Album Review: Conway the Machine, La Maquina

Conway the Machine

La Maquina (released April 16, 2021)

Thank the Lord for Griselda.

Due to the pandemic crippling pretty much every industry besides hand sanitizer manufacturing and DoorDash, the music biz has been in a holding pattern these past few months. No live shows means there’s no music to promote – which means album releases have slowed to a crawl (minus the disposable trap LP here and there, and I don’t have the patience for 90 minutes of Young Thug’s caterwauling, sorry).

But through these lean times, those Griselda boys have thrown hip-hop on their backs. This year alone, Benny the Butcher has already dropped a stellar EP The Plugs I Met 2, Conway the Machine has teamed with producer Big Ghost Ltd. for If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed and Westside Gunn has joined his brothers for the Conflicted Soundtrack.

And it’s just April! That’s not even including scores of guest verses we’ve already heard this year and their hefty 2020 catalog – roughly 10 or so releases which also include great outings from Boldy James and Armani Caesar.

With so much material in such a short time, it’s a fair concern that Griselda’s strategy of flooding the block could eventually drown even the most dedicated fans. Wisely, Conway understands the importance of staying fresh and keeping listeners on their toes, which is why La Maquina proves to be such a refreshing release.

While If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed harkens back to Griselda’s bleak, foreboding roots, La Maquina follows the path of Conway’s excellent 2020 release From King to a God, adding a little sonic diversity to Conway’s vibranium-hard bars.

As Conway himself says on the opener “Bruiser Brody,” this is “the machine redesigned” but he’s still the GOAT – “the grimiest of all time.”

Bangladesh transforms “6:30 Tip Off” into a championship anthem that I guarantee will be used for SportsCenter highlights, while Machine rightfully brags about his tireless work ethic: “I’m grindin’ like my work is never finished, I’ll never give in/Boy, I’m jumpin’ over all of my obstacles, even with a torn patellar tendon.”

Conway expertly rides the trap production of “KD” without compromising his killer instinct – he refuses to pull punches for the sake of “the vibez.” Speaking of his flow, he speeds things up double time for “Blood Roses” to provide extra potency, but slightly reigns it in to join 2 Chainz on the heavenly “200 Pies.” La Maquina‘s sonic peaks and valleys keeps the listening experience from going stale, as well as showcases Conway’s artistic diversity.

Most importantly, beyond the braggadocious bars and callous threats, Conway wears his emotions on his sleeve, often opening up about his journey. “Clarity” is a deep dive into Conway’s quest for acceptance:

Conway Cares, I started my own charity, but still nobody cheer for me
What happened to them n****s that told me they always here for me?
N****s don’t even hit my line no more, that s*** is weird to me
I just know they sound eerily similar to the s*** you hear from me
I influenced they music, that s*** clear to see

Meanwhile, he flaunts his autobiographical flow on the motivational “Grace,” reaffirming to listeners – and himself – that his time is now:

Sleepin’ on his front couch, tryna beat this game of life
It’s hard as beating Tyson on Tyson’s Punch-Out
But I’m still clocked in, I’m not gon’ punch out, look all the classics I pump out
When me and Gunn recorded Hall N Nash at Monk house
Bells Palsy my face, so obviously, I had some doubts
But I wanted to make history, n****, I ain’t want clout
So I kept spittin’ like missin’ teeth in a drunk’s mouth

Also, big shout out to Jae Skeese for impressive bars both on “Grace” and “Sister Abigail” with 7xvethegenius. There’s no phoning it in when the Machine is in the building.

Besides a so-so hook on “Had to Hustle,” La Maquina is devoid of weak spots. I’m sure most of the conversation online will revolve around “Scatter Brain” – featuring Under 30 Twitter’s favorite lyricist JID and Over 30 Twitter’s most underrated lyricist Ludacris – or the posse cut “S.E. Gang,” which sees Griselda at full strength, New World Order style. Both of those tracks are standouts for sure, but it’s the connective tissue of the aforementioned tracks that pulls this set together.

What easily could have been a throwaway teaser ahead of Conway’s Shady Records debut later this year instead becomes yet another win in a long line of standout releases. La Maquina is a clear standout and among the best projects of 2021 already.

Griselda isn’t just flooding the block, they’re an absolute tsunami right now. Best believe the Machine is riding this wave as long as it lasts.

Best tracks: “Scatter Brain,” “6:30 Tip Off,” “Blood Roses”

4 stars out of 5


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