Westside Gunn is this era’s Bane of the underground rap Gotham City. (The Christopher Nolan version.) Throughout his stellar mixtape outputs Hitler Wears Hermes Vol. 1 – 4, There’s God and There’s Flygod, Praise Both, and Extendos, his collaboration duo efforts Griselda Ghost and Hall & Nash with frequent collaborator Conway, and the impressive Flygod album released in 2016, the Griselda Records boss exhibits darkness as his greatest ally. He is unafraid of his truth being born into and molded by the sub-zero degree weather, and macabre of Buffalo, New York’s rampantly violent urban reality. Being impervious to emotion and pain, a cold day in Hell is a warm day in Paradise lost for the Flygod.
On his latest project Riots On Fashion Avenue, the twelve-track album is an above average effort sans featured guests, but it pans out as a semi-quiet riot boasting just four original songs once the gunsmoke clears. It also has two remixes of those four songs, and six instrumentals of all the original and remixed versions of those songs. Even though it’s considered an album, it’s really an EP with the end result making you crave more of his unloving spoonful of shock value and discord.
On the first track “Fly Shit (Intro),” the 33-year-old MC sets the tone with a concise, self-aggrandizement over haunting prog rock guitar sampled loop and snare drum chops to evoke the energy of an eighties horror movie overture. The first official song title and best cut “Brains Flew By” suggests a glib regard for human life like storied hitman Richard “Iceman” Kuklinski and Cypress Hill’s earliest records. Westside Gunn throws in his signature onomatopoeic gunshot adlibs and shrill vocals to continue his lyrical assault oversampled high-note guitar plucks, a sauntering bassline thump, and eerie church organs.
Stylistically, his flow amalgamates the resonant sneer and echo of a young War Report-era N.O.R.E., the sedate brevity of Styles P, and mafioso narratives of Ghostface Killah and Kool G. Rap. He also points to American drug kingpins for nineties hardcore Hip Hop romantics to swoon over in his songwriting (“The graceful/Gun in his mouth like it’s tasteful/Bricks on bricks like Rayful.”)
The third song “Don’t Trust A Soul” is Westside going left experimenting away from his typical punchy bass drums and dub-style basslines over short soul samples. Instead, he spits over the orchestral cello strings and thunderous drums sampled from nineties British trip-hop group Sneaker Pimps song “Walking Zero.” His emphatic lyrics are par for the course with a nod to the narcotics tales of Belly and Paid In Full (“Broad day, hit the nigga, took the mask off/The illest nigga in Nebraska/Known in the coke spots as NuNu/1500, my little nigga’ll do you, sniffing lines my nigga turned coo-coo, dropping bricks off like I’m Lulu’’) as he makes a great attempt to step out of his comfort zone production-wise. But the track has intrusive brass samples and that makes it sound too busy and overly layered. The album continues with alternative beats to “Brains Flew By” and “Don’t Trust a Soul,” and the final original track is “No Face Dealer (Outro)” featuring DJ Djaz showcasing his skilled turntablist chirps and scratches over a menacing instrumental.
With Riots On Fashion Avenue, Westside Gunn goes out in a blaze of glory and channeling the martyrdom of New York City urban legend Larry Davis against his enemies and authorities per usual. Although, the project equally parallels a written episode format of Curb Your Enthusiasm creator Larry David. Opening with an intensity, track after track poses less of the charged attack, and a less than subtle ending like how it began with just an instrumental. It will make you wonder and crave for what’s up Westside Gunn’s now that Shady Records is in the picture.