Harold Stallworth wears his leather in the winter.
Griselda Gang is a loose collective of hard-nosed street rappers who hail from various corners of New York State. It’s hard to say where the card-carrying members begin and where the subsidiary members end; at the moment, there appear to be a rift between Griselda’s core, namely Westside Gunn, and fringers like Hus Kingpin, Smoovth, Rozewood, and Marvelous Mag (see: Gunn’s tirade at the tail end of his “Easter Sunday Freestyle”). But they’re all bound by the influence and affiliation of Roc Marciano. And like Marciano, Griselda Gang, by and large, have a knack for balancing grit with grandeur; they’re more It Was Written than Illmatic, more Hell on Earth than The Infamous. The object of their nostalgia is different from that of, say, Pro Era or A$AP Mob, and that in itself sets them apart.
Westside Gunn has one of the most distinctive rap voices since Danny Brown. Consequently, he’s the most visible member of Griselda Gang. He also puts out the most music. Over the last couple of years, he’s released a trilogy of solo mixtapes, some collaborative projects with his older brother, and a retail album, Flygod. Despite some ineffective guests and undercooked hooks, Flygod shows Gunn improving as a rapper—the lead single, “Mr. T,” is probably the best song he’s ever recorded. He’s still going in the right direction, but he’s not quite there yet. When all is said and done, his best work will also be his most insular.
Conway The Machine
Conway The Machine is the biological brother of Westside Gunn, the Smooth Da Hustler to Gunn’s Trigga Tha Gambler. He has a raspy mushmouth, presumably due to being shot in the face, which he’s rapped about on most of his best songs. His last album, Reject 2, is the best full-length project that his crew has offered so far. Conway is as good a rapper as his brother—arguably better—but he has a tendency to sometimes rely a little too heavily on punchlines for shock value. He’s usually at his best when it sounds like he’s not trying, and judging by his most recent work he’s moving away from punchlines altogether. On “Wraith-ful,” for example, he’s apathetic to the point of nihilism—like a less observant, more visceral take on early Jay-Z. And on “Birdy,” his flow is aggressive but it’s still in pocket, still effortless. Songs of this caliber make up for whatever shortcomings Conway might have.
Mach Hommy has shown to be the most malleable artist in his crew, able to bounce between being a no-nonsense street rapper and Okayplayer without missing a beat. His guest features have become a staple of Griselda Gang’s hardest deep cuts, but his solo work tends to be much more eclectic, often taking cues from Mos Def rather than Mobb Deep. “Powder,” a hazy love song where Hommy croons in patois, would fit comfortably on any Mos Def album, even the less heralded ones, but especially The Ecstatic. And “Solo Dolo“—which has been tagged on Youtube with the misleading claim of a Nas collaboration—is jazzy and lighthearted compared to his work with Westside Gunn and Conway The Machine. It will be interesting to see where Hommy goes from here, whether his future work veers toward grit, grandeur, or something in between.