Album: “If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed”
Artists: Conway the Machine and Big Ghost LTD
Label: Drumwork / EMPIRE
Release Date: February 5
Throughout his prolific career, Buffalo native Desmond Price, known professionally as Conway the Machine, has earned his place among the elite class of living MCs. A member of the underground powerhouse Griselda Records, Conway, along with brother Westside Gunn and cousin Benny the Butcher, blurs the lines between underground acclaim and mainstream success.
Griselda’s meteoric rise has given the trio the opportunity to work with some of the biggest names in hip-hop, from Eminem to ‘90s legend DJ Premier. Yet some of the crew’s greatest collaborations have still come from the depths of hip-hop’s underground.
Anonymous producer Big Ghost LTD began his career as a hip-hop blogger and online personality before ever seeing his name on a production credit. Beginning his career as a parody of Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah, Big Ghost amassed a cult following thanks to his satirical humor and quick-witted writing style in album reviews and blog posts. He captured Westside Gunn’s attention with his rave reviews of Griselda Records, prompting Westside Gunn to reward him by linking him with Conway.
After forming a relationship with the crew, Big Ghost LTD made the transition from internet blogger to record producer with “Griselda Ghost,” a 2015 collaboration with Westside Gunn and Conway. The project was met with underground success and lifted the Big Ghost character into a new role. In 2020, Big Ghost and Conway linked up once again for “No One Mourns the Wicked,” which was also met with critical acclaim.
“If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed” marks the third collaboration between the Buffalo MC and the anonymous producer, and finds the two at their creative peak. Big Ghost’s production fits Conway’s gritty rapping style and has a similar sound to the duo’s previous collaborations.
Despite the often repetitive subject matter, Conway (as well as other members of Griselda) sounds fresh and engaged while lyrically tearing apart every beat he raps on.
The album opens with “J Batters,” which finds Conway at his most sinister and powerful. Rapping over a menacing Big Ghost beat, the Buffalonian shares his well-documented infatuation with firearms and his status in not only the rap game but the streets. His strongest bars tell tales of drug distribution through sports references, highlighting his top-tier lyricism: “When I craft a line, God strike me if I spat a lie / Sold eight, played with snow too, god, I’m Allen I / I don’t need rap, I just contact my guy / He throwin’ bricks like Shaq at the line when he was past his prime.”
“Way We Move” and “Sons of Kings” feature two stellar Big Ghost beats, giving the album a unique sound while also staying true to its underground roots. Conway’s lyrics alone could turn a bad beat into a good song, but Big Ghost’s production perfectly fits the Machine’s aesthetic.
Conway teams up with Ransom and Rome Streetz on the dark “Kill all Rats,” a lyrical exhibition of elite MC’s. The trio takes aim at who they believe to be the “fakes” in the rap game and makes some pretty serious threats in the process.
“They say they gon’ do somethin’ to me? Well, I cannot wait / We gon’ shoot up your wake, f--k n---as can’t even die safe,” Conway raps in the third verse.
Despite the usual themes of violence and drug distribution, what ties the album together is its gutting self-reflections. “Losses to Beginnings” includes a masterful Big Ghost beat switch that allows Conway to become more introspective about the friends he’s lost to both violence and imprisonment. He knows he must always prepare himself for the worst because of the life he lives. At this point, there’s no turning back for him.
Tracks like this show the power of great production. Big Ghost knows the beats on the project dictate Conway’s subject matter. The smoother, more mellow sounding tracks on the album give Conway the opportunity to perform more self-reflections. At the same time, the rugged and gritty sounds allow him to dive back into his braggadocious, mafioso-style bag. Big Ghost’s decision to give Conway both types of beats adds more depth to both the lyrics and the music itself.
Closing track “Forever Ago” is the album’s major highlight. The song finds Conway at his most vulnerable, where he confronts his struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and manic depression following his 2012 shooting incident that partially paralyzed his face.
He spills his guts about letting his loved ones down and the constant need to carry a firearm in response to his paranoia, all while binge drinking to numb the pain. Conway muses about his family and how he needs to serve as a role model for his kids while knowing he may not always be in the correct mental state to do so. Conway completely flips the script on the final track, which for the ordinarily braggadocious MC provides a human aspect to his normally cold-hearted demeanor.
“I got robbed, I got hit when n---as shot up my truck / I didn’t die, but what if next time I’m out of luck? / I been depressed, so every day I pick my bottle up / Drownin’ in my own sorrows, yeah, I know it’s f---ed up / But PTSD, and I’m bipolar / I compartmentalize, I never try to find closure / I wanna see my family straight before my eyes closin’ / I wanna put the drinks down, I need my mind sober / I got two sons I gotta be the example for.”
The subtle instrumentation and guitar riffs in the background give the track an eerie feel that makes it feel important. It’s an intense track and both the music and lyrics reflect that.
It’s abundantly clear throughout the project that Conway’s flows and Big Ghost’s beats fit perfectly on nearly every track. The chemistry between the two is undeniable and holds any future collaborations to an even higher standard.
“If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed” isn’t groundbreaking nor does it necessarily cover any new territory for either artist. However, it serves its purpose. In 10 compact tracks, Conway and Big Ghost manage to produce another strong collaborative album with a gritty sound and a consistent identity.
The project serves as a perfect precursor for Conway’s forthcoming Shady Records debut “God Don’t Make Mistakes” while also propelling Big Ghost LTD’s brand.
Anthony DeCicco is the senior sports editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Anthony DeCicco is the Editor-in-Chief of The Spectrum. His words have appeared in outlets such as SLAM Magazine andSyracuse.com. In 2020, he was awarded First Prize for Sports Column Writing at the Society of Professional Journalists' Region 1 Mark of Excellence Awards. In his free time, he can be found watching ‘90s Knicks games and reading NFL Mock Drafts at 3 a.m.