Westside Gunn is known for dark, grimy, ‘90s hardcore hip hop inspired sounds, and his new album Pray for Paris makes clear that the rapper is a master of his craft. Featuring striking production and memorable verses, Gunn treats loyal Griselda Records fans to a satisfying new project.
The opening track, “400 Million Plus Tax,” is a skit which sets a lavish and grand tone for the album as Westside frequently refers to his riches and affluent lifestyle throughout the project. The skit is a sample from the auction of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi,” which sold for the track’s title, making it the most expensive painting ever sold at an auction.
Tracks like “No Vacancy” and “George Bondo” feature twinkling piano runs, a stand-out element of the production. In “George Bondo,” Conway the Machine and Benny the Butcher effortlessly rap alongside Westside, as the three bounce of off one another’s verses throughout the song. “327” finds Westside rapping over a nice lo-fi beat with Joey Bada$$, Tyler, The Creator – who produced the track “Party wit Pop Smoke,” and Billie Esco. This track is the first time Westside, Joey, and Tyler have collaborated with one another – a new phase in Griselda’s discography. While this is an unexpected collaboration, all three artists contribute meaningful and enriching verses. Tyler remains true to himself, relating to themes of femininity – rare in Griselda works.
Wale’s verse in “French Toast” may be one of the best on the album as his voice is easy to listen to and his flow is impressive. Westside wished to collaborate with Wale on the track upon hearing the original beat, saying that he hoped to make a song “for the ladies” – and thought of Wale as an iconic, sensual singer. Both rappers celebrate sensuality and feelings of love – a nice change of pace on the project as most of the material focuses on the dangerous, luxurious lifestyle Westside leads. The production of this track is reminiscent of Blood Orange or Tyler, The Creator, again showcasing a change of tone for Westside.
The album enters into a lull, albeit well-produced, with tracks “Euro Step” through “$500 Ounces,” but redeems itself with the track “Versace.” Interestingly enough, “Versace” was produced by internet personality Jay Versace, who rose to stardom on the social media platform Vine. Jay Versace sent Westside the beat, and to Westside’s surprise, he enjoyed the production so much that he completed the song and included it on the track list. The gospel choir vocals on this track create an atmosphere of holiness and importance, making everything Westside raps all-the-more profound.
Professional wrestling references and samples are abundant throughout the album, continuing the love affair between rap and the wrestling world. The two have always admired each other, with rappers often flirting with the idea of dabbling in pro sports and vice versa. Westside unabashedly displays his infatuation with the sport on tracks “French Toast,” “Allah Sent Me,” “Claiborne Kicks,” – which features a more melancholic tone, and “Shawn vs. Flair,” – the title itself referencing an iconic wrestling match.
The last track, “LE Djoliba,” cleverly incorporates sounds of tap dancing, another element of creative production on the album. Overall, Westside may not win over many new listeners with this project, but existing fans will adore Griselda’s classic, old school hip hop sound. Westside remains consistent with previous Griselda works while exploring new sounds, features, and producers.