Westside Gunn’s work, like that of his Griselda Records partners, comes as steadily as an IV drop, although one can imagine that he would only accept the metaphor if the IV bags were designer and the needle came from Italy. Last week the second half of the eighth installment in his Hitler wears Hermes Mixtape series was released about a month after the first one, after some minor delays. For most artists, that catch would be unremarkable – two CDs released under the same title in four weeks could reasonably be considered one project – but for the confrontationally productive Buffalo rapper, it has the effect of making the records just as different feel like all of his previous LPs, that is: not very much.
Gunn is gladly the term “curator”, which serves to underline the importance of his rapping as such. That’s wise. Gunn’s nasal pull is wonderful as an added texture, but loses its power the more central it is forced to become; the font is reliably in order – imagine a Balenciaga safety net – although it is prone to cliché and informality. But he’s clearly an excellent A&R. The Griselda records are intelligently arranged, with the roles of the in-house producers expanding and contracting depending on who has the hot hand, and the almost uniform excellence of the guest verses implies both loyalty among his staff and a willingness to answer questions put for circumscribes. And each album is pieced together through interludes of wrestling promos, old fashion ads, or audio from art auctions in a way that highlights the artificiality of the world Gunn takes listeners into. Each half of Hitler wears Hermes 8 (the first is insanely subtitled Sincerely, Adolfwhile the second is easy Side B) relies heavily on collaborators and this staging, the sum total being another Westside Gunn project that is extremely competent but only memorable in seizures.
On every CD, Gunn cleverly clears space for these guests who steal song after song: On “Claire’s Back” Benny the Butcher raps not so much about writing letters in prison as about the recipient and the manner in which she is dutiful save them; Boldy James notes on “716 Mile” that his watch has Roman numerals where the Arabic numerals should be; Lil Wayne continues and even slips into his breathless series of features on “Bash Money” Dash store Reference he probably had in the Chamber since the late W. Bush years. Sincerely, Adolf makes plenty of space for Syracuse rapper Stove God Cooks, whose vignette on “Vogue Cover” about waiting at the plug house while he “mows the lawn, washes all his cars and waters the flowers” has already achieved cult status online. Gunn allows these guests to play themselves out of him like a generous actor and, if necessary, takes a back seat – although HWH8 takes a total of 103 minutes, few, if any, Gunn verses exceed their greetings.
If the larger project doesn’t quite stand out in its catalog, HWH8 contains some of Gunn’s most accomplished moments. The dreamlike “TV Boy” is one of the best songs he has ever recorded. Gunn is happily making his way through the dirt. And his chemistry with Mach-Hommy – the two recently reconciled after a long feud and an amazing thing about Mach Pray for Haiti– continues to produce such gripping songs as “RIP Bergdorf”, where Mach brags about spending 30 grand on tracksuits. Still, like the rare lows, these peaks are temporary failures. Even if the halves come apart (where Sincerely, Adolf is relatively accurate Side B spreading; Where B. tends to have harder drums and harder sounds, Adolf atmospheric) they feel like they’re part of a long data dump, a perfectly enjoyable stream of ones and zeros.
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