He’s widely regarded as one of the top lyricists in the game, a key component in what is quite likely the most viscerally exciting movement in hip-hop since Kendrick Lamar broke out of the underground and into the mainstream.
But on Thursday, the rapper known as Conway the Machine was once again Demond Price, a now-grown kid from the streets of Buffalo who made it out of some tough situations and was eager to support the community that had bolstered him by partnering with La Nova Pizzeria to help the Buffalo City Mission.
Conway and his crew assembled at 100 East Tupper St. to offer what they call “Buffalo’s signature entrees” to clients of the City Mission, in-need families in the neighborhood and essential workers from the community.
“I wanted to do something for the homeless,” Conway said. “The men’s homeless shelter and the women’s as well. We’re keeping it local with La Nova and we’re coming out to make sure everybody’s got plenty of pizza and wings."
The City Mission delivery kicked off two days of events that will find the rapper visiting NFTA workers on Friday to gift them with coffee, doughnuts and bagels. Conway will also visit Alanna Bell of Amherst, who recently contracted Bell's Palsy, resulting in temporary facial paralysis. Bell has turned her 11th birthday into a drive-by party that will act as a food drive for FeedMore WNY. Conway, who also has Bell's Palsy, will donate to the cause.
"The people who work at the City Mission are on the front lines trying to help the less fortunate every day. The bus drivers, too – these people can’t work from home, they’ve got to be out there.
“If I can help, then I’m happy to do so. I love the city, you know?”
“I just want people to know they haven’t been forgotten,” Conway said during a phone conversation, as he also reflected on an 18-month period that had seen Griselda Records – a crew of like-minded Buffalo hip-hop artists launched in 2014 by his younger brother and creative partner, Westside Gunn – grow into a globe-spanning sensation, including being signed to Eminem’s Shady Records imprint in 2017.
"We just want to put a smile on everybody’s face, when they need it the most, you know? I just felt compelled to do this, with everything going on with Covid-19 especially, to let these people who have always been struggling know that they’re not being overlooked or forgotten," Conway said.
Conway is no stranger to struggle. In 2012, he was shot in the neck and the back of the head during an altercation in Buffalo, and though he miraculously survived, he was left with Bell's Palsy, the right side of his face paralyzed.
The violence of the grittiest Buffalo streets worked its way into Conway’s art, lending a biting verisimilitude to his raps, an element underscored by the dark, stark and grainy minimalism that is a hallmark of the production values represented on all Griselda Records offerings.
Blending the influence of New York City’s “boom-bap” movement, the film noir aspects of the most incisive ‘90s hip-hop and the gruff lessons learned growing up the hard way in Buffalo, Conway, Westside Gunn, their cousin, Benny the Butcher, and the rest of the Griselda gang caught the attention of a hip-hop press and fan-base weary of a scene growing stagnant and hungry for something fresh.
The praise for their efforts was often effusive. Witness this 2017 piece published by Stereogum, which hailed the Griselda crew's "feverish and ferocious" raps that make Buffalo "sound like some undiscovered sixth borough of NYC." Last month, Conway released his latest effort, a collaboration with producer The Alchemist, dubbed "LULU."