How Conway The Machine Turned Tragedy Into Triumph

Conway The Machine opens up about his personal struggles with injury and how cannabis and music have been healing forces.
How Conway The Machine Turned Tragedy Into Triumph
Courtesy of Jawad Mahmood

Conway The Machine smokes an insane amount of weed. “About an ounce a day,” he tells High Times by phone—and that’s normal. The Griselda Records rapper, who’s been on an upward trajectory for the past couple of years, is staying high in other ways though.

He recently released his debut studio album for Eminem’s Shady Records, God Don’t Make Mistakes, a brooding and brutally honest depiction of Conway The Machine’s tumultuous upbringing, rise to success, and everything in between. As a result, he continues to collaborate with some of hip-hop’s biggest names, including Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Rick Ross, T.I., and Beanie Sigal. But it was a long, treacherous road to get here. 

In and out of jail for most of his 20s, Conway The Machine (real name Demond Price) maintained his passion for music, mostly thanks to his Uncle Anthony who introduced him to N.W.A and other classic hip-hop artists as a kid. His time in jail (the longest stint was two years) gave him the opportunity to reflect on what he really wanted out of life and read books such as The Art of War by Sun Tzu, which he says “shut me up.” 

“I always had this dream,” he said, referring to his current reality. “This has always been a dream of mine and a passion. Going through those obstacles, I just knew I needed to do something better with my life. And I just need to apply myself more and just go crazy and learn the business and do what I had to do to make it out.”

But fate had other plans. In 2012, Conway The Machine wound up getting shot in the neck and shoulder, just when he’d decided to finally hop on the straight and narrow. The shooting left him with facial paralysis (Bell’s Palsy), which he’s lived with for the past 10 years. But as the title of his album suggests, everything happens for a reason. From that period on, his resolve began to strengthen, and success was the only option. 

“At first, it just made me like, ‘Well, maybe this just ain’t going to work,’” he admitted. “I had a lot of self-doubt, and I didn’t believe in myself no more. But I don’t know. I just flipped that switch and just decided, ‘Nah, I need to keep pushing, go even more, work smarter, not harder.” 

And it paid off. In 2017, Eminem and Shady Records offered Conway The Machine and his half-brother Westside Gunn a deal, and they were off to the races. 

Conway The Machine
Courtesy of Madeinewyork

“We were just on a tear in the underground,” he remembers. “We were just tearing stuff up, man, and getting really known overseas and stuff. And they got wind of it and wanted to do a deal. It was awesome.”

But five long years passed before God Don’t Make Mistakes arrived. In between, Conway The Machine lived up to his rap moniker and delivered a staggering number of projects, including From King To A God (2020), Lulu with The Alchemist (2020), La Maquina (2021) and Greetings Earthlings (2022). 

Always the perfectionist, he said he “just wanted to make sure it was right.” Now rapping among the elite, Conway The Machine’s dream is finally being realized. 

“I always knew once I got a shot and the right person heard me that the sky would be the limit,” he said. “And so, I always felt like that.” 

Born in Buffalo, New York, the 40-year-old rapper earned his stripes running wild in the streets, which taught him how to fend for himself. In turn, he established a relentless work ethic that continues to power him through each day.

“My environment… just growing up the way we grew up in the hood, having to be in a survival mode,” he said when asked where it comes from. “We was in survival mode, man, most of the time. Growing up like that makes you a little more resilient, a little more thicker skin.

“That shaped and molded me. I just took some of those traits that was instilled in me and just applied them now in my life as an artist, as well as my approach on my music. That’s why you hear the pain and stuff in my verses.” 

While Conway The Machine has consistently poured his heart into his music, there’s a verse on the title track from God Don’t Make Mistakes that cuts like a machete across an Achilles Heel. Over a dark, ominous beat, Conway looks back on the 2012 shooting that left him with Bell’s Palsy and questions if he’d be where he is today had he not been shot. 

“What if I never got shot in the head?/I couldn’t get sleep at 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? (What if he was right?)/N*gga, I walked out that hospital twice (ha)/My mother said I died both times, guess I did the impossible twice/Sometimes I wonder, if this Bell’s Palsy didn’t paralyze my grill in/Would there still be murals of my face painted on sides of buildings?” 

That was only the beginning. He proceeds to wonder if lauded producer The Alchemist, DJ Clark Kent, Jay-Z, or Eminem and longtime manager/co-founder of Shady Records would’ve even noticed him. 

“Would I still be rhymin’ brilliant? They say I provide the feeling,” he raps. “But would my story still inspire millions?/Would Alchemist ever find us?/Would DJ Clark Kent co-sign us?/Would Paul and Eminem have signed us? Huh?/I mean, we went from whippin’ shit on the stove to pictures with HOV/The vision was bro’s (my brother).”

And the pain is real. In a December 2020 interview with The Athletic, Conway opened up about the impact the incident had on his mental health. He said at the time, “I don’t feel like I’m disfigured or none of that, but when you gotta look at yourself in the mirror and you know that you don’t look the same or your kids gotta see you don’t look the same and your momma gotta see you like that, it definitely takes a toll and it’s like a war in your mind. 

“In my mind it was like, ‘Man, I don’t even want people to see me like this.’ The mental part of it was harder than the physical. I had to re-calibrate. I had to strengthen my mind before I could strengthen my body. I lost it for a minute. Mentally, I just wasn’t in a good space.”

He added, “I’m opening up more and knowing that it’s OK if you need to talk to somebody. Especially in the hood—in the Black community, period—it’s like this stigma of mental health issues is equal to weakness. Even I struggle with that.”

These days, Conway finds solace in smoking medicinal cannabis, and he prefers smoking flower in blunt after blunt (after blunt). Although he can’t pinpoint exactly how many blunts he smokes a day, he knows it’s a lot. Rolling out of bed each morning, he brushes his teeth and rolls one up (in that order). He confesses there are times when he smokes too much and needs to take a timeout. 

Conway The Machine
Courtesy of Jawad Mahmood

“A lot of times during the day, sometimes I be having… I got to put that out on ashtray, fall back a little bit, lay down,” he says with a chuckle. “I get stuck. I be smoking some really good shit, so I get stuck.” 

Even with the countless tasks he must complete in a day, being high doesn’t stop him; he says all he needs is “focus”— and maybe some plain Lays potato chips, a few cookies and pieces of fruit, his go-to munchie snacks.

But Conway explains, there’s always more work that needs to be done. In February 2022, Conway announced that he’d fulfilled his contractual obligations to both Shady Records and Griselda Records, the label he co-founded with Westside Gunn and is home to his cousin Benny The Butcher and in-house producer Daringer.

Now technically a “free agent,” his next move is up in the air. He’ll either remain independent or ultimately sign another contract with Griselda. In a climate where the mainstream rap is primarily hallow and based on materialism, sex, and other vapid topics, Conway and his Griselda brethren realize they’re in a unique position. 

“I definitely try to take a minute to bask in that and feel that,” he says. “Man, we should pat ourselves on the back. We work hard. We did a lot in a little bit of time. We should be happy, but we shouldn’t get comfortable and complacent. This is just the beginning. We got a lot more to do.” 

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