Conway The Machine truly lives up to his name — except in one respect. While it’d be easy to compare his ruthless efficiency — both within his gritty, lyrically convoluted individual songs and in his prolific release schedule — to a heartless automaton, there’s actually plenty of warmth behind his steely rap persona. The evidence is in his response to the death of his mentor and Buffalo hip-hop icon, DJ Shay. He pushed back the release of his latest album — From King To A God, his second of the year after March’s Lulu EP with The Alchemist — both out of respect for Shay and heartbreak over his loss.
“I’m so hurt right now idk how I’m gon pull thru unk,” he wrote in an emotional Instagram post after hearing the news. “I been struggling all day trying to understand and grasp all this king… I’m cryin tears while typing this shit man this is f*ckin me up bad.” If that seems at odds with the ice cold killer that Conway portrays on records like “Lemon” with Method Man and “Fear Of God” with Dej Loaf — the first two singles from King To A God — you haven’t been listening closely enough over the past half-dozen or so releases the The Machine has churned out over the past two years.
But he’ll be happy to tell you himself about the things he’s done outside of rapping about bricks and wrestlers. In August, he organized a back-to-school supply giveaway in his hometown and he tells Uproxx by phone that he’s been working on giving back to the community by handing out food for the homeless. With From King To A God operating as an “appetizer” to his upcoming Shady Records debut, he broke down everything that’s happened since he released Lulu at the beginning of the pandemic, from keeping an eye on anti-police brutality protests from the “front lines” to working with hip-hop legends like Erick Sermon and Havoc on his latest.
I guess the most appropriate place for me to start is for me to offer my condolences for DJ Shay, I know that that was a tough one for you, man. I hope you’re holding up okay.
I appreciate that family.
What have you been up to since the last time we spoke? I know you dropped Lulu and then laid back for a little bit, let Lulu marinate. What’s been going on between then and now?
Just working on music and getting sh*t done. I started writing a book, I’m working on a documentary but really I just was focused on giving back to the community. Feeding the homeless, doing back to school giveaways, and sh*t like that. And just helping families throughout this whole pandemic with the COVID-19. I just been on that type of joint. Music kind of been secondary for me.
What’s the book about? Do you have a title for it yet?
God Don’t Make Mistakes.
Where do you get these titles from?
This sh*t just pop in my head, man. I don’t know where I get this sh*ts from. I start listening to songs hundreds of times. I just be zoning out.
From A King To A God is a heavy title. What was it about this album that kind of brought that from a king to a God transition into your mind?
I elevated, you know what I’m saying? My pen, man… it’s like I went from: You thought I was good before, I’m great now. It’s like going from good to great — from King to a God. I just felt I’m at a level with my pen that’s like I’m even surprising myself sometimes with some of the sh*t I’m writing.
I kind of liken rap skills to basketball skills. So the way a basketball player works on his handle or his shooting or his footwork, what is the aspect you added to the game? Is it more wordplay? Is it more storytelling?
Really, it was just off the court. I just had to just focus on every day on just being better, a better artist, a better father, a better man. And just want to make my next move my best move. I think it’s the shit that’s off the court that separate a great player from that God-like play.
I feel like I hadn’t changed nothing in what I do, when I go in the booth and I feel like my music and sh*t is pretty much even keel, but it was the sh*t that I’ve been doing outside of the booth that really don’t get talked about or get acknowledged. I don’t even post or speak about it because I don’t do it for clout. It’s me making the decision to just change my life and just do those types of things is what really personifies on this album from King To A God.
Yes sir. So looking at the track list, so many names jump out at me in this instance because they’re not names that I would have normally associated with the Griselda brand. But the one that jumped out at me was Erick Sermon because I’m a huge Erick Sermon head. How did that happen?
I’m super thankful that I’m even being checked for by dudes of this caliber. He reached out to me and we exchanged numbers and we kind of been touch, back and forth, for a minute. And I just went for it, like, “Yo man, send me a batch, I need to get a joint, I need you on this album, man.” He sent a batch and this was one of the first beats that I heard. I clicked on it and that was enough for me. That was all I needed.
Do you have a favorite EPMD project?
You have a track called “Juvenile Hell” and of course, it’s only right for it to feature and be produced by Havoc, but also Lloyd Banks is on there and that’s a little bit different but it makes sense.
I met Havoc while I was out in Wyoming, I was working on some music with Kanye. I was out on the ranch and Havoc was out there. So we kicked it and was around each other for a couple of days. And again, exchanged numbers and we spoke back and forth. Again, I just went for it like, “Yo, I need a batch man. I need value on the album.” And he sent a beat and I was the first beat I clicked on in the email.
And it was that one. That shit just felt like Queens, like the Infamous album or Hell On Earth or Murda Muzik. So that’s why I had him do the hook too because I wanted it to feel like an old Mobb Deep record. And I had Banks on there. I had Flee Lord on there. He’s from Far Rockaway Queens. So it’s a Queens thing.
The joint that really perked my ears up is “Fear Of God,” because I’m a really huge fan of Dej Loaf. But she’s also not somebody who I would have associated really with the Griselda brand. It’s one of the hardest songs that I’ve ever heard out from you. What made you want to go get her?
Dej Loaf is fire. When I got the beat from Hit-Boy and did the record, I really didn’t have no hook or nothing for it that came to mind from me. I’m like, “Yo, I need to send this shit to Dej Loaf. Listen, she’ll make this sh*t ill.” I texted her, sent her the record and she knocked that shit out. It was a sound I heard in my ear. I just knew that it had to be her on there — nobody else.
It’s a concise album. You guys are kind of known for putting out a lot of material, but when I compare it to a lot of what’s coming out from other people, it does seem like Griselda’s rate of release is a little bit faster, but you guys are a lot more efficient. It seems like you guys really know how to just compact an album and just go for density rather than like breadth or width of the album. Is that a conscious decision on you guys’ part?
Nah, man, we’re just that good. We don’t know how to explain it. We know when a project is ready. We know when to release, we know how often. We know how many songs. We wrote clear and we wrote methodical. Everything is a strategy and everything is thought through. It’s all a formula. So that’s why we’re in the driver’s seat of all our projects. None of our projects is, there’s no one in the driver’s seat of the sh*t. We do them.
I wanted to give you a chance to explain to people what DJ Shay meant for the hip-hop culture of Buffalo. To me, it seemed like what it would be for my hometown if DJ Quik passed away, or even when Eazy-E passed away. Am I right in thinking that that’s sort of like the same sort of impact he had?
The thing about it is he just believed in everybody so much that he really gave us all every second of his life. He had that same energy since for like 30 years. His only initiative was to get any of these talented artists from the city of Buffalo that don’t get the opportunity and don’t get the chance to really showcase. We were the first to do it, but he’s been heavily involved and just tapped into the whole hip hop scene in Buffalo, New York.
He was everybody’s engineer. Everybody recorded with him. There’s not too many studios in Buffalo so everyone had to go to Shay’s studio. He just had mad love for everybody. And it’s just f*cked up how he went out like that. It broke me up.
During the funeral you were handcuffed and detained. I won’t ask what happened because that’s how people get in trouble, but there was an interesting parallel there with the protests. Had you been following or participating in any of the protests?
Yeah, I’ve been following the protests. I’ve been a part of all that sh*t, on the front lines. You heard the record, “Front Lines,” that’s where we are.
How does From King To A God set the table for God Don’t Make Mistakes, the Shady Records debut, and what’s the status on that?
King To A God is just the appetizer, it’s getting the fans ready and prepared for the full entree, which is God Don’t Make Mistakes. I’m really trying to get that shit out in October. Both projects are done. All the people that’ve already heard it, they just say it’s probably one of the best albums and most complete albums they’ve probably heard in the last two decades. So, I’m excited for people to get that.
From A King To A God is due September 11 via via Drumwork/Griselda/EMPIRE.