Westside Gunn on Virgil, Day Ones, and Designing His Legacy
Westside Gunn is ready to move different. After switching up the flow on his most recent album, And Then You Pray For Me, released last week, the Buffalo-bred Griselda Records rapper and Fashion Rebels cofounder feels like the sky’s the limit. So when he met up with 1989 Studio designer Chaz Jordan, they got into all the details of memories with Virgil, his iconic giant bracelet, and cementing a place in history.
CHAZ JORDAN: Take one. It better be the only take.
WESTSIDE GUNN: For real. I can smell the Sweet Chick from here. [Laughs]
JORDAN: We gotta start with the Sweet Chick. All right, the new album And Then You Pray For Me. How’s that feeling?
GUNN: Man, I feel like my whole career led up to this moment. I spent more time on this project than any other project I ever did. It’s just a different energy. I can’t wait for people to hear the new sound. I think there’s going to be a lot of people that’s shocked because too many people started putting me in a box, but I honestly think this is my best project ever.
JORDAN: I’m biased, but I feel that. You’re also moving out of the rap to focus heavy on the art and fashion. What’s next?
GUNN: I’m just learning. I’m a patient brother, so it’s always about building. It is going to happen with time. There’s so much I don’t know. I’m a master at screen printing on a shirt now, and people can see the quality of everything I’ve been making recently. Like, wait a minute, he moving different. You can tell the difference with the brand from last year to this year. Who knows, I might have a shoe three years from now. But right now, I just want to learn and study.
JORDAN: What do you think is the biggest contributing factor to the elevation between last year and this year?
GUNN: I’m going to be honest. Last year I wanted to hang it up. I was telling people I’m going to retire because I was fed up with the game. But I didn’t want to walk away and people not understand the story. Because I’ve been so quiet for so long and you can’t fucking—excuse my French.
JORDAN: No, you’re good. This is Interview, man, I think we can curse. We can smoke blunts on set today. We good. [Laughs]
GUNN: I felt like so many people was stealing my shit and I just sat back and watched because I don’t burn no bridges. It’s always about timing. I had to teach myself that. My whole life is built on patience. That was already there. But before I give it up, let me show them who I am first. It’s still more to the story I would like the fans that loved Westside Gunn for so long to know. And that’s why the sound [of the album] is like this too, because this sound is me. I was always trying to cater to the fans because being from the underground, these people have to actually support me. If I lose them, how I’m going to take care of my babies? So I catered to who was supporting me for all those years, but I wasn’t really being the trap Westside, the turn-up-when-I’m-in-the-club Westside, the $10,000 outfit Westside, because I always wanted to have that connection to the people that got me to where I was at. But this is a new energy.
JORDAN: Those that are ride or dies should naturally follow that progression.
JORDAN: You and Virgil [Abloh] had that relationship across the board. How did it feel to bring back the artwork and come full circle with what you guys did for Pray for Paris?
GUNN: Pray for Paris was 2020. When V invited me out to Paris, that was my first time ever leaving the country. He got me to get my passport, so I owe a lot to V. Paris was crazy, and he never told me he was going to play my song for the Off-White show. So I’m sitting there watching the show and my song come on, and Cartier A. Williams is tap dancing, who I had put on the album. It’s crazy because I was next to Pop Smoke and Takeoff. Rest in peace to both of them. And then going to my first LV show with the clouds and sitting next to Don [Toliver] was crazy because I love Don. That energy is what made me do the album. When I went back home, it was just a different energy. I was at Alchemist’s house, around the homies, then at the Grammys, at the Roc Nation brunch, I connected with Tyler [the Creator] and everybody else, so that’s why it’s just so classic.
JORDAN: And we’re all better for it.
GUNN: And Virgil did the cover. But when I went to fashion week in January this year, to answer your question, it had the same energy as when I first came in ’20. And that’s when I started this album. It was like V’s spirit was talking to me to do what we started.
JORDAN: That’s the biggest praise. Looking forward, where do you see fashion going for yourself?
GUNN: Sky’s the limit, bro. Like I said, I’m a student. One of the main things is being real and building relationships. That’s worth more than money. An opportunity could come along and they’re going to pull you in before they even look at a stack of resumes because they know you’re hungry. I actually feel like that’s what’s going to happen because I already run a successful seven-figure situation alone. Even when it comes to merch, I’m like a merch king. You know what I’m saying?
JORDAN: Case in point, we got homie in the back.
GUNN: The best artists in the world are self-taught. I didn’t go to school to start a record label or a clothing line. And I don’t have too much pride to say I’m a student.
JORDAN: For life. If you had to leave three things behind in your legacy, what would they be?
GUNN: My bracelet. [Laughs]
JORDAN: That was a real-ass response.
GUNN: No, for real, because that bracelet is Westside Gunn. Of course people done got big bracelets now, but we know what’s going on. I done seen many of them since I made that bracelet. People be saying Busta, but it’s many other people. I mean, I done took shit from Busta. You know what I’m saying? So I don’t ever say nothing like that because if it wasn’t for Wu and Nas and Mobb Deep and Busta, it wouldn’t be no Westside Gunn. So I never really get upset if somebody takes anything from me, I just got to get bigger. That’s where the new energy came from for this album.
JORDAN: What are some moments in fashion that changed the way you saw the industry? You touched on your first time at Paris Fashion Week with Virgil, but are there other moments that really [made you think], this is some shit that I want to get into?
GUNN: It’s been since I was a kid. I always wanted to be a designer before rapping. I used this as an avenue to get back into the fashion world. I was designing at nine years old, I was doing screen printing in sixth grade. My friends and my family was wearing my screen printing shirts. Even in high school, we were getting the jean suits, beating them up, putting stones on them, and we getting Wallabee Clarks and dying them ourselves because we wanted to be Wu. It’s the culture. It’s each one teach one. We got to keep spreading the culture. That’s why I respect the up and comers, but if you are the biggest in the world, you shouldn’t have to copy off shit. You should automatically be that.
GUNN: I always have an underdog mentality, no matter how up I could possibly be. I’m always hungry. I’m probably 25 projects in. And how is it 25 projects in, I’m making my best project now? That’s rare. No disrespect to nobody’s career, but people that was popping in ’95 wasn’t popping in 2002. I remember when I came out with [Hitler Wears Hermes] Side A and Side B. Side A came out the day Ye came out and Side B came out the day Drake came out. They was like, “Yo, you don’t care that you coming out the same day?” No, that’s their blessing and I’m getting mine. Art is art, man. I think I already did enough to cement my place in history, so now I’m just having fun.
JORDAN: And it’s not too many artists that can go from rap into the fashion and be accepted like that. Case in point, your last docuseries episodes. And you get love from all of us. Looking forward to the album.
GUNN: The world in for a treat, man.
Creative Direction: Studio Augie
First AC: Gregory Moliterno
Production and Set Design – Takumu Kamihagi
Lighting: Jeremy Gould
Art Direction: Payton Newcomer
Fabrication: Roberto Miranda
Assistant: Malachi Smythe