Once upon a time in 2016, I received a call from DJ Green Lantern. While Green and I talk quite frequently, rather than speaking in his usual unenergetic tone, there was a touch of excitement in his voice this time. He went on to tell me about an artist named Westside Gunn with a crew called Griselda from Buffalo, NY. As Green and I now reminisce on those days, he remembers, “My boy DJ Chris G from my hometown of Rochester, NY was posting about and playing Griselda music and it caught my ear. I loved it—that grimy fly shit. I haven’t stopped listening since.”
From that moment on, I dove into the Griselda catalog expeditiously. Primarily, Westside Gunn’s Fly God was my introduction, and honestly I was completely blown away. At the same time, Green was working on The Hitler on Steroids mixtape. This was a way to introduce new fans like me to some original preexisting material, which shed even more light on these phenomenal Griselda artists that included names like Conway The Machine and Benny The Butcher. Their mystique and grit was evident, and it had fans like me yearning for more.
As a brand new superfan, I peeped Green was going to DJ their first tour, “Griselda On Steroids,” and the first stop was Webster Hall in NYC. That was the night where hip-hop heroes Styles P and Jadakiss of The Lox, Raekwon of Wu-Tang, and the late great Prodigy of Mobb Deep passed the torch to the next generation. After making my way backstage, I was somehow a fly on the wall in a room full of rap giants, and I mean literally, look!
Beyond all of that, Griselda was truly doing something different by keeping it pure, gritty, and grimy while the rest of the country was doing TikToks and designer drugs. Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine, and Benny The Butcher have been raising the bar with bars… and also maybe smoking a little weed. Well, okay, lots of weed. As Green Lantern recalls it, “Pretty much everyone in the group is a smoker, so it’s blunts for breakfast, lunch, and dinner—gas only. Gotta medicate correctly out here. That’s the first stop when we pull up to the next city—gotta get right for the night.”
Now with some years of success under their belt, I went and caught Griselda’s most recent NYC concert, as part of their “Claire’s Back” tour. What a show! Westside Gunn opened with his classic records and then eventually introduced two artists named Stove God Cooks and Rome Streetz: the next generation of Griselda Records. Then came actual wrestlers beating each other up on stage for what ended up being quite an unexpectedly entertaining break in the program. Griselda artist Armani Caesar smoothed things up after the antics, bringing out Benny The Butcher to perform a record she and him have together. Ultimately, Benny then showcased his BSF crew and rocked a couple of joints with his comrades Ricky Hyde and Heem. Benny also brought out 38 Spesh, who had one the most crowd-pleasing moments while performing his record with Benny.
It all set the tone nicely for Conway The Machine, who smashed his set to close things out. He introduced his Drumwork affiliates with a few records, but then they really put a ribbon over it all with a very impressive grand finale of the trio (Conway, Benny, and Gunn) performing “DR BIRDS” off of their Shady Records debut. It felt like all of New York City screamed, “Tell Virgil Write ‘Brick’ on My Brick!”
Did I catch an amazing rap show? Sure. However, my job was far from done, way before the first bar was even spit. I went there to get super baked with Conway The Machine and Benny The Butcher. After the show, that’s exactly what I did, and here is how it went down: As the custom Astor Club pre-rolls were being passed around, Benny grabbed his Gucci lighter and we began to sesh…
What is one of your first real memories of getting high back in Buffalo?
I can’t lie, I’ve done a lot of high shit. Remember when you first start smoking, you get the giggles, right? Well I was 14 and paranoid, plus I lived in a dangerous neighborhood. So one night, I was going to the store, and on my way back, I swore the leaves were chasing me! [laughs]
Okay, talk to me about strains, Benny. What are you really smoking on?
I love some of these strains that have been around a second, like I love Gary Payton. I still smoke London Pound Cake, I fuck with the Original Z, and I like the Gumbo strains. But other than that, I smoke Big Rappers First Choice. I smoke the Butcher’s Breath and Buffalato because both of those are real gas.
[In comes Conway to join the interview]
Okay, Conway The Machine. I know this machine runs off gas, so let us know about it.
Yeah, I like my strain, La Machina, but also Lemon Cherry Gelato. I like strains that taste good but still be crazy potent, giving you that couch-lock shit. I wanna get cooked when I smoke one.
Can you recall the early days when you didn’t have a lot of weed to smoke?
Man that’s been awhile. I might knock a fiend out, take his money, and go straight to the weed house. But, the last thing I want to do is get stoned and goofy. I smoke to relax and get inside my mind—I’m a thinker. So, when I get stoned, I get creative. I smoke all day. I wake up, bake up, and the only time I’m not stoned is when I’m asleep.
Well, needless to say, it was an epic time watching these very high emcees do what they do best at the highest level. Unfortunately for the readers now checking this out, the “Claire’s Back” tour has concluded. With that said, we should all make it our business to turn summer 2022’s Drumwork Fest into a rap Woodstock. Meet me there, and prepare to be Strain Checked.