Don’t Let The Provocative Title Fool You - WESTSIDEGUNN’s “Hitler Wears Hermes 4″ Is Survival Music

For better or worse, the phrase “keeping it real” has been thrown around within hip-hop almost as long as hip-hop has been in existence.
In rap circles, the meaning of “real” can get surprisingly complex. For some, it may just bring to mind the textbook definition: genuine, not artificial. For others it represents a highly specific type of authenticity, a raw toughness that became entwined with gangsta rap in the early 90′s. It’s that definition of “realness” that comes up now more than ever. The glass ceiling of rap music has been shattered, leaving today’s hip-hop more of a fractured hodgepodge of different styles - heavily shaped by geographic influences - as opposed to a cohesive unit of what real rap “should” sound like. Whether you see trap, drill, conscious, backpack, mumble-rap, or any other sub-genre enough critics try to make up as legitimately separate categories or not, the one key that seems to open all doors is whether or not a hip-hop artist “keeps it real”.
In today’s game, not many seem realer than WESTSIDEGUNN, his brother Conway The Machine, and the out-of-nowhere thriving entity known as Griselda Records/Fashion Rebels (GxFR).
Let’s go back to that geographic influence I mentioned above. WESTSIDEGUNN and Conway hail from Buffalo, New York. Recent reports from the U.S. Census Bureau claim that half of the children that reside in Buffalo are living in poverty (second amongst U.S. cities, with Detroit holding the unfortunate distinction of being number one). In 2012, Forbes ranked Buffalo as #10 on their list of the most dangerous U.S. cities. As for where the city stands within rap culture, Buffalo is way too far from New York City to share much of a connection with the historic mecca of hip-hop that is NYC, which means that it can be harder for artists like WESTSIDEGUNN to cash-in on a music career. So with a healthy chip permanently residing on the city’s cold (I mean, it is less than two hours from Canada) shoulder…life can get pretty damn real in Buffalo. If you didn’t already know about the hurdles that face the lives of many that reside in Bills-town, you can quickly catch-up, because those challenges explode like shotgun fire from speakers when you listen to music from the Griselda Records family, and more specifically, WESTSIDEGUNN’s new Hitler Wears Hermes 4 project.

The fourth installment of the controversially titled series kicks off with “The Cow”, a track that both celebrates the independent label’s many recent successes, and somberly reflects on the loss of a close friend whose life was taken too soon. Like many tracks from WESTSIDEGUNN and his brethren, I have no idea why this song is titled “The Cow” (or even why this music series incorporates the name of the infamous German dictator), and the song doesn’t have a hook. It is the antithesis of the the danceable strip club anthems and syrupy auto-tuned bounce that comprises much of the more sought-after rap music today (which is ironic, since WESTSIDEGUNN spends a lot of time in his second home of Atlanta, a rap town synonymous with the clubbiest of club hip-hop). What “The Cow” does have is a real sense of mood, and verse-of-the-year calibre writing by Conway:
“Remember when the Feds gave fifteen to Cousin Tito /
Me and Pat was right there he took it like a G though /
That’s a real n*gga that’s a fact when I came home from doing two,
He gave me a half ounce and a rack /
And said you don’t owe me shit just put the city on the map /
That was eleven years ago and now I’m doing just that /
Ask my baby momma how much I cried when Machine Gun died /
When I pulled up the scene that yellow tape outside /
Had me ready to grab the stick and go apes outside /
I never found out who did it that shit ate my pride /
I swear but maybe that was a sign /
Maybe god ain’t want me killing them n*ggas
And doing time /
Maybe god wanted me here to kill em’ with the rhyme…”
Fans of Conway know that this is far from the first scene-stealing verse from the gifted writer (his verse on“Mr. Fuji” which comes up later on HWH4 might be equally rewind-worthy). Conway has been absolutely on fire since 2015, and he even has his own highly anticipated album dropping on Black Friday later this month (G.O.A.T.: Grimiest Of All Time), a testament to the crew’s work ethic. Having survived a gun shot wound to the head that nearly cost him his life, everything from Conway’s words to his committed performance to Daringer’s lonely instrumental echo an authenticity that is not heard everyday. What makes it different? The juggling of anger, braggadocio, reflection, and vulnerability. The words on HWH4 often fluctuate between the swag of being a thriving drug dealer in an environment where normal 9-to-5′s don’t seem like a meal ticket to feed a family, to the bleak and private thoughts that accompany that same feeling. The Buffalo brethren put their words to production that can drag you to a dark place that many don’t want to visit. It’s the recipe that made legends like Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, and more recently, Roc Marciano & Ka so unforgettable.
The engine of chaos that makes Griselda go is WESTSIDEGUNN, whose FLYGOD album seemed to really kick the door off the hinges earlier this year. With every “Ayo”, gunshot sound, and super-specific fashion reference raked across rusty nails by his unmistakable voice, WESTSIDEGUNN sounds like the edgy tour guide to the Dante’s Inferno that is Buffalo’s underbelly. His one-off comments seem to be as impactful as his actual rhymes. A deceptively clever MC in his own right, it’s hard to describe WESTSIDEGUNN’s style because there really hasn’t ever been anyone like him…picture pure Sticky Fingaz cut with a kilo of Jay-Z’s flair. 
Whether he’s delivering the best performance of verbal debauchery since Ghostface Killah’s “Wildflower” on “Aunt Rosie’s”, or further mowing down the competition with the visceral descriptions of his world (“your favorite rapper, that’s my son, stop acting like you know me / I gave the joint to my little homie. He ain’t missed a n*gga yet / so many dome shots, he only got his ear left”), WESTSIDEGUNN isn’t looking to write anything that sounds like everything else on your iTunes, he’s opening up his devilish imagination on every track. While Stalley really delivers with his feature on the stellar “5x A Day”, in typical WESTSIDEGUNN fashion the most memorable quotable from that track will probably be “the God n*gga, AZ in a Saab n*gga” courtesy of the FlyGod himself. On another standout cut, the classic WWE/WCW fanatics make their presence felt on “Nitro”, as Benny, Griselda’s top hired gun, delivers yet another impression making verse (and if you haven’t checked out his recent project, My First Brick, you definitely need to get on that, too: ). 
However, the standout track for WESTSIDEGUNN might be the closer, “Free Ike, Free Kiki”. As he shouts-out some fellow Buffalo soldiers currently on lockdown, he saves the best shout-out for himself with, “pray for Paris / pray for Haiti / pray for me…my ass crazy!” Unlike the confessional diaries that pour out of his brother Conway or Benny, WESTSIDEGUNN might be at his best when he’s laughing in the face of danger like he’s the Joker of Buffalo.
It’s impossible to mention team Griselda without shining a light on the man responsible for perfecting the dark, and that’s Daringer. The fellow Buffalonian blesses WESTSIDEGUNN and company with all of the beats on HWH4,  and considering that the project dropped on Halloween, he delivers accordingly. The eerie sounds of “Free Ike, Free Kiki” make it the most gloriously twisted dedication track I’ve ever heard (it’s like “One Love” on angel dust). The keys on “Nasty” are just that, and the relentless thump of “Rocking Ringside Furs” and “5x A Day” cannot be replicated by anyone else not named Daringer, DJ Premier or Alchemist. Like the mighty Alc, Daringer is a master of the “where the hell did you get this sample!?” game, taking sounds that would fit in well as the theme of campy low-budget 80′s horror, with menace dialed-up to eleven.

Some great paintings come entirely from the imagination, while others come from something real. So when it comes to that special place where rap and art meet, whose to say what’s real and what’s inauthentic? In my opinion, it just comes down to what feels true. Regardless of whether or not all of the stories, claims, feelings, and threats on Hitler Wears Hermes 4 are real or not, the important thing is that the mood of this project feels real, like the mood of these men was captured within the studio in its’ rawest form, and brought to us so that we could listen to the stream of consciousness of WESTSIDEGUNN and company in its’ uncensored form. Perhaps that’s why Griselda song titles feel so improvised? Little self-editing is involved in the equation before the music is presented to the world.
The gifted artists mentioned above are a perfect representation of so many people in the city of Buffalo right now: they’re hungry, frustrated, and scary talented. Go ahead and add Hitler Wears Hermes 4 to the growing number of notches on WESTSIDEGUNN’s belt. 

Purchase Hitler Wears Hermes 4 and more Griselda projects here: