Out of all the Griselda heavy hitters, Conway the Machine is easily my favorite artist from the bunch. His rugged delivery, which is somewhere between a slight tremor and a wobbled quake, carries perturbed weight from circumstances that seem to get bleaker by the day. His good friend (and frequent Griselda collaborator) DJ Shay unexpectedly passed away from Coronavirus complications back in mid-August, which understandably put a dent in Griselda’s recent positive momentum.
As with most things in his life though, Conway shows major perseverance. Compared to his last solo record Look What I Became-which felt almost celebratory despite its hardened soil-Conway’s newest album From King To a GOD toils with mortality (his own and others), hip hop lineage, royal imagery, and the power of a friendship. But unlike Nas, who appears to be content with his self-coronating platitudes and nostalgia-driven flashbacks, Conway uses his own divine portrait as a method for forward movement and persistence. It’s a framing device more than an overblown ego. He operates in a similar old school lane as Nas (and even has Hit-Boy featured as a producer), but connects that particular golden era with a pastiche of personal anecdotes ranging from street life, family loyalty, and everything in between.
Conway does a nice job of balancing commercialization with the concrete. The album as a whole is filled with features-something you’d expect from a mainstream rap project nowadays-but many of the collaborators are artists that Conway undoubtedly looks up too as inspirations, whether it be Method Man, Havoc, The Alchemist, or Erick Sermon of EMPD. In other terms, hip hop royalty.
Rather than use these legendary names as a shameless marketing tool, Conway provides some of his most impressive rapping to date. Over a beat that confines itself between dreamy and filthy (courtesy of in-house producers Beat Butcha and Daringer), Method and Conway toil between real life implications and personal narrative-building (Watchin’ his baby mothers cry, I got numb, I can’t lie/His mama ain’t shed a tear, she know that come with this life”).
Sinister taunts and chilly paranoia are expected on a Conway project at this point, and there’s still definitely a lot of that on From King to a GOD. But what makes this endeavor stand out from past mixtapes is his ability to pinpoint the monumental nature of what he’s doing, and who he’s doing it for.
There’s multiple spoken word passages from Shay that essentially eulogize his existence. His spirit carries a lot of this album’s passion, as emphasized (and essentially culminated) on “Forever Dropping Tears.” Over a synth-heavy Erick Sermon/Rockwilder beat that bridges the gap between east coast griminess and west coast suave, Conway reaches his pinnacle as a veteran narrator. He shows timeless love for his closest peers by telling the story of two who were taken from his life. In the first part, Conway opens up about his friend Damani’s death, and talks about how they used to skip school to buy weed and “post at the Chinese store.” The second portion of this emotional soliloquy finds Conway unpacking the aftermath of Shay’s death, as well as the final moments with him. Put together, the song transitions from emotional to vividly devastating in a heartbeat (“Wish you got your flowers while you were still alive/Drunk a bottle with Shamerra and Dominic and I cried (Your kids)/When I got out the hospital from them shots I survived”).
That track alone will easily find itself in the best songs of the year argument, but it also acts as a testament to Conway’s improvements as a writer and artist in general. He’s never been more confidently versatile or wholly sure of his message. The collaboration with Griselda signee Armani Caesar on “Anza” represents a more fun side of the Buffalo native thanks to a Murda beat that sounds bouncier than normal thanks to each rapper’s infectious delivery.
Aside from a few hiccups along the way (his singing is borderline terrible on “Seen Everything But Jesus”), Conway offers a formidable remembrance for those he’s lost, and a proper gateway for a hopeful future. He’s definitely hurting at the moment, but if From King to a God proves anything, it’s that none of us are bigger than the universe. We’re just all trying to form meaningful relationships before it’s too late.