*Disclaimer: this album in no way contains Anti-Semitic language or content. Its title is a spin on “The Devil Wears Prada” (the title of a novel by Lauren Weisberger).
On the second half of Hitler Wears Hermes 8, Westside Gunn delivers a hefty offering that is nothing short of a statement. Side B adds 20 tracks to the first 13 on Side A and follows suit with the series’ previous installments, combining luxury street raps with grimy instrumentals. The project shows the Griselda Records frontman capitalizing on his signature sound and his talent as a curator, all while delivering a grand finale to the series.
The production is handled by a variety of producers including legends Alchemist and Madlib, in-house Griselda producers Daringer and Beat Butcha, and up-and-comers Denny LaFlare, Conductor Williams, and Montreal’s own Nicholas Craven. Most of the instrumentals consist of woozy vocal loops or menacing instrument-based melodies that are either backed by dusty old-school drums or left alone. No matter the combination, each producer uses a winning formula that contributes to the album’s soundscape, one that is equally glitzy and hardcore. Each beat sets itself apart from the next, but they all come together to form a cohesive instrumental palette that stays true to Griselda’s hardcore hip-hop sound.
The mixtape’s feature list is equally impressive. West assembles an Avengers-level roster of collaborators that combines old-school legends, current icons, and rising underground artists. Features include Tyler, The Creator, Jay Electronica, 2 Chainz, Mach-Hommy, Rome Streetz, and Stove God Cooks, among others. Their appearances speak to West’s abilities as a curator – whether he’s enlisting them for verses or a hook, he meticulously pairs his guests up with a beat, with himself, and sometimes with others, bringing the best out of them. Nearly everyone delivers a standout contribution, making for a tracklist full of show-stopping collaborations.
The subject matter is the usual: Westside Gunn raps about hustling and street life while name-dropping designer brands and making wrestling references. His affinity for luxury and culture transcends his lyrics: sound bites from fashion designers Coco Chanel and Julia Lang are used as skits, whereas his love for wrestling is showcased via an interlude on “Celine Dion” and the track titles of “Brodie Lee”, “Eddie Kingston”, and “Survivor Series 95”. Long-time collaborator and poet Keisha Plum also makes her usual appearance, delivering spoken word poetry on two tracks. Side B includes moments of lyrical introspection as well, with Gunn using the tracks “99 Avirex” and “Big AL” to reflect on his street life and pay tribute to his fallen friends, most notably rapper MF DOOM, his idol who passed away in late 2020.
For however many tracks there are on Side B, there are just as many highlights. “Hell on Earth, Pt. 2” is a hardcore group cut that showcases the synergy between Griselda’s main trifecta (Gunn, Conway the Machine, and Benny the Butcher) and the following “Free Kutter” uses a smooth instrumental that perfectly complements Gunn’s rapping and Jay Electronica’s intricate flow. “Julia Lang” and “Celine Dion” demonstrate West’s dominance over menacing piano and violin-based beats, while the glittery “TV BOY” finds him shining over a trademark Griselda instrumental from Beat Butcha & Daringer. On “Best Dressed Demons” and “RIP Bergdorf”, Mach-Hommy and Gunn pick up where they left off on May’s Pray for Haiti, trading fashion bars and further proving themselves as a dynamic duo. “Forest Lawn” easily stands out as one of the best cuts on Side B. Over a piercing string-based instrumental, the most haunting on the entire project, Gunn proclaims his own greatness and vows to take said words to his grave. 2 Chainz and Armani Caesar follow up with verses that contain effortlessly catchy flows. “Survivor Series 95” is the sole bump in the road across all 20 tracks, suffering from being dragged out too far. The instrumental does not vary beyond a two-note loop and its four verses are not compelling enough to excuse its 7-minute runtime.
Above all, Westside Gunn strikes a balance between quality and quantity on Hitler Wears Hermes 8: Side B. He makes use of his curational talent by providing listeners with a high-grade beat selection and a variety of carefully selected and utilized guests, all while holding his own. The mixtape serves as another testament to Griselda’s grimy and hardcore hip-hop sound and ends the HWH series’ 9-year run on a high note. Between its ambitious length and its outstanding quality, Hitler Wears Hermes 8—Side B especially—is a masterclass in the art of going out with a bang.
Favourite tracks: Free Kutter, Forest Lawn, 99 Avirex
Least favourite track: Survivor Series 95
Final score: 8.5/10
Via Griselda Records / EMPIRE