(Photo By Michael Tyrone Delaney)
“Four hundred million is the bid”. These words kick off Westside Gunn’s latest album Pray for Paris.
While Westside Gunn has always been known for his flair for the high-life, the listener can tell this album is different. It was well-received, with most people commenting on the classic collaborations such as “Allah Sent Me” with label mates BENNY the Butcher and Conway the Machine. Along with notable producers like Tyler the Creator and Jay Versace. The collaboration that stood out to me the most was the final song, “LE Djoliba”.
Westside Gunn rapped flawlessly about his past life and his present reality.
He mentioned cars, art, and fashion designer, Virgil Abloh. The song sampled jazz musician Max Roach’s “Garden of Prayer”, a beautiful and mournful gospel track. And finally, it closed out with the amazing tap dance solo from Cartier Williams. Together, these aspects, rap, gospel, and dance, paint a picture of blackness and our community.
Since the black American community began in this country, gospel has been a foundation. Gospel music spurred musical innovation and was the basis of many other genres of music, including blues, rock and roll, and RnB. While many gospel songs, including “Garden of Prayer” that was sampled in “LE Djoliba”, have a mournful sound there is still a hope present in the music. This hope is, in part, what has carried our community forward for centuries.
Another part of “LE Djoliba” that stood out to me was the inclusion of the tap dancing solo from Cartier Williams.
The last place I expected to hear tap dancing was a rap album. The dance solo follows the final line of the song, in which Westside Gunn says “had a nigga tap dancin’ on the blow”. This defiant and strong line was only amplified by this equally strong dance routine. Dancing in general, but specifically tap, has long-since been an important part of the black community. It is another avenue that led to both independence and creative freedom for us. Bringing this all together on a rap song was a bold decision for Westside Gunn and it paid off.
Finally, the very nature of the song being rap itself. Rap is one of the most symbolic aspects of the black community. It is us coming together to express ourselves, tell our stories, and fight back against oppressive measures. Seeing a successful young black person, such as Westside Gunn and Cartier Williams, rise up out of their circumstances and follow their dreams is exactly what the creators of rap had envisioned.
My mind just immediately connected all of the moving parts of “LE Djoliba”. Gospel, dancing, and rap. Three things borne out of struggle and created to form a safe space for our people. From his lyrics, to his collaborations, to how he chooses to close his album, he proves time and time again that just like our community itself, he will never be boxed in.