Westside Gunn, “Dunks” (2016)
Westside Gunn’s Flygod starts with a dusty-ass sample about sin, some hard-knock drums, and then Gunn’s opening verse: “Ay yo: arm leg leg arm head,” he spits, and you know what it is. This is grimy East Coast rap of a vintage they don’t make much anymore, but, like Bronx’s resident shogun warrior Ka, Buffalo’s Westside Gunn breathes new life into golden-age ideas.
Later tracks on the album do more lyrically, or feature flashier guests. But “Dunks” is the bracing blast of icy New York air that sets the pace. There’s no hook, just Westside Gunn and his brother Conway trading verses over uneasy strings. Gunn’s verses are Raekwon-dense with slang—“Cherry X-7 see me on tour with the Wesson / Learn your lesson, my man got 81 stressing”—but his flow is light, bobbing above the beat, and his register is pitched high like Action Bronson at his most baked. It’s a dazed, dazzling style, contrasted by Conway’s sturdier flow and icier vision (read: “I beat a fucking cop with his own flashlight”). The two have a rapport spread across albums, sometimes finishing punchlines for each other, but “Dunks” lets both breathe.
It’s low-key, for all its chilliness, but it still made me spit out my coffee in December. Rap’s tough sometimes. There are a lot of rappers, and there is a lot of rap—Westside Gunn released a half dozen albums himself last year—and I invariably miss something that splits my year-end list wide open. It’s the quiet ones that sneak up on you, lost in the clamor of the hype cycle but too determined to stay that way. I may’ve slept on Flygod, in other words, but it’ll be knocking out of my headphones every day of this freezing goddamn winter in penance.