Before a few years ago, Buffalo, N.Y., wasn’t on the rap map at all, and rap groups in general seemed to be on their way out in favor of solo quests for success. Thankfully Griselda has their own way of doing things.
In the 2000s, Westside Gunn, his half-brother Conway the Machine and their cousin Benny the Butcher had fledgling rap careers built on telling their stories of running the streets of their hometown — a city in Western New York known more for its proximity to Niagara Falls than for any sort of musical lineage that might associate it with NYC. Gunn had a long-established interest in fashion, and left rap behind for several years to serve time, focus on his clothing line and fund the rise of Conway, who was building a reputation as one of the best rappers in Buffalo. Benny, meanwhile, continued building his own buzz. Each of them was talented, and each of them brought a unique skill set. But in 2012 Conway was shot and nearly killed while leaving a club.
That night would end up being the catalyst for the next era of the newly minted hottest squad in rap. Gunn decided to return to music, so that he could build industry relationships and open doors as Conway healed. He released the mixtape Hitler Wears Hermes that same year, founded Griselda Records (taking the original name of his clothing line) and continued creating solo music before Conway was well again. They later brought Benny into the fold, and between solo albums, group offerings, in-house production and Gunn’s keen mind for business, they began to craft the sort of hard, cavernous rap that fans associated with Gotham in the ’90s.
In fact, acts who earned their reputation in the ’90s — Raekwon, Fat Joe and more — began to collaborate with Griselda while respecting their willingness to fill what had felt, despite the efforts of Roc Marciano and others, like a void in hip-hop. Listeners became disciples, following every move they made and buying up every item of merchandise they’d sell. Before long, Westside Gunn and Conway had a deal with Shady Records for solo and group releases, and Gunn and Benny had each nabbed management contracts with Roc Nation. A family-bred crew from the middle of nowhere (in rap terms, anyway) became an indie powerhouse, and began working with two of the biggest names in rap history — all on their own terms. (At press time, it was announced that Gunn’s most recent solo album, Who Made the Sunshine, would be his last with Shady.)
Perhaps the only way Griselda follows the rest of the industry is in their prolific output, and even in that space, they outperform. The crew has dropped more than three-dozen projects since the label was founded, and it’s normal for any member to release several projects in a calendar year. With two new signees in 2020, Armani Caesar and Boldy James, their output won’t be slowing down anytime soon. It’s a lot to keep up with, even for diehard fans. Below, check a list of some of Griselda’s most essential projects so far, but be warned — at this rate there will be more to add by the time you’re done reading.
Conway the Machine
Reject 2 (2015)
In 2012, Conway the Machine’s life hung in the balance when he was shot in the back of his head and neck. It took him years to recover, but he returned with a vengeance in 2015, with a face partially paralyzed by Bell’s palsy and a newly slurred voice that reflected the pain he had overcome. Reject 2 was his second mixtape of the year, after The Devil’s Reject, and it was the project that put him on underground rap’s radar beyond his Buffalo stomping ground.
Conway the Machine
EIF 2: Eat What U Kill (2018)
Benny the Butcher
Tana Talk 3 (2018)
Hitler Wears Hermes 7 (2019)
There’s a long history of street and underground rappers signing to major labels and losing the essence that earned them their followings in the first place. Some worried that fate would follow Griselda after they announced a deal with Eminem’s Shady Records. But if the crew’s ability to keep up their prolific mixtape output didn’t ease fans’ concerns, WWCD sealed the deal.
The Liz Tape (2020)
Pray for Paris (2020)
Benny the Butcher
Burden of Proof (2020)
“Last year was ’bout branding, this one’s about expanding,” Benny announces at the beginning of Burden of Proof. He’s telling the truth: Griselda had spent the previous several years building a boom-bap sound that seemingly had no aim beyond the hardcore underground fans who felt rap was missing that feel. But for his second studio album, Benny teamed up with Hit-Boy, the West Coast producer known for smashes like “N-----s in Paris” by JAY-Z and Kanye West and “Trophies” by Drake.