Conway the Machine - From King to a GOD
"Lotta albums are suddenly starting to feel a little more Griselda-esque / Talk to Ebro, ask Sway in the morning / about the impact of this movement, sure they'll say it's enormous," Conway raps on the Griselda posse cut "Spurs 3" (with Westside Gunn and Benny the Butcher) off his new album From King to a GOD, and it's a boast that'd be very tough to argue against. They've been working towards this moment for years, but 2020 has been the year of Griselda. Not only is Conway, Gunn, and Benny's gritty, psychedelic, vintage-yet-fresh sound infiltrating the mainstream and influencing several other artists, but the Griselda team have been more prolific than ever this year and basically everything they touch turns to gold. Conway already released two very good EPs this year -- the Alchemist-produced LULU and the Big Ghost Ltd-produced No One Mourns The Wicked -- plus plenty of projects in previous years, but he considers FKTG to be his first official album and it's not hard to see why. In comparison, LULU and No One Mourns The Wicked sound like projects where he was working out his muscles and warming up. FKTG is the culmination of years of hard work, a capital-A album that takes you on a journey and keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time. There were already a few Griselda-related albums released this year that are on track to be called classics one day, and FKTG is yet another.
Conway worked well with the one-rapper, one-producer format of this year's two EPs, but FKTG finds him working with an array of producers (Alchemist, Daringer, Hit-Boy, Beat Bucha, Havoc of Mobb Deep, Murda Beatz, Erick Sermon, DJ Premier, Khrysis), and the musical variety works to this album's benefit. All the guests rise to the occasion too. With a mix of guys who paved the way for Conway (Method Man, Havoc, Lloyd Banks) and his peers (Freddie Gibbs, Flee Lord, El Camino), everyone's accustomed to the menacing sonics of the Griselda universe, and everyone knows how to play their role. Conway is the album's star, but a star needs the right supporting cast and this album has it. A lot of those names have appeared in Conway's liner notes many times before, but the song that stands out most is "Fear of GOD," where Conway crafts a more accessible version of his sound with two key collaborators: Hit-Boy and DeJ Loaf. Hit-Boy -- the increasingly versatile producer who got famous working with huge names like Beyonce, Jay-Z, Kanye, and Kendrick; who's fresh off working on the new Nas and Big Sean albums; and who's also got an album with Benny on the way -- gives Conway a triumphant, stadium-sized beat and Conway knows exactly what to do with it. And when DeJ Loaf comes in singing, the song is brought to a whole other level.
The depth and diversity of the music on this album is matched by that of Conway's lyricism. He deservingly boasts about Griselda's fame, he tells detailed autobiographical stories, and he takes on the times we've been living through this year. In June, in the midst of all 50 states protesting police brutality at once, Conway dropped "Front Lines," a powerful takedown of America's broken justice system, racial profiling, and murder at the hands of police. That song appears on From King to a GOD, and though it's the album's most overt protest song, it's not the only time this album takes issue with the police. These songs often find Conway responding to the world around him right now, but he also leaves them open-ended enough that we can assume they'll still sound relevant in five or ten or fifteen years.
Though 2020 has been a huge year for Griselda despite the chaos going on around them, it's also been a year with a very personal tragedy. DJ Shay, who produced several songs for the label/collective, sadly had his life cut short at age 48 this past August. In honor of Shay, Conway made some last-minute adjustments to his album and added in three interludes with recordings of Shay speaking about Conway and Griselda. Shay played a crucial role in helping to develop the Griselda sound, and even if he didn't produce any songs on this album, his influence could already be felt on it. So it's fitting that now his voice is on it too.
Also, along with the release of this album, Conway announced his Shady Records debut, God Don't Make Mistakes.