By Nick Sligh
With his fifth full-length project since the start of 2020, Conway has clearly earned his nickname “the Machine.” Oversaturation and debates around quality versus quantity have been central themes in many discussions of modern hip-hop, but Conway has proven that high frequency of release can still coincide with prolific artistry given proper focus and commitment. Conway’s key to success has been his uncompromised authenticity — he always takes the approach of being candid and true-to-self and never attempts to reel in mainstream listens or commercial fame.
The momentum of Conway and the Griselda crew is at an all-time high. Just last year, Conway dropped one of the best rap albums of the year with his studio debut album “From King to a God.” From “Spurs 3” to “Seen Everything But Jesus,” Conway gave Griselda another fantastic release to build on their remarkable recent catalogue. Already this year, he has released his second collaboration album with producer Big Ghost, “If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed.”
Griselda has been a mostly underground collective for a while, but they have built momentum over the past year and are beginning to make a more wide push in hip-hop (not quite mainstream yet, but close). Benny the Butcher and Westside Gunn, the other two rappers that make up the original Griselda trio, have been drastically rising in prominence over the past year. Both have reached peaks in commercial relevance with prolific releases such as “Burden of Proof” for Benny and “Pray for Paris” for Westside Gunn, arguably each’s most widely received solo efforts so far. The Griselda Records crew has now expanded to include Armani Caesar, another Buffalo native with ability to match the vintage Griselda sound but also a great versatility in her style, especially in her early discography. In addition, the collective now also has Boldy James, a hard-hitting lyricist from Detroit who fits the mold of the group effortlessly.
The two lead singles for “La Maquina” both built intrigue for the upcoming work. On “Blood Roses,” Conway provided impressive writing and impassioned delivery. “Scatter Brain,” featuring J.I.D. and Ludacris, showed Conway greatly accelerating his pace in delivery over trap production, a significant shift from the typically methodical deliveries over grimy and soul sample-infused production. It will be interesting to see if any of these trends in sound carry over into the album at large, and just how much innovation we get in the second studio album for the Buffalo rapper.
Here are my track-by-track reactions and overall initial impressions of “La Maquina.”
Conway the Machine: “La Maquina” (April 16, 2021)
“Bruiser Body” starts the album off with a vintage Griselda sound. The grimy production sees Conway letting his pen highlight the intro. With a nearly two-minute-long verse, heavy in punchlines and braggadocio, the Machine is doing what he does best right here. Conway makes it clear that he is back with constantly improved and evolving artistry: “I’m gettin’ better every year, they still waitin’ to see decline. Reinvented myself, this the machine redesigned.”
2. “6:30 Tip Off”
The second track follows nearly the exact same structure as the intro, with one long verse practically making up the song’s entire composition. I’m typically a huge fan of upbeat and horn-heavy beats, but the production on this one just doesn’t quite do it for me like I feel it should, instead giving off a fairly generic feel. However, Conway gives another great lyrical performance, with some entertaining punchlines and bars throughout. “D’ussé and calamari diet. My profit risin’, I’m monetizin’ off the shit I was prophesisin’.”
3. “Blood Roses” ft. Jae Skeese
“Blood Roses,” the first lead single to “La Maquina,” contains a solid beat that is matched instantly with an impassioned delivery from Conway. The flow switch at the end of the first verse is entertaining and refreshing. Jae Skeese provides a highly-fitting and soulful chorus that is a great touch to the song: “I’m thankful that God never blessed me with basic views, So those perspectives that I’m projecting, they can’t confuse.”
“Clarity” goes back to the same structure as the first couple of tracks, with the long sole verse dominating the content. There is nothing that is notably bad about this one, but I feel that it will probably be one of the less memorable tracks from the album.
Is that Kodak’s flow on the chorus? It definitely sounds just like the flow on “No Flockin’.” Regardless, Conway shows his versatility to go and provide a great delivery over trap production. Definitely a unique twist and switch up in the sound, and certainly a refreshing add at this point.
6. “200 Pies” ft. 2 Chainz
With The Alchemist providing the calm production and the distorted soul sample, Conway and 2 Chainz prolifically trade mellow verses about their drug dealing experiences and their signature personas on display. Anytime 2 Chainz is on a song, he’s going to provide a fun character and presence, and he fits the themes and vibe of the song perfectly.
7. “Sister Abigail” ft. Jae Skeese & 7xvethegenius
“Sister Abigail” might be the standout track of the whole album. The piano loop and percussion-heavy production helps to establish a fantastic beat with the signature Griselda sound obviously coming in on this song. Lyrically, this is one of the best rapping displays that I have heard so far this year. Jae Skeese opens the trio of verses off with incredible lyricism and a phenomenal delivery, leading to one of the best verses that I have heard so far this year. 7xvethegenius follows with another great verse in the middle, and then the song is closed out by one of Conway’s best verses on the album. From front to back, it’s hard to find a flaw on this one.
8. “Grace” ft. Jae Skeese
Jae Skeese really plays an important and impressive part of this album, with this third significant feature coming on “Grace.” The production on this one is infused with quality horns and percussion, and sets the tone for the triumphant and passionate deliveries of both Jae Skeese and Conway. Conway’s verse about overcoming Bell’s Palsy (that he developed after being shot in the neck) to continue with rapping is a perfect placement and one of the more poignant verses on the project. Both rappers fit the track effortlessly, and provide a refreshing, up-beat track for the latter half of the album.
9. “Scatter Brain” ft. JID & Ludacris
With respect to Ludacris, this one is a lyrical sparring match between J.I.D. and Conway. The trap beat incorporates a haunting sample and a solid drum kick, and really sets the foundation for lyricism to come to the forefront. Everything about the song, from the content to the delivery, builds a dark atmosphere that Conway and J.I.D. have thrived off of many times throughout their careers. Conway comes with two fantastic verses, but it’s almost impossible to outrap J.I.D. when he is on. The effortless pen of J.I.D. is something special to watch on any track, and to me he definitely holds my interest the most on this one. Between “Scatter Brain” and J.I.D’s recent single “Ballads,” this duo does not miss when they are on the same song.
10. “Had to Hustle” ft. El Camino & Shots
The penultimate song has one of the less intriguing production choices, and starts with a boring and uninspired verse from El Camino. Conway’s bars are solid, but there’s not enough to keep it interesting between slow delivery and the dull beat. Shots’ verse is mediocre, and definitely doesn’t lift the track up very much. Overall, this is probably the worst song on the album, and there is certainly no need for it to be stretched out into the longest song of the whole project, coming in at over five minutes long.
11. “S.E. Gang” ft. Benny the Butcher & Westside Gunn
Unfortunately, the outro and Griselda posse cut is tainted by the jarring and poor production choice. The strange, abrasive and distorted electric guitar loop sample makes this track hard to listen to. Despite the beat, it’s always fun to see these three get together on the same track. Benny definitely comes in with the best verse on the track, with far and away the most captivating delivery on this one and consistently great punchlines.
Overall, Conway proves that once again, he does not make bad projects. Having listened to the entirety of his discography, there has never been a bad mixtape or album from the Griselda member, and “La Maquina” is no exception. Although not Conway’s best work that I have heard, his second studio album still provides a handful of great tracks, as well as bold expansions into new sounds which I really respect to see in his artistry. Whether it’s the faster-paced deliveries, the trap production selections, or the new experimental flows, I really like the fact that Conway is trying a lot of new things. Thankfully, a couple of the tracks also maintain the vintage Conway and Griselda style, with the methodical delivery and the darker, sample-heavy beats. There is an entertaining mix of old and new, and overall, “La Maquina” is a quality effort.
Favorite Songs: “Sister Abigail,” “Scatter Brain,” “Grace,” “Bruiser Body”
Album Score: 76/100
Check out this Spotify playlist and like it to follow along with some of some of my favorite songs of 2021 as the year progresses!