Last December, Westside Gunn tweeted that “2020 my last year rapping I’m going down as one of the Illest Ever.” It’s a tenuous task to believe any rapper’s retirement talk. But Westside is one of the few who just might leave the booth. His desire to move on from the mic doesn’t come from dissatisfaction with a label or tepid fan reception to a project — the transition is on his terms. The Buffalo rhymer just has a desire to explore other things.
He told Hypebeast in April that, “I don’t even wanna be considered a rapper. I bring so much more to the game. I love art, fashion, design, executive producing, putting songs together with the skits — all of that sh*t I love more than actually rapping.”
The Buffalo rhymer’s passions reflect throughout his catalog. He’s won his fanbase penning scribes of Prada and peril over impeccably curated soundbeds. His ear for beats has been apparent throughout his 2020 output, including his Pray For Paris, FLYGOD Is An Awesome God II albums, as well as his executive production work on Boldy James and Jay Versace’s The Versace Tape.
He recently promised “Only 3 more months left and I’m still at peace with my decision but this will be a dope 3 months,” and he’s hit the 4th quarter of 2020 looking good. Enter Who Made The Sunshine, a feature-filled effort where he plays player-coach for Griselda. His stream of consciousness, imagery-filled bars are intact throughout the project, but his most impressive effort is fusing 16 artists onto the 11-track project while keeping it cohesive. This is perhaps the boldest exhibition of his executive producer skills — imagine DJ Khaled except with infectious gun ad libs and bars like “Allah would never make another me / Dropped the ki and whipped up anothеr ki’ from “The Butcher And The Blade.”
Benny The Butcher and Conway also show up on the sinister track, adding another memorable song to the trio’s seemingly endless array of heat. Newer Griselda affiliates Boldy James and Armani Caesar are also on the album, with Boldy James making a strong appearance on the meditative “All Praises” with Jadakiss, and Armani Caesar popping up twice.
It’s Armani and Westside’s “Liz Loves Luger” that’s one of the album’s most demonstrative moments. There was an entire generation of late-2000s and early-2010s era New York-based spitters who floundered when it came to exploring romance and sex because they veered too far out of their comfort zone. There were too many stunt features or out-of-place songs that made it too apparent that getting sultry wasn’t their lane. In 2020, that kind of MC would try this track with a London On The Track type beat, a Tinashe feature, and maybe some off-putting autotune.
But Westside knew he didn’t need all that. He kept it inhouse with Armani Caesar, used a warm Alchemist beat that fit the rest of the album’s production, and let his charisma do the rest. That kind of insight is what a slew of MCs need to be paying him for. The beauty in Westside Gunn’s ear for beats is that he can choose production with a range of sample source that all serve to immerse a listener and have their head nodding while waiting for the next bar.
Any good coach, or executive producer, also knows how to get the most of a veteran that the rest of the game may not be thinking about in current terms. On Who Made The Sunshine, that vet is Slick Rick. The rap legend is largely viewed as a classic act, but as Jay-Z and Black Thought (who killed “Ishkabibbles”) show, a true MC will always have some bars on deck. Westside, ever a student of hip-hop, knows that. His flamboyant narratives are reminiscent of Ghostface Killah, who has always lauded Slick Rick as an influence. By showing love to Slick Rick and collaborating with him on “Good Night,” (titled after the closing of Rick’s “Children’s Story” classic) he paid homage to the past but also made it clear that he can still make noise in this era.
Now, the “Westside Gunn should EP a Slick Rick project” tweets will be in abundance in a way they never were before. He also paired Rick with Busta Rhymes on “Ocean Prime,” where he set the table and let the legends go from there over an idyllic soundscape. The yin-and-yang of Westside and Busta’s energy with Slick Rick’s makes the track another winner.
That said, the production choices aren’t flawless. “Frank Murphy’ sounds like a mere imitation of Hitler Wears Hermes 7’s “Undertaker Vs. Goldberg,” while the rock-tinged “98 Sabres” was a tad too ambitious, though the bars are right on both tracks. Even in those missteps, however, his intent was apparent, which is all one could ask for from someone overseeing a project.
Who Made The Sunshine shows that If Westside Gunn really does retire, he’ll still be a staple in rap through EPed projects, and maybe even the occasional “boom boom boom” surprise appearance.
Who Made The Sunshine is out now via Griselda/Shadey/Interscope. Get it here.