Published Sep 09, 2020On "Lemon," a key track from Conway the Machine's must-listen new album From King to a GOD, the Buffalo, NY-based rapper abruptly shifts from detailing a criminal's sentencing to the ensuing collateral damage: "Won't see his daughter graduate / Can't teach his son to drive." As if such tender nuance (after bar upon bar of brawny inner city lore) wasn't enough to make the song special, "Lemon" is elevated all the more by a verse from Wu-Tang legend Method Man. The Staten Island elder sounds a fraction of his 49 years here, thanks to his tangible enthusiasm at rhyming alongside the ascending Conway, whose rugged delivery owes no small debt to his Shaolin forefather. The brilliance of "Lemon" is sealed with a menacing instrumental replete with distortion and groaning bass samples, sharply contrasted with a tingling piano sample so shrill it doesn't so much evoke fingers on keys, but instead a chill running up your spine.
Method Man is by no means the only rap titan to eagerly hop on Conway's sure-to-be-breakout new LP. That lineup is rounded out by the likes Havoc of Mobb Deep (who lithely raps on and produces the string laden "Juvenile Hell" alongside a surprisingly not washed up Lloyd Banks). Iconic genre elder Erick Sermon of EPMD, meanwhile, serves up a fuzzy synth-slathered instrumental on From King to a GOD closer "Forever Droppin Tears." Freddie Gibbs (arguably the most prolific and critically acclaimed MC of the moment) lends his hypnotically rhythmic flow and gruff voice to the melancholy, sing-song-y refrained "Seen Everything but Jesus." And Gibbs' recent cohort Alchemist (who produced the Indiana rapper's 2020 top tier release Alfredo, on which Conway guested) lends his darkly minimalistic beatmaking to "Dough & Damani."
Having such a hip-hop who's-who on your features list certainly speaks volumes. But From King to a GOD impresses beyond those flourishes thanks to Conway's bedrock-hard vocals, tone and overall disposition throughout. His rhymes about police brutality on the Beat Butcha-produced highlight "Front Lines," for instance, come close to reaching Killer Mike's unparalleled calls-to-arms on this summer's RTJ4.
Listeners will also be keen to catch Conway's lyrical curveballs, including a standout line on key track "Spurs 3" where he rhymes "extortion" with a diss about the ladies his rivals can't court. "Spurs 3" also shines thanks to contributions from Conway's inner circle: brother and fellow MC Westside Gunn and cousin and rapper Benny the Butcher. Those rap relatives — the respective Ghostface and RZA to Conway's Method Man, respectively — bring enough combustable chemistry to not only satisfy their Griselda cult following, but also to convert novices who have slept on the burgeoning Buffalo clique for too long. Such criminally uninitiated masses will no doubt dwindle before long, judging by the sterling quality and stacked features list of From King to a GOD (and other simmering recent releases from Griselda). Indeed, listening to Conway's latest is hearing the sound of an underground king ascend to the status of the esteemed guest artists he attracts. (Drumwork / Griselda)