Conway the Machine is a Buffalo rapper and founding member of Griselda Records along with his frequent collaborators and family members Westside Gunn and Benny the Butcher. His latest project From King to a God is considered his debut studio effort, although it follows a prolific run of albums and mixtapes since he signed to Shady Records in 2017.
FKTAG is the third project he’s dropped this year, following two well-received EPs that were uniform with the Griselda style that many fans have grown accustomed to hearing over their litany of recent releases. Westside, Benny, and Conway all bring a unique flair to this style, but the Griselda sound has cornered a niche for itself within the rap game pretty patently.
It’s a grimy, infernal sound that suits the rappers up as villains of their own world of drugs, violence, and extreme hedonism. While nothing entirely new to the rap game, and easily traceable to landmark groups like the Wu-Tang Clan, the contributions of this older style with a modern flavor are certainly welcomed in 2020.
From King to a God is an extension of this sound, which has its inherent shortcomings, but with a lot more added to it. Conway has put himself ahead of his running mates lyrically with this project and brings both a cerebral and hefty pen to the page on every track here. The production is diverse, layered, and interesting throughout.
The Wu-Tang influence remains strong with many songs reminding of RZA’s classic production laced into projects like Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers and the GZA’s Liquid Swords. Songs in particular that summon an unambiguous RZA influence are “Lemon,” which features a densely amazing verse from Method Man, go figure, and “Front Lines,” a brutally grim track that attacks issues relating to police brutality, race relations, and hypocrisy.
What is so fantastic about this project is that Conway dips into areas outside of the typical Griselda sound on many songs and pulls it off masterfully. This project could have come off as an incohesive listen, but its versatility is an added bonus to Conway’s skillful rhymes. The track “Anza,” produced by Murda Beatz, is a prime example of Conway extending his artistic reach outside of his forte and killing it. It’s a swagger-drenched pop-rap tune with an earworm keyboard lead that just oozes charisma.
The track “Juvenile Hell” is self-explanatory: a dark reflection on the hellish background that Conway triumphed over to get where he is now. New York emcees Flee Lord, Lloyd Banks, and Havoc from Mobb Deep fame collide with Conway on this song to depict a gruesome image that feels unnervingly real. Freddie Gibbs teams up with Conway on the back end of this project to pen a heartfelt track about their remorse for past transgressions and how they move forward unfazed. Both rappers showcase their singing talents over a spindle of sour melodies on this song and it exceeds expectations.
There is no disruptive lull in the tracklist here that warrants a skip or losing interest. Not every track is as remarkable or standout as some others, but the highlights are spread amongst the 12 songs on the standard edition of this album. FKTAG would be a frontrunner for album of the year in most years, especially in 2020. This separates it from the crowd. Conway elevated his game here, maintained the substance of his previous output, and brought a host of spectacular songs to complement the notorious Griselda brand.