Let’s get this out of the way early: Pusha-T is the last rap superhero, and on his album Daytona, which is out now and super-produced entirely by Kanye West, he marks his best solo work yet. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a quick trip back to 2015.
During his promotional run for 2015’s King Push — Darkest Before Dawn: The Prequel, Push sat with Rolling Stone and Billboard for separate interviews, where he was asked about the attitude going into the recording process. Giving each the same answer, he replied, “I feel like I’m the last rap superhero.”
“When you look at just the state of rap [now], I feel like it’s a lot of complaining and vulnerability, and rappers being victimized,” he told Billboard. “That’s not the attitude that my favorites had.” As far as those “favorites” go, that special tier includes the likes of Biggie, JAY-Z, and Raekwon, all influential orators cut from the cloth of rap’s glorious mafioso era. “These guys were really like superheroes to me… I thought they owned the world. I look at rappers now and it’s like, man, it’s just a sad case of poor business and the artistry is being questioned.” Unsurprisingly, P’s statement drew debate amongst rap fans, since it arrived in a year when rap’s big three —Kendrick Lamar, Drake and J. Cole — dominated with championship-level material. Yet and still, he had a point.
Ever since Clipse whispered adieu in 2009, thus leading him to step out solo in 2010, Neighborhood P, through his brand of painstakingly-constructed bird-eyed views (double-entendre!), has established himself as this era’s incarnate to Pain In Da Ass’ classic affirmation on JAY-Z’s Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life intro: “The last of the real hustlers.”
In an era in which the rap stars are glorified junkies, boasting and bragging about their prescription expenditures, Pusha-T is an anomaly. He doesn’t mumble nor does he fit the “lit” bill, when it comes to trendy turn up music. His level of storytelling requires a certain level of experience to fully comprehend. For every rhyme stuck between a rock and hard place (double-entrendre 2x!), Push unveils the make up of the man behind the drug dealer dichotomy. His rhymes, like landmines, detonate the dopeboy blues and hues that only a true nosetalgist can and require close attention. Where his predecessors like JAY-Z, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, among others, laid the blueprint and diagrams in-rhyme for their pyrex pot reflections, P remains the last of that cloth to yield similar results as he endlessly narrates the duality of the triple-beam thrill, through brutally honest accounts. Those “accounts,” of course, are responsible for pioneering the sub-genre known as “coke-rap.” Point blank, no one is rapping like him in this era. And the cloth in which he comes from, only further extends that gap. On Daytona, all of the aforementioned are maximized in high definition.
Walking down razor’s edge with a cape (“They tweet about the length I made ’em wait/ What the fuck you expect when a nigga got a cape and he’s great”), pyrex visions (“The only rapper sold more dope than me was Eazy-E”), and war stories (“Bricklayers in ballshorts”), P personifies his “King Push” moniker in all facets. At seven tracks, capping at a mere 21-minutes, he hits the paint running, leaving no room for excess to cave in on his parade. “I don’t tap dance for them crackas and sing mammy/’Cause I’m supposed to juggle these flows and nose candy,” he sneers on”Infrared” (As you listen closely, the record snaps a few subliminal lines at Drake —”How could you ever right these wrongs when you don’t even write your songs?”— Birdman and Lil Wayne).
These bars are all spilled over bare and sometimes skeletal drums that are fleshed out by MPC-jabbing samples, courtesy of Mr. West. Kanye West’s gorgeous production provides P the cape to do what does. The collection sonically scream “oh god,” as Kanye returns to his “chop up the soul Kanye” roots, providing the blue flame to P’s Pyrex pot — and, yes, “this fire burns hot as Hell’s Kitchen.” He flips Mighty Hannibal’s 1973 jam “The Truth Shall Make You” for “Come Back Baby,” chops up Air’s “Twelve O’Clock Satanial” for “If You Know You Know” and revitalizes 24 Carat Black’s “I Want to Make Up” for “Infrared.” Altogether, these sounds accentuate P’s rhymes weight on a scale. “This my Purple Tape, saved up for the Rainy Dayz,” he raps on “The Games We Play.”
Elsewhere, in the closing minutes of “If You Know You Know,” he recalls “Where were you when Big Meech brought the tigers in?” in reference to a time when the Detroit native rented exotic animals, such as a tiger and elephant, for a jungle-themed party. “I was busy earning stripes like a tiger’s skin.” On “Hard Piano” he draws a line in the sand between himself and “all of this pink hair” era or SoundCloud rappers. He’s just a short “stone’s throw away” from the streets on “Santeria,” and hails himself “longest running trapper of the year” on “Come Back Baby.” All these accounts strike a chord.
To that end, Daytona speaks more to Pusha’s second act than his previous efforts. His rebirth after the demise of Clipse’s former manager, who pled guilty to drug charges, and the permanent hiatus of the group is a scenario that very few, who’ve been in similar situations, can say they’ve outlived or enjoyed. Like the superhero he proclaims himself to be, Push has risen through that concrete. As stated on his first album, his name is his name — and so is his story. Your past either makes you or breaks you, and it’s how you wear those scars and stripes that determine your navigation. For Push, that dirty résumé has been a benefit of the doubt. “Can’t escape the scale if I tried,” he raps on “Come Back Baby.”
In never keeping shy of this journey, he’s maintained a firm footing in a rap game, where his career mirrors the answer to what Marlo Stanfield could have done after the final scene in The Wire series. No rain on this hustler’s parade. If you know, you know.