by Jason Hewitt
[originally published Spring 2020]
When most people think of cities that run hip-hop, places such as Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York City may come to mind. It can be difficult for artists, let alone entire labels, to come out of smaller markets in the music industry and actually gain worldwide popularity and critical acclaim.
That challenge didn’t phase Buffalo native Westside Gunn, who currently runs one of the most highly discussed labels in hip-hop: Griselda Records. He established Griselda in 2014 with the hope of the label becoming one of the most prominent collectives not just in Buffalo, but in the entire world. After releasing a multitude of critically acclaimed projects with fellow label mates and family members Benny the Butcher and Conway the Machine, Westside Gunn would agree that Griselda has the biggest following it has ever experienced. The label’s fan base is only increasing in numbers. With the label’s recent signing to Eminem’s record label, Shady Records, it seems like more success is on the way for Griselda.
The label consists of three Buffalo natives who are highly skilled when it comes to the art of rapping. Each member has a different style of lyricism, but they all rap over a similar style of grimy, “boom-bap” production. The production is akin to the beats that New York rappers such as Jay-Z and the late Notorious B.I.G. used in the nineties, with an added modern twist. Credit for Griselda’s patent sound should go to Daringer (Griselda’s main in-house producer) and The Alchemist, one of the greatest and most influential hip-hop producers in the twenty-first century.
What makes the label even more interesting is the fact that each member is related to one another. Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine are brothers, while Benny the Butcher is their cousin. A fourth member, formerly known to the world as MachineGun Black, was Benny’s brother. Westside Gunn claimed in multiple interviews that he and MachineGun Black grew up together and saw each other as brothers due to the fact that they were around the same age. Tragically, MachineGun Black was killed before Griselda experienced the success that it is enjoying today. Black’s name and legacy now resides within each of the record member’s gritty lyrics and impeccable flows. Griselda’s first album under Shady Records, “WWCD,” stands for “What Would ChineGun Do?” in tribute to his legacy and lasting imprint on the popular music collective.
The first member worth noting is Westside Gunn, the founder of the label. He has been rapping the longest out of anyone in Griselda, with his projects dating all the way back to 2005. Griselda’s success has to do with Westside Gunn’s ability to lead as both a businessman and fashion influencer. For more context on his fashion side, his self-given nickname is literally “Flygod,” because of how impeccable he believes his ability to dress to be. He experienced a hiatus from music until he released his mixtape series titled “Hitler Wears Hermes”, a reference to the adage, “The devil wears prada.” This series started with the first mixtape of its name all the way back in 2016, and has continued through the latest installment, “Hitler Wears Hermes 7,” which was released last year.
Westside Gunn’s brother, Conway the Machine, has a very unique and inspiring story that many people are unaware of. Back in 2012, Conway enjoyed his fame as the “Jay-Z of Buffalo.” He had just returned home to Buffalo after doing some business in Atlanta, and he was shot in the back of the head and neck. He survived the shooting, but he has paralysis on the right side of his face. This condition is known as Bell’s Palsy, and it inhibited Conway’s ability to speak. He was eventually able to re-learn how to talk and eventually rap in a way that was efficient enough for him to make a career out of once again. You can literally feel the hunger in his voice while he raps, which makes perfect sense, considering everything that he endured in his life.
Last but certainly not least, we have Benny the Butcher. Benny arguably has the most momentum out of every rapper in Griselda. Following his brother Machine Gun Black’s death, he felt inspired to get into rapping full-time with his cousins. Benny admittedly used to be heavily involved in the Buffalo drug business, and he vividly discusses his experiences in all of his projects. The difference between him and other rappers who are famously known for “snitching on themselves” (see: Bobby Shmurda) is that Benny has already served time in jail for the topics he discusses in his bars.
He released the critically acclaimed “Tana Talk 3” *cough, one of the best projects of the decade, cough* back in 2018, which was followed by another critically-acclaimed project titled “The Plugs I Met.” Benny has rapped with the best rappers in the game, from Black Thought to Pusha T, and manages to be on par with them in his incredible verses.
Everyone in Griselda Records brings something different to the table, yet all of them have that hardcore Buffalo sound that hip-hop fans all over the world have fallen in love with. The record company’s upcoming albums are looking very promising in 2020, with each member dropping at some point this year. It’s looking very positive for Griselda and hip-hop as a whole for the foreseeable future.