Keeping up with the Griselda boys is… tiring. Between Benny The Butcher, Westside Gunn, and Conway The Machine alone, there’s at least a tape, album, or some other project dropping every few months it seems. This kind of output is very indicative of the way success is measured these days – quick projects to keep the streaming machine chugging along and the plays up – but it’s also indicative of the grind these dudes are on. It also means it can be hard for individual projects to stand out. How can you appreciate a particularly beautiful snowflake when it falls into a mass of cold white? Well, be as uncommon and unique of an individual like Conway is for starters.
Something told me I need to listen to God Don’t Make Mistakes. High off the The Plugs I Met EPs and Burden of Proof album from Benny, as well as stellar work from adjacent artists and collaborators like Boldy James, I just felt like singling this particular album out and listening. February 25 came along, I popped this 48-minute fucker on and… damn. Like the fiends Conway describes in his music, I can’t put the shit down. I haven’t gone more than a few days without looping this album at least a couple times. Going to the store? I’m strapped up with “Drumwork”. Walking around my very safe, suburban neighborhood? I’m coming with that “Piano Love”, looking like I just watched a “John Woo Flick”. Commuting to work? I’m “Stressed” with “Wild Chapters” behind me in my life, but I “Lock Load” for what’s coming.
Anyway, y’all get it. What I’m trying to say is, there’s a reason I literally just sat down at my laptop on a whim during a snowy Monday morning and decided to knock this review out real quick. I need to talk about God Don’t Make Mistakes.
If you’re unfamiliar with Griselda and Conway The Machine, they’ve garnered a big amount of love over the past decade for being some of the most grimy, mostly approachable stuff hip-hop has to offer currently. Hard-bodied boom bap beats with slow and tense samples, crime bars that these days could get the artists indicted – they’re (former) underground darlings that old heads love, and new heads… well, I’m actually not sure what younger hip-hop fans overall think of rappers like Conway. This may be an old head thing, I don’t know, but since I’m basically an old head in a slightly younger body, this is my shit.
I think the most important thing with God Don’t Make Mistakes is what makes any rap record notable and charming: the reality of it. Between the flying bullets and bricks of coke being moved in the trap – a very real thing in and of itself – Conway just talks about his life, and almost none of it is pretty. In 2012, the same year Griselda was established, Conway was shot in the neck and shoulder, which gave him a distinct profile in the form of Bell’s Palsy. It’s the first thing you see on Conway, mistakeable for a rugged snarl unless you know the story or are well-versed on nerve disorders. It also slightly slurs his speech, giving him a distinct voice on top of that. These are inseparably part of his image, but don’t get it twisted: when dude hops on a track, it’s all about the lyrics, and he leverages that to position himself as one of the best out – ‘260 on the digi dash, look how fast my car go/Talk about my face, but can’t say shit about my bars though‘.
When it comes down to it, that’s all that matters in Conway’s world, a sentiment the whole of Griselda carries with them into the studio. They are out to be the best, and even outdo and challenge each other. I’ve never seen any of them compromise who they are for a song, to make a more mainstream joint, or have a track with a more well-known artist for the clout. That’s not the MO here. They live by respect and only associate themselves with those that deserve it just as they do. That’s commendable, just as this album itself is.
Between 12 songs, you get a ton of deep thought and details of what Conway has been through and, likely, stories based so much on those experience that they’re indiscernible from reality. What isn’t disputable is his life. “Stressed” is an absolutely gut-wrenching track tracing from violent abuse he endured as a literal baby(!!!), to dealing with other intense personal trauma like losing a cousin to suicide (trigger warning on the lyrics I’m about to quote) and a child who died shortly after birth:
‘My cousin, he took a cord and put his throat through that
I wish I had a chance to tell a ni**a ‘don’t do that‘
Ni**as don’t understand depression is real
People stressin’ ’bout real life shit, you stressin’ your bills
And not too long after my cousin hung hisself
I never told nobody, but I lost a son myself
Imagine bein’ in the hospital, holdin’ your dead baby
And he look just like you, you try to keep from goin’ crazy
That’s why I drink a bottle daily
For all the shit I keep bottled in lately‘
Conway also raps about fair weather friends here, and those that only seem to reach out when they need something from you, not recognizing that just because someone’s well off and has money and other things, that doesn’t mean they can’t be depressed, don’t have their own obligations, and are expected to help those less fortunate when needed. There’s a lot going on with the track, but shows where the Buffalo, NY rapper’s mind is at when he’s fed up with all the trials he’s expected to deal with with a smile on his face. It’s incredibly vulnerable and special.
Probably the wildest track here is “Chanel Pearls” which has, wait for it, a fucking melodically rapped verse from Jill Scott. Yes, that Jill Scott – contemporary r&b royalty Jill Scott. I’ve never known her to rap like this and believe this is the only time she’s delivered a verse like this, so I guess she’s a huge Conway fan to bring it out of her like that. It’s a sweet track, chronicling the rapper’s come-up and his day-one woman that endures with love and understanding through all the bullshit. He’s is grateful for it all, just looking to make it home at the end of each day because, well, if Jill Scott was my lover, I’d be doing the same damn thing. It’s a street duet for the ages, and when Conway says his piece…
‘And I brought sand to beach, your kiss taste like a can of peaches
You got that shit on, you killin’ ’em, that’s just Annalise
You about to get away with murder, you my Annalise
Got you the bust down Carti’, that’s thirty bands at least
Chanel pearls, Chanel bag, hold that Lambo key
You always held me down, you knew me back when I ran the street
Back when if you wanted some weed then I was the man to see
Back when I was trappin’ with a scale and some paraphernalia
Now when I’m buyin’ drip, I get measured and tailored
My accomplishments, some of my day-ones never was there for‘
…Jill isn’t left behind at all…
‘We fill the Buffalo night skies with our minds and sativa
I was your lady, your confidant, your sugar thighs, your sole believer
I know you, so I never trip
Fuck the little girls that you hit, waitin’ for the change they might get
They wanted that high life from all the monster stones that you chip
All the little baggies you bag, and all the corners you sit
Intense, some would call it symbiotic
Different, and every part is simple intent
Why I fuck with you most was the you that I get
It was the rhymes that you spit, your confidence, and the dick‘
What really seals the deal between it all, though, is God Don’t Make Mistakes‘ title track. Over a forlorn beat, Conway reflects on when he got shot, recalling every single decision made that day and night that led to it. He didn’t go to a show a friend had in Carolina when invited. He initially turned down another invite to hit the club, but changed his mind, going strapped up with his pals. After that is when it happened – the rest plays out like a hypothetical scenario:
‘Everything happens for a reason, but I’m just sayin’ what if
What if I never got shot in the head?
I couldn’t get sleep that night, might drop a tear in that hospital bed
Thinkin’ it’s over with for rockin’ the mic
They told me I’d be paralyzed neck down, what if the doctor was right?‘
With hindsight weighing heavily on him, it’s understandable that Conway’s fame and life the last decade could be chalked up to fate as much as it is the will of God who perhaps saw more in store for him. Or maybe they’re one in the same if you’re a believer. The most powerful part of the album, and I would say in Conway’s catalog, is in the latter half of his verse here:
‘Sometimes I wonder, if this Bell’s Palsy didn’t paralyze my grill in
Would there still be murals of my face painted on side of buildings?
I mean, would I still be rhymin’ brilliant?
They say I provide the feelin’, but would my story still inspire millions?
Would Alchemist ever find us? Would DJ Clark Kent cosign us?
Would Paul and Eminem have signed us?
I mean, we went from whippin’ shit on the stove to pictures with Hov‘
‘Sometimes I wonder‘ becomes a refrain in his head and in the lyrics alike, living the reality he’s living where he not only lived from an attempted assassination and an initial diagnosis of debilitation and disability, but overcame and conquered it all by putting his pen to the paper to bless us with the stories we can learn from just as he’s been blessed to tell it all. The whole song, especially the end with Conway’s mother, is so fucking emotional and still makes me tear up a month after initially hearing it. That’s the effect of personal tragedy being told so deftly and in a raw fashion so you can’t hide from the ugly parts, where simply surviving was itself a Herculean feat and the stuff of legends.
With stories like this, I get why people believe in divine intervention. How could a man come back from insurmountable odds like that and do better than he likely even would have had it not happened? Is man truly that persistent? Lucky? Conway The Machine is no doubt a tough dude by default, hardened by a life that was so mercilessly unkind to him and continues to be in a lot of ways. But as he lays his life to verse and asserts he’s one of the best to do it, you can’t help but believe him after everything he’s been through. It’s up to you to decide why things went the way they did. Regardless, he makes his stance on that clear with the help of his mother at the tail-end of the album:
‘God don’t make mistakes, baby‘
Artist photo by MAC Media