“A Triumphant Darkness” Conway The Machine Interviewed | Features | Clash Magazine Music News, Reviews & Interviews

Conway The Machine is one of American rap music’s most striking figures. Leading a wave of talent from Buffalo, his sound – retooling vintage soul samples across caustic introspection – harks back to luminaries such as RZA, yet contains his own, unique, and defiantly modern sound. Albums such as ‘God Don’t Make Mistakes’ took him from the underground to the charts, while last year’s ‘Won’t He Do It’ invited a new openness into his sound.

Touching down in Europe a few weeks ago, Conway The Machine rocked O2 Forum Kentish Town in London, re-asserting his worth as a stage performer. Catching up with CLASH in the days following the show, we found a humble yet ambitious artist, one whose origins – outside the Metropolitan areas of the East and West coast – give him a singular air.

New album ‘Slant Face Killah’ is out now, and it’s as raw as they come – leaning back into the darkness of his early releases, it blends this with the opportunities that experience have afforded him.

CLASH finds out more.

You just played O2 Forum Kentish Town, what have you made of London?

I Iove it out here, man. I love the city of London, I love the people, the energy, and the whole vibe of it. I love it out here.

Does going on tour fuel your creativity?

Yeah, definitely. When I’m in these cities I want to be around people, meet people, go to the prominent spots with the most history, things like that… it’ so I can get a feel for things, and draw inspiration from it.

So, have you have British food yet? Are we talking pie and mash, fish and chips?

Oh, all that. I’ve had some fish and chips for sure!

What was the reaction like at the shows?

The energy was amazing. It’s maybe my second time here, and the energy both times was epic… next level. I’m thankful and I’m blessed to have fans over here, and in every part of the world, really. It’s a blessing.

Going onstage is an intense thing, do you have any pre-show rituals?

I pray. I pray, I hydrate… and I’m locked in. I’m ready. That’s pretty much it.

Are you writing on the road? Is it like a muscle that you have to keep moving?

It is. I try to write all the time. I write on the road. Whatever I’m doing I’ll try to get my thing together. Keep my blades sharp.

What’s your approach to the studio, then? Are those notes raw material or complete songs?

If I came up with some stuff, if I thought of something, and it fits the direction I’m going in then I’ll use that. Most of the time, a lot of the time I’ll go in the studio, press play on the beat, and whichever beat I chose takes me somewhere… I blink out, and when I come-to I’ll have a masterpiece.

I’ll be vibing to the beat, get some friends around, some candles burning, some flowers in there… I’ll have a nice vibe, so I can be left to my thoughts, and I create some incredible stuff sometimes.

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You teamed up with Joey Bada$$ recently, what was that like?

Oh man, it was dope. Joey is an incredible artist, doing some incredible things out here in film, TV… he’s got a brilliant mind. He’s one of them ones, you’ve got give him his props – he’s doing it the right way. I loved working with Joey, that’s for sure.

You’ve worked with a few different people, what makes a good collaboration?

When it’s organic, and not forced. Or it’s not corny. You get two artists together who have mutual respect for each other’s art, and for each other’s craft, their catalogue, and the things that they bring to the game. They develop a relationship. It makes it better, more pure. We get together, we hang out, we get to know each other without even thinking about music. It’s not forced. I think that makes the best collaborations – when it’s organic. 

You’re a big fan of the craft, which artists inspire you?

I listen to everybody, really. I listen to a lot of different stuff. I’ve been listening to Tyla. Some Glo Rilla, here and there. I’ve been listening to some Rick James lately. Some Isley Brothers lately. Metallica. Led Zeppelin. Red Hot Chili Peppers. Amy Winehouse. As far as rappers go, I’ve been listening to TM, I’ve been listening to Tyler, the Creator. 

Love that Metallica are in there! Are you a rock fan?

Absolutely. I love all genres of music. I find inspiration from all different things. I see sounds and I hear colours.

You’ve a few heroes, you even wrote a song called ‘Kanye’. We do have to ask – what did you make of ‘Vultures’? You into it?

I love that. It’s a dope album. I listened to that heavy. Shout out to Ye, shout out to Dolla $ign. I’m rocking with it.

So where will the next record take you? Do you react to your catalogue?

It’s more organic. I go off a feeling. I get in there, and I try to come with something creative. It’s like I’m writing a movie – I create the introduction, the beginning, the middle, the end. The climax. The conclusion. I paint my pictures like that. With this next album, I wanted to get into a space that reminded me of how I started… when I came out with ‘God Don’t Make Mistakes’. I want to tap back into that mode. I want to be the villain again.

‘Won’t They Do It’ leaned more towards a sense of hope, while ‘God Don’t Make Mistakes’ felt like you unpicking trauma. Are you moving towards darkness?

It’s a mixture of both. A triumphant darkness. If that makes sense.

It feels as though you’re constantly chasing something. How do you keep challenging yourself?

I just want to be better. I don’t feel like I’m the best I can be yet. I want to be one of the best. I want to make history. I want to inspire, I want to impact people’s lives. I want to change lives, change the world, if I can. I take it serious, I’m passionate about it, and it means a lot to me.

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You’ve worked on some high-profile features, what’s the difference between a collaboration and your own work? Is it a different mindset?

It’s definitely a different mindset. When I’m on other people’s songs, as a featured artist I’m trying to kill ‘em. You know what I mean? I’ll attack that differently. I’ll try to out-do you, and kill you. You know what I’m saying?

There’s been a lot of focus on the Buffalo sound in the past five years – does coming from Buffalo give you something different?

Well, you’re outside the big metropolitan areas, for sure. That has a lot to do with it. Being from my type of community, that environment. It’s more of your upbringing, at home. It’s not that different from any small city, anywhere. You’ve got poverty, single parent households. You’ve got to grow up the way you grow up, go through the things you’ve got to go through, seeing the things you see, living in that environment. It’s like that everywhere. It is what it is.

Do you notice the parallels in London?

It’s all the same, man. It’s the struggle. Period. The struggles are what make you or break you.

The album is coming out, what are you plans for the rest of the year?

I got a documentary that’s coming alongside the project. We already did one video for it, probably going to do one or two more. We going to start flooding the streets with this music. Open the floodgates and release everything.

Do you want to more visual projects in the future?

I absolutely do. I want to be in front of the screen, on TV, behind the camera. I write screenplays. I’m working on a book. That’s long-term goals. That’s my three to five year plan. Right now I’m focussed on the album side of it, getting the label in position as a respected powerhouse. There are other things I’ve got to accomplish first. But I most definitely want to pursue that, both in front of the lens and behind the lens.

Do you believe in manifesting, or do you think success comes from having a plan?

Both. I think both. I believe in manifestation, but I believe you’ve gotta plan your work and work your plan. You’ve got to plan it out, and work extra hard.

To wrap it up, is there a particular song you feel most proud of in your catalogue?

Out of my entire catalogue, I’d say ‘The Cow’. It’s on Westside Gunn’s album, one of his albums. And it resonates with me real loud. It’s probably the most impactful and profilic writing of my life on that record.

‘Slant Face Killah’ is out now.

Words: Robin Murray

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