Hip-Hop

Griselda Proudly Wear Their Scars in Major Label Come-Up

Griselda
@vuhlandes

Griselda

A Google search only produces three substantial mentions of Marchello Lowery. The first is four sentences in a 2006 Buffalo News article that reports on his death from a gunshot wound in the chest. They reduce his significance to a statistic, pointing out that by this October, he was homicide number 61 out of what would become a total of 73. Lowery’s second appearance is on an obituary page.

The third is on a 2017 hip-hop blog post detailing crime rap trio Griselda’s debut single for Shady Records. “Machine Gun Black,” a bleakly surreal Just Blaze-produced track, takes its title from Lowery’s alias, and ends with a short dedication to him. He’s the namesake of Griselda’s major label debut, WWCD (What Would Chine Do). The group’s yowl-pitched rhymer Westside Gunn, his cousin, has his name tattoed on his neck, his face on his chest, and the face from his childhood year enshrined in a pendant placed atop his cluster of jewelry, as we sit in the Upper East Side’s plush Philippe Chow restaurant.

Griselda straight-talker Benny the Butcher gestures at a chair to his left at this rectangular table, where Lowery -- his brother, who took care of his daughter while he was locked up -- would’ve sat had he lived. “You’d be asking him these questions if he was here,” he says.

This dedication is an example of Griselda’s core tenets. The trio repeatedly make clear they’ve pledged to uphold the memories of the broken city as the co-signs -- which include Raekwon, Smoke DZA, 50 Cent, and of course, Eminem -- get more prestigious. They also pridefully wear their scars. The right side of Conway the Machine’s face was paralyzed after he was shot in the head while driving his car in 2012 -- but the blunt force tthat he resulting slur gives his delivery makes the injury a strength.

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“Do it look like I got left off of ‘Bad and Boujee?’” Conway says, as a respectful hat-tip to Migos’ viral near-scuffle. “Do it look like I got left of What Would Chine Do?” Westside agrees between bites of his chicken fried rice.

Conway compares Griselda’s come-up to LeBron James’ rookie year, when he ended up being worthy of the immense hype. Another apt analogy may be Joel Embiid, the Sixers forward who sat out his first two seasons with injuries before reviving an ailing franchise: Before Griselda, Shady Records’ lone undeniable success not involving Eminem on the mic was 50 Cent, whose street raps raided the pop charts in his mid-'00s prime. Other signees have been embattled with failed pop crossover attempts (Yelawolf, Obie Trice) and hardcore lyricists who never quite satisfied the hype (Slaughterhouse).

Soundtracked by the debauched soul of Beat Butcha and longtime collaborator Daringer, WWCD retains the chrome-gripping ruggedness that’s remained the group’s calling card since Griselda was founded in 2014. While attaching a singer is the major label rap debut trope, the closest thing the trio come to doing so here are their longtime collaborators Tiona Deniece and Keisha Plum singing about violence in the sweetest voice. On “Kennedy,” Deniece chanting “Blow your f--king face off” alongside Westside’s gun sounds is the song’s lone lyric.

Although they concede it would be nice to sell Migos numbers, the Griselda trio appear to be comfortable with being niche in comparison. For them, respect is just as crucial of a currency as numbers. Westside notes that there have been artists from Buffalo who changed their styles to fit mainstream trends in hopes of being the first rhymers to make it out of the city. Instead, Griselda grew out of Western New York as an independent outfit by doubling down on their aesthetic. Logic says they ought to continue to do so: “If you wanted us to change, then we shouldn’t have been partners,” Gunn says. “They gotta understand that, and they know that.”

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“It wasn’t about nobody giving us a shot. We made our own shot,” Benny add. “It wasn’t about waiting for somebody to sign this or do this. We’re from a place where this never happens. This is the blueprint.”

As for the two-year wait for their Shady debut, Griselda say that they wanted to spend the time building their already devoted fan base before dropping WWCD. The interim saw the trio dropping well-received projects released independently from Shady Records: Westside continued his long-running Hitler Wears Hermes series, and dropped his second solo album Supreme Blientele, where his intense, high-pitched delivery recalls Ghostface Killah in more than just name. Benny collaborated with lyrical hip-hop emeritus Black Thought and drug rap legend Pusha T on The Plugs I Met, and Conway’s work ethic has remained steady with three projects released this year.

Conway proclaims 2020 as the “year of the bodybag” as he finishes dinner. He's dropping projects both solo and as part of Hall N’ Nash, his wrestling-inspired duo with Westside, while Westside Gunn has confirmed he has a collaboration with the legendary (but elusive) producer Madlib on the way.

While the confidence in their future is foregrounded in how eating at Philippe Chow and talking about rap music amongst kin isn’t in Buffalo’s script, they’re also propelled by the praise they’ve received from the genre’s veterans. Griselda has warranted comparisons from fans and themselves to Wu-Tang Clan because of their self-sustaining business minds and their music’s makeup: production that balances psychedelics and physicality and lyrics that convincingly suggest they’d go back to the streets if the rap money isn’t right (Benny is straightforward on “Cruiser Weight Coke”: “I'ma be stackin' and weighin' up soon as I feel like this rap s--t don't pay enough”).

At a glance, Raekwon toasting Griselda on WWCD’s intro could be seen as him bigging them up for continuing ‘90s New York’s legacy. But the respect goes beyond aesthetics and into similar worldviews. “Keep generating and share with your family, and your blessings will come in millions,” he advises, drawing the connection that family is at the core of the Wu-Tang and Griselda experience. That one of the trio’s main inspirations is each other could be another reason why they sound apart from modern rap. When Conway fell into a depression as he at first struggled to deal with his partial paralysis, he looked to Westside and his continued hustle for motivation.

“Some people might look at the situation as a handicap,” Westside says. “I looked at it like it’s your new trademark… Some people could look at it like as beautiful. That’s how I looked at it. Him standing out like that, that’s a blessing.”

“It was our conversations and stuff like that had me thinking, ‘Damn, maybe I am beautiful,” Conway chuckles.