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No one could predict the trajectory that Griselda would take. Comprised of three lyricists, Westside Gunn, his brother Conway The Machine, and longtime collaborator Benny The Butcher; the rap trio would go on to become one of the most well-respected rap groups today.
Best known for their hard-hitting bars, spitfire flows, relentless lyrics telling real-life experiences, standout ad-libs and undeniable production, Griselda gives hope to the masses that real hip hop is here to stay.
Beyond each member doing music for over a decade, Griselda is also an indie record label based in New York, preserving that grimy early 2000s sound that hip hop lovers still cherish. Now, the group is taking things one step further by releasing their major label debut, WWCD, via Eminem’s Shady Records (through Interscope).
WWCD stands for What Would Chine Gunn Do?, and it’s a 13-track project paying tribute to Marchello Lowery who was shot to death in Buffalo back in 2006. Machine Gun Black was his stage name, and Lowery was also Benny’s blood brother and Gunn’s cousin. The latter even has Black’s name permanently inked on his face and chest.
The group recently sold out The Novo in downtown Los Angeles, and even added a second show for all the fans who weren’t able to cop tickets on the first go. Having this loyal of a fanbase all the way on the other side of the coast speaks volumes to the movement Griselda has created.
REVOLT caught up with all three members to discuss being from Buffalo, rapid rise to success, relationship with Eminem, and more! Read below.
How hard was it to get on being from Buffalo?
Benny: Oh man, it was extremely hard. We’re the first dudes to ever do it, so it was no blueprint put in front us. We had to make the blueprint. It took a lot of trial and error. It took a lot of time. We had to gain a lot of knowledge. We had to stick to what we knew.
Conway: It was nearly impossible. That’s why nobody ever really got on from Buffalo. No artists, no rappers especially made it, and was able to sign to a major, and have mainstream success. Except Rick James, that was in the 80s. I’d like to think it was nearly impossible. But with hard work and dedication, you can do the impossible.
Westside: I’m not going to say it was extremely hard, but nobody came to Buffalo to check for no artists. I had to go get it. Nothing was handed to me. I literally had to go everywhere, coast to coast. Every meeting, every event. Put a lot of money into myself just to make it happen, so it’s different. In New York City, all you have to do is go right downtown to the offices. If you’re in L.A., same thing. Me, I was everywhere. Of course, it’s a little harder because nothing was even close to me to. Nobody’s checking for Buffalo… shit! Twice as hard.
How did you guys figure out how to make non-commercial hip hop successful?
Conway: Honestly, I still don’t know (laughs). The culture hip hop is a beautiful thing. That’s the beauty of hip hop because you never know what’s going to be that next wave or that next classic. That next era, that next dominance, you don’t know. It’s coming and going. I really don’t know how we’re able to do it. I guess being ourselves and being confident. Not trying to do anything everybody else was doing or what we thought everybody wanted to hear. “Maybe this will work, this what they want to hear. This what they like in the club I went to last night.” Nah, we stuck to our own thing and did us.
Benny: By sticking to our guns and believing in our brand. Catering to the people who the music was for. We didn’t go outside the box and try to make music for people who weren’t necessarily feeling the Griselda sound. The people who embraced the Griselda sound, we marketed and promoted it to them. Made sure it was the highest top notch quality that we could give them. I really credit a lot of that to the fans because the Griselda fans are fans who don’t like anything else. They always want to argue about Griselda. When another person says, “You know who my favorite rapper is?” They always want to say, “Man, you ain’t heard of Griselda?” Griselda fans are the argumentative type of fans. They want to prove the point that Griselda is the illest.
Westside: First of all, I put art into it. I believe in art, everything’s art-based since day one. When you do it for the love of the art, people can feel it more. They can understand it more. There’s no gimmicks, nothing extra. You can feel it from the heart, real recognize real. People finally started seeing real shit. People understand the story, it’s different. It’s time for something like this. I knew that, that’s why this happened in the first place. That’s what made me start rhyming. After Conway got shot, I wanted to fill that void in the game. I carved my own lane and went with it. I’m not copying nobody else’s shit. Fuck going to everybody else’s world doing what’s popular. I’m going to make people come to my world.
On “Scotties,” Benny says he got his first strap from Conway in ‘99. Can you bring us back to those days?
Benny: Oh man, true story. Nobody ever asked me about that. In the summer of ‘99, I had moved back to Buffalo from Atlanta. I was 14. A lot of things were happening in the city. In my time where I’m from, 14’s the age where you get to be in the streets a little more. You start exploring your influences, things that you like. Things that aren’t good for you. The street stuff.
There were things going on in the hood. We had beef with a different neighborhood. One of the homeboys got jumped, our people came back and jumped their people. I heard some guns were pulled out. So, me and City Boy were like, “We need some protection.” We called Conway and he got us right (chuckles). Real shit.
Conway: I told that little n*gga Benny, “When I give you this, don’t tell nobody you got it from me.”
What’d it mean to have 50 Cent on “City on the Map”?
Conway: It meant everything. I always wanted to work with 50, so it was definitely everything for me. The way that even happened, I wanted him on this other record on my album God Don’t Make Mistakes. I told Eminem, then “City on the Map” came on. We both agreed like, “Nah, maybe we should get 50 on this one.”
Benny: That was dope. Him and Conway, their energies matched up well. They showed and proved. People haven’t heard 50 like that in awhile. The people enjoyed it. I know Conway’s a big fan of his, so it was dope for them to get that together.
Westside: He’s an actor man. 50’s doing movies now. To hear 50 sound like old school 50, it was extra because nobody has that right now. That verse is a rare piece right there, you rarely get that. 50’s a funny dude, so he might even fuck with you at all. To get a verse, that’s major. Definitely much respect to 50.
How do you guys create a vibe in the studio?
Conway: Same thing we’re doing here: Surrounded by our loved ones. Our childhood friends and homeboys. Drink some D’usse, we have Daringer making some incredible whip up. When it comes from the heart, it’s easier because you’re not trying to be nobody you’re not. You’re not cappin’. I’m speaking what’s in my heart, so it’s easier to come out on the microphone. You’re more comfortable speaking your own truth and realities.
Benny: When we get in there, we’re smoking a ton. We’re drinking. We might order some wings. We got the vibe around, we got the homeboys around us. Daringer’s playing beats. I might see Conway mumbling words, I know he’s at it. I might hear West mumbling some words. I’m over there doing my thing. Somewhere in the middle, we’ll come together like, “What you got?” We get inspired by each other, bounce ideas off each other. Look up and you got a track.
Westside: A lot of weed, that’s all I do.
Where do you view the current state of hip hop?
Conway: It’s in a good space. A lot of dope projects coming out lately. Especially this year, 2020, it’s been crazy. 2019 was a crazy year. Everybody’s swinging for the fence, going hard. Younger cats keep creating, innovating, doing new and fresh shit. I love it. Right now, it’s in a good space. Griselda was needed to balance it out, to give you what we’ve given you. There’s two sides to everything. We’re the dirty, grimy side of the fence, where the grass doesn’t grow as much. The sun doesn’t shine. It’s raining, gloomy, and cloudy.
Benny: Man, it’s healthy. It’s dope. It’s in a good spot. Dudes are making money. Dudes are putting their people on. Every time you turn around, there’s a new movement going. We got a lot of media outlets that help push the culture forward. It’s beautiful. Where it’s at right now, it hasn’t been in a long time — if ever. So, I love it. I’m happy.
Westside: Great. Lil Uzi just dropped, I’ve been waiting for that. NBA Youngboy’s doing his thing. Everybody’s doing their thing, I love what’s going on right now. We’re bridging the gap. We got the OGs fucking with us. We got the young bulls fucking with us. It’s nothing, but positive vibes and respect. Griselda’s built off respect, people show respect. It’s love.
Being signed to Shady Records, what’s your relationship with Eminem?
Conway: That’s the homie. I love Em. I got love for Em, Paul, everybody at Shady Records and Interscope. I’m super thankful for the opportunity they gave me to be a part of that. To be able to create and make history that could be in the history books with all the shit that Marshall did. That’s what I’m hoping for.
Benny: Em’s the big homie. You see he’s on that “Bang” track. We fuck with Em. We were inspired off of Em — the wordplay and the longevity in the game.
Westside: It’s good. Every time we see each other, he leaves with a smile. I leave with a smile. We’re not together all the time. He has his life, I have mine. We’re grown men... I respect people and when I see you, I’ll see you.
How is it being managed by Roc Nation?
Conway: It’s good, man. They believe in the vision. The fire already was burning, they’re here to pour more gasoline to make it burn broader and further.
Benny: It’s dope. It’s culture. I like them over there. A lot of interesting people. They put me in a position to win and that’s what it’s all about. I’m a rep for the game.
Westside: Beautiful. We talk to somebody from the team everyday. We work because I’m a worker. I don’t take days off, so they’re not taking any days off either. Work as a unit. I’m talking to one of the big homies over there. Stay in touch with Hov, we talk a couple times a week.
What led to Griselda signing Boldy James?
Benny: Oh man, we definitely fuck with Detroit. Buffalo and Detroit go together. We feel Boldy man, we understand dudes like that. He understands dudes like us.
Westside: Buffalo and Detroit are the same city. They’re brothers to us. Same set up, same harsh realities. Both were affected by plants closing down, both connected to Ontario, Canada. People used to leave from Detroit and when you go through Ontario and come back in the country, you come through Niagara Falls and Buffalo. Detroit is closer than NYC when you live in Buffalo.
After Sept. 11, they shut that shit down, but before that, you go to Detroit all the time. A lot of people grew up over there, a lot of families. The stories Boldy tell were like the stories Benny tell. Very vivid, real. I could relate to him. I know people in Boldy’s life who I never met, just through his music. I love real shit like that. It doesn’t get any realer than that.
Conway: Westside Gunn really facilitated that. Me and Boldy on a personal level, we’re mad cool. I fuck with Boldy, he’s a good dude. I’m glad everything worked out the way it worked out. It was a shock even to me, but it was a happy shock. “Oh shit, we’re doing that?!” I’m excited for what’s to come from Boldy James. I’m looking forward to what he’s going to bring to the table because I know it’s going to be that crack.
What was it like working with Alchemist?
Conway: Working with Al is always amazing because Al’s been around the game and hip hop for years. Working with some of my favorite motherfucking artists like Prodigy, the list goes on of the grimiest n*ggas. I consider myself in that call of the grimiest, street-rapping emcees. So, to be working with a producer who produced and facilitated for these n*ggas is amazing honestly.
Benny: Al’s that guy, man. It was one of my dreams to work with Al man. I’m happy I could do it. He’s that boy. We got classics together.
Westside: That’s my brother. I’ve been working with him for years now. He’s Griselda, we got something big coming up. We got a couple announcements together. I can’t really speak on it, but put it like this, me and Alchemist have something that’s about to shock people.