The Buffalo MC balances tradition with a new direction in the sequel to Pray for Paris.
In 2020, Westside Gunn’s third studio album Pray for Paris was released, quickly becoming a favourite among fans. Famed designer Virgil Abloh was the catalyst behind this album: he not only created the artwork but also invited the Griselda Records founder on a life-changing trip to Paris Fashion Week, which inspired the album’s creation. Nearly two years after Virgil’s passing in 2021, Gunn spent most of 2023 travelling around Europe, also stopping in Egypt and Dubai. This prompted the recording of his latest album And Then You Pray For Me. Released on Oct. 13, it is the sequel to Pray for Paris.
Many tracks on And Then You Pray For Me recall the plush and expansive soundscape on Pray for Paris. Songs “FLYGOD 2x” and “Babylon Bis” combine melancholic xylophone and piano loops with dusty boom-bap drums, resulting in the same gritty yet elegant soundscape that graced Pray for Paris. “House of GLORY” features a sunny and shiny classical music melody that adds a degree of fun to both Gunn’s and featured artist Stove God Cooks’ unorthodox singing. Gunn’s entrance is especially entertaining as he abruptly begins singing “baby” in a high-pitched voice. The orchestral loop on “KITCHEN LIGHTS” is stunning and provides the same duo with a luxurious backdrop. The instrumental’s beauty radiates the Parisian opulence that Gunn aimed to emulate on Pray for Paris: the resulting song sounds like a masterpiece. Elsewhere, several tracks follow the usual Griselda formula and the outcome is as solid as usual. “Mama’s Primetime” is an ominous boom-bap cut that would fit perfectly on WWCD, the 2019 album released by Griselda (as a trio composed of Gunn, Benny the Butcher, and Conway the Machine). “Suicide in Selfridges” is the latest of many fun, upbeat tracks where Gunn raps over quirky beats from his frequent collaborator, producer Conductor Williams.
The rest of the album sounds drastically different, as And Then You Pray For Me sees Westside Gunn extensively venturing into trap music—a style he has seldom dabbled with on his existing solo material. Although it is not inherently bad, Gunn’s delivery over trap beats is notably slow-paced and tends to veer off-beat. It quickly becomes redundant as he approaches many of these tracks in the same way. The production itself is also a make-or-break factor: Tay Keith’s production on “Kostas” feels like a grand event, yet the Miguel The Plug beats on “LL BOOL GUN” and “Ultra GriZelda” are painfully basic. Gunn’s inclusion of veteran trap artists (Jeezy, Rick Ross) and DJs (Drama, Holiday, Swamp Izzo) is an intentional homage to trap music’s early prime in the late 2000s. The album’s trap component is built upon a strong foundation, although its execution is occasionally shoddy.
Like other Gunn projects, there are many features, many of which bring their A-game. JID is a show-stopper on “Mama’s PrimeTime” and all the Griselda Records mainstays fulfill their usual duties effectively. Trap veterans Jeezy and Rick Ross feel right at home on their respective tracks, and Denzel Curry brings a load of energy to “Ultra GriZelda.” The Westside Gunn sex song “Chloe” returns on an ostentatious, wildly graphic duet with Ty Dolla $ign. The title track is an amazing closer courtesy of KayCyy. He sings and raps softly over a soothing, ambient soundscape backed by hints of church bells. The whole thing evokes a closing sermon and wraps up the album on a perfect note.
Overall, And Then You Pray For Me is half the sequel that it sets out to be. The album starts off strong with the traditional Griselda sound, recapturing the greatness of Gunn’s existing catalogue and the high-class sound of Pray For Paris. The trap cuts essentially bog down the album’s midsection and most of the latter half. Gunn’s new direction showcases potential but often borders on being a cheap execution of a certain sound. Thankfully, the closing track catches up to round out the album nicely. The takeaway is that Gunn’s stylistic change is by no means bad: it just requires refinement.
Trial Track: KITCHEN LIGHTS (feat. Stove God Cooks)