Westside Gunn - And Then You Pray for Me

Westside Gunn, And Then You Pray for Me

And Then You Pray for Me yields another hour of Griselda street heroics by toggling between "drumless" boom-bap and punch-drunk trap beats.

And Then You Pray for Me is positioned as a sequel to 2020’s Pray for Paris, which marked a high point for modern rap’s high-fashion pretensions. Unfortunately, times have changed since the glory years of Virgil Abloh (RIP) and Ye. Westside Gunn is very aware of a decline in fervor surrounding his Griselda brand. He complains on “Babylon Bis,” “It seems like everybody hate West lately.” He invites AA Rashid and Keisha Plum to pointedly remind us that this is a genius at work. The former proclaims on “Flygod Did, “You are now listening to an audible, finely crafted garment.” Stove God Cooks is less subtle as he harmonizes on “House of Glory,” “Broke nigga, why you mad?” At least Griselda still has Daupe! customers. Part of the reason why folks have grown weary of his products is that, after dozens of mixtapes and albums, nearly all modeled after the grimy new golden era template he unveiled with 2016’s Flygod, he seems to have little new to say. Lyrically, Westside remains the type of dude that catcalls on “Chloe,” “C’mere, bitch! Let me change your life!” A subsequent confession that “You’re the prettiest when I nut on you bitch” illustrates a worldview that feels quite narrow despite his well-chronicled lust for Rick Owens shoes and Balenciaga coats. And Then You Pray for Me makes a more convincing argument for Westside Gunn’s compositional abilities. By toggling between “drumless” boom-bap and the kind of punch-drunk trap beats that once flourished on DatPiff, he retains his ability to surprise the listener as DJ Holiday, Trap-a-Holics, and DJ Drama help suffuse the album in mid-Aughts Southern thug nostalgia. (“Return of the boom-bap with two million on the wrist!” yells Drama on “Suicide in Selfridges.”) The machinations are enough to sustain another hour of Griselda street heroics, and a handful of legitimate dazzlers like “Kitchen Lights” stand out. The lengthy guest list includes Travis Scott, JID (who delivers a strong verse on “Mamas Prime Time”), Giggs, Ty Dolla $ign, Rick Ross, EST Gee, Denzel Curry, and Boldy James. Longtime fam Benny the Butcher and Conway the Machine, and Griselda artists Estee Nack and Rome Streetz drop in as well. In a nice touch, Westside Gunn turns over the closing title track to rising rap singer KayCyy. The production team includes Daringer, Conductor Williams, Tay Keith, Miguel the Plug and, in a high-profile appearance, the RZA on “House of Glory.” And Then You Pray for Me is distributed by EMPIRE.


Kings from Queens: The Run DMC Story

The tale of Run-DMC has been told many, many times in numerous forms, from autobiographies to a VH-1 Behind the Music episode. The appeal of Kings from Queens: The Run-DMC Story, beyond its commentary from sundry golden-age legends like MC Lyte and LL Cool J as well as familiar music-doc talking heads like Questlove, is to give testimony about a history that most fans of a certain age will know by heart. The three-part documentary debuted on Peacock on February 1 and, without commercials, lasts around two-and-a-half hours. But it isn’t exhaustive and tacitly avoids some of the group’s controversies. (Run and DMC are listed as executive producers.) Jam Master Jay is rightfully memorialized, but the doc avoids the murky circumstances surrounding his 2002 murder. Jay’s famed protégé 50 Cent is also absent. The group’s final album, 1999’s Crown Royal, goes unmentioned, as does Rev Run’s disappointing solo excursion, 2005’s Distortion. Even their battles with record label Profile, documented in books such as Raising Hell: The Reign, Ruin, and Redemption of Run-D.M.C., are glossed over. The filmmakers rightly conclude that old heads will enjoy throwback clips of the trio performing at Live Aid in Philadelphia, and DMC’s heart-rending confessions about struggling with substance abuse and finding solace in Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel.” But where are the post-millennial voices like Joey Bada$$, Fivio Foreign, or Nicki Minaj? Where are the scenes connecting Run-DMC’s sound with modern-day shouters like Meek Mill? While the filmmakers don’t need to pander to the kids, failing to illustrate why younger audiences should care about these 80s hip-hop heroes seems like a missed opportunity to burnish their legend. Kings from Queens is directed by Kirk Fraser and produced by Believe Entertainment Group.

May the Lord Watch: The Little Brother Story

A common trope of authorized music documentaries such as May the Lord Watch: The Little Brother Story is that the filmmakers tend to deliver lengthy, single-camera interviews instead of a compelling, dynamic story. It opens promisingly enough with photos and camcorder footage of Little Brother’s rise in North Carolina during the turn of the century and the making of their 2003 classic The Listening. Animated clips, courtesy of Creative Junk Food studio, as well as talking heads such as The Roots’ figurehead Questlove and journalist Dart Adams fuel the narrative. But eventually, the doc slows to a crawl as Phonte Coleman and Big Pooh go back and forth, detailing issues with former labels ABB Records and Atlantic Records as well each other, leading to a 2010 breakup, a reconciliation, and an anticipated reunion album, 2019’s May the Lord Watch. Fans who have followed the Little Brother story won’t be surprised by the absence of producer and group co-founder 9th Wonder. More damaging is that the filmmakers fail to show instead of tell us how Little Brother are part of a “bridge” between Native Tongues and current superstars like Kendrick Lamar and Drake. Fewer scenes of the duo sitting in separate rooms, talking into a camera would have helped. And did you know that Big Pooh featured on Lamar’s breakthrough mixtape, Kendrick Lamar EP? Look it up because this film won’t tell you, although it manages to include an unexplained clip featuring Pooh, Lamar, and Ab-Soul. May the Lord Watch is directed by Holland Randolph Gallagher, and was released on YouTube last November. Little Brother and the company Rap Portraits, a collaboration between Gallagher and Yoh Phillips, produced it.