Conway the Machine shines on debut album “From King to a God”
Buffalo MC showcases his versatility and highlights self-reflection
Album: “From King to a God”
Artist: Conway the Machine
Label: Griselda Records / Drumwork / EMPIRE
Release Date: September 11
It’s been a long journey for Buffalo’s very own Conway the Machine.
After a 2012 shooting incident left his face partially paralyzed, Conway has established himself as a powerhouse in the underground hip-hop scene. Rapping about the realities of drug dealing and violence in Buffalo, he’s received co-signs from hip-hop royalty including DJ Primer, the late Prodigy of Mobb Deep and Jay-Z.
A member of the prolific Griselda Records, Conway has already released two projects in 2020: March’s collaboration with the Alchemist, “LULU,” and May’s collaboration with Big Ghost LTD “No One Mourns the Wicked,” both of which were met with critical acclaim.
“From King to a God” is said to be a precursor for his forthcoming Shady Records debut, “God Don’t Make Mistakes.” The cover of “From King to a God” is glaringly similar to the cover of “Reject 2,” Conway’s first mixtape with Griselda Records. Conway is facing away from the camera with his shirt off, revealing his bullet wounds. On “From King to a God,” Conway strikes the same pose but is now wearing a shirt, sunglasses, a chain on his neck and a crown on his head, representing how far he’s come since his monumental 2015 mixtape.
“From King to a God” features a wide range of production including tracks with frequent collaborators like Beat Butcha, The Alchemist and Griselda’s own Daringer. Conway gets help from hip-hop OGs Havoc, Erick Sermon and DJ Premier while also featuring modern-day hitmakers like Hit-Boy and Murda Beatz.
The Hit-Boy produced “Fear of God” finds Conway rapping over more radio-friendly production, which showcases the Griselda MC’s versatility while also not taking away from his lyrical content.
“Lemon” features a darker, more Griselda-esque production with Conway telling street tales about drug dealing, extortion, and murder. Even when he’s rapping about the realities of Buffalo’s crime scene, Conway manages to cleverly brag about his technical ability while still managing to stay on topic: “You n---as know who flow nicest, raise the bar like coke prices.” The song also features one of the best Method Man verses in years, with the Wu-Tang legend still proving his lyrical sword is sharp: “I think outside the box, then I find a box I can keep ‘em in / Or just leave it then, like the bouncer, won't let your people in / People said they want that old Meth', well, this the prequel then.”
Conway gets real about police brutality on “Front Lines,” his second verse is as passionate as we’ve seen him with the Buffalonian addressing the killing of George Floyd and the disadvantages black people face when dealing with police. The more questions Conway asks, the angrier he gets.
“Just ’cause he from the ghetto, that don't mean he sellin' crack / He drivin’ home from work, you pull him over ‘cause he black / Think he gangbangin’ ‘cause he got dreads and a few tats / He reach for his ID, you think he reachin’ for a strap / He get out, put his hands up, and he still gettin’ clapped / But if he try to run, you just gon’ shoot him in his back / What if it was my son? I wonder how I'm gon’ react / I bet I'm finna run up in this precinct with this MAC / I swear to God.”
Conway addressing the destructive nature of the police system and the racial tension within the U.S. serves as a self reflection: he isn’t a peace-maker. If he gets fired at, he’s firing back. Conway isn’t a Martin Luther King Jr., he’s a Malcolm X.
The Havoc-produced “Juvenile Hell,” ––a song title paying homage to Mobb Deep’s debut album-- provides the album with a fast-paced yet grimey New York posse cut that showcases the lyrical skill of Conway, Flee Lord and Lloyd Banks, with Havoc performing the hook.
Fellow Griselda members Westside Gunn and Benny the Butcher join Conway on the grimey “Spurs 3,” a throwback to the gritty style that made Griselda underground favorites. Benny and Conway’s rough and rugged voices perfectly compliment Westside’s high-pitched, nasally vocal inflections over the dark, Beat Butcha produced track. In his verse, Conway tells a tale of violence and hedonism before ultimately addressing his relationship with his peers in the rap game: “Y’all clout chasin’, every verse, you name droppin,’ / Taggin' n---as in your post, hopin’ that they comment back and at you in it / I don't wanna rap, don't wanna dap you n---as / I honestly don't give no f--ks about bein’ friends with a rapper n---a / Griselda, b--ch, we the inspiration / You can see me and Gunn influencin' all the music these n---as makin'.”
“Forever Droppin’ Tears” featuring El Camino finds Conway mourning the loss of loved ones and the trauma of seeing his friends die young. On the second verse, Conway mentions the death of Griselda Records producer DJ Shay, who passed away last summer from COVID. It shows the MC’s vulnerable side, acknowledging the fragility of life.
“When I got out the hospital from them shots I survived / You recorded me and helped me get confidence and my stride / Remember we fell out and had words / That resulted in me throwin' punches, seen you a few weeks later / At James’ spot, we ain't speak like we ain't know each other / When we close as brothers and life too short to be holdin’ grudges / Hugged it out, now we drinkin' Remy and rollin’ Dutches / I just wish I had a chance to tell my bro I love him / For like a week straight, I cried, I'm forever droppin’ tears / But I know I got an angel in the sky.”
The beauty of Conway’s music is that it’s as straightforward as it gets. It’s rugged raps about life on the streets of Buffalo over grimey, New York-style beats. Conway represents a level of consistency rarely seen in modern hip-hop; his deep voice and aggressive flow makes him instantly recognizable on a track and his ability to flow over any type of beat while still delivering poignant bars make him a lyrical juggernaut.
Conway wears his influences on his sleeve, and that’s okay. He wants you to know his style was shaped Wu-Tang and Mobb Deep. “From King to a God” showcases Conway’s ability to not only rap over mafioso-style production but more pop-leaning, hip-hop beats, too. It experiments with new subject matter while still keeping true to its roots. It showcases Conway the Machine at his very best, only expanding his versatility, and growing his already fantastic catalogue.
Anthony DeCicco is the Senior Sports Editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @DeCicco42.