Album Review: Westside Gunn — Pray for Paris

Artist NameWestside Gunn
Album NamePray for Paris
Release TypeAlbum
Release DateApril 17, 2020
Record LabelShady Records
Review AuthorGregory Castel

Last weekend Griselda Records-ownWestside Gunn, put out his new album Pray for Paris. The release included cameos from label-mates Conway the Machine and Benny the Butcher, and also special appearances from Freddie Gibbs, Wale, Joey Badass, and Tyler the Creator.

In March of this year, Gunn’s long-time collaborator Conway released his own project album, LULU, and was a little preview of the rapper’s ability to hold his own as a stand-alone artist. That album made some noise, but now we get see Westside Gunn’s own effort in Pray for Paris, and his highly capable ability to put together a full body of work on his own.

On first listen, fans may think ‘hardcore’ rap and think overly hard. But, when digging deeper into each individual track, Pray for Paris is a beautiful balance of vivid production organization and artistic progression. Immediately in a song like “No Vacancy”, the DJ Muggs-produced backdrop is arranged with light strings and relaxing minor key signatures. This instrumental is met with an intentional counterpart in the vivid lyrics. The bars are tough, they’re dark, and they’re the exemplary balance that shows just the kind of intentional artistry Gunn is capable of.

Gunn even had DJ, artist, and well-renowned head of Louis Vuitton designer, Virgil Abloh heavily involved with the artistic process. Abloh designed the cover artwork and premiered the album with Westside Gunn in a listening party via Twitch. The album artwork is designed with a European, Victorian-era influence.

A dream team of producers worked on this, including DJ Premier, Alchemist, Tyler, The Creator, DJ Muggs, Daringer and Camoflauge Monk, among others. Alchemist has worked closely with the Griselda artists in the past. You’ll also find surprising production features from Jay Versace. Yes, the 22-year old kid from New Jersey who got his social media fame kick-started off Vine.

Once Tyler the Creator completed his Grammy-award winning 2019 album, IGOR, he told Zane Lowe that after self-producing all his music, that he wants to produce for others and make clothes for the next two years. Well, on Pray For Paris, Tyler came true to that fact and produced track 12, “Party wit Pop Smoke.” Over Tyler’s soulful sample, Westside raps the essence of Pray for Paris. On his verse, he seams lines of street violence and submachine guns, with shopping sprees with some of the most well-renowned high-fashion houses present at Fashion Week.

Almost every track in the body of work contains arpeggiating keys and jazzy samples. When working with multiple producers, it’s impressive to find that each song maintains a consistent vibe throughout. There’s a tasteful sense of congruence in the production and the storytelling between each song. In songs like “George Bondo” and “French Toast”, you hear the dreamy, fluttering keys in the production countered with Westside spitting about razors, MAC-11s, and selling dope. This juxtaposition between lyrical content and instrumental tone is one Pray for Paris’ strongest selling points.

Westside Gunn actually admitted that towards the end of creating this album, he was stricken with COVID-19. “Shawn vs. Flair”, produced by DJ Premier, was one of the last recorded songs. Westside told Peter Roseberg of Hot 97, “I got it right just on the second try. I was done (recording), and I had to go right on the breathing machine.” He said that he did not tell anybody that he was sick as he recovered because he didn’t want anybody to feel bad for him or anything.

The record also includes guest verses from the likes of Wale on “French Toast” and Roc Marciano on the Alchimest produced number “$500 Ounces”. Marciano has worked with the Griselda for years now. Prolific producer, The Alchemist, created a steady nocturnal vibe consisting of a recurring sound of horns that descend as the three gentleman trade skillful lyrics. That’s Roc Marci, Freddie Gibbs, and WSG.

In that specific song, there’s a bar that encompasses the album’s concept and it comes from Freddie Gibbs in his verse. Gibbs spits,

But how you look a n*gga mom in the face when you shot her baby? (Bow)
I got skeletons in my closet, right next to Balenciaga

Overall, this project has set a marker for the direction of modern hip-hop in 2020. It is aimed to redefine the connotation behind rap as an art form. Pray for Paris is a soulful yet, grimy masterpiece. This album is a handpicked selection of high-level artists, in lyricism, soulful production, and visual artwork. 

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