Review: Conway the Machine, ‘La Maquina’

Continuing his phenomenal run from last year, the Buffalo MC releases another project, this time finding the right balance between affluence and authenticity for the sound of the album.

There’s no doubt that Conway has remained one of the most consistent artists of the last five years. From his 2017 mixtape G.O.A.T. to 2021’s La Maquina (which is Spanish for “The Machine”) , Conway has always managed to stabilize the balance of quality and quantity. Usually undertaking a more grimy undertone in his music, the Buffalo MC wanted to show fans he was capable of more than just being the underground rapper over boom bap beats. Also with this album, Conway establishes his CEO position, shining light on his Drumwork Music Group artists who make constant appearances throughout the project.

Conway’s most interesting release thus far, La Maquina maintains the grimy authenticity of the Griselda foundation, while taking a more Southern-influenced approach to the production.

Just like any other Conway project, the run time is perfect, not being too long but packed with enough content to keep listeners entertained for a good amount of time. Being composed of 11 tracks in 41 minutes, La Maquina wastes no time, starting off with the menacing “Bruiser Brody.” Despite the overall change in course of production, the intro shows listeners that no matter what approach Conway takes, he will always have something for the day 1 Griselda fans. On the same track, Conway confronts headlines claiming there was a rift between the Griselda crew. In response, Conway spits the lines (“I started Drumwork and people think its beef with my brother / Maybe every endeavor, we supposed to eat with each other”). Just like the intro track, Conway wastes no time throughout the project, delivery nothing less of gritty excellence.

After bodying the underground scene in the second half of the last decade, Conway’s been on a quest to prove he has more to offer than being the rapper that’s stuck in the underground. While tracks like the previously mentioned “Bruiser Brody” and “S.E. Gang” keep the Buffalo MC close to his roots, Conway ventures out of his comfort zone on this album and finds himself hopping on more trap-infused records. While it’s an unorthodox approach for a rapper like Conway to go in this direction, it isn’t his first time incorporating it into one of his projects. His 2019 release, Look What I Became gave us a glimpse of Conway in that zone with the bouncy “Half of It.” Fast forward to two years later and that same style is all over his latest release. Many see the transition to a trap-dominated style as a detriment to a rapper like Conway but he manages to mesh it well with his typical routine.

While the Atlanta-based production is present throughout the whole album, the real standouts come from the triumphant tracks. One track in particular that shines the most is the conquering “Grace,” which features his Drumwork Music Group artist, Jae Skeese. Aside from Jae murdering his verse and delivering a jubilant chorus, Conway takes over in the end, rapping about how grateful he is for his success and his rigorous come-up story. What stood out the most was Conway talking about the early days of Griselda and his initial lack of certainty, where he raps (“When me and Gunn recorded Hall N Nash at Monk house / Bell’s Palsy my face, so obviously I had my doubts / But I wanted to make history, n***a, I ain’t want clout / So I kept spittin’ like missin’ teeth in a drunk’s mouth”). Songs like “Grace” are important to include as they help us get closer to the artist and make their experiences easy to process.

The most important factor that makes La Maquina easily distinguishable in Conway’s catalog is the production. Normally, the Griselda MC has a specific style attached to his name, which consists of a grimy boom bap style, but this time around, the production is more Southern-influenced with boisterous drums and triumphant horns creating the base for the album’s sound. Despite taking a different direction with the album’s production, La Maquina still provides a safe haven for original Griselda fans who are used to the unfiltered and authentic boom bap style. Songs like “S.E. Gang,” which contains a Griselda reunion, and the lush “200 Pies” gives the day one fans a small dose of the authentic Griselda sound we know and love. Still the bouncy records like “KD” and ” Clarity” show that Conway is capable of crossing into a different lane without compromising his foundation.

Just like any other Griselda project, the features on this album were placed perfectly. Being that Conway tapped in with the Atlanta sound on this album, he still kept the features close to his foundation. Besides the Griselda and Drumwork artists making multiple appearances throughout the project, a few Atlanta heavy hitters share the stage and definitely deliver. 2 Chainz on “200 Pies” was a change of pace that was needed for a talented emcee like Chainz to flex his lyrical ability. However, the most interesting features are places on the album’s second single, “Scatter Brain.” Conway manages to bridge the generation gap in Atlanta hip-hop, bringing in Dreamville’s own, J.I.D to be featured along with Southern hip-hop legend, Ludacris. After a few minutes of Conway and J.I.D. going back and forth on the mic, Luda steps in to finish off the verse dolo, displaying how lyrically amazing the hit-making legend still is. As far as features go, La Maquina serves as another great example of how strategic the Griselda crew is with placing features.

Whenever a rapper from the East Coast manages to embrace the Southern culture in their music, it can usually leave a bad taste in the mouth’s of the listeners, as there was a period in hip-hop where every rapper from New York sounded more Southern than their own region. With that being said, what Conway did on La Maquina was a great mesh of paying homage to the Atlanta scene without fully compromising his roots. It can be hard to execute this type of approach without coming off as “inauthentic” or “trying to reach,” but being that Conway is a student of hip-hop, he had the advantage of knowing how that scene operated from a fan’s perspective and made the mesh between South and East Coast hip-hop. Despite making the perfection connection between two different regions of hip-hop, these meshes don’t leave the best impression on the fans as they feel the grimy boom bap style that made Conway is gone. Conway will never dismiss his roots to the underground, but its best for the artist to grow and branch out of their comfort zone.

After dropping If It Bleeds It Can Be Killed earlier this year, Conway returns with another project to satisfy the hunger of hip-hop fans everywhere. La Maquina manages to stand out from the rest of Conway’s catalog, undertaking an entirely different production style while keeping the foundation of what fans love the most about Conway. The album creates a mix of jumpy trap records and triumphant tracks, perfectly capturing the Buffalo MC’s artistic range. It can be hard for a day one fan to fully embrace the change in an artist’s approach to a project, but La Maquina still shares the connections to the artist’s roots while finding enough space for Conway to grow and evolve.

8 / 10

Best tracks: “S.E. Gang”, “Bruiser Brody”, “200 Pies”, “Grace”, “Blood Roses”, “Scatter Brain”

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