Album Review — Conway the Machine’s ‘From King To A GOD’

While it feels like most of hip hop is going pop, the Griselda group is perfectly content doing what they do best and that’s delivering some of the grimiest beats and hardest hitting bars in the game. While all three of Benny The Butcher, Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine all bring something great to the table, it feels like Conway in particular has had a rapidly rising 2020. All of his features have been standouts and he delivered a really solid project in LULU with The Alchemist (I haven’t even got a chance to listen to No One Mourns the Wicked yet). So now he’s released what he’s dubbing his debut album in From King to a GOD and it’s without a doubt a fantastic debut from an artist who is quickly establishing himself as one of the best lyricists in hip hop.

The voice of zen writer and speaker Alan Watts greets you on opener “From King,” which is definitely a nice surprise. Conway then does his thing and that’s drop hard hitting bars that set the tone for the album well. And the song ends with a sample of a Kevin Nash promo/Tony Schiavone commentary in WCW because it’s a Griselda album of course. It’s a great opener because I’ll remember it and it makes me want to hear more. Next is “Fear of God,” where Conway has a great, smooth flow and the DeJ Loaf feature fits the song’s attitude, capping off the song with a nice touch.

I really enjoy the griminess of “Lemon,” although the hook is a bit weak. But the bars hit hard, Conway’s delivery is emphatically great and Method Man absolutely kills his verse. His weathered, deep voice matches perfectly with the dark beats. Any other album and this should be easily the best feature, but this album is loaded with amazing guest features. “Dough & Damani” is produced by The Alchemist and of course it’s smooth as hell. Conway and The Alchemist have such great chemistry. Conway also features his more humorous side on this song, which is enjoyable. I particularly enjoy the short kit around two guys arguing over who gets to hold the gun.

“Juvenile Hell” is not only my favorite song on the album, but maybe my favorite song I’ve ever heard from Conway. First the beat on this is absolutely filthy and does 90s boom bap absolutely proud. Then you have the features from Flee Lord, Havoc and Lloyd Banks. Each one of them bring absolute fire, but Banks steals the show with his appearance. His flow over the beat is absolutely flawless and the wordplay is brilliant. The line I really enjoy is “I’m on my rivals, embarrass ‘em with my calm bravado/My alma mater of smackin’ a n**** horizontal.”

Next is the first “Words of Shay” interlude and it’s cool to hear these words from Conway’s close friend DJ Shay, who is unfortunately revealed to be dead later in the album on Conway’s tribute to him on “Forever Droppin Tears.” And I should point out that the title is not just an expression of Conway’s sadness over the passing of his friend, but also a reference to Shay talking about in the interludes how Conway cries when recording songs. So it doubles as Conway’s showing of passion. The song itself is an absolutely beautiful tribute with lots of heartfelt lyrics and great storytelling of the relationship between Shay and Conway. It’s all set over a bouncy and classy beat from Hit-Boy and El Camino adds a lot with his feature. But I will say I don’t think the third interlude was really necessary, as I think the tribute was good as is with just two interludes. Still it doesn’t take away much from one of the highlights of this album.

“Front Lines” is Conway’s take on the civil unrest and Black Lives Matter movement that took place this past summer and the systemic racism that has been taking place for years. Conway does a fantastic job laying out all the issues and once again his storytelling lyricism really shines, particularly when he’s describing how routine police stops quickly turn to violence for many black Americans. The song ends with a clip of a news report of when protesters broke into the Minnesota police precinct this past summer and this definitely fits the song, but I feel it goes a bit too long and smaller clip would have been more effective.

“Anza” is the weakest song of the album, as it’s pop-ish flavor is such a stark contrast to the rest of the record’s sound and sticks out like a sore thumb. It just doesn’t fit and while Armani Caesar is a great MC, her feature is a bit boring. All around this song just doesn’t work within this album. “Seen Everything But Jesus” gets back on the right track though and grows on me more and more with each listen. Conway is joined by Freddie Gibbs and as always Gibbs delivers. A nice surprise we get from Gibbs though is some singing in addition to his always hard-hitting bars. While he seemed to always be joking when doing this earlier in his career, his singing is actually pretty good and I wouldn’t mind hearing him take on some R&B songs. Even his more humorous singing moments are fun (see “FLFM” off Freddie).

“Spurs 3” is the traditional Griselda joint on all Griselda albums and like a Gibbs feature, you can always count on this to be great. The dark and eccentric beat is lively and engaging, with each of Conway, Westside Gunn and Benny The Butcher flowing well over it. Although I am a bit surprised that Benny is weakest sounding on this track, as usually he’s the best technical rapper of the trio (Gunn is more about flash and Conway is the sharp lyricist). Nonetheless it’s a solid track.

“Jesus Khrysis” has a spacey, throwback beat that draws on boom bap again, something this album really does a great job with and it’s one of my favorite beats of the album. What makes it even better is the lyricism is top notch, with Conway delivering excellent verses like “N***** try blockin’ my goals, I’ma make it Messi” and “That’s the zone I’m in, I write with a golden pen/But lately, I ain’t even been writin’, I just been goin’ in.” Not only is the later a great bar, but also a possible glimpse into Conway’s approach to writing because apparently him and Benny both go into the studio and record without any lyrics written down. They do it all from the top of their head, which if true, makes the songwriting even more impressive.

“Nothin’ Less” is another banger that closes the album out strong. It has a surprise feature from DJ Premier, who fits yet another amazing boom bap inspired song. And some people may find the reliance on boom bap influences on this album to be lazy, but I completely disagree when so much of hip hop nowadays is filled with generic, pop radio chasing beats and trying so hard to sound like a Drake song. So I find throwback beats like this be quite refreshing because it pays homage to the roots of the genre and the producers on this album also bring a modern flavor to it, avoiding sounding dated too. And of course it helps to have a great lyricist like Conway to rap over it, as a lot of rappers would get eaten up by the sound.

From King to a GOD is a fantastic proper debut album from Conway The Machine, as he brings his signature sound and high quality lyricism that longtime fans have come to appreciate him for while also bringing a level of accessibility in the music that will surely attract new fans too.

Grade: 9/10

Album Review — Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats’ ‘UNLOCKED’

This was a project I heard about and got immediately excited and then I completely forgot about it. But I’m glad I was paying enough attention to still catch it when it dropped, as seeing Denzel Curry, one of the best rappers in the game today, teaming up with producer Kenny Beats, one of the most promising up and coming producers in hip-hop, had me excited at the potential of this team-up. And after listening to UNLOCKED, the duo definitely lives up to the hype.

Two things I have to point out before getting to the music: the album art is fantastic and a perfect reflection of what you can expect when listening to this project. It also has a heavy CZARFACE influence, as it looks like something you would expect for album art on one of his records. The other thing I have to point out is this was allegedly made in just 24 hours by Curry and Beats, which makes what they create on this short project even more impressive. 

Opening track “Track 01” serves more as an intro, as it features a sample of a PSA and some beats before giving way to “Take_it_Back_v2.” And right away Curry’s furious and forceful delivery takes control, spitting off bars with authority. The beat is sinister and modern, but you can also hear the boom bap influences that permeate throughout this song and the entire album, making for a captivatingly grimy appeal. The bars are humorous and flow together really well, as I especially enjoy the word interplay in the line “You fell in love with kali ma, but now it’s time to take your heart.” 

“Lay_Up.m4a” continues with the hard and funny bars. The most memorable line: “Surfboard body ass boy with your fish tits.” It’s such a fun, shit-talking flex song with some appropriately eerie, ominous beats lurking in the background. “Pyro (leak 2019)” is very much along the same lines, featuring some clever bars around Cee Lo Green. It’s a pretty short song though and that’s probably the biggest complaint I have with songs on this album. This is definitely an album where you need to hear it all together and not broken up to get the full effect of each song.

“DIET_” sees Curry brilliantly channeling Busta Rhymes, sure to bring a smile to anyone who enjoys this style of rapping. This is also the best and most complete song on the album, as everything just ties together perfectly. Curry attacks the beat and it has the best bars on the album too: “One man, ichiban, fresh outta Japan/Do as I command” and “And I don’t like Pixar, mist-er/I am the master, I came through like a (wait a minute).” The latter bar in particularly highlights how great Curry’s flow and approach to bars makes what looks awkward on paper, work so easily and smoothly in execution.

“So.Incredible.pkg” and “Track07” feature my favorite beats on the album, as they’re both smooth and surrealistic. It’s why I enjoy hearing Kenny Beats project: you’re going to get some sounds that you don’t normally hear in a lot of hip-hop projects nowadays. This different and fresh approach, while also drawing from previous influences in hip-hop, is why he’s quickly become one of my favorite producers in the genre today, as I wish more producers would “go out there” with their sound like Kenny Beats.

The album closes with “’Cosmic’ .m4a,” another song where Curry’s rapid delivery is right on point with memorable, hard-hitting bars. I harp on Curry’s delivery once again because it’s so key to what makes this album great. The songs themselves don’t have any big messages and are essentially bangers that focus on delivering fun bars. So many hip-hop albums are like this today and many are largely forgotten because the delivery just flat-out sucks. But Curry brings so much aggressive passion and rawness in his voice, along with his choice of diction in his delivery makes what would be an average banger into something that’s truly memorable. And this big reason is why UNLOCKED is the first great hip-hop album I’ve heard in 2020. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of ZUU (an album I’m ashamed I omitted from my best of 2019 list), this is yet another high-quality project from Denzel Curry (and another great one from Kenny Beats too).

Grade: 9/10