A few short months ago, I was sitting in a dark bar with some friends on a late Friday afternoon, and we started chatting up another group of equally-inebriated compatriots. We went through the standard cycle of introductory conversation topics and one guy mentioned that he was from Buffalo. I asked if he listened to Griselda, the exponentially-rising rap trio from his hometown. “Is that like Conway and his crew? I don’t listen to them, but I know of Conway just from growing up in the neighborhood. Those guys are no joke.” Let’s be clear that my street credit is non-existent, so you can take that story with a grain of salt, but getting a co-sign of an artist from a stranger without even referencing their music is noteworthy, especially considering that this was in California, not upstate New York.
Conway the Machine is the darkest and probably least-accessible rapper of Griselda, and I mean that as the highest of compliments. He still sports the same grimy, boom-bap sound as fellow members Westside Gunn and Benny the Butcher, but he leans more towards a dissonant pessimism like Mobb Deep on painkillers -- Griselda’s ascendance, collectively and individually, deserves its own article. That being said, Conway’s verse on last year’s “DR BIRDS” stands towering as the highlight of Griselda’s major-label debut WWCD. His snarling delivery makes for some of the most dominating flows out there today, and his background just makes his rise to prominence all the more powerful (half of his face is paralyzed from a gunshot wound to the head; see his “Bells Palsy” skit from last fall’s Look What I Became for firsthand details).
This Alchemist collaboration LULU started getting teased only about a week ago, although in this quarantine I could’ve sworn it was more like a month, and on paper it’s a great match. Alchemist has been a mainstay hip-hop producer for over two decades since his days of getting loudly touted alongside Dilated Peoples, even if his most prominent mainstream reference point nowadays is probably as “Al,” the picky, curmudgeonly white guy from Action Bronson’s touring Vice show “Fuck That’s Delicious”. With his collab tapes, more often than not we get a supreme-cut Alchemist beat tape featuring a different rapper who may or may not fit his soulful, diverse style centered around obscure samples. At times, he’s crafted a project that stands towards the zenith of a rapper’s discography -- such is the case with Domo Genesis, as I find myself circling back not to 2016’s mature pinnacle Genesis, but 2012’s under-the-radar Alchemist joint, No Idols.
LULU is undeniably solid even if it doesn’t showcase the top-end of Conway’s capabilities; that’s only to say it might not have the same impact on first-time listeners as ones accustomed to his approach. The triplet bars on the single “Calvin” are pretty far from his stylistic comfort zone and give him the opportunity to show off his breadth of talent; even I was surprised at how well he can wield that cadence. His brutal lyricism and delivery get the top billing throughout these seven tracks; Al’s production doesn’t overpower the spotlight. Lines like “I feel like Rico when he got at Mitch / Oh, that's fourteen birds? That's a lot of bricks, bitch” confirm the Paid in Full theme (Lulu is the instigating cocaine supplier from the 2002 film), of which quotes are scattered throughout. He’s in full-form command of street flexing on “They Got Sonny,” which subtly features Queens legend Cormega. The chorus of “Shoot Sideways” has Schoolboy Q giving off blatant ODB vibes, right in line with Griselda’s well-deserved designation of being the spiritual successors to Wu-Tang. Alchemist channels the Conway sound on the fade-out throwaway beat at the end of that track, even if it doesn’t really count as a cut.
I’ve gobbled up everything that the Griselda crew has released, in addition to their extensive back catalog, since I got turned on to Benny the Butcher towards the end of 2018, and LULU definitely scratches that itch, even if it already knows where to scratch. For anyone new to Conway, I might redirect you to "212” and 2018’s wonderfully dismal Everybody is F.O.O.D., and for anyone new to the boys from Buffalo, I’d recommend starting with Griselda’s WWCD, Benny’s Tana Talk 3, and Westside Gunn’s Supreme Blientele, roughly in that order. But if you’re well-versed, you’ve already placed LULU firmly in your rotation. I also noticed that this record is included in a suggested Spotify playlist called “Clinically Cold”. While I personally despise these algorithm-dependent, fabricated-mood playlists that take the research and recognition out of the musical discovery process (probably a ‘get off my lawn’ rant for another time), the categorization couldn’t be more spot-on.
7.6 / 10
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