Since the release of Westside Gunn’s 2016 debut album, FLYGOD, Griselda Records (made up of Westside, Conway the Machine, Benny the Butcher, Daringer, Beat Butcha, Armani Caesar and Boldy James) has been on a mission to take over the rap game.
As the spearhead for the boom-bap revivalist movement, Westside Gunn is hellbent on restoring that feeling of ’90s New York hip hop energy, that Wu-Tang, Mobb Deep, Nas, energy, with a modern, progressive edge to it.
Back in the day, people used to want to be Nas, Rae, and Ghost. People used to want to be Hov and all of that shit. I’m taking it back to that shit.An Interview with Westside Gunn | Passion of the Weiss
Westside Gunn’s journey to his current position has been an arduous one. Hailing from Buffalo, New York, a city that gets little attention from major record labels), Westside faced numerous setbacks.
In between prison stints and his brother Conway (who he was managing as a rapper) getting shot in the back of the head and surviving, Westside had to pick up the baton and start leading the charge for the Griselda family. From their start as a local Buffalo rap crew selling mixtapes hand-to-hand, Griselda has transformed into the leaders of boom-bap street music, signing label deals with Eminem’s Shady Records and management deals with JAY Z’s Roc Nation.
Everything about Griselda Records — the business, the music, the fashion — is the result of Westside Gunn’s vision and execution. With a relentless stream of quality music and exclusive merchandise that appeals to their core audience, Westside has always been about the organic and steady growth of their brand.
I just felt everything we do is us. It’s organic. We never try to reach to do anything that we felt was popular, everybody else was doing. We really just live our life. We rap about our life, where we from, our city, what we’ve been through, from the streets to losing people to being in prison. Everything you hear is reality for us. So we never really was trying to do anything to be popular, still to this day.Griselda Set Out To Be Your Favorite Rapper’s Favorite Rappers. It’s Paying Off | NPR
Lesson 1: Creative work comes from connecting ideas, passions and experiences
The reason why Westside and, as a whole, Griselda’s music has been so successful is the authenticity of their sound and stories. Westside really was fashion forward his whole life, Conway really did get shot in his head and survive to tell the tale, Benny really was cooking up crack in his kitchen and driving it across state lines.
Aside from Pusha T, Westside Gunn is the king of balancing the duality of high art opulence and luxury fashion with grimy street talk and drug stories. You can throw some wrestling talk into the mix as well. Westside’s biggest strength as a writer is his way of connecting ideas and vibes; his lyrics are a mixed bag of high art and street life.
We’re really tapping into the culture. We really grew up hearing that music in the late ’80s all through the grimy ’90s. We come from that same cloth. That Wu-Tang cloth? We’re cut from it. Mobb Deep, Nas, all them people that people love. The Kool G era — all of that. We was alive for it, we was around for it, we heard it soon as it came out, just like when they did it. Griselda could have came out in the ’90s.”GRISELDA SET OUT TO BE YOUR FAVORITE RAPPER’S FAVORITE RAPPERS. IT’S PAYING OFF | NPR
This idea of connecting passions and experiences, and then translating it into your writing is something I’ve picked up from listening to Westside’s music. The common writing advice is: “write what you know.” But Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, believes you should write what you like:
The best advice is not to write what you know, it’s to write what you like. Write the kind of story you like best—write the story you want to read. The same principle applies to your life and your careerSteal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative | Austin Kleon
Lesson 2: Exclusivity generates demand
It was only a few years back that Griselda Records was just a Buffalo rap crew, and Westside’s fashion brand GxFR (Griselda x Fashion Rebels) was a local brand. Now they’ve gone international, with a business network that spans Eminem, JAY Z and Virgil Abloh (artistic director of Louis Vuitton, founder of Italian luxury fashion label Off-White).
Westside has become somewhat of an underground fashion icon, fans regularly see him draped in Balenciaga coats and Burberry trenches, sitting front row at Paris Fashion Week, getting interview by GQ and Rolling Stone.
The starting point for all this, is the success of GxFR. Griselda’s merchandise is notorious for their limited runs and selling out quickly. Westside understands exclusivity generates demand, and that by creating a limited number of items, he’ll increase fan attention for the next drop, which also allows them to price the merchandise at a higher tier than other artists.
I mean, if Griselda merchandise was everywhere and easily accessible, I wouldn’t be on eBay pondering whether I should spend $700 on one of their hoodies.
You gotta think like a street corner hustler back in the day. Like six, seven people be on one corner or in the projects and they gone fight for the same fiend. And I was like, “Why do that? I can go to a whole other city with no competition and make triple.” I applied my street methods to hip-hop and fashion.Westside Gunn Is Not a Rapper | HYPEBEAST
Lesson 3: Surround yourself with good people and lift them up
As competitive as Westside can be, he’s actually super generous when it comes to his team members. He understands that Griselda, as a brand and record label, is owes much of its success to everyone making a name for themselves.
Benny the Butcher, Griselda member and Westside’s cousins, is actually the first rapper to set it off on Westside’s 2018 album, Supreme Blientele. There have also been times when the whole Griselda have gone up to a radio station, but Westside will put the spotlight on Conway and Benny.
It’s competitive, but not a competition. For Griselda to reach new heights of success moving forward, Westside needs everyone on the team to get their shine, and it’s about the final product at the end of the day.
I’m not a selfish dude, it’s about making dope music and being creative. It’s just an art piece and I want it to flow through. Some people are even scared to let somebody start their own shit. But that’s my little cousin and I wanted him to start off thumpin’. There’s even people who would be scared to come after Benny and Jadakiss. I was even gonna put a song with Benny on it and nothing from me. I’m just here to give the best music. That’s my job. That’s what I signed up for. It’s not about me, it’s about Griselda.Hermès-Level Existence: A Conversation With Westside Gunn | DJBooth
Before you go…
If you’d like to sponsor or partner with Balance the Grind, let’s talk here.
If you never want to miss one of our conversations about work, life & balance, subscribe to our newsletter.