When Watch the Throne came out in 2011, I was 12 years old, just starting to gain some sense of self and individuality.
It's an understatement that I didn't appreciate anything the album was trying to convey at that time - the nuance of high fashion, the braggadocios lyrics, the almost unnatural elegance that the album created around it.
I was just a kid who wanted to be Kanye West, and I partially liked Jay Z at the time, so I just proceeded to enjoy the album. I never truly was able to appreciate the small overtones and innuendos of black successful men in America. Now almost 9 years later, an individual from Buffalo, NY is raising those same thoughts and emotions I had towards music again.
Back in January, Virgil Abloh ( Louis Vuitton, artistic director since 2018) debuted his own imprint “Off White” Fall 2020 Menswear Collection in Paris. His music selection for the evening was most impressive.
Amongst some of the world's most renowned designers, he played Westside Gunn and Roc Marciano’s “Perfect Plex” a nod to wrestling legend, Mr Perfect. It's not that Virgil played rap or even more specifically a black artist. It's the fact that he played two guys that quite frantically most folks in the room wouldn't know at all. This cosign gave an unprecedented path into the likes of high fashion art spaces that a certain stigma of black men are not particularly afforded.
Which leads to Westside Gunns latest work Pray for Paris.
Along with other Griselda releases such as Conway the Machines solo project LULU, with staple producer and DJ The Alchemist, Pray for Paris feels like the first real successful attempt for Westside to differentiate himself from his clique. His new outlook on life is high fashion: from the Virgil designed album cover; to the intro “400 million plus tax” a chop of the selling of Leonardo DaVinci’s famed piece “Salvator Mundi”; and the justification that he IS an ARTIST making ART not a rapper making music.Even with more than 10 previous releases, Pray for Paris feels fresh and intuitive, even when at its core, it's really not doing anything new.
Gunn is a wordsmith, plain and simple. He has a way of making you feel that you're not experiencing his album through your ears but, through your eyes. He is so descriptive, that you can not only feel what he is saying, but the action is happening right in front of you.
“Hit the brick with a claymore kick, rocking Liz Claiborne, it ain't safe for’em” Gunn raps on “Claiborne Kick.” Westside has an infatuation with slamming worlds together that usually don't collide at all. It's almost like Quentin Tarantino meets Hype Williams. It's a weird fusion of 90’s wrestling and old sample usage but, the vibrant and futuristic visuals of a Williams video.
As half of the project was recorded in Paris, Gunn’s lush and beautiful samples come through on songs like “French Toast” featuring Wale, where Westside describes crushing on a young female he met over in Paris and experiencing the finer things in life such as the Louvre and Eiffel Tower. Or on the record “Versace” produced by social media personality Jay Versace, where he uses a crazy flip of gospel legends, The Clark Sisters and Dr. Mattie Moss Clark's “They Were Overcome (By the Word).” Tyler the Creator also finds not only a jazzy feature on the song “327” with Joey Badass, and he continues on his sample style production with the hit “Party Wit Pop Smoke.”
While the back half of the project keeps that nineties grit and straight boom bap essence especially on a song like “Allah Sent Me” where Westside and his cohorts Benny the Butcher and Conway the machine go drug bar for drug bar. Westside keeps that same energy on songs like “$500 Ounces” where Freddie Gibbs details a verse of knocking coke off a table and showing a friend AK’s with green lasers.
This album is nothing short of a movie. It's the soundtrack to a film that perfectly describes the African American male making his attempt to not just give a glimpse of his muddy past but an outlook into his materialistic future. I give this album a nine out of ten.