Published Jun 26, 2018When it comes to independent success in contemporary hip-hop, not many teams have been able to win without pandering to mainstream pressure quite like Griselda — the tight label family consisting of Benny the Butcher and brothers Conway the Machine and Westside Gunn. Existing as a boutique brand, with niche and remarkably consistent releases (which have earned them a cult following), they've been able to tour, sell out anything they drop and secure themselves a spot on the Shady Records roster.
That signing hasn't changed much for the label's honcho, Westside Gunn, who has yet to release anything under the iconic Eminem-helmed machine. His latest release, Supreme Blientele, will likely be his last as an entirely independent artist.
"I did this also with no big label, no machine, no dollars were given to me for this, no marketing team, no nothing," Gunn tells Exclaim! "Every last thing was done by myself. I didn't have PR leading up to this, you know what I'm saying?"
It's this genuinely independent spirit that has both driven — and been a source of frustration — for the Buffalo, NY native. As he explains, getting mainstream support for his team has been like pulling teeth. However, with a project that some are comparing to his debut, Flygod, he's hoping that all stops here. "It's like, if you don't want to give me credit, I'm going to make it to the point where you don't have no choice but to give me credit now."
He is, however, highly cognizant of the sound that dominates the airwaves. "This is 100 percent Grizelda, so I'm proud of it. If this would've come out back in the day, it would have got that praise that albums like Only Built 4 Cuban Linx received," he explains. "But, it's going to get overlooked as a classic because it was made in 2018. Maybe ten years from now it will get that recognition."
Though it may not be universally hailed as an instant classic like say Pusha-T's DAYTONA, fans of the rapper cannot stop gushing about the MC's pen game. "Just think I'm not even the rapper out the crew," he reiterates with a laugh. "Conway and Benny are the rappers." In fact, it wasn't until his brother Conway was shot in the head that he began to rap, to help keep the label moving. Letting that sink in, Westside Gunn's backstory is worthy of a book — with the team literally going through it all, from federal time to murders.
For this reason, he likens their collective rise as an example that one can leave the street life alone and overcome. But he's also quick to point to the authenticity in his particular brand of street music. "I spit that shit, but I drive a nice car. I live in a nice big house. I wear thousands of dollars in jewellery in real life. I'm the fly guy for real." Aside from a love of all things flashy, he also has a deep rooted love of wrestling.
"Wrestling is my passion," he says with a laugh. This shouldn't be a surprise to any real fan, as his music is as synonymous with the "sport" as Wu-Tang is with Kung Fu. "I love designing. I love collecting art, and I love wrestling to keep me like a kid. It keeps me grounded."
Ultimately, his career, in many ways, is just beginning. "We were the kids from Buffalo that nobody checked. So, we had no inspiration," he says, reflecting on being the first crew to sign a major label deal from their hometown. "This shit is history." With Conway's Shady debut 90 percent complete, and his own about to begin production, he's quick to reassure fans that it will be the same old Griselda. "My debut will be like [Supreme Blientele], just on steroids. Westside Gunn today is going to be Westside Gunn, even on Shady."
Supreme Blientele is out now via Griselda.