The Infinite Possibilities of Westside Gunn, Jay Worthy and Boldy James

Steven Louis goes in on a Hitler Wears Hermes 7 highlight.
By    November 11, 2019

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Steven Louis has never tried fried penguin.

Il dio Sotto La Pelle, which translates to “God Under the Skin,” is a psychedelic Italian film from 1974, co-directed by Carlo Alberto Pinelli and Folco Quilici. It’s tough to find much more information about the movie itself, but the movie doesn’t matter, with all due respect to the homies Pinelli and Quilici (I do assume they’re homies. If I’ve been Italian milkshake ducked, so it goes).

What matters is the movie’s incredible soundtrack, composed by prolific musician and post-Mussolini legal extraordinaire Piero Piccioni. The whole thing is transportive and dense and very groovy, but nothing hits quite like “It’s Possible,” a three-song suite with Piccioni and Catherine Howe. There’s the haunting central riff, first outlined with organs, then flutes and some deeply reverbed bass, only to come alive with a full orchestral arrangement and ethereal vocal performance. It’s chilling, hypnotic, very very very good. Now I’m here alone/facing the dark that I don’t want to know,” Howe sings. “I’ll find the way to change it/it’s possible.”

Forty-five years later, and here we are, right in the thick of Westside Gunn’s Hitler Wears Hermes 7. That riff can really spin a listener off its axis. It’s such a powerful sample, divinely separating this one track from the rest of a (very excellent) album. Descend again down the lonely, twisting staircase of a tune and we’re in present-day Compton, albeit not for long. The airiness of that vocal loop, those rippling, wavy chords on the electric guitar, it’s come together and fashioned a bridge through time and space. Somehow, it feels like Howe’s lonely ballroom wails and Jay Worthy’s park bench wisdom are emanating from the exact same source. The dark we all don’t want to know. Hey, go with me here, “it’s possible.”

The L.A. emcee salutes the Campanella Park Pirus, the dice-rollers, the dudes spilling lean and malt liquor onto scorched asphalt and bloody soil. He’s got a couple of kilos in the trunk, straight off the boat, and his unhurried style belies the urgency with which he needs to jet the fuck on outta here. Twelve bars, even a breath more and he’s charging overtime. Worthy raps like he’s fully accepted the risks he’s taking, and knows how fragile outcomes can be. He stays firmly in his zone, and then he leaves.

The riff then drifts us across the smog and sunshine of California and drops us into a frigid Detroit, where Boldy James sounds cold and unforgiving as ever. “Fresh out the youth, he a couple months in that placement/Third case tether bond, placed ‘em on the ankle bracelet.” Howe sung about finding a way out of her darkness, but how do you find your way out when there’s also a literal tracking device shackled to your feet?

Like Worthy, Boldy spins a story of self-determination and finessery while under the close watch of the carceral system. In this retelling, his crew caught two bodies, Bruno and Jermaine fled clean, and Boldy never made a damn statement. Was high profile, stayed in my lane, made it my biz/wasn’t nowhere to be found when the feds raided the crib.” Stealthy and grizzled, it feels like we’re along for the getaway ride the whole time, fried penguin five-piece and a pistol under the seat, privy to a man escaping himself.

And then we’re in Buffalo, where the master of ceremonies asks bluntly, “you ever shot somebody you love ’cause they violated?” Westside Gunn is a singular personality in today’s hip-hop landscape, and here he furtively drops just 12 bars that still draws his whole career arc: the rise to wholesale distribution, his own experience with overzealous feds, serving a sentence in the blistering cold, and coming back to the death of his mentor, Machine Gun Black. Like the previous two verses, Gunn paints in shades of paranoia, but his voice is considerably more animated, making this finally feel like the other side of the tunnel. It’s possible to make it out unscathed, but it clearly requires quickness, perspective, and the ability to lay low. FLYGOD Under the Skin.

All three verses glide over the sample with this underlying attitude. Be smooth, be smart, be out.

This is an addictive, replayable track with three upright verses and zero hooks. Motifs are cooler than choruses, guys. Listening to “It’s Possible” evokes the feeling of getting away with something, knowing that you avoided a terrible situation. The truth stays with you, and that’s some powerful shit. Banish the bad outcomes, while the secret is left unspoken, deposited in the dark with everyone else’s.

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