Pusha T’s master recipe

Digital cover: While hip-hop’s trends have come and gone, the veteran rapper has never gone out of fashion. In his interview with THE FACE, he praises Kanye West and Pharrell for keeping his sound fresh on new album It’s Almost Dry.

The room was packed, but with hundreds of white hipster kids draped in streetwear. He took out his frustration on the promoter, cussing him out mercilessly. He wasn’t swayed by his insistence that the blogs” were hyping it up for him… at least until he hit the stage, saw the rabid crowd chanting along with the lyrics, and felt it himself.

They had on the same clothes I had on, they had on the same hoodies. They were pointing at me, like, oh man, you got the Bathing Ape general jacket, oh my God! They only made five of those!’ What? Why do y’all even know this? I didn’t even understand. Those same kids are now my fans for life, have been loyalists for all this time. And they’re the reason why I can [rap] fashion bars. They’re the reason that I can say a brand or talk about some fly shit, and they help translate it back to the streets, too.”

Around 2010, Clipse started to come undone, a catalyst being the 32-year prison sentence handed down to their confidant Anthony Geezy” Gonzalez (he was released after serving eight and half). In addition to managing their early career, Gonzalez ran a club called the Encore Lounge in Norfolk, Virginia, and admitted to helming a drug ring that distributed more than a ton of marijuana and 100 pounds of cocaine from 2003 to 2009. He claims that much of the vivid detail found in the Clipse’s cocaine tales were drawn from his own life and experiences, as opposed to theirs.

For what it is that I do, street-rap wise, Pharrell and Yeunderstand the standard thatI’m trying to keep. If we aregonna be great, it has to soundnew. If it don’t sound fresh, weare not using it”


The Clipse brothers pursued divergent paths: Malice found Jesus (and adopted the name No Malice from 2012 until very recently) and Pusha found Kanye. Drawn into the fold at G.O.O.D. Music, where he would later be named president, Pusha leveraged high-profile guest appearances on the label’s G.O.O.D. Friday singles and West’s world-conquering opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasyinto a successful solo career. Over his albums My Name is My Name (2013), King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude (2015) and Daytona(2018), Pusha carved out his formula of cunning wordplay, crystal-clear delivery, wild ad-libs and an ear for stop-you-in-your-tracks beats that have never gone out of style. 

Pusha’s relationship with Ye is a curious one. Based on mutual respect, they appear to honestly critique each other’s work, to demand the best from each other. It’s no accident that Pusha emerged from the bizarre scene at Ye’s Wyoming compound in 2018, where he recorded five albums – including one for Nas, one for Teyana Taylor, one for his Kids See Ghosts project with Kid Cudi and his own solo effort, Ye – with the seven best beats for Daytona.

Even as Kanye West’s influence – and ego – ballooned to gargantuan proportions, Pusha remained unbothered. Ye could wear a red MAGA hat in public while Pusha compared the Trumpian signifier to a KKK hood, and somehow the two can find a way to break bread and still make compelling art together. It’s a level of courtesy and respect not afforded to everyone in his circle. Just last year Ye disowned John Legend and Big Sean for publicly criticising his political views.

That comes from having my own stance,” Pusha explains. As much as me and him agree, we disagree a lot, and we speak candidly about how we disagree with each other. But at the end of the day, we know that we both have different agendas. Some I ain’t compromising on, some he ain’t compromising on. We are never here to damage each other, though. Me and him can argue back and forth all day. But I ain’t gonna let you do it. We can agree to disagree, but I’m not here to get on TV and let somebody drag him, you know what I’m saying?”

For It’s Almost Dry, Pusha T found explosive creative chemistry with Ye and Pharrell – the superstars with whom he feels most comfortable but who, paradoxically, don’t let him get too comfortable. After all, who else is going to have the chutzpah it takes for Pharrell to tell Pusha he was disappointed in his verse on the track Hear Me Clearly, which initially appeared on Nigos album, suggesting he sounded like a mixtape rapper”?

For what it is that I do, street rap-wise, they understand the level of credibility that I’m trying to keep, the standard,” he says of enlisting Ye and Pharrell, praising their endless thirst for innovating rap production. You have to find new ways. If we are gonna be great, it has to sound new. If it don’t sound fresh, we are not using it.” 

It’s funny to hear Pusha talk about staying fresh, considering he’s rapped mostly about selling dope for his entire career. Even as he gets further and further from the actual streets, he continues to refine and play up to his coke kingpin persona, rapping in a fake blizzard during a TV performance of It’s Almost Dry’s lead single Diet Coke, for example. At times, it has felt extremely one-dimensional, one of the few legitimate criticisms of his work. 

After years of rapping about selling drugs – and watching his close confidant lose his freedom over it – is this really all he has to talk about? 

The way Pusha sees it, he’s a genre formalist, working within a codified format to hone his skills as an MC. I’m trying to be the Martin Scorsese of this,” he says. And I ain’t never asked for Martin Scorsese to not make a gangster film. I would never do that. That’s what he’s great at.” 

So Scorcese has made a few non-gangster movies, but the point stands. Why toss out a winning formula when you can infinitely tweak it in pursuit of perfection? 

There’s a reason the drug dealing street tales do so well, for both with the people that live them and the suburban hypebeasts who exoticise them. The story of the drug dealer in America is one of the anti-hero, an underdog fighting and clawing for a piece of the American Dream. Even when they win, and the signifiers shift from Lincoln Continentals to million-dollar autos”, they still represent the triumph of the marginalised, the rare success that keeps the dream alive for so many left behind.

It’s not just Pusha who finds comfort in that lane. Clipse fans have long been desperate for a reunion, and Malice finally agreed to hop on a track (Use This Gospel) with his brother for Ye’s gospel-centric Jesus Is King album. Despite dropping the No” from his name, it’s clear Malice’s relationship with God is at the forefront of his mind – even on his latest appearance on I Pray For You, the closer on It’s Almost Dry, he’s considering his soul’s salvation in the wake of their past transgressions.

But while his brother’s devotion to religion has likely played a part in his resistance to reunite the group, Pusha suggests it’s not the only one. I feel like every time we drop something, or if he does something like this recent thing, people get back into the conversation of: Oh, his brother was so much better than him.’

Looking backwards at the Clipse records he made with his brother is just one reason for Pusha to consider his legacy, to ask: What will I leave behind when I finally go?” It’s more than just conceptual. Pusha and his brother recently lost both their parents over a period of just four months, yet were also blessed by the birth of Pusha’s son Nigel Brixx (even the boy’s middle name is slang for coke) with his wife, Virginia Williams. His personal goals may be private, but as an MC, what does he have left to prove?

With an eye to the future, he’s started to mentor new talent, like his new signee Yvngxchris, a viral teen rapper on TikTok who is on tour with Lil Tecca. While Pusha offers the wisdom and connections that come with experience, Yvngxchris offers perspective of his own, a digital native who has managed what Pusha did in reverse, leveraging an online audience into one IRL. Pusha has watched other rappers fade from relevance as the industry moves forward and leaves them behind, and it’s clearly a future he’d like to avoid. 

As long as his finger remains firmly planted on the pulse, at the age of 44 it’s still hard to imagine Pusha ever falling off, even if he only stops rapping about selling cocaine to throw darts at a fast food chain’s fish-based option. 

My goal right now is to see how far I can take it,” Pusha says. I love what I’m doing so much, and I feel like I’m hitting my stride in regards to creativity. I’m opening up new chambers. And this is the era, the guys my age are gonna show us: Are we gonna be able to do this forever?’ It feels like they’re still trying to age us out, unlike other genres. They don’t age out U2, you know what I’m saying?”

No comments

Powered by Blogger.