Madeleine Byrne is not a ghost in the machine.
“Trust me.” The two words provide the foundation of any tale, dating back to Scheherazade, but also supply a good summation of the career of former Griselda MC, Conway The Machine. Unlike the manic machinations of his younger brother, Westside Gunn, Conway’s rhymes tend to be sober in tone and approach (not content), as if he is asking us to believe what he says because he has lived it. This phrase is invoked on Death By Misadventure—his latest release with Sonnyjim, the British MC/producer and label founder—as he recounts both all the violence he has seen and could cause. The six-track EP is due out on May 21 on Brighton, UK label, Daupe! and POW is streaming the premiere today.
Starting with “Blocks From Tiffanys,” a simple track built around a sample of a man listing all artillery and munitions he’s seen “on the street” (12-gauge shotguns, hand grenades, bazookas, dynamite…). The way Conway repeats the phrase “I seen” gains in momentum with swirling music behind it, reinforcing the fact that it’s built on his personal experience. He saw it. It’s true.
The next track, “Belugas,” is well within the Griselda musical/lyrical mindset, with the trilling gun vocalizations, hysterical laughter, echoed words for emphasis, and extended samples from movies. Half-way through, the music builds as if it were a zoned-out rock song, the bass-line remaining prominent. With its Roc Marciano feature, “Kevlar Tux” takes more risks. Conway’s verse also shows an increased spirit; check out the moment where he states, “Ayo, you fucking with a legend.” It’s also different as Conway briefly tells a story of someone in his circle rather than keeping it focused on his more usual concerns about maintaining status. Roc Marci’s half-rhymes (and non-rhymes) remain interesting as ever, in the way he connects disparate words you wouldn’t expect.
The EP’s highlight is the Sonnyjim/Conway collaboration “Cristal & Cereal” that comes up twice, second as a remix by LA producer, Budgie. In Sonnyjim’s verse you can hear points of connection with the lyrical style dominant in the US underground (the layering, rather than storytelling and absurdist connections based on rhymes), but it sounds new. Note the dry humor in his verse: his stating, for example, that with “all this gold around (his) neck” he should be called Michael Phelps. Conway also extends himself here, adding an emotional depth to his verse, even if the bulk of it is him saying why he’s ahead of all those who want to copy his style, rhyming over “slow” beats.
Death By Misadventure is not so different from other Conway-helmed releases in the way he talks up his status as the “grimiest of all time,” speaking truth from the street. What it does, though, is gesture towards an increased space for other kinds of expression, while moving away (slightly) from the Buffalo New Yorker’s familiar role as lyrical witness to crimes and misdemeanors; telling it like it is, with little or no embellishment.