“I feel like the culture needed it, the streets needed it, people wanted to hear it,” Conway the Machine says about Lulu, his new project with the producer Alchemist. The duo cooked up seven songs of ominous beats, street tales, clever boasts, and gangster movie dialogue.
Conway the Machine is a key piece of the Griselda Records empire, alongside Westside Gunn and Benny the Butcher. The Buffalo natives have spent the past several years carving out an important corner of rap for themselves with a new spin on the traditional New York rap sound. So, a partnership with Alchemist, who, although a California native, has famously partnered with New York rap elite (like the late Prodigy), makes perfect sense.
Lulu is being released in partnership with Patta, the Dutch streetwear brand, and there is a capsule collection coming out alongside the record. One of the highlights of the project is the track “Calvin.” And today, we’re pleased to premiere that track’s Jason Goldwatch-directed video, which you can see below.
Complex caught up with Conway and Alchemist over the phone, from their respective homebases.
Tell me about making “Calvin.”
Alchemist: That was easy. There’s a lot of easy-going times with the Machine in the studio. He knows what he wants to do. When he finds a beat that he likes, that speaks to him, it happens quick.
Conway, what'd you like about that beat?
Conway: I challenged myself to tap into a different kind of pocket with my rhyme pattern. That's what I liked about it the most.
You use a triplet flow throughout the song, which is more associated with Atlanta or Memphis than the East coast. Why’d you make that choice?
Conway: I don’t know. I felt like it'd be a dope contrast—that kind of beat with that kind of flow. That ain’t really normal. I thought it would be dope to flip in on some other type of shit.
How did you guys first meet?
Conway: I used to wash Alchemist's cars for a couple of months when I was homeless in LA.
What made you decide to do this project together?
Alchemist: Any excuse to work with Conway is a good reason for me. He’s the type of rapper, when you give him a beat, you get back what you want. So this was just an excuse for us to do what we do. It's like layups really, because he's got plenty of plates on the way. We all got so much work, this was just a day off. Let's shit on everyone real quick.
Conway: To add on to that: I feel like the culture needed it, the streets needed it, people wanted to hear it. We've done a lot of work together. After hearing songs like “94’ Ghost” and a lot of our other shit, niggas was dying to hear that actual full project.
“The streets are going to rejoice.” - Alchemist
Conway, you have a line on “Calvin” where you rap, “Watch what you say in my comments.” What's something really crazy that someone said to you and in the comments?
Conway: The craziest shit people say in my comments is that other rappers is better than me.
Alchemist: Who said that? You got to check his head.
Conway: I don’t really mind the jokes about my skinny jeans or my face being twisted up. But when you say somebody is better than me, you’re out your fucking mind. Nothing else really bothers me on the internet. I’m not emotional like that. I really don’t care what nobody think or say in an internet world. That’s not a reality. That’s just nerds with fingertips and time on their hands.
Al, in the breakdown of “Calvin,” you filtered stuff. In your opinion, who’s the best at doing that?
Alchemist: Large Professor. Come on, cut it out. How old are you? Large Professor, he's the one that started that shit—I think he is. But a lot of people did it good. I'ma tip my hat to him. That's where I first heard it.
I love the new Boldy James album you produced [The Price of Tea in China], and so did everyone else. Did you think the response was going to be that overwhelming?
Alchemist: It just makes me feel like I’m not crazy. Sometimes when I like shit, I don’t know if the whole world does. But when everyone else likes something, it reassures me that I’m not completely out of my goddamn mind. I thought it was good when we were making it, but I feel like that way about Lulu too. I’d rather be overconfident than under.
Conway, any hints you can give us about your upcoming debut album?
Conway: I don’t really have a date. I actually have three projects coming out. After we finish tearing the streets up with the Lulu, I’m planning to release From King to a God sometime in April. Then I have God Don’t Make Mistakes being released on Shady Records sometime in the near future as well. I’ve got a lot of things on my plate that I’m just waiting to just dish out.
Al, what’s coming up for you?
Alchemist: I got a whole big bag that’s full of shit and I’m sifting through with the flashlight. I’ll figure out what’s ready and what’s not. I got a lot of stuff, but I can’t reveal the sources. I can’t show you the manuscripts for the bomb. But yeah, we’re over here cooking. You can guarantee that.
You’ve known Jason Goldwatch for a long time. What made you decide he was the guy for this video?
Alchemist: They’ve rocked already one time for the Premier joint. He did that one. [Goldwatch directed the video for DJ Premier’s “Headlines,” which featured Conway, Westside Gunn, and Benny the Butcher.] Conway thought it was a good idea, and [Jason] came with something that fit perfect.
Conway, what's your favorite Alchemist beat that someone other than you has rapped on?
Conway: That’s a good question, man. I'm just going to say the cliche answer right off the top of my head, probably “Keep it Thoro.” That and that shit with Kool G Rap, for me. I’m really stoned right now, so I can’t really think straight. Those for sure.
Al, Griselda already has a house producer in Daringer, who gives them a particular sound. How do you deal with that when working with them?
Alchemist: I had to have a sit-down with Daringer. He sat me down and I had to get his blessing to work with the crew. Daringer’s the man. You know that, right? He’s Italian, you understand? I had to sit down and I got his blessing. You think he just make beats?
Tell me about that conversation.
Alchemist: You know, I can’t speak on those things. But I got his blessing. You know more than most.
Finally, what can we expect from Lulu when it comes out? We’ve heard two songs already. Is that a pretty good impression of what the project sounds like?
Conway: Hopefully that's a good enough impression. It's an incredible body of work. They can expect what you always get from the Machine and what you get from Alchemist—quality, consistent, dope shit. Nothing short of that. I feel like I'm rapping a little better. I feel like my pen game is improving. That's always the goal with me on everything I touch. The beats was crazy and the actual concept of the project and everything is dope. I think the people will love it.
Alchemist: Rejoice. That’s the word I think of when I think of this project. The streets are going to rejoice.
Conway: I like that.
Alchemist: There’s going to be a lot of rejoice in the streets.
How did the whole Patta connection come about?
Alchemist: These are longtime friends of mine. They’re a brand that I’ve known forever and respect. They reached out. They loved Conway, they loved Griselda, and they connected a couple of years back, and we all been cool. So we just merged. Why don’t we bring them in and let them help do the design, do a little capsule, and make some real fly shit that people can put on the jacket?
Conway, where are you riding out the quarantine?
Conway: I’m right here in the good city of Buffalo with my friends and family and loved ones. I’m here if anybody need me. Everybody’s safe and trying to do what they can to stay healthy in this madness. I came back to see how and if I can assist with people in the city that may be a little less fortunate, and to be here for my family as well.
And how are you dealing with everything?
Conway: I’m just recording and doing a lot of drugs.