In the eyes of many people, health professionals included, Conway the Machine should not be here today. A 2012 shooting left him with Bell’s Palsy and paralysis on the right side of his face. Yet, here he stands at 40 years old upon the release of what he’s dubbed his true debut album, his first on Shady Records.
For the last four years, give or take, listeners have gotten to know Conway both as an individual act and as a member of his beloved trio, Griselda. Together, the three rappers have documented their hustles, setbacks, and victories en route to where they are today: viewed as part of a movement that’s “restoring the feeling” or “bringing real rap back.” While Conway’s story can be perceived as one of triumph on the surface, underneath, lingering PTSD and internal conflicts plague him to this day. He puts this on full display throughout the entirety of God Don’t Make Mistakes.
GDMM focuses less on being an impressive lyrical exhibition and more on narration. For every boast about being the greatest, there are ponderances of his mortality and “what if?” scenarios reimagining situations in which his life could have ended. While the Buffalo native is proud of what he’s accomplished in broadening the underground rap scene and building his label, Drumwork Music Group, he clings to the doubts levied against him by others and even himself.
There’s an incessant paranoia coupled with beaming confidence across God Don’t Make Mistakes’ 12 records. Although the album doesn’t depart from Conway’s usual formula, with production from Daringer and The Alchemist all over its tracklist, the writing on GDMM finds the rapper peeling back layers he’s outgrown and truly emerging anew. In this, the album at once feels like an introduction to someone new and a 10th or 11th impression.
The Cosmo Beats-produced “Tear Gas” finds Conway questioning when he’ll get his just due: “Probably won’t get my flowers when I can smell ‘em/ It’s gon’ take my untimely demise ‘fore they realize I was a legend.” He isn’t bothered by the fake supporters he knows will be at his funeral posting pictures, as he’ll ultimately continue to run up a bag and focus on his progression in the meantime.
Lil Wayne and Rick Ross join the fun, with the former not taking too long before deviating into the explicit sex talk he’s known for. “I’m ‘bout to binge watch/ F**k her on Zoom and let her friends watch/ This that free dope, no cap, no syringe top/ Killing p***y, the d**k need tear drops,” he raps. Though Cosmo provides the ideal mid-tempo canvas for Ross to utilize his masterful luxury flow, the truncated verse falls short due to middle-of-the-road punchlines.
Conway doesn’t hide the fact that naysayers are on his mind, but recalls the advice of one of his mentors on the label showcase “Drumwork,” as he spits, “OG told me keep them feelings in your chest, just kill ‘em with your success.” Signees 7xvethegenius and Jae Skeeze grab the baton in their respective verses, showing that the future of Drumwork Music Group is bright. 7xvethegenius in particular has a charming yet firm delivery, declaring her focus extends far beyond whether or not people can properly pronounce her name.
“Guilty” is a slight but necessary uptick in pace, with Bink! and The Beat Brothers combining soul samples, piano keys, and a simple drum pattern. Conway addresses the commentary directed at his paralyzed face, imploring critics to “Focus on the lyrics, don’t focus on my appearance/ You know you too p***y to go through it, so you fear it.”
Elsewhere, “Stressed” is among the most personal offerings on GDMM, as Conway talks about the experience of losing his cousin to suicide and holding his unborn son after a miscarriage. He also addresses his destructive alcoholic tendencies stemming from self-loathing and the demands of his time, and simply asks, “Do anybody care that I’m stressed?” The Wallo soundbite at the end of the track punctuates this heartfelt stream of consciousness, offering solace in the midst of dejection.
In terms of the album’s lyricism, the J.U.S.T.I.C.E League-produced “So Much More” hosts one of the best quartets on GDMM, as Conway raps, “Created diamonds when n***as left me with coal in my hand/ Now it’s like I’m Thanos, b***h, I got every stone in my hand/ Used to stand in front of that store with a pole in my pants/ Now I’m parked right in front of that same store in a Lamb.”
The album succeeds in adding depth to Conway’s autobiographic discography but sinks due to its repetitive flows and beats. Previous projects such as 2020’s From King to a God featured slightly more interesting and diverse sonics. The rapper’s surprise Greetings Earthlings pre-album offering features the same highs and lows as GDMM, as Conway raps with ease over an array of popular beats from the past few years (Kanye West’s “Jail,” Young Thug’s “Hot,” etc.) yet shows a similar lack of experimentation.
While it’s clear the original instrumentals on GDMM are meant to play supporting roles emphasizing Conway’s lead monologues, they’re far too linear considering the album stars a host of versatile producers. Within certain circles, the rapper has a formula that attracts many, but his inability to expand beyond it may be what’s hindered his appeal to the greater masses. “Babas” in particular is a difficult listen, as there’s synergy lacking between Keisha Plum’s spoken word piece and Conway’s sole verse, which takes too long to start and is paired with another familiar-sounding beat.
However, when able to overlook the homogeneity of the project, there’s an earnest nature to Conway’s tone and disposition that contributes to the album’s salience. Even with all his success, and the hardships he’s overcome, he’s not fully content. He believes that God structured the path he’s on, but there’s something within him that won’t allow him to revel in the present because he’s legacy-minded and historically bound. Whether in his individual journey or the brick-by-brick buildup of Griselda, Conway has carried demons along the way he can’t shake. Throughout God Don’t Make Mistakes, he is audibly trying to mitigate their impact on his psyche and grind.
The resounding theme is he feels blessed to still be here, and nothing makes that clearer than the eponymous album closer featuring his mother. With an air of pride and the benefit of hindsight, she reflects on how he used the supplies she bought him for school to write raps instead. She then begs the Lord to deliver her son back to her, as a heart monitor beeps slowly before ultimately phasing out. Yet, Conway the Machine lives on with a powerful story to tell, even throughout his past and present difficulties both on wax and in real life.