ALBUM REVIEW: Westside Gunn, Hitler Wears Hermes: Side B
Updated: Jun 1
Yes, this is an album called Hitler Wears Hermes 8: Side B. And yes, AntiArt is giving it a Standout Album designation. If that title bothers you or feels distasteful, then it’s doing its job. For years, Westside Gunn has been hip-hop’s foremost edge lord, replacing Tyler, The Creator as the underground goon that everyone loves to hate. His opus Supreme Blientele had multiple references to Chris Benoit, a wrestler whose heel status and tragic real-life murder of his family was something most rappers would totally avoid. Not Westside Gunn, who saw this story as a perfect embodiment of the relationship between fictional immorality and real-life consequences. Similarly, his song “Party W/ Pop Smoke” (who was killed by gun violence) contains many references to headshots and robberies. It is an irreverent and oddly appropriate tribute to a fallen king. Perhaps the most tragic and, let me make this very clear, completely immoral, shitty, fucked up, horrible, wrong, disgusting, corrupt and cowardly character in history is Adolf Hitler. He is so fucking diabolical that his name is synonymous with the Devil himself, and if the Devil wore Prada, what is Adolf wearing? Hermes apparently. While Gunn is certainly attention-seeking and slightly misguided in his message, what’s made abundantly clear by listening to this album and the rest of his discography is that evil still exists. Even when it's not “relevant” or “trendy”, people are dying everyday in the pursuit of luxury and more sinister ends.
Intention is one aspect, but with an album title so bold, it would be a really failed experiment if the music sucked. Luckily, this is what I would call the “good” Westside Gunn album for the year 2021. Last year, it was Pray For Paris. The year before, it was FlyGod is An Awesome God, and the year before that, it was Supreme Blientele. Westside is a businessman and curator first as the founder of Griselda Records, so in this streaming world, he smartly drops two or three records per year for that purpose. I admire his acumen, but not all of his art. HWH8 Side B is an exception to that. The first two tracks set a dark and contemplative mood, but it’s really “Hell On Earth, Pt. 2” that got me on board. Over these electrically exciting ‘90s drums, Westside proves why he is one of the greatest walking MCs. The producer, Sovren, weaves in all these little sound tricks to easily move from feature to feature. I’m not usually stunned by Griselda posse cuts, but the one’s on the “good” Westside Gunn albums are always the most consistently good, and this song falls into that category for sure. Just like Pray For Paris, this is a simultaneous showcase for Griselda rappers and producers like Camoflauge Monk and Stove God Cooks as well as newcomers like Jay Versace and seasoned vets like Jay Electronica. The latter two team up with Gunn for a xylophone-filled beat that feels like strolling through an empty museum. Electronica being on here was a huge surprise, and just like on Kanye’s “Jesus Lord”, he blesses this track with a pointed feature. I love the way he combines pop culture with religious imagery and Black Panther-adjacent anti-establishment lyrics.
Side B is all about fucking around with the sound. This means producers like Madlib pop in for “Richies”, using the same sample Earl Sweatshirt did on his track “OnTheWay!”, showing that all these dudes are influenced by each other and see each other on the same level, regardless of age or status. This loose pool of inspiration makes for a much more cohesive and honest sound, where someone like The Alchemist can drop one track next to all these other tracks like clearly are indebted to his style. Even 2Chainz shows up to show what makes his brand high art and not just cheap entertainment. Speaking of cheap entertainment, the mixtape kings Trap-A-Holics pop-up with tons of legendary drops like “DAMN SON WHERE’D YA FIND THIS” on the same track as a beautiful woman recalling different world travel experiences with Gunn. Even for a Westside song, there are a lot of gunshots and “do do do”s all over this track, it’s like being in a shootout where it’s Gunns instead of guns. On the opposite end are the two flawless Mach-Hommy appearances on “Best Dressed Demons” and “RIP Bergdorf”, the rare double feature one-two punch that hits equally. The former is this slow piano-backed and sorrowful cut that sounds like something off Mach’s Hard Lemonade. I love his repetition of “Elvis Presley stole Little Walter flow/The Rolling Stones stole Muddy Waters flow” on the chorus. It reminds us that every great piece of music has its roots in a black culture that is left uncredited and poorer after the copying is done. Mach has such a way with words, which continues onto “R.I.P. Bergdorf”, who name drops in the most dopely disrespectful ways “Westwood had the fresh salad/I blew my wad on Vivienne’s face” and “This shit’ll have you banned from the Met Gala”. Westside has my favorite line on this track as well, where he says “Central Park in the ‘90s/Everybody’s moms on crack playing the Isleys”. This is definitely the most lyrically impressive and creative Gunn track of the year.
There is a bit of bloat on this album as there is with every Westside album, but all of it is listenable at the very least. “Survivor Series 95” toes this line for sure, at 7-minutes, it does get a little stale by the end. Still, the quality bars from Gunn and his affiliates, as well as the funky yet intriguing beat makes the whole thing interesting at the very least. I could’ve done without another Keisha Plum feature, or all those Rome Streetz appearances, and this definitely affects the potential. But truthfully, I don’t expect to come into one of his projects without songs I skip. Most importantly, the combination between immorality and brand worship that the album seeks to convey is bolstered by every song on here, whether I love each one or not. At certain points, it’s hard to tell whether more brand names or bodies were dropped in the runtime of the project. He even reconnects with Tyler, The Creator, the modern GQ model of hip-hop, to talk about shooting your mom in the head. Blunt, no frills brutality and elegance is what this album does better than most that have come out this year. The project comes to close with the aforementioned “BYE BYE”, but before that is a sobering cut that reconciles all the seemingly pointless death racked up on the album. “It was either him or me Allah I’m sorry” Gunn confesses over what sounds like Nujabes production, it’s like the actor who plays Westside Gunn is giving context and defense to everything that we just heard. Overall, this project is one of Westside’s best yet, although I think refining his collaborative process a little further could’ve made for his greatest work.