While only a year out from the Big Ghost Ltd. collab tape What Has Been Blessed Cannot Be Cursed, Conway the Machine seems anxious to get back to it, a sentiment expressed throughout the press run for latest album Won’t He Do It, and felt across its 14 tracks. It’s hard to imagine anyone missing the (former) Griselda star all that much, given that he and similarly-minded label associates Westside Gunn, Benny the Butcher, and Mach-Hommy have otherwise kept to a rather prolific output since they initially banded together back in 2014. Moving at such a furious pace allowed the crew to brute force their way onto bigger stages and kept them in the general cultural conversation where they were positioned as an antidote to the post-Drake rap scene and its perceived softness, a characterization they leveraged into a deal with Shady Records and various collaborations with gangsta rap’s old guard. Having already sped through several career phases in the last few years alone — arguably the most contemporary thing about the whole Griselda project — Conway and co. now find themselves at an inevitable point of divergence, having left Shady behind and begun the process of more strictly differentiating between the members’ individual skill sets.
For Conway, this has meant striking out on his own and masterminding his own label, Drumwork Music Group, under which he’s released Won’t He Do It. Though internal Griselda frictions have apparently been overstated (seemingly confirmed by the Benny and Westside Gunn features here), it still makes sense that Conway would be ready to define himself outside that umbrella, and indeed, Won’t He Do It plays as the proclamation of a new era in which the now 41-year-old rapper is both boss and MC. More interesting in the former sense, Won’t He Do It is most appealing as a showcase for the new talent that comprises Drumwork’s initial lineup, with Conway making room for his mentees to dish out elaborate verses that occasionally upstage his own (7xvethegenius and Jae Skeese are particularly dazzling on their respective tracks). Otherwise, Won’t He Do It suffers from the same quality as the rest of Conway’s discography for the most part: technically accomplished and convincingly hard, but stuck on the same ideas, constantly at odds with unspecified straw rappers whose work is diminishing the form. It’s still just as hard to see Conway’s music as a convincing alternative to the croony, pop-rap he’s surely alluding to as it’s ever been, his beat selection generally challenging (largely spare electric guitar riffs decorated with the stray snare or jittery keys, broken up by some Donda-esque production flourishes here and there) but more about technical showmanship than anything else. At this point, it’s clear that Conway (and Gunn, and Benny…) can churn out a whole lot of music that certainly isn’t bad, and in fact, rises to the level of accomplished, but it has yet to feel like he’s ever managed to outdo himself. One is left to wonder if there’s anything beyond this plateau his music continues to sit atop.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 19.