For “Studios Sessions,” we delve into the stories behind the long hours in the studio and all that goes into making an album by talking with artists, producers, engineers, photographers, and more who are intimately connected to the recording process with some of the biggest artists in the world. These are the stories that rarely leave the booth.
Some rappers are prolific. None are Westside Gunn. Between 2017-2019, he released nine solo projects and one career-changing Griselda debut album, WWCD. Now, the MC back with his latest album, Pray For Paris.
“I got Diamond D production I haven’t even used [for the album]. I have shit like that in the chamber for a rainy day,” Gunn told REVOLT. “I have shit for a rainy day that people don’t know about. I got the crazy Swizz Beatz shit. I got like ten Swizz Beatz records that are all crazy.”
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” Westside Gunn explains how this year’s Paris Fashion Week inspired Pray For Paris, his reaction to Tyler, the Creator’s verse on his album; and gives an update on his collaboration project with Madlib. Read the interview below!
On January 18, you tweeted that you would be working on Pray For Paris over those next 48 hours. How much of it was made then?
Half because it was going to just be an EP. The EP part of it was done. I had six songs done in those two three-hour sessions. I did three songs each day… But, once I got back to the states, I thought, “I might as well make this shit an album.” I didn’t have no features because I was over there by myself. So, I was like, “Let me focus on features when I get back to add more to it to make it an art piece.”
What was it like recording in Paris? How is it different recording there than in America?
The inspiration was different. There was no difference as far as recording because I do what I do. That was all inspiration from me coming off the plane for the first time in Paris. That was the first time I left the country (chuckles). I’m front row at all the fashion shows. I had already went to all the fashion shows by the time I started recording. I had all of that energy in me. I was going behind the scenes and meeting everyone that was out there. I was partying. The atmosphere was crazy and I was crazy inspired. I took that energy, had a few more days left and was like, “Yo, I’m going to do a project.”
What sound were you going for on this album? It sounds like a mix between high art and the gutter.
It wasn’t even planned like that. I’m just elevating. I’m getting stronger. I always felt I had the best ear in hip hop. If you really think about it, on a consistent level, go from the first song on Hitler (Wears Hermes) 1 going to the last song on Pray For Paris, and all 20 projects from Griselda. You can just listen to the production and the legends I had on every project from the [DJ Premier] to the Alchemist to a Statik [Selektah] to a Daringer to a Muggs. We can go on and on… My production has always been stellar. With this project, I didn’t go out there with a plan to make a project. I cook everything from scratch. I didn’t have no beats.
There’s no such thing as a Westside Gunn rhyme book. I reach out for production when it’s time to make a project. When I was out there, I had no production. So, I reached out to a couple of heads. I reach out to Camoflauge Monk, we haven’t worked together in years. He sent the Wale joint and the “347” joint with Joey Bada$$ and Tyler [The Creator]. Then, I told Daringer, “I need one.” I told Al, “I need one.” I went to family first and then Conductor Williams made a crazy joint. I already had my eye on him, but I went on his IG page and he had just made the beat that day. I hit him like, “I need that. Take that post down (laughs).” That’s how it happened because I was out there searching for beats. I made those six. So, when I came back, it was easy.
You have so much reverence for legends and on “Shawn Vs Flair,” you yell “Preem” at the end. What was it like getting that Preemo beat?
I did a video…of me playing another song (“Ver$ace”) and I glanced over a piece of paper with the tracklist. So, everyone made the tracklist viral. Once that went viral and people started talking about it, Preem was like, “Is the album done?” I was like, “Shit, it is. But, if you send something I’m adding you on to it.” He was like, “I’m going to the studio to cook you something.” He went to the studio, cooked it, I made that shit in like 15 minutes. Sent it back, he threw the cuts on it, and we had the Preemo record. I promise you, it was probably done in 12 minutes (laughs).
So, from the time he called you to the time you finished the record, how long was that?
It wasn’t a day at all. It was less than 24 hours. When he sent it I was doing something. But then, I hit him like, “I’m about to listen to it.” He was like, “As soon as you’re done, I’m going to mix and master it.” He sent the night before. That morning, I was like, “OK, I’m about to zone to this Preemo joint.” He sent it at like one in the morning or some crazy shit like that. I wake up and I was like, “I’m going to do this joint right now.” Then, 20-30 minutes later, he had the record.
One of my favorite bars is from “Ver$ace” when you said, “Staring out of millionaires, neck costs a fortune.” It’s such a nimble play on words.
That’s the thing. When I be saying shit like that, 85% of the people don’t even know what I’m talking about. That’s my favorite thing to do. That’s why I say my projects are all paintings and art. If you get it, you get it. If you don’t, you don’t. When I say, “Staring out of millionaires, neck costs a fortune,” that’s just me staring out the Louis Vuitton all-red [Millionaires] shades. My neck worth half a million, sitting there smoking good, and looking fly. People don’t know that’s name of the Louis Vuitton glasses that I had.
No song on Pray For Paris has more than two minutes of you rapping. Why is that?
It’s about me painting. That’s how I paint. When it feels like the song is over, it’s over. I don’t care if it’s a minute, a minute and a half, or two minutes. When I hear a beat, I just go on it. It could be 45 seconds. The beat might be crazy and niggas would be like, “Yo, that shit too short.” Nah, that’s what I felt at that moment.
You got some clips of 1980s wrestler Ted DiBiase on the album. How did you choose what audio to use?
I’m a wrestling head, bro. I watch wrestling five days out of the week, even though it only comes on three. I know what sort of sound I want to go for and I remember certain moments, people’s style and personality. Certain people style and personality go with certain records I make. I’ll go back and think, “This is some Million Dollar Man shit,” Or, it could be Mean Gene, Macho Man, or I might come from left field and throw some Arn Anderson on it. I don’t like the obvious. I hate the obvious. A wrestling head would know who it is, but I want people to be like, “Who is that?”
I was reading some shit on Facebook. A dude made a post that said, “Westside Gunn: Love Him, Hate Him, Or In Between?” I’m reading the comments… I don’t know any of these people and I rarely do that. But, it was random. You have a lot of love and then you had some hate, too. Then, you start clicking on the profiles of the people who hate, start looking at them and I can then see why (laughs). That’s the thing about it, they don’t get it. Certain people just hear the flyness and the words rhyming, but they don’t get it. But, the people who do get it, they’re like, “Westside Gunn’s one of the illest niggas ever.” If you don’t get it, you want shit too simple. I’m just a fly dude and people just don’t get what I’m saying.
When you and Tyler linked up in the studio after he won his Grammy earlier this year, where were you two?
He came over to Alchemist’s house. He came over and had the beat. But, when he came over to Alchemist’s house with the beat for me, I was playing the “347” record. That’s how he ended up getting on the album rhyming.
Did he do his verse right then and there?
Nah. I let him zone out. He started freestyling to himself and making voice notes. He started freestyling for 20-30 minutes straight by himself in a corner. I was like, “Yo, if you want to get on it, be my guest.” He ended up sending it a couple of days later.
What was your reaction when you got his verse back and heard that wild part?
When I heard it, I said, “Holy shit. Tyler, you motherfucker you.” He sent it and he hit me with the, “That’s not too much is it? I can change it.” I’m like, “Hell nah. Keep it. It’s art, express yourself. If that’s what you wanted to say, then that’s what you said and we’re keeping it.” He killed that verse. I love it. I play it around goons and no one said not one word about it. He dumping. No one is not new to Tyler, The Creator. So, if you know who he is, what he do, what he stands for and his beliefs, what else you think he’s going to fucking rap about? He’s being himself.
What’s the status on this Westside Gunn/Madlib album?
I was so focused on Pray For Paris, then we went on tour, and right after tour, the Corona[virus] shit started getting real hectic during the last few days of tour. Thankfully, we were able to finish it. But, by the last two shows of the tour, I’m giving people the elbow. I’m not even dapping people up anymore. I was already like, “Ahh, man. Shit is real right now.” Luckily, we got through it. This is the thing. It doesn’t take me long to make projects. I might get up with [Madlib] a week after the summer and do something around December.
You’ve worked with all of these great producers. Do you have a bucket list of who you want to work with next?
Pharrell. I still have ill shit. I got Diamond D production I haven’t even used. I have shit like that in the chamber… I have shit for a rainy day that people don’t know about. I got the crazy Swizz Beatz shit. I got like ten Swizz Beatz records that are all crazy.