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Westside Gunn Finally Found the Peace That He’s Been Looking For

today10/30/2023

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It’s the eve before Westside Gunn’s final album, And Then You Pray For Me, and the Griselda commander is 30 minutes late to the Billboard offices — courtesy of yours truly giving him the wrong address. But the self-proclaimed FlyGod appears fine: There is no barrage of insults darted my way nor any canceled interviews for my late-game incompetence. Instead, Westside, sporting a messy bedhair look, comes in peace and dapping everyone in the room before taking his seat. Bemused by his entrance, I quickly apologize, but he shrugs off the miscommunication and gets comfortable. 

Westside and his cohorts partied the previous night away at New York’s City Gold Bar, celebrating the forthcoming release of his swan-song LP. The intimate session ran until the wee hours of the morning, resulting in Gunn’s upside-down appearance as he strolls into the office in the same outfit he wore that night. The FlyGod is still in rare form, as his entire $15,000 ensemble remains in pristine condition, despite the debauchery from the night before.

“I realized that everything in life that I need in life, I have,” says Gunn on reaching a higher level of peace. “I don’t gotta go as hot as I used to. I would’ve came in here with seven chains on like a year ago. You wouldn’t even see my neck a year ago. [Now] I got on one joint. I’m chilling.”

That newly acquired level of peace and confidence arrived at a cost, when Westside Gunn lost his close friend, the visionary creator and fashion designer Virgil Abloh, to cancer in 2021. Abloh played an instrumental role in Gunn’s 2020 masterwork Pray 4 Paris, as he invited the Buffalo staple to Fashion Week in the French capital and provided much-needed inspiration for his lauded effort. From designing the album’s cover art to having the rapper sit in on his Louis Vuitton Fashion Show, Abloh rejuvenated Gunn’s creative juices and sparked his magnum opus. Despite their musical union being curtailed by Abloh’s untimely demise, Gunn returned to Paris before recording his latest effort. The trip was worth it, as Gunn carved out an indelible sequel set, glazed with luxury boss raps, sleek boom-bap production, and a parting gift from his fallen friend — the album’s cover art. 

“I don’t want to be corny and keep always having to use the Virgil narrative,” relays Gunn. “I want bro to get his shine on this, because he was the inspiration. He did the cover. He was the inspiration from the first one that carried on to the second one. The whole Pray For Paris series, that’s Virgil. He wasn’t here in the physical, but definitely in the spiritual.”

The rewards for Gunn are shining through this time around, as he topped Billboard‘s Emerging Artists chart last week. He also netted a career-best showing on the Billboard 200 with And Then‘s No. 29 debut, powered by 20,000 equivalent album units earned in the set’s opening week, according to Luminate. It also landed at No. 7 on Top Rap Albums and No. 8 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums

Billboard spoke to Westside Gunn about his latest album And Then You Pray for Me, returning back to Paris for inspiration, his influence on today’s hip-hop and more.

You’ve technically dubbed this your final album — but you’re still gonna be putting out music?

Correct. I don’t see myself doing 15-20 song projects anymore. It’s no need for that. I did that s–t for so long. It’s like, what for? Now it’s cooking. If I go to the studio and make two songs today, drop that s–t tomorrow, it’s like, “What am I waiting for?” I’m just gonna flood s–t and do what I do. There’s gonna be a lot of people playing catch-up.

That’s how I built Griselda in the first place — attacking. I just feel like I want to take it back to that. Just sitting there and trying to format it like a complete album, because I do all the curation — I feel like I don’t have to do that anymore. My catalog is already what it is. If I want to walk away on some Barry Sanders s–t, I could walk away still looking good. Not injured. I could live my life. I could be on some retire after a win a championship type s–t or one of them n—-s when they switch the jersey with Shaq on the Celtics like, “Why is Shaq on the Celtics looking old and s–t?” Like nah, let me leave while I’m on top. Even when I’m saying this, it’s no more pressure. I did everything I had to do. Now it’s do when I want to. 

Was there pressure doing this album after being in Paris with Virgil in 2020 and then having to find that purpose again while going back to Paris but without him this time?

I was still going to the Fashion Week, but it was no Virgil. But it was something about the energy when I went this time. When I went in January, it felt like the first time. That’s how you have, basically, part two. It was the same exact energy. Even though Virgil wasn’t here physically, he was definitely there spiritually. This is Virgil. He’s here, trust me. The whole album was done overseas. I went from that vibe — I literally went to Paris Fashion Week and didn’t leave Europe. I just stayed.

I’d come back and do what I got to do. I’d see my kids, see my babies. Soon as summer vacation started, [my daughter’s] ass was in Paris two days later. Now I’ma bring my family out here. Now I’ma show y’all everything I already experienced. Now I got my places in Athens, I got my places in London, I got my places in Paris, I got my places in Germany. Now I can take them. 

Talk about the recording and writing experience in Paris and London. Is it a heightened experience for you versus stateside?

Nah, I wouldn’t say that. I been doing the s–t so long. It’s just energy. It don’t matter where I’m at. The energy really don’t change like that because I’m still me. When I’m in Europe, it’s a lot of five-star s–t. It’s Westside Gunn on his bougie s–t. I’m rubbing elbows. They love me. 

I heard they don’t love n—as in Paris.

They hate n—as but they love me. When I pull up and I got on all my s–t, I ain’t gonna say I’m a Suge Knight type, but I’m a Suge Knight type. I’m an Eastside Buffalo n—a. You gonna have to really explain yourself, telling me, “No.” I gotta accept that no.

I read you were in Egypt, and had a reflective moment seeing people struggling out there. How have those experiences reshaped your view of life?

I know I’m just super-blessed, bro. I was just talking about being in Egypt, or places like La 42 in the Dominican Republic. It’s places like that where it’s just like, “D–n.” ‘Cause both times I was surprised. I was shocked. The first time I went to the DR, I’m thinking resort-type of s–t. We ‘bout to have fun. I’m thinking BBLs. We gonna get a blowout. I’m going over there on the same type of time. Then, where we shot the videos — man, shout-out to the homies in La 42 — they held it down. It was just raw, rough, grimy and s–t. 

I’m just thankful. I’m planning to go back in December and give back to the community. I just felt I could’ve did more then, but I just wasn’t prepared. The last thing I want to do is go to somebody’s hood and stunt on them. That wasn’t my objective to go out there looking like that and have kids coming around, “I haven’t ate in two days.” I wasn’t on that. I didn’t think like that. I realized that everything in life that I need in life, I have. Right now, it’s just bonus. I don’t gotta go as hot as I used to. I would’ve came in here with seven chains on like a year ago. You wouldn’t even see my neck a year ago. I got on one joint I’m chilling.

Three years ago for Paris Fashion Week, you were around Virgil, Pop Smoke and TakeOff. When you went back, knowing they all passed, did that hit you at any point while there?

Hell yeah, because life is short. You never know. Pop Smoke was one of the biggest artists when he passed. He was on the rise to being … who knows what Pop Smoke would’ve been right now. We’d have still been rocking, for sure. It wasn’t on him, it was in him. Some people are just different. Pop was a different kind of guy. When I met Pop, I didn’t even know he was like 20. He was a kid. When he met me, you know Brooklyn, man, he seen me with all me s–t on. He looking like, “Godd–n.” He didn’t even understand the s–t was that heavy. This the real s–t. Like, what the f–k you got going on?

Takeoff was a fly individual. One of the flyest. You could tell he was the guy in the team being low-key and swaggy. I’m a low-key, swaggy type of guy. I pop my s–t too, but I’m a low-key dude. I can come out doing press, but if I’m not doing this, I’m low-key. You don’t hear too much about me. I’ma lay-low dude. I got too many responsibilities to be throwing myself out there. I don’t take nothing for granted. I cherish all these moments. You don’t know if that’s gonna be your last Fashion Week. I don’t know if this is gonna be my last album, so I’ma treat it like my last album. I’m on that type of time.

Life different as you grow older. You realize different things that don’t make sense. Even though I’m a little older … I don’t wanna say I was doing young n—a s–t, but it’s like, “Why have 10 cars, bro?” That’s the type of s–t I’m thinking now. “You got 10 cars, bro. You got eight chains on your neck. Why the f–k do you gotta have eight chains on you neck?” It don’t even impress me no more. I’m just on a different type of time. I don’t gotta have on seven chains. But this outfit $15,000. 

You know somebody who embodies a humble flex, Post Malone. Post did an interview with Esquire saying y’all did some music together. 

I’ll let Post handle all that talking. I ain’t ’bout to talk too much, man. Me and Posty about to f–k s–t up. 

What would Post Malone and Westside Gunn song sound like? What’s the studio vibe being around each other?

Those be the best kind. Those be the ones that’s really tapped in. They got their hearts into it. You can tell it’s genuine and pure, man. A lot of people don’t want to give up the flowers because they so worried about getting it themselves. I love people like Post who are gonna give up the flowers. I love people like [Tyler, The Creator] who are gonna give up the flowers.

I don’t like the ones who act like they can’t give flowers. That s–t bothers me. Everybody get inspired by somebody. All of that you the illest n—a in the world s–t. I think I’m the illest n—a in the world and I still give everybody flowers. When Dolph was living, Young Dolph my favorite. I got a painting of Dolph. I got paintings of Migos in my house that I had before that Fashion Week. I’m tapped into the culture for real. Everybody can go and be like, “Westside been supporting.” I be hitting the young boys. I might hit up little homies like CEO Trayle like, “I’m f–king with your s–t. Keep s–tting on these n—as. Nudy, keep s–tting on these n—as.”

From Tyler to Kanye to Post, not a lot of people could have so many different demographics rock with them. Why do you think they gravitate towards you?

I’m the illest n—a, for real. I promise you. I got the illest resume of all-time. When it’s all set and done, close the books. I don’t care, name a rapper. Whether it’s the biggest names in the world from the Kendricks to the Hovs to the Nases, I still have the illest resume. Right now, you can probably name them doing projects or songs with five or 10 people, I’m gonna name like 50. My list too impeccable. To sit here and be like, “I got songs with DMX…” I’m an Eastside Buffalo n—a. I should get like 10 bonus points for that. Sean Price, Prodigy, MF DOOM, rest in peace to all of them. I got songs with all four of them.

That’s just the people that passed. You want take it back to the ones that inspired the style, I got songs with Kool G Rap. I got songs with Slick Rick. The fly n—as of that era. Then you move after that to Wu-Tang, The LOX, Mary J. Blige. It could be a Free Nationals album, I’m nominated for a Grammy with Free Nationals and nominated for a Grammy with Royce [Da 5’9]. I did songs with Black Star. Killer Mike too. From the A$APs to the Tylers, everybody praises the illest.

One of my favorite joints on the new album is “Babylon Bis” with Stove God Cooks. You had a line on there where you said, “I don’t know why everyone want to hate on West.” Where do you feel that energy comes from?

The fake fans. Not the real ones. I’m talking about the bigger you get, the more trolls you get. Hating because they don’t understand it. I hate a n—a who hate because he don’t understand. N—a you don’t understand it, you don’t understand it. That’s why I never believe when the older heads s–t on the younger heads. N—a you 45, you not 17, so keep your mouth shut. If anything, give them n—as props and tell them to do their thing. Give them your blessings and let them live their life so they can take care of their family and live how they need to live.

10 times out of 10, it’s a washed-up n—a that used to be popping. Now you hating on a young n—a that’s getting a new bag. You not in the clubs, partying, so you not gonna understand it. How could you understand what these young boys are doing? You ain’t gang-banging and drilling. It’s a different language. But that’s the same thing with me. I’m talking so fly, that if you don’t know what I’m talking about, this s–t gonna go so far over your head and you think I’m trash, because you don’t understand the language. You can’t just got to Japan and start talking French. N—-s gon’ look at you like you stupid. They don’t get it.

That’s the same thing with me. I’m talking jail slang. If you haven’t been to jail, you not gonna know what I’m talking about. It might be some gang lingo or a street name. If you haven’t been to Buffalo, how you gonna know what I’m talking about? I know what I’m talking about in this next level. I could tell you who, what, when, where, why in my language. But if you don’t know my language it’s just gibberish. The n—as that speak my language are like, “This n—a’s a God.” 

On “DR. BIRDS,” did you expect, “Tell Virgil write ‘Brick’ on my brick” to be this transcendent all these years later?

Yeah, I always do s–t like that. I knew it when I did it. N—as gon’ say this s–t forever. When we did that WWCD album, I was just in there with Daringer. N—as was just cooking beats. We made that whole album in like two sessions. That album did not take longer than 72 hours to make for sure. I don’t even really think it was a full 48. Every last beat and song was cooked in 48 hours. No samples. All was cooked. Daringer and Beat Butcha made everything from scratch.

WWCD — five years from now, they gon’ go back to that old Griselda s–t like, “We slept on that.” Like my album I did with Shady, Who Made the Sunshine, I guarantee five years from now n—as will go back to it. All my s–t age like fine-wine. You play Pray For Paris right now, you be like, “Yo.” You play [Hitler Wears Hermes 8] Side A/Side B like, “Yo this n—a did a joint with Wayne, did a joint wit 2 Chainz.” It’s like we in real time, so they don’t want to give me the roses now — but five years from now, they gonna be I’m the illest n—a of all-time. Because everybody else gonna start fizzling away. I’m telling you this gon’ happen. Everybody gonna go back to dropping that one album every three years. I’ll be right there giving you the illest s–t you ever heard, making my moves and n—as can’t keep up.

Let’s talking wrestling quickly. Are you more Razor Ramon or Scott Hall?

Razor Ramon for sure. That was a tough one. I mean I don’t even want to say that because I’m both, man. That’s me in real life. You got West, everybody call me West for 20 years. Then you got SuperFly Guy. Them n—as the same person. SuperFly Guy might just be a little bit more bougier. I say both them n—as. Razor Ramon with the chains with the Scarface persona like Tony Montana. Especially at that time, nobody had ever did [that] with the toothpick and the ignorant s–t. Whoop on you and throw you out the way. The bad guy. That was the bad guy. When he was on his nWo s–t, that’s the most legendary s–t of all-time. How can you really top that?

Nah, I respect all the old fly s–t. Then, n—a, Scott Hall in nWo? That n—a was the illest. That’s my favorite wrestler of all-time. That don’t take from the other n—a with the chains and the toothpick. I’m really both. It’s like me in real life. 

You started a wrestling promotion. Now that you’re not naming albums full-time, are you gonna devote more time to that? 

For sure. That’s why I also did this album like this. So I could take the pressure off me feeling like I had to make an album. Back in the day, it was the flood s–t. Now you only hear me when I do an album or a feature. It’s like you really only hear me when I do an album now. I don’t feel like once a year is enough. I give a motherf–ker a song once a month at least. Why not? These motherf–kers are getting lazy. N—as is forgetting where the f–k they come from. We forgot what we here for. When everybody else is more f—king doing everything else, I’m still in this ring. 

Are we still getting that Madlib EP?

Yeah, actually this is exclusive: Nobody knows we talked this week a couple of days ago. You know, this is a busy week for me. I got a lot of s–t going on. But we already planning for the future. Me and Madlib supposed to go to Japan next month. I want somewhere new to cook. We supposed to go to Japan and cook Gunlib.

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