every day make money & pray
Twenty years on …Only Built For Cuban Linx is the definitive Wu Tang document. The most fully realized work in the Wu canon, the Purple Tape’s effect on hip hop was seismic. Nas, Biggie, and Tupac all plucked ideas from it, and today it sounds just as fresh as ever. The mark of great art is determined not by critics or sales but influence and inspiration on other artists. …Cuban Linx is one of those rare albums that demand a full listen every time. You don’t review it, you don’t question it, you live with it and let it live.
FLYGOD is one of those ones. Released this spring by Buffalo’s Westside Gunn, the album is the centerpiece of Griselda Records, which also includes his brother Conway and producer Daringer. They’ve gained a cult following with a steady stream of projects over the past two years. Their signature sound is dusty, lyrical hip hop rooted in 90s Wu but executed with a style that feels crucial. Beats are eerie boom bap, flows are rapid fire phrases of crime poetry.
What makes FLYGOD so special? Where …Cuban Linx was a Hong Kong gangster film, FLYGOD is a VICE documentary. Just as stylized, but grounded with gritty realism. Conway plays Ghostface to Westside’s Raekwon, and even through a high powered list of guests, the overall vision is theirs. Action Bronson, Danny Brown, and Meyhem Lauren all contribute but do not outshine. Roc Marciano – the other key artist at the vanguard of NY hip hop – is so low key that he almost dissolves back into his own beat on “Omar’s Coming.” (We reviewed his last major projects here and his new album Rosebud’s Revenge is due to be released soon.) Only Brooklyn’s Your Old Droog truly connects to the FLYGOD vision on “Vivian at the Art Basel,” which could literally slot in anywhere on Illmatic and be right at home.
“Gusatavo” is the first track that hooked me – an hypnotic sample with Westside Gunn’s free association rhymes that mix baller brand name drops with drug life reflection (“Imagine them fiends faces when they got soap”). Keisha Plum’s verse is more like spoken word poetry, but again – this is not just a regular hip hop album. “Hall” is the sort of hard hitting soul sample that screams Ghostface; “Chine Gun” is like a beat liberated from Cappadonna’s The Pillage; “55 & A Half” is Tical era RZA. I say this for descriptive purposes, as Daringer’s beats stand on their own – there’s a perfect minimalism in his samples. Statik Selektah contributes “50 Inch Zenith,” his lighter style like a cloudy mid-day high, a break from the darker soundscapes. Apollo Brown steals the show, as he is wont to do – “Mr T” is soul sample perfection, as he rightly laced the album with a gem.
Why isn’t FLYGOD at the top of critical lists this year? It doesn’t have to be. Recall that …Cuban Linx needed time to grow, to put its dirty boots up on your mom’s coffee table without giving a fuck, to seep into your consciousness listen after listen. I listened to FLYGOD all summer – walking around Pittsburgh, writing, just living my life. I’m not sick of it. It’s getting better. Just like the Purple Tape.