Before Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and Snapchat, the beauty of experiences were appreciated by simply living in the moment. With no easily accessible camera available to capture these times, immersing oneself in the current experience with the goal of absorbing every second was the only way to preserve it.
Today, the aforementioned apps and other technological advances have caused the way art is appreciated to be transformed. Preserving the moment now takes precedence over living in it, but a rarity nowadays, Westside Gunn managed to do both on his new album, Pray For Paris.
During a trip to Paris for Fashion Week, Westside Gunn found himself wandering through the City Of Lights for the first time in his life. There solely for the purpose of soaking in the city and living in the moment, he was so influenced by its beauty and elegance enough to create a Paris-influenced body of work. Thirteen songs deep, Pray For Paris finds Westside both living in and preserving the moment with help from Conway the Machine, Benny the Butcher, Wale, Joey Bada$$, Roc Marciano, Freddie Gibbs, Boldy James, Alchemist, and more.
Pray For Paris weaves the opulence and charm of the French city together with Westside’s elegantly grimy bars for a tightly wound experience priced higher than the finest things in life. Prior to delving into this experience, “400 Million Plus Tax” plays as an introduction picked and placed perfectly as a warning to listeners of the album’s worth, value, and historic nature. Confident in its high value for generations to come, the prelude also warns that gasps and waves of appreciation will be drawn out from all in attendance. Such value is depicted on “No Vacancy,” a song that paints Westside moving with such grace as if he was hanging out a car window firing away at enemies with bullseye accuracy without a blemish to show for it. Fixated on this well-crafted art of destruction, he returns to action on the Alchemist-laced “$500 Ounces” with Roc Marciano and Freddie Gibbs. Led by the soulful trumpets of wisdom, the trio reflects on past hustles while celebrating the success earned from newer ones, yet under the jewels, coats and other finer things lie the same old soul from the past.
Avoiding an actual play-by-play recount of his actual time in Paris, the city itself does help Gunn discover new muses at varying points on the album. Debuting the New Balance 327 at Paris’ fashion week, “327” finds Westside reminding listeners that despite the very new kicks that are attached to his lavish lifestyle, testing him and thinking less of him will most likely result in regret. A step in the direction of love for once, “French Toast” is Westside’s ballad to the ladies, as Keisha Plum says on “Party wit Pop Smoke,” who may get excited at the sight of felonies or get butterflies at the sight of gun or drug charges.
The individual pieces of art on Pray For Paris left the DopeHouse blown away, time and time again by its sheer excellence. Reinforcing that his new lifestyle does not erase the soul that once was, Westside tells listeners on “LE Djoliba” that a Vogue cover would place him by his trusty stove.
Conversations with Jay-Z are not too distant from sounds of kitchen work, one that catches the ear like a Cartier Williams tap dance. Perfect shots are flung from the field as verses from Westside, Conway, and Benny on “George Bondo” produce wrinkled faces, especially with lines like, “Think it’s a game until I Patrick Kane somebody homie/ That’s slidin’ through with a stick, shootin’ one by the goalie.”
Last but certainly not least, “Versace.” The track sounds like perfection (s/o Jay Versace) sent straight from the heavens to our ears to elevate the soul and cleanse with the glorious choir that sings in the background. Bringing you along to its return to the heavenly gates where your sins are forgiven without a second thought. If exiting 2020 safely required one to tattoo a song on themselves, “Versace” is the right choice.
Hip-hop is and will always be a competitive sport. In it, the athletes are given flat vinyl discs to fill up with their best work, content that directly or indirectly says why they should be separated from the competition. In a field filled with these vinyl discs, Pray For Paris is the golden vinyl that outshines the competition. From the trip back to Buffalo’s unforgiving cold air that was WWCD on “Allah Sent Me,” to the reminder of the squad’s invincibility, even with the new addition of Boldy James, on “Claiborne Kick,” Pray For Paris will be an album heralded on hip-hop’s 2020 pinnacle for the remainder of the year, one beyond worthy of a medal placed around its neck.
Pray For Paris is art for the museum-loving listener as Gunn alluded to in an interview with Revolt TV. “My projects are all paintings and art. If you get it, you get it. If you don’t, you don’t.” What’s understood doesn’t need to be explained. The art of destruction presented on “$500 Ounces” or the lyrical excellence of “George Bondo,” and yes the soul-lifting experience on “Versace.” All are well-crafted bodies of art that hang on Westside’s brick-by-brick built museum. The City Of Lights lit a fire under Westside Gunn to create an incredible album, one that will hold on to the “album of the year” title until one dares to snatch it away. Westside Gunn prays for Paris for the inspiration it gave him, I’ll pray for Paris for the incredible body of work it gave me.