Westside Gunn’s work, like that of his Griselda Records partners, comes as steadily as an IV drip, though one imagines he would only accept the metaphor if the IV bag were designer and the needle came from Italy. Last week the second half of the eighth installment in his Hitler Wears Hermes mixtape series was released, following a couple of minor delays, roughly a month after the first. For most artists this hitch would be unremarkable—two discs issued in four weeks under the same umbrella title could reasonably be considered one project—but for the confrontationally prolific Buffalo rapper, it has the effect of making the records feel exactly as distinct from one another as all his prior LPs do, which is to say: not very.
Gunn is fond of the term “curator,” which serves to deemphasize the importance of his rapping per se. This is wise. Gunn’s nasally drawl is wonderful as added texture, but loses its power the more central it is forced to become; the writing is reliably OK—imagine a Balenciaga safety net—though prone to cliche and shapelessness. But he is clearly a superb A&R. The Griselda records are smartly sequenced with the in-house producers’ roles expanding and contracting based on who has the hot hand at the moment, and the near-uniform excellence of the guest verses implies both a loyalty among his collaborators and a willingness to ask for rewrites. And every album is stitched together by interludes of wrestling promos, old fashion ads, or audio from art auctions in a way that highlights the artificiality of the world Gunn coaxes listeners into. Each half of Hitler Wears Hermes 8 (the first is maddeningly subtitled Sincerely Adolf, while the second is simply Side B) leans heavily on collaborators and this mise en scene, the sum total being yet another Westside Gunn project that is supremely competent, yet memorable only in fits.
On each disc, Gunn shrewdly cedes space to these guests, who steal song after song: On “Claires Back,” Benny the Butcher doesn’t rap about writing letters in jail as much as he raps about the recipient, and the way she dutifully saves them; Boldy James realizes on “716 Mile” that his watch has Roman numerals where the Arabic digits are supposed to be; Lil Wayne continues his breathless run of features on “Bash Money,” even sliding in a Dash store reference he’s likely had in the chamber since the late W. Bush years. Sincerely Adolf makes a lot of room for the Syracuse rapper Stove God Cooks, whose vignette on “Vogue Cover” about waiting at the plug’s house while he “mowed the lawn, washed all his cars, and watered the flowers” has already earned its own cult fandom online. Gunn allows these guests to play off of him like a generous actor, receding into the background when appropriate—though HWH8 runs a combined 103 minutes, few if any Gunn verses overstay their welcome.
If the broader project does not quite distinguish itself in his catalog, HWH8 does contain some of Gunn’s most accomplished moments. The dreamlike “TV Boy” is one of the finest songs he’s ever recorded, Gunn practically gleeful as he weaves his way through utter grime. And his chemistry with Mach-Hommy—the two recently reconciled after a long feud, collaborating on Mach’s astounding Pray For Haiti—continues to yield songs as gripping as “RIP Bergdorf,” where Mach boasts about spending 30 grand on sweatsuits. Still, these peaks—like the infrequent low points—are momentary blips. Even when the halves diverge (where Sincerely Adolf is relatively precise, Side B sprawls; where B skews toward harder drums and more punishing sounds, Adolf is atmospheric) they feel as if they’re part of one long data dump, a perfectly pleasant stream of 1s and 0s.
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