As Griselda’s demand rises, so goes their supply. In 2020, following their late-2019 major label debut WWCD, the Buffalo, New York hip-hop group have followed a similar lead as that of Wu-Tang Clan in the mid-’90s, to whom they’re so often compared, delivering a wealth of solo material that’s kept the momentum going. In the past nine months alone, we’ve seen two albums and a mixtape from Conway, a mixtape and a forthcoming full-length from Benny the Butcher, and three full LPs from Westside Gunn—an overstuffed box set’s worth of gritty street rap, crackly boom-bap beats and lingering menace.
Who Made the Sunshine, Westside Gunn’s third album of 2020 and his first for Shady Records, is a prime slab of gangster narratives that goes harder than its two predecessors. That says a lot given that you could spend the better part of an afternoon listening to nothing but recent offerings from Gunn, but he saved some of his most immersive, hardcore tracks for Sunshine, an album whose bloodstained children’s-drawing cover art seems to accurately encapsulate its 39 minutes: surreal and psychedelic lo-fi beds of samples, warbly and hypnotic, juxtaposed against lyrics of cocaine warfare and persistent onomatopoeic gunshot sounds.
Gunn remains an outsize personality, his all-caps, all-exclamation-points delivery setting the stage for each concise cruise through streets littered with shells and broken vials. His strength is less his one-liners and more the sheer oh-shit! feeling through which he delivers each line, a fierce but fluid device no matter what he’s actually saying. But he makes room for some guest rappers that leave heavy enough impact on their own, from Black Thought (“Them fiends’ histamines keep ’em with a snotty nose/What a waste like the place where the shotty goes“), Jadakiss (“Covid-19 is the stamp on the dope now“), or Slick Rick (“Said ‘fast life, my n*gga, please don’t ask ’bout it Richard/Later on, breaking news, chalk outline a bitch, hurt“). Westside Gunn’s the architect, but he more than generous in giving space to everyone’s individual designs.
There are stronger showcases for Gunn as a rapper, perhaps, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more stunning set of productions this year. Beat Butcha and Daringer conjure up some otherworldly twinkle on “The Butcher and the Blade,” while The Alchemist cooks up a druggy haze on “All Praises,” and Just Blaze splatters the intense closer “98 Sabers” with horror soundtrack synths. Who Made the Sunshine is less horrorcore than giallo rap, as much style as substance, imprinting an image of deep saturated colors and hallucinogenic psychedelic violence.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.