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Buffalo hip-hop breaks out in Gunn, Conway's West Side stories

Jeff Miers

"Yo, y'know, Detroit and Buffalo are kinda like long lost cousins/That's why, to me, it makes sense – Shady and Griselda," – Eminem's intro to Westside Gunn & Conway's "Machine Gun Black" (Just Blaze, producer)

It went viral. And then it started showing up in the form of fan-created murals all over the world from Indiana and Arizona to Paris and Hong Kong. A smiling young African-American man presented in stark relief against a red background, a crown of thorns around his head, a smile on his face belied by tears of blood seeping from his eyelids, and above it, in all caps, one word: FLYGOD.

It's a startling painting in its original form, and none of its virility as an image is lost in the many reproductions popping up around the world.

And it came from Buffalo. From the unforgiving streets of the West Side, where for the past several years, a rapper known as Westside Gunn and his collective of like-minded artists – including Gunn's brother, Conway, producers Darringer and Just Blaze, and a team of graphic designers, all working beneath the Griselda Records umbrella – have been changing the game for modern hip-hop while defining the Buffalo contribution to the ongoing history of the idiom.

Conway the Machine, left, and Westside Gunn, both of Griselda Records, have signed a distribution deal with Shady Records.

Marrying a gritty verisimilitude to a strident, in-your-face realism, and basking in the influence of classic Nas and Wu Tang Clan, Buffalo hip-hop has a home base in Griselda's music production and fashion collective, launched by Gunn in 2014.

Eminem, who recently inked a deal between his Shady imprint and Gunn's Griselda Records, may have discovered it recently, but the sound of Buffalo hip-hop has been throbbing in the streets for decades. It's a sound – gritty, grimy, but laidback with a jazz-informed flow and nods to the '90s rap underground - that is finally getting its due.

Eminem's Shady Records inks deal with Buffalo's Westside Gunn, Conway

Westside Gunn & Conway are hitting the road for their first major jaunt since the Shady Records deal went down. The "Griselda on Steroids Tour," as its known, will take the duo from the east to the west coast, and will include a homegrown celebration June 17 at Waiting Room (334 Delaware Ave.).

The image that spread around the world, it turns out, is an already iconic album graphic on Gunn's recent release, the very "FLYGOD" adorning those acts of insurgent mural art.

Saluted by for its "rapid fire phrases of crime poetry" in a review that called it "the album of the year (and maybe the decade)," Gunn's "FLYGOD" is the recording that drives the point home: Buffalo hip-hop is a real force and it's got a sound and substance that is its own.

"They have worked incredibly hard over the last few years," said Buffalo R&B singer and recording artist Maya Satterwhite. "They have a strong idea of who they are, their brand, and who their audience is. They've built such a dedicated fan base. "

Satterwhite rightly points out that, musically speaking, the Griselda gang cuts a sharp, contrasting profile against the current trap frenzy in hip-hop. There's something at once old-school and forward looking in Gunn and Conway's work.

"Their hardcore, '90s style rap is unique, because now you have a lot of rap artists who are doing the same thing – trap and 'mumble rap,''' Satterwhite said. "Also, not many artists have created their own label. They strike you as a duo from the rough boroughs of New York, not homegrown right here in Buffalo."

Within the hip-hop community, word of Gunn and Conway's success spread quickly, and has largely been received with an attitude of celebration and support.

"Job well done, Griselda," said Buffalo rapper and founder of the Team Radio group, Chae Hawk.

"Salute. When you're authentic, and you're real, and you really do this, you'll find a way. Buffalo is a unique place – one where you encounter resistance that creates a fighter spirit in those who really want it. I hope this new light on them and the city they represent sparks a positive change for the remaining talent and artists within it, allowing the culture to grow and emerge successfully. "




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