Last Friday, fashion and rap icon Westside Gunn dropped his eighth entry of the notorious Hitler Wears Hermes mixtape series. This mixtape features Stove God Cooks, Mach-Hommy, Jadakiss, Boldy James, Benny the Butcher, Conway the Machine, and many more. In the sixth edition of Last Week in Music, Finn Askin and Marty Gross, hosts of music podcast 'The Spins,' discuss this mixtape and Westside Gunn’s artistry.
It has been two years since Westside Gunn has dropped a mixtape from this series. Did it live up to the hype?
Marty: As much as I hate to say this, this honestly didn’t hit me as hard as I wanted. With that said, this is a mixtape and there were plenty of songs that have substantial replay value, but the project as a whole felt a bit lackluster to me. I just feel like the mixtape opened so well with songs like “Margiela Split Toes,” “Vogue cover,” and “Mariota,” but slowly dropped in sonic quality. A lot of the instrumentals were way too bare and some songs seemed like they could've been cut down by three minutes and still would’ve been dragging on. This is not a terrible project by any means, but when Gunn sets the bar so high with projects like Pray for Paris, FLYGOD, and even the two previous installments, Hitler Wears Hermes 6 & 7, it's hard not to look at this as a downgrade.
Finn: This summer, my co-writer and co-host, Martin Gross, ushered me into an incredibly deep dive into Griselda Records and their members. It all began after Mach Hommy’s Pray for Haiti widened my musical taste far beyond what I thought I enjoyed —especially the intricate lyricism over blistering-cold Conductor Williams 808 loops and percussionary focuses that I would expect from Madlib or 7L. My ignorance of modern hip-hop shined bright, and I was elated to see it. That being said, this was the first new full-length Westside Gunn release since he executively produced Pray for Haiti. My expectations and excitement level for a new Griselda tape were in the stratosphere. These feelings, however, were met with quite a bit of grief. While I enjoyed the usual taste of luxury-layered vocals and daunting, progressive drum loops, the album really did not click for me. I was left distracted and mindlessly writing down notes as I attempted to dissect this LP. I ached for the inclusion of more Conductor tracks and less of Danny Lafare or Camoflauge Monk. While they still showcased incredible talent, it sadly, yet definitively is a downgrade from the usual Griselda production I am now acquainted with.
Gunn has always been known for his intricate cover art and for using the most provoking and up-to-date fashion trends on his albums. How do you like this album cover?
Marty: Even though I might not be the biggest fan of the mixtape, the art is simply something beautiful. Seeing Gunn veiled by a bullethole-riddled ski-mask is the epitome of Gunn himself: just a fuckin’ gangster with some of the best style in the game. All of this on top of the gold grill sparking in the camera is just a thing of beauty!
Finn: The black-fabric ripping over the gold-grilled-grimace undoubtedly matches the daunting presence that Gunn brings to every single track. This man is so unbelievably awe-inspiring and he knowingly purports himself or whatever infatuating art he chooses in that light on every single cover. I love it.
Some may say Westside Gunn is a hit-or-miss artist. What was your biggest hit on the album and biggest miss?
Marty: The hits were hitters! As I mentioned before, some of the top tracks that caught my attention were “Margiela Split Toes,” “Vogue cover,” and “Mariota”. The sporadic Eddie Levert sample that splits “Vogue cover” is such a gnarly and unexpected split in the track, and the Mach-Hommy feature on a brass infected instrumental is a thing of beauty. On the other hand, “Claire’s Back” featuring Conway and Benny the Butcher was underwhelming, to say the least, and is my biggest flop. The instrumental starts off with a solid foundation, but simply never progresses or changes momentum in any way. Even though Conway, Benny, and Westside all have solid verses, the naked instrumental makes the enormous six-minute track groggy.
Finn: Beginning with my favorite track, “Mariota” featuring Stove God Cooks, I was immediately tossed into a musical-induced coma due to the velvety vocal sample inserted by THE Conductor Williams. Westside’s vocal performance is the perfect matching set that the underlying sample asked for. To top it off, Stove God Cooks HIT that verse like he was Jose Bautista in 2015. I ached for more of this production value and lyrical lushness throughout the entirety of the project. I quite honestly found this to be the best track by a double-digit margin. For my miss on the album, “Westheimer,” honestly had a sound comparable to an Earl Sweatshirt “East” rip-off. Erratic accordion hits and underwhelming lyricism left me skipping the track the second time through. While it had a Madvilliany undertone, it left me wondering how they did not capitalize on the ‘evil’ sound they minimally conveyed.