An Interview with Westside Gunn

Steven Louis speaks with Westside Gunn about Griselda Gang, Los Angeles, and his new LP, 'Supreme Blientele.'
By    July 11, 2018

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Westside Gunn’s catalogue is genuinely addictive. Freeform adventures in flipping both bricks & Basquiats over bluesy jazz loops that crackle with sinister elegance. It alters the air around you. The skies stay heron gray, but the storytelling is lavishly colorful. He’s a natural antagonizer, a world-class shit-talker. Like the professional wrestlers he often shouts out, he makes an art out of self-assurance. Raps with old-head complexity, spewed out effortlessly. His voice may recall A.Z., but the delivery is decidedly modern, ad-libbing machine gun BOOM! noises like a twisted, gleeful Pacino in haute couture (or, maybe, Mike Breen as a trap lord).

Born Alvin Lamar Worthy, Gunn founded Griselda Records with his brother and frequent collaborator, Conway. Named after Colombian drug lord Griselda Blanco, bka La Madrina, the label muscled through Buffalo, a city with a deep history of segregation that dates back to 1930s redlining. Despite the “Westside” nickname, Gunn actually grew up in East Buffaloan astonishing 85 percent of Buffalo’s Black population is sequestered east of the city’s Main Street.

Griselda upped the ante after Conway survived a shooting to the back of the head in 2014, leaving half of his face paralyzed with Bell’s Palsy. With “The Machine” now spitting from the side of his mouth, the brothers formed the blistering duo Hall N Nash. Gunn’s Hitler Wears Hermes mixtape series led to substantial buzz as well, while his debut studio album FLYGOD earned cap-tips from Preemo, Raekwon, Action Bronson, and Danny Brown. Last year, Gunn signed Griselda to Shady Records, hit a national tour, and began expanding his portfolio as a designer. On June 22, he dropped Supreme Blientele, 18 grimey tracks under three official titles (while listed as Supreme Blientele on streaming services, Gunn says the album is also called Chris Benoit and GOD is the GREATEST.)

Aye yo, parked the La Dalat in front of Guggenheim, I’m sellin two for five/ crack swimmin we had to scuba dive!,” he taunts on “Dean Malenko.” Supreme Blientele is hypnotic, menacing, and often hilarious. It’s the result of careful patience, strict adherence to strategy, and independent hustle. When I call him, Gunn has just walked into his Atlanta home, fresh from the airport. He’s affable nevertheless. Gunn’s fulfilled his album responsibilities as a rapper, so, now it’s time to assume the role of businessman, entrepreneur and showman. According to him, if you’re this competitive, the transition is seamless. —Steven Louis

I thought it was fascinating to hear Benny on the first verse of Supreme Blientele. This entire thing feels like a celebration of Griselda Records.

Westside Gunn: Honestly, bro, this project feels like Flygod 2.0. Westside Gunn 2.0, the beginning of the next chapter. It’s different leagues. Before, it felt like the D-League, now it’s my rookie season. It’s a different kind of feeling, because I’m in a different kind of space in life, generally speaking. It’s always been the same approach, though.

You’re in that different space now…what have these experiences taught you as the owner and captain of Griselda? Now that you’re meeting these industry people, what are you thankful to have avoided?

Westside Gunn: What’s so crazy, bro, is that shit be moving so fast. I’m moving in real time, with the people I’m meeting…shit happens so quick that I don’t even be noticing what I do. Everything that’s been going on feels natural though, I don’t know how else to explain it. I’ve always been a natural-born hustler, I always had that drive in me. So now, when I see other people and my peers in the game, I gotta keep up. I gotta keep up. Not only that, I gotta be better. At the end of the day it’s business and it’s a competition. I know that. My whole goal is moving at the same speed, or even quicker. ‘Cuz the music is not different. It still has the same vibe, the same sound. I’m usually doing a lot of Daringer shit, this one is more spread out with all the producers I love, but the approach still the same.

Some of these songs could really fit anywhere in your discography. But then, you also come with a six-minute Anderson .Paak joint.

Westside Gunn: Yo, we recorded that shit at like five in the morning, it was late as fuck. I forgot where we went that day, but we linked back up later that night. We was just zonked out, man. Everyone in the studio was still asleep, but me and Andy were up. It was broad daylight when we left the studio. Andy’s so classic, what a legend.

Tell me a bit about the three different covers. It’s more album artwork that hides or obscures your face…does that mean anything?

Westside Gunn: Once I came up with the name Chris Benoit, I knew of Isaac Pelayo, I was a fan of his work and I knew he could make this vision come to life. I felt it really wasn’t about me being on the cover. Then once I rolled with that one, I reached out to the homies from AWGE. They did the second cover when I went to New York. We met up at the compound and kicked it. Then, the third one with the Fendi mask, that’s taking it back to Hitler II shit. That raw, dope, don’t-give-a-fuck, underground shit. The shit that don’t sound mixed and mastered.

Out of all the comments, everyone be saying, “I loved this shit, it’s the illest album in ten years, I just wish you mixed the shit a lil better.” Bro, that was done on purpose. You don’t even understand what you’re listening to! I wanted it raw, dusty, sounding like nothing else.

So earlier this year, when you said, “this shit feels like Hitler II,” you’re really living that.

Westside Gunn: I’m in that zone. People don’t know, but I made that project in one day. I wrote and recorded everything in one day. When I’m in that Hitler II zone, it’s a wrap. That’s what I’m in right now. I could make an album today if I wanted to. Right now, I’m chillin, but more music is definitely going to come. I’m going to the studio today just to stay sharp. Not necessarily going to make something today and drop it tomorrow, but work never stops.

Just as much as I’m an emcee, I own Griselda Records, so I have business to attend to. Plus, I design. I got New Era hats coming, I got a few more collabs in the works, and I haven’t even dropped the shirt for the album yet. Now that the album is out, I have to put on my other hats, you know what I’m saying?

The album prints sold out fast as hell.

Westside Gunn: Exactly. I’m a big fan of Hebru Brantley, and the people that print his shit printed my shit too. I went to the best of the best…I didn’t even want to charge that much, because it’s all about respect for me. I wanted people to understand that I’m in the art world, but I’m still a rookie earning your respect. I still gotta crawl before I walk. I don’t mind that. Some people go straight for the dollar, but that’s what makes Griselda special. If I wanted to go straight to the dollar, I would have the shirts up 24/7. You’d be able to buy the print right now, or vinyls, or anything else I’ve ever made if it was just about the dollar.

I could be 50 times richer if I left my shit up all day, for new people just discovering my music yesterday, who wish they could buy a print but it’s sold out before they even knew about me. I could be making money all day long, but then it wouldn’t mean nothing. I feel like, you know, I have a different kind of formula.

Flygod vinyls have been sold out for a while, it looks like.

Westside Gunn: Man, those are so rare. But like I’m saying, this is what makes it special! It’s a classic because the people appreciate it. I approach everything different. It was natural, it wasn’t like I did it on purpose. That’s just me, period. I want to do shit that has meaning, that’s worth something. Ten years, 15 years from now, I can’t even imagine what a Flygod vinyl will be worth. But you can name anyone, if their vinyl dropped today, years from now you’ll be able to find the albums at a fuckin’ thrift store. Flygod will be going for more, and that shit means more to me.

Any advice you’d give your past self as a businessman?

Westside Gunn: The only thing I would say is don’t sign to a label too soon. That’s not shade at Shady. I’m saying, even if I would’ve signed to Shady later, I would’ve stayed independent even longer. Now that I’m signed, I have different obligations. When you’re indie, you can do what you want. I wish I would’ve done Shady maybe, like, two years after I did. For a while, most people probably didn’t notice, but some people were like, “Ever since they signed they haven’t been making shit.” That shit was bothering me. I was just following protocol. But I know what the fans love about Griselda. They love when we just drop shit. No-holds-barred, don’t-give-a-fuck, make it today and drop it tomorrow. You can’t do that on a major, that’s the only difference. But that’s it. I would still sign to Shady, just like, two years after I did. Get my feet wet and shit.

I’m calling you from Fairfax right now. You seem to always rap about Fairfax, the Supreme store or Diamond Supply or what have you. Where else do you kick it on Fairfax?

Westside Gunn: I call myself Lord Fairfax, for real. I recently tried to open up a store on Fairfax called Lord Fairfax. Still in the process of trying to make that happen before the year’s over. I’m always in LA. That’s home to me. Apartment 4B on Fairfax, ever since I started doing popups there. The people always come fuck with me. When I pull up, there’s always a line around the block. Good vibes, good music, good atmosphere, good everything.

There’s always something to do for the culture when I pull up on Fairfax. When I’m in LA, that’s home, even if I don’t have a popup. I’ll be on Fairfax, smoking a blunt, a foreign car parked out there, just kickin it. If people know I’m in LA, nine times outta ten you gon see me out there with a Bentley, a Lamborghini, a Ferrari…that’s home for me out west.

I’m a basketball nerd, not much of a wrestling guy. But I’m curious…when you assume the Westside Gunn character, what makes you think of wrestling? Why does rap feel like wrestling? Why does moving weight feel like wrestling?

Westside Gunn: I’d say that Westside Gunn is a character. Like, that’s not what I was born. It gives me opportunities to do anything I want to do. To say what I want to say, and live that way. There’s nothing fake about it, I can just do what I want to do. I’m not Westside Gunn when I’m with my daughter, Pootie. But when I’m Westside Gunn, that’s me being me. Some don’t-give-a-fuck, fly shit. I’ve been living like a rapper for fuckin’ 15 years, you know bro? It’s not like I just started. I done always had the nice cars and jewelry, the nice looking women and the flyest outfit and poppin’ bottles and that shit. Because I was in the streets. I had money. Then I went to the feds, came home, went back to prison for hustlin’ more. I was really out there.

So when you see Westside Gunn, that flamboyant shit, there ain’t nothing fake. Everything I do, everyone can cosign that. But I’m not like that 24/7. I just came back from Houston…still went and spent somebody’s whole year on my arm. We having fun, man, living this life. My life is different. My music is real underground, raw, boom-bap. But, if you put me next to the other people that do what I do, they don’t live that lifestyle. I’m like an underground dude with a mainstream lifestyle. They don’t drive the foreign cars and have the big houses, the six figures in jewelry and shit. They don’t. Your favorite emcee in that lane don’t really have that. I like to be that guy.

Back in the day, people used to want to be Nas, Rae, and Ghost. People used to want to be Hov and all of that shit. I’m taking it back to that shit. That’s what Flygod is, the 2018 version of them. I’m making the dudes want to be Flygod right now. Either you hate me, or you love me. There’s really no in-between. There’s so many people that love me, but the shit that I do make so many people hate me, ‘cuz they can’t do what I do.

That’s some wrestling shit. You perform as the hero, or the villain, and you sell that character either way.

Westside Gunn: Exactly, bro. I’m always gonna be me…I’m the good bad guy. That’s basically what I am. The good bad guy. I understand the art of hustling and business. Some other people just good at rapping, that’s it. Facts…it’s just totally different. Everything about me is business. I’m not gonna compromise. You notice, the sound never change. It’s always the same. Either you like it or you don’t. This shit ain’t for everybody. But if you get it, you really love it. But there’s so many people that hate it just because of me. The music is dope, you can’t say the music is not dope. If you’re saying the music is not dope, you’re a hater. But they don’t want to listen, ‘cuz when they see me, I light up the whole room. You can still see me with your eyes closed.

Any summer tips from the Flygod?

Westside Gunn: Tips, man…stay safe. That’s the only thing I can say. Be safe man, people dropping left and right. Stay safe, stay focused, make every move your best move. Time wait for no man. If you hustle, hustle ten times harder.

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