It feels like ages since the golden era of the Wu-Tang and the East Coast, of gangster rap, gruff voices rapping over booming, sample-heavy beats, talking about cooking crack on a stove pot and slinging it on the corner block. Today’s rap isn’t that different, thematically speaking, but it shifted sonically, moving away from the drowned out vocals and eclectic DJ scratches and weird mixing decisions that made street rap unique. Instead, you have someone like DaBaby flowing seamlessly over a clear-cut, clean-shaven, bouncy beat, talking about having been broken but having made it out and celebrating life as a millionaire.
That’s all well and good. I’m not here to deride modern hip-hop – I love listening to NBAYoungboy croon over a vaguely soul-inspired trap beat as much as anyone else. Hell, I love hearing rappers talk about beating their baby mamas and leaving their children without support. It’s immoral and, in certain cases, very much illegal, but it’s the reality of a black community that has been systematically held back for decades if not centuries. There’s bound to be violence and all manner of unsavory behavior.
What I’m here to sing the praises of is the resurgence of that grimy New York style that embodied and empowered everyone, from wannabe thugs to legitimate gangsters, from the Tri State to Buffalo.
Griselda Records is the torch holder for the sort of no-nonsense, in-your-face, razor sharp lyricism that the 90s were known for. Conway, Westside Gunn, and Benny the Butcher, along with their numerous cohorts and collaborators like Alchemist and Boldy James, are at the very forefront of this new-but-old style of shunning all pretenses to civility and returning to your roots. Of rapping over the dirtiest, most disgustingly distorted beats that drip with dust and grime, and spitting rhymes about life as the very lowest of the low. Not from the perspective of someone who made it, but of that of someone who’s still very much in it, even despite the material success brought upon them by rap. There’s no clearer picture into the drug game than listening to Benny’s recipes for cooking dope in a pan. No more harrowing tale than that of getting shot in the face and surviving, bullets still lodged in your face. And yet they persist, as arrogant and boisterous as ever.
Still sellin’ China, it’s fine and terrific, come and buy it and sniff it (Cap)
Uh, my mind scientific, I’m rhymin’ prolific (Ha)
That’s a Conway line from his recent collab album with the legendary Alchemist and one cannot help but admire the self-assuredness of his delivery. At its core, this is a product pitch – he’s selling both his produce and his rhyming prowess (that, by the way hasn’t gone unnoticed, since Eminem’s Shady Records have already inked a distribution deal with the Griselda Records crew), and he does it in such a straight forward way, you can’t help but admire the brazen nature of his style of hip-hop. The delivery is slow, drawn out as if to force you to hear every word. Most verses drip with drug-related lexicon that, by all rights, should be accessible only to those privy to the world of dealing and sniffing, but is in fact popularized and aestheticized by a crew so talented and charismatic, it doesn’t even need to hide its involvement in crime. For all intents and purposes, the world belongs to Griselda in a Scarface-esque manner, and its members are very well aware of the weight of their presence. As the Griselda sits comfortable atop the recent wave of New York grime renaissance, there’s not much else to say except that the era of soft rap seems to be coming to an abrupt end.