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Popa Wu, Wu-Tang Clan Affiliate and Mentor, Dies at 63

Popa Wu performs in New York City in 2017

Photo: Al Pereira/Getty Images

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Popa Wu, Wu-Tang Clan Affiliate and Mentor, Dies at 63

Considered the group's longtime "spiritual mentor," Popa Wu featured on numerous Wu-Tang Clan tracks

GRAMMYs/Dec 18, 2019 - 03:09 am

Popa Wu, a longtime affiliate of and mentor to legendary hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan, died Dec. 16. He was 63.

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Details regarding his cause of death have yet to be released, although reports have confirmed he died in his Brooklyn, N.Y., home.

Reports of Popa Wu's death hit the internet earlier this week when various members and associates of Wu-Tang Clan, as well as other artists and representatives from the wider hip-hop community, began posting tributes to him on social media. Wu-Tang member U-God wrote on Twitter, "RIP to the one and only PAPA WU our sincerest condolences go out to the entire family," while DJ/rapper Pete Rock, who's produced for various Wu-Tang members, lamented, "the angels got you."

Popa Wu, who also went by Freedum Allah, was largely considered a "spiritual mentor" to Wu-Tang Clan. He was a staunch supporter of the Five-Percent Nation, a cultural movement and an offshoot of the Nation of Islam rooted in 1960s America, and preached its philosophies and beliefs on several Wu-Tang Clan songs.

Read: Inside An American Hip-Hop Saga: The Wu-Tang Clan Story Enters A New Chapter

While never an official member of Wu-Tang Clan, Popa Wu was involved in the group's original formation in the early '90s. In addition to being the father of Wu-Tang-affiliated rappers ShaCronz and Free Murda, Popa Wu was also a cousin of the band's de facto leader, RZA, and was related to original members GZA and the late Ol' Dirty Bastard.

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Popa Wu's credits alongside Wu-Tang Clan and its various members include: "Wu-Revolution," the opening track of the group's 1997 GRAMMY-nominated (Best Rap Album) double album, Wu-Tang Forever; "Black Jesus" and "All That I Got Is You" from Ghostface Killah; and "North Star" from Raekwon. Popa Wu was also behind a two-part compilation series comprising a number of tracks from various Wu-Tang Clan members and associated artists: Visions Of The 10th Chamber in 2000 and the coinciding Visions Of The 10th Chamber Part II in 2008.

Most recently, Popa Wu appeared in the newly launched Hulu web TV miniseries "Wu-Tang: An American Saga," which is based on the early years and formation of Wu-Tang Clan.

Following the news of Popa Wu's death, members of Wu-Tang Clan and the larger hip-hop community commemorated his legacy and his influence on the scene.

Wu-Tang Clan Are Making History At Nashville's Ryman Auditorium

4 Reasons Why Eminem's 'The Slim Shady LP' Is One Of The Most Influential Rap Records
Eminem

Photo: Sal Idriss/Redferns/GettyImages

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4 Reasons Why Eminem's 'The Slim Shady LP' Is One Of The Most Influential Rap Records

Eminem’s major label debut, 'The Slim Shady LP,' turns 25 on Feb. 23. The album left an indelible imprint on hip-hop, and introduced the man who would go on to be the biggest-selling artist of any genre in the ensuing decade.

GRAMMYs/Feb 23, 2024 - 03:44 pm

A quarter century has passed since the mainstream music world was first introduced to a bottle-blonde enfant terrible virtuoso who grabbed everyone’s attention and wouldn’t let go

But enough about Christina Aguilera.

Just kidding. Another artist also exploded into stardom in 1999 — one who would become a big enough pop star, despite not singing a note, that he would soon be feuding with Xtina. Eminem’s biting major label debut The Slim Shady LP turns 25 on Feb. 23. While it was Eminem's second release, the album was the first taste most rap fans got of the man who would go on to be the biggest-selling artist in any genre during the ensuing decade. It also left an indelible imprint on hip-hop.

The Slim Shady LP is a record of a rapper who was white (still a comparative novelty back in 1999), working class and thus seemingly from a different universe than many mainstream rappers in the "shiny suit era." And where many of those contemporaries were braggadocious, Eminem was the loser in his rhymes more often than he was the winner. In fact, he talked so much about his real-life childhood bully on the album that the bully ended up suing him.  

It was also a record that played with truth and identity in ways that would become much more difficult once Em became world famous. Did he mean the outrageous things he was saying? Where were the knowing winks, and where were they absent? The guessing games that the album forced listeners to play were thrilling — and made all the more intense by his use of three personas (Marshall Mathers the person; Eminem the battle rapper; and Slim Shady the unhinged alter ego) that bled into each other.

And, of course, there was the rhyming. Eminem created a dizzying array of complicated compound rhymes and assonances, even finding time to rhyme "orange" — twice. (If you’re playing at home, he paired "foreign tools" with "orange juice" and "ignoring skill" with "orange bill.")

While the above are reason enough to revisit this classic album, pinpointing The Slim Shady LP's influence is a more complicated task. Other records from that year — releases from Jay-Z, Nas, Lil Wayne, Ludacris, and even the Ruff Ryders compilation Ryde or Die Vol. 1 — have a more direct throughline to the state of mainstream rap music today. So much of SSLP, on the other hand, is tied into Eminem’s particular personality and position. This makes Slim Shady inimitable; there aren’t many mainstream rappers complaining about their precarious minimum wage job, as Em does on "If I Had." (By the time of his next LP, Em had gone triple-platinum and couldn’t complain about that again himself.)

But there are aspects of SSLP that went on to have a major impact. Here are a few of the most important ones.

It Made Space For Different Narratives In Hip-Hop

Before Kanye rapped about working at The Gap, Eminem rapped about working at a burger joint. The Slim Shady LP opened up space for different narratives in mainstream rap music. 

The Slim Shady LP didn't feature typical rags-to-riches stories, tales of living the high life or stories from the street. Instead, there were bizarre trailer-park narratives (in fact, Eminem was living in a trailer months after the record was released), admissions of suicidal ideation ("That’s why I write songs where I die at the end," he explained on "Cum on Everybody"), memories of a neglectful mother, and even a disturbing story-song about dumping the corpse of his baby’s mother, rapped to his actual child (who cameos on the song). 

Marshall Mathers’ life experience was specific, of course, but every rapper has a story of their own. The fact that this one found such a wide audience demonstrated that audiences would accept tales with unique perspectives. Soon enough, popular rappers would be everything from middle-class college dropouts to theater kids and teen drama TV stars.

The Album Explored The Double-Edged Sword Of The White Rapper

Even as late in the game as 1999, being a white rapper was still a comparative novelty. There’s a reason that Em felt compelled to diss pretty much every white rapper he could think of on "Just Don’t Give a F—," and threatened to rip out Vanilla Ice’s dreadlocks on "Role Model": he didn’t want to be thought of like those guys. 

"People don't have a problem with white rappers now because Eminem ended up being the greatest artist," Kanye West said in 2015. You can take the "greatest artist" designation however you like, but it’s very true that Eminem’s success meant a categorical change in the status of white rappers in the mainstream.

This turned out to be a mixed blessing. While the genre has not, as some feared, turned into a mostly-white phenomenon, America’s racial disparities are often played out in the way white rappers are treated. Sales aside, they have more room to maneuver artistically — playing with different genres while insulting rap a la Post Malone,  or even changing styles completely like Machine Gun Kelly — to commercial approbation. Black artists who attempt similar moves are frequently met with skepticism or disinterest (see André 3000’s New Blue Sun rollout, which was largely spent explaining why the album features no rapping). 

Sales are worth speaking about, too. As Eminem has repeatedly said in song, no small amount of his popularity comes from his race — from the fact that white audiences could finally buy music from a rapper who looked like them. This was, as he has also bemusedly noted, the exact opposite of how his whiteness worked for him before his fame, when it was a barrier to being taken seriously as a rapper. 

For better, worse, or somewhere in between, the sheer volume of white rappers who are currently in the mainstream is largely traceable to the world-beating success of The Slim Shady LP.

It Was Headed Towards An Odd Future

SSLP laid groundwork for the next generation of unconventional rappers, including Tyler, the Creator.

Tyler is a huge Eminem fan. He’s said that listening to Em’s SSLP follow-up The Marshall Mathers LP was "how I learned to rap." And he’s noted that Em’s Relapse was "one of the greatest albums to me." 

"I just wanted to rap like Eminem on my first two albums," he once told GQ. More than flow, the idea of shocking people, being alternately angry and vulnerable, and playing with audience reaction is reflected heavily on Tyler’s first two albums, Goblin and Wolf. That is the template The Slim Shady LP set up. While Tyler may have graduated out of that world and moved on to more mature things, it was following Em’s template that first gained him wide notice. 

Eminem Brought Heat To Cold Detroit

The only guest artist to spit a verse on The Slim Shady LP is Royce da 5’9". This set the template for the next few years of Eminem’s career: Detroit, and especially his pre-fame crew from that city, would be his focus. There was his duo with Royce, Bad Meets Evil, whose pre-SSLP single of "Nuttin’ to Do"/"Scary Movies" would get renewed attention once those same two rappers had a duet, smartly titled "Bad Meets Evil," appear on a triple-platinum album. And of course there was the group D12, five Detroit rappers including his best friend Proof, with whom Eminem would release a whole album at the height of his fame.

This was not the only mainstream rap attention Detroit received in the late 1990s. For one thing, legendary producer James "J Dilla" Yancey, was a native of the city. But Eminem’s explosion helped make way for rappers in the city, even ones he didn’t know personally, to get attention. 

The after-effects of the Eminem tsunami can still be seen. Just look at the rise of so-called "scam rap" over the past few years. Or the success of artists like Babyface Ray, Kash Doll, 42 Dugg, and Veeze. They may owe little to Em artistically, but they admit that he’s done great things for the city — even if they may wish he was a little less reclusive these days

Is Eminem's "Stan" Based On A True Story? 10 Facts You Didn't Know About The GRAMMY-Winning Rapper

Nothing To F With: How 'Enter The Wu-Tang' Established One Of The Greatest Rap Groups Of All Time
(From left) Ol' DIrty Bastard, GZA, U-God, Method Man, Raekwon, Masta Killa and Inspectah Deck of Wu-Tang Clan

Photo: Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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Nothing To F With: How 'Enter The Wu-Tang' Established One Of The Greatest Rap Groups Of All Time

In 1993, Staten Island's Wu-Tang Clan laid the ground for hardcore hip-hop acts to follow. Their weapon of choice: 'Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)' — a debut LP with an outsized impact on hip-hop and the trajectory of its members.

GRAMMYs/Nov 9, 2023 - 02:21 pm

In the early 1990s, hip-hop was on the verge of being its broadest. 

Hip-hop had grown far beyond its origins in the Bronx, as acts like Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, and De La Soul drew listeners outside New York’s five boroughs. Elsewhere, a legion of MCs from L.A., the Bay, and the South were cementing their legacies. 

Amidst the plethora of sonic riches of hip-hop's golden age, Staten Island’s Wu-Tang Clan stands out. Comprised of lyrical spartans GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Masta Killah, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, later Cappadonna, U-God, master producer RZA, and the late, charismatic force Ol’ Dirty Bastard, the group laid the ground for hardcore hip-hop acts to follow. 

Their weapon of choice: 1993’s Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) — which celebrates 30 years on Nov. 9. Enter The Wu-Tang sparked a new brand of hardcore, gritty street rap that transported listeners with its dark sonic landscape. 

Filled with martial arts and comic book references, loogie-spitting posse cuts, and mystifying street tales, Enter The Wu-Tang drew audiences to the borough of "Shaolin." The album's darkly-brewed beats and mixes had an amateurish charm, but all nine tracks were laced with RZA’s early musical wizardry and ear for ominous, hard-hitting instrumentals. 

For every musical or budgetary limitation, Enter The Wu-Tang boasted some of the best lyrical assaults the genre has ever heard. Now-classic songs like "Da Mystery of Chessboxin’" and "Protect Ya Neck" and conjured visions of the Shaolin streets, and added to New York’s stronghold on the genre. 

Unlike the more socially conscious and jazz-influenced sounds of New York rap at the time, the influential album was marked with soundbites from kung-fu flicks and sped up soul samples with an eerie, grudgeful echoe. Among the gallery of inspiring cuts, "C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rules Everything Around Me)" features a sample of the Charmels’ 1967 song "As Long As I’ve Got You." 

Despite the group’s size, every member had a stand out moment on the project. And most, with the exception of Masta Killa, have several. Method Man goes full nuclear on his self-titled track, Raekwon and Ghostface show early flashes of their collaborative magic on "Can It All Be So Simple," and the infectious charm of Ol' Dirty Bastard runs wild on "Protect Ya Neck." 

The album was off-kilter in design, but Wu-Tang carved a path for hard-edged acts to follow. The album even inspired New York instrumental soul group El Michels Affair, which released their own version of the album, Enter The 37th Chamber, in 2007 in echo of the legendary beats sampled on Wu-Tang's the classic project. 

Since its release, Enter The Wu-Tang has sold more than 3 million records and landed on countless all-time best album rankings. As of June 2023, the album is at the No. 27 spot on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Of All Time list. For its relatively short length, Wu-Tang Clan's debut has had an outsized impact on hip-hop — both in terms of influence and the trajectory of its members. 

With Enter The Wu-Tang and their subsequent releases, Wu-Tang cornered the rap market in the 1990s. Before Wu-Tang, there were no other notable rap acts from Staten Island. While Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx held most of the industry’s grip, Wu-Tang helped blaze the path for acts outside of those regions to flourish. 

While groups like Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, N.W.A. and Run-D.M.C. are certainly influential, the star power within Wu-Tang is unique. Between the group’s debut and follow-up album Wu-Tang Forever — which was nominated for Best Rap Album at the 1998 GRAMMYs — GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Ol' Dirty Bastard, and others released critically acclaimed solo albums.

Method Man even received a Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group GRAMMY for Tical’s "I'll Be There For You/You're All I Need To Get By" at the 1995 GRAMMYs. Outside the accolades, Raekwon’s Only Built For Cuban Links and Ghostface’s Ironman lit up the New York streets in 1995, and GZA’s Liquid Swords remains one of the more acclaimed outings from the group’s more withdrawn characters.

While some were more commercially successful than others, they all added to the group's influence and arguably proved its distinction for best rap group of all time. 

Read more: RZA’s Constant Elevation: From Wu-Tang to 'Kill Bill,' The Rapper/Producer Discusses His Creative Process And History Ahead Of Bobby Digital Reprise

Method and New Jersey legend Redman brought their comedic chops to the big screen in How High. The pairing was like a hip-hop Cheech and Chong, and the film went on to become a cult weed movie classic. Like Meth, RZA and other members appeared in TV shows and films for decades. 

In 1995, Wu-Tang Clan established the apparel brand Wu Wear, one of the first artist-inspired lines in music history. It opened the doors for hip-hop culture in retail, and inspired a global interest in Wu-Tang's simple, raw style. The group and the apparel line helped usher in the militant street style of the era, complete with baggy jeans, oversized t-shirts, Timberland boots, durags, gold fronts, sports jerseys, and puff jackets. 

As the group grew in popularity, the members joined forces with business partner Oliver "Power" Grant and opened four Wu Wear stores across the country, including one on Victory Boulevard in Staten Island. The line was carried by retail giants such as Macy’s and renamed Wu-Tang Brand in 2008, and Grant discontinued the Wu-Wear line. But after RZA joined hands with Live Nation Merchandise, the brand was relaunched in 2017. 

The cult interest in Wu-Tang's image continued. In 1999, Powers developed a video game centered on the group, called Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style. The 3D fighting game for PlayStation featured characters based on the group members’ stage personas and mirrored the martial arts themes in their music. They also provided voiceover work and music contributions to the four-player game. 

Other artists followed Wu-Tang's blueprint in the decades since the group debuted. Acts like Mobb Deep, Nas, the Notorious B.I.G. and others adopted the hardcore rap style mastered by Wu-Tang — but none harnessed the same manpower or presence as the group over the decades. But the 2010s saw the re-emergence of rap supergroups. 

In Harlem, the Diplomats and ASAP Mob captured the same collaborative and entrepreneurial spirit of Wu-Tang, but with a more varied musical approach. Out West, the Tyler, The Creator-led Odd Future surpassed the 11-member group in scale, but their work and impact haven’t matched that of the Staten Island collective. 

The closest to mirror Wu-Tang was Pro Era, which adopted the classic, boom-bap sound of the '90s. The mega group also pursued an assortment of branding and entertainment ventures, and one of the group’s founders, Joey Bada$$, even played Inspectah Deck in the Hulu biographical series "Wu-Tang: An American Saga." The group’s presence also inspired future Staten Island products like Killarmy, G4 Boyz, and Cleotrapa.

Given the group’s accolades and cultural impact in the decades since their debut, it’s true: "Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothing to f— with." Its members have redefined longevity in rap by continuing to have a hand on the pulse of popular culture, both in music, film, TV, and entertainment. Few other groups have matched their successes, and as the collective continues to etch its path, there’s no telling how many more barriers they will break. 

A Guide To New York Hip-Hop: Unpacking The Sound Of Rap's Birthplace From The Bronx To Staten Island

Westside Gunn On How Virgil Abloh & "Coming To The End" Of His Rap Career Inspired 'And Then You Pray For Me'
Westside Gunn

Photo: Prolifickid

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Westside Gunn On How Virgil Abloh & "Coming To The End" Of His Rap Career Inspired 'And Then You Pray For Me'

A self-proclaimed "super-vet" of the rap world, Westside Gunn knows his time as a rapper is nearing its finale — but first, he wants to "give you a journey" with his new album, 'And Then You Pray For Me.'

GRAMMYs/Oct 18, 2023 - 02:07 pm

When Westside Gunn refers to himself as "the king of the underground," it's not hyperbole. The veteran rapper has spent the last decade-plus providing hip-hop with a streetwise, neo-boom-bap style that echoes heavily in the music of today. And as the founder of independent hip-hop label Griselda (and its related rap collective), Gunn's influence is felt through stars like his brother, Conway the Machine, his cousin, Benny the Butcher, and the enigmatic Mach-Hommy. 

But Gunn considers himself more a curator than a musician. He is obsessed with fashion and high art, more prone to mention going to see opera or buying a painting than jumping into a rhyme cipher.

All of Westside Gunn's obsessions come together on his new album And Then You Pray For Me. The rapper is positioning the project as a sequel to his 2020 LP Pray For Paris, which was inspired by Gunn attending a Paris Fashion Week runway show as a guest of the late Virgil Abloh. Abloh was the art director for both albums, which feature figures from iconic artworks laden with Gunn's signature chains; And Then You Pray For Me uses both the Mona Lisa and Caravaggio's The Entombment of Christ

While the 21-track album features plenty of Gunn's trademark neo-boom-bap sounds, he updates things a bit by including some songs that have a trap music influence. It contains stellar guest turns from old friends like Conway, Benny, Stove God Cooks, Rome Streetz, and Boldy James. But there are also surprising appearances from artists you might not normally associate with Griselda — Jeezy, Rick Ross, Denzel Curry, and Ty Dolla $ign.

Gunn has recently referred to And Then You Pray For Me as his last album, but don't expect him to slow down. He's making movies, planning big moves in the fashion world, and continuing to guide the careers of other artists. 

GRAMMY.com caught up with Gunn as he was, naturally, shopping in New York City's SoHo neighborhood ("I'm over here on Mercer [Street], so it's Lanvin, Balenciaga, Marni, Bape — it's all right here," he boasts). We discussed his creative pairing with Abloh, why he's really a curator at heart, and his views on underground rap's evolution over the past decade. 

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Not to start on a super serious note, but as I was preparing for this conversation, I realized that we just passed the 17-year anniversary of the murder of your cousin, rapper Machine Gun Blak. If he could see you now, and if he could hear the new album, what do you think he might say?

First of all, he'd be all on [the album]. But he'd be super proud, man. Even when he's not here, he's one of my biggest fans, I feel like. His energy is Westside Gunn. Westside Gunn is a perfect example of Machine Gun Blak — just the raw, the grittiness. The grimy part of Westside Gunn, that's Machine Gun Blak. That's his spirit.

But I think he would love this album. It's a great piece of work. It's my favorite that I ever worked on. Out of all my projects ever, this is the most fun I ever had making one. 

Does it feel like it's been 17 years since he died?

Nah. It doesn't seem like 17 years, honestly. And it's crazy because I just went to his grave site. I remember [the day he died] like it was yesterday. I vividly remember that day — what was going on, what I was doing, where I was going, everything.

Where were you when you found out? 

See, back in those days, that's when we were still in the streets. So I was just about to go make a move. I was talking to him on the phone, and I was like, "I'll hit you when I get over to Atlanta." Because at that time, I was making moves. That's before all of this. It's the things I rap about now. When you hear the lyrics, these are those days. 

He called me, and it was a situation. He was talking about it, and I was like, "Sorry to cut you off, but I gotta go handle this. When I get there, I'll hit you back so we can finish talking about it."

At that time I was still catching the Greyhound from Alabama to Atlanta. But it was crazy because I missed the bus, and I never miss the bus. So I was on my way back to the house in Alabama, and my grandma called me.  

This era of your career, which this album is a cap to, began in 2012 when you realized you had to step up and be an artist because Conway The Machine had gotten shot and you weren't sure he'd be able to rap anymore. I've always been curious about your state of mind at that moment.

Even then I was still in-the-streets Gunn. We was working so hard, man. I was acting as his manager and investing my bread, my time. I really wanted Conway to be the biggest artist in the world. Unfortunately, when he got shot, it was a devastating blow.

Of course, that's my brother. That's the number one thing. And it was also like, the streets is crazy. I thought, I'm a smart guy. If I just put in my effort, I could really make this happen. At that time, I was really in the streets, and I felt like the [other] rappers weren't. It was like, you're really rapping about us

It was that kind of mentality — that if I come in this game, can't nobody touch me, because I'm as real as it comes. I just put my hustle skills from the streets into this, and it all worked out. 

During the heyday of that era of Griselda, you guys released a flood of projects — dozens and dozens of mixtapes and albums. 

It was a flood. It was the craziest flood since No Limit [Records].

What was a typical day like for you when all that was going on, circa the mid-2010s?

Just being at [producer] Daringer's house. Getting high, eating f—in' Franco's pizza, drinking Loganberry, and Daringer cooking the craziest beats you ever heard in your life. The rest is history. Just having fun, man. Everybody had they hustles. Believe it or not, even Daringer was hustling! We from Buffalo, man.

You've always been someone who understood the importance of branding. Even on early Griselda projects, you'd promote GxFR [Griselda by Fashion Rebels, Gunn's clothing line at the time]. 

Yeah, because that's the thing: Griselda Records comes from Griselda by Fashion Rebels. I had the clothing brand first. I was already doing a clothing line and it was just like, What am I going to name this record company?

I've always been into fashion. I actually do more fashion-related things than hip-hop-related things. I'm a true designer. I've been designing since I was a kid, and that's the thing that I want to get into more. 

I've been rhyming since '12. That's over a decade. If we're looking at NBA years, NFL years, I'm already a super-vet. I'm not trying to be one of them dudes that went from averaging 40 a game to now I'm averaging five, looking crazy and old. 

I know when to gracefully bow out. And I know I'm coming to the end. I don't want to keep rapping forever about the same things, because in my life I'm maturing. I'm doing other things. I'm collecting art. I'm going to see operas. 

But it's not the end right now. Right now, I just want to give people the best music. And I also want to let people in. I've been doing these [YouTube] episodes for this album where I've been letting people into my life for the first time in my career. Everybody has been loving it. 

For the first time, people are actually getting to see the inside of Westside Gunn's life. I think that's one of the things that I lacked on, was letting people in. If I would have let people in a long time ago, I'd be way bigger. But everything is about time, and I'm not tripping.

Before I hang up the mic, I still want to kind of give you a journey with the music. This new project, it's a super different vibe. I've never made an album sound like this. It's the perfect art piece that I could have possibly created.

It's just the space I'm in in life. It comes with maturity — traveling the world, kids getting older, things like that. You can hear the music has matured. It's still raw though. That's the thing about me. I'm still gonna give you that Griselda Westside Gunn. That's never gonna change. I'm not going too far out of context. 

For this album, you've introduced the alter ego "Super Flygod." What does that name mean? 

Listen, man, Super Flygod right now is talking to you with a ponytail. I'm on another level. Super Flygod is what I've always been, but times 10. I'm super bougie. I love five-star meals. I love five-star hotels. I love wearing $10,000 outfits. I love getting massages. I love smelling good. I love just looking good. That's Super Flygod. 

It's just a different energy. It's something the game never seen before. I did the unthinkable at least 100 times already. I'm still doing it. 

What was it like for you to see Conductor Williams — a producer who has worked with Gunn and Griselda for many years — land a single on a Drake album?

Beautiful. That's what we do it for. He did exactly what he was supposed to do, and that's be on the No. 1 album in the world. He deserves all of that. That's what we're in this game for — to be able to leave a legacy and take care of our babies. So for him to be on the No. 1 album, that's a super blessing. 

That's the thing about Conductor — it's just gonna be the beginning. He's on my new album a few times. So he's gonna have a hell of a month. It's the biggest month of his life. Business is booming for Conductor. 

You've used the word "curation" a lot over the course of your career, and especially in regards to this album. What does that word mean to Westside Gunn?

First of all, that's my favorite thing to do on an album. Curation from me is me. I can curate for you, I can curate for MC Hammer. It's you, but it's me

When I curate a project, that's me naming every song, that's me picking every beat, that's me doing the sequence, that's me making the art cover, that's me doing the merch. You see what I'm saying? It's you, but it's me. All you're doing is showing up and rapping. That's all you gotta do.

Virgil Abloh is credited with art directing this album's cover. What did that mean, specifically? 

When I went out to Paris [for Paris Fashion Week in 2020], I really wasn't going to make music. I just felt the energy from Virgil having me out there. When I hit him and told him it was done, it was just like, "There's only one person that can do this cover." It had to be him. 

Virgil was an icon. So to have Virgil cooking up for you is already legendary. This don't happen to nobody from Buffalo, man. But when he was cooking, he was making me multiple pieces. At first, the idea was, I'm gonna do a trilogy [of Pray albums]. I was gonna have the Mona Lisa be the picture that represents all three of them together. I was thinking [of a] box set, with a Mona Lisa front and three different covers inside. 

Once he passed, it changed what I wanted to do with it. But we were already talking about dropping [a second Pray album]. We were already going to re-release the first shirts we did, and I was going to do new ones. But when [his death] happened, I put everything on a standstill and I didn't really know how I wanted to approach it again.

It was like, Damn, should I do the trilogy, or should I just make it a part two? I had different options. At the end of the day, it was just like, I think I'm just going to finish it up. I really want to give the people the work we created together before I throw in the towel. I felt it was only right. That's something that I want the world to always see and remember — what me and him cooked up together.

You say in your new YouTube documentary series that this new album will probably go over people's heads. What aspects of it do you think people might not get initially, or take a few years to catch up to?

The same reason why they're catching up now to the s— that I was doing five years ago, and everybody acts like it's new. I've always been ahead of my time. Always. I probably get copied off of the most in the industry. But you see that I've always gotten respect from everybody: from the Drakes, from the Tylers, the Rockys, Kendricks, Coles, anybody. I'm a one-of-one. It's never been seen before. 

The respect I get, it could be on a mainstream level, but then I could still be on an underground level. I can do something with an Estee Nack, but then turn around and do a song with Mary J. Blige. That's who Westside Gunn is. I got songs with everybody you can possibly think of, rhyming-wise or production-wise. All the legends, even our fallen legends. I can't even think of no other emcee that got a record with Sean Price, Prodigy, DMX, and MF DOOM. It's impossible to name another one. 

Westside Gunn is so cultured, people don't even understand. That's what I mean about [being] over people's heads. People still don't even get it. They're scratching their head, like, "How is this guy on [Kanye West's] Donda? How is this guy on [Travis Scott's] Utopia?"

There's a big part of underground rap now that can be traced directly to what Roc Marciano began doing in 2010, and what you guys started doing just a few years later. What do you think when you see a lot of your aesthetic from that time in the current underground scene?

The current underground scene, I'm loving it. Because you gotta think — at that time, like you said, it was only really Roc Marci, Action Bronson — a couple heads. That's in the space that we come from. Of course, we still had the J. Coles and Big Seans and all that, but that was another lane. We're in the same neighborhood, two different streets. 

But on our street, people on the block was Roc Marci and Action Bronson. Danny Brown, he lived on the block. People like that. When I came on the scene, that's all it was. But I took the bull by the horns. Like I said, I'm a hustler. I was still hustling in the street. I had a hustler mentality, and once I told myself I had to quit cold turkey, I never looked back. I just went extra hard. 

With the new heads, I'm proud of them. At the end of the day, I'm happy that I was able to be somebody that they could study. That they could see these vinyl deals or how this merch is played — I'm kind of like the blueprint. I'm not going to say I'm the king of the underground, but I'm the king of the underground.

Even though I'm the king of the underground, I'm still on Donda. I'm still on Utopia. I'm still making all these big songs and these big records. And even yesterday, we put up the Post Malone clip saying if he could work with anybody, it'd be me. 

I'm the one that put the most points on the board, in every way possible. But this is also showing the new heads, If I could work hard, I'm gonna be the next Roc Marci, I'm gonna be the next Action Bronson in that space.

What is the possibility of getting the original Griselda trio of you, your brother and your cousin back together for a project? 

That's coming in '24. You don't even you got to ask twice. That's already done, my brother. 

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

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He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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