a South dude, I give him two thumbs up. When you live that type of life, it don’t matter where you from—the South, New York, Cali, Houston. We all speak the same universal street language. And if you’re cut from that cloth, you gotta love it.
“It’s that turn-up song. I could listen to that song in the strip club right now, fuck around throw a thousand dollars in three minutes. [Laughs.] That’s one of my joints. I literally listen to it every other day. It’s on the radio down here crazy right now, and the club go crazy.
“He’s from the South, but that still influences me. I live in Atlanta, and I’m on the club scene, and I do all of that. People might try to say I’m more underground because of the beats and all that, but when you live that kind of life, it don’t matter where you’re from.”
3. Big Sean ft. Kanye West and John Legend “One Man Can Change The World”
“When I hear that song, it touches me. Most songs don’t touch me. I hear a lot of shit that makes me wanna turn up. I hear a lot of shit that makes me wanna hustle. But that song right there is one of the motivational songs. It keeps me on my toes. I’m on the come-up, so I can feel those lyrics. Being from Buffalo, losing people from the streets every two days, my brother got shot in the head, [my cousin] got killed, being in the FEDS. The odds is against me.
“We’re from the third poorest city in the country, Top 10 most dangerous cities in the country, and this is where I’m still at. I’m not in Hollywood. I’m in Buffalo every other week, at least twice or three times a month. I’m still out there. I wanna show the people from Buffalo that if I can make it, they can make it. It’s one of them inspirational songs, because no one ever made it from my city. So I work hard every day to get on and do what I can do to show people, ‘Yo, we can do it.’ That’s why that song is dope to me.
“And then, John Legend’s on the hook, Kanye on the hook. The keys is crazy. You could tell it took a long time to make that song as well. I like songs like that, where it’s not just get in the booth and spit for two minutes and that’s it. The production is just phenomenal.
“I think Big Sean is actually underrated. I grew up in that era. I’m from the streets of Buffalo, where it’s always the tough guy, and not the pretty young dude. It’s that Raekwon, Nas, Jay Z, M.O.P., that New York gritty shit. But Big Sean, he’s younger, and people don’t really fool with him where I’m from. But personally, I think he’s crazy. He’s dope lyrically. He’s not Big Sean for nothing. Kanye didn’t say, ‘I wanna get this guy out of everybody I come across every day,’ for nothing. And I think he’s very influential to Kanye. I like that whole camp. I listen to Travis Scott, Pusha T. That’s actually my favorite camp out of everybody.”
4. Raekwon ft. Nas and Ghostface Killah “Verbal Intercourse”
“I could listen to that song for the rest of my life. [Laughs.] The beat is phenomenal. That’s one of those beats when I first started rapping that I was like, ‘I need that instrumental.’ This is epitome of beats to me. It’s extra fly, extra grimy. Then, to have Rae and Ghost do what they do, with Nas too? This is the Holy Trinity of Hip-Hop! It really don’t get no iller than that. There’s a lot of dope hip-hop songs. Rae got mad dope shit. Ghost got mad dope shit. Nas got mad dope shit. But just to have all three of them on the same record on a RZA production is phenomenal. It really don’t get no better than that.”
5. Future ft. Drake “Where Ya At”
“We’re gonna go back to the turn-up. Because I like turning up. I like the club. I like the strip club. And the turn-up music actually influences the way I write myself. People wouldn’t believe it, but I listen to the Guccis, the Gottis, the Migos—I listen to these dudes faithfully. But, out of all of them, my favorite is my man Future. When I go on trips, I listen to Future. Period. That’s what gets me in my zone. And that new single with Drake, that’s my joint. That can get my day started. I play that joint right now, and it’s on.
“I like listening to songs I can feel, and I can relate to. When I first started, I wasn’t really gettin’ no love, because everybody thought like I had to rap like I was from Chicago or Atlanta. So when I went to get people to invest in the Griselda movement, everybody would just laugh. ‘Ain’t nobody wanna hear that shit. You can’t pop no bottles to that shit. That’s what’s gonna sell, that’s what’s gonna get you on.’ It’s like everybody closed the door on me. But now, them same people trying to call me every other day like, ‘What’s up? When you doing a show? Let’s get up.’ Now you wanna invest in Griselda. And I’m not feeling that.
“And that’s why that song means a lot to me. A lot of people was shittin’ on me. They didn’t have faith in me. I had to go out here and get it and do it on my own. And now, here I go, doing an interview with [NahRight]. That wouldn’t have happened if I would’ve made that turn-up shit. That ain’t even my style. I like to party to that, but as far as me, my style is real classic, gutter, New York boom bap feel. But it’s a universal sound too, because what I say, if you live that life and feel that type of music, it don’t matter where you from. I get love everywhere.”