Mosaic / Reviews / October 23, 2013

An album of firsts

You might wonder why Pusha T, someone who’s been rapping since the late ‘90s, just came out with his first solo album, but a quote from a recent interview with the magazine “Complex” explains it all: “I’ve never sold enough records to take me away from the life and that’s the point.” The life he’s referencing is that of a drug kingpin — Ziplock P, as he’s sometimes known, got his start hustling coke. That hasn’t detracted from his music, however — his first two albums as a member of the Clipse, “Lord Willin’” and “Hell Hath No Fury,” are already considered classics of the early-to-mid-2000s. With “My Name is My Name,” Pusha has created a perfect rap album for our time. Everything from the stellar beats and calculated lyrics to the well-utilized features and the album’s runtime itself, a tight 47 minutes (Dear rappers: I know you think you’re the greatest out, but an hour and 15 minutes would be too long for the Beatles, and you are not the Beatles), contributes to the album’s quality.

Of the album’s 12 tracks, 10 feature at least one guest performer. I’ll admit that when I saw the tracklist, even I, a huge fan of Pusha’s, was doubtful he could have so many features on his debut album and retain any sense of cohesion or his own identity. He succeeds in force, however — every guest spot strikes a great balance of contributing to the track but not overshadowing Pusha, and every song feels like a Pusha T song rather than a Pusha-T-and-Future song or a Pusha-T-and-Kelly-Rowland song.

The features on the album are a relative who’s who of the rap and R&B scene: Chris Brown, Rick Ross, The-Dream, Jeezy, Kelly Rowland, 2 Chainz, Big Sean, Future, Pharrell, and Kendrick Lamar. Despite this, he doesn’t pale in comparison to any of them. Not a bar is wasted in any of his verses, whether it’s the braggadocio of lines like “Your SL’s missing a S, n***a / Your plane’s missing a chef / The common theme, see, they both got wings,” from “Numbers on the Boards,” his comparisons of youth and drug dealing in lines like “20-plus years of selling Johnson & Johnson / I started out as a baby-faced monster / No wonder it’s diaper rash on my conscience,” on “Nosetalgia,” which also features a stellar verse from Kendrick Lamar. His tone on the album ranges from threatening to victorious to simply cold, and he feels at home with each. On this album, Pusha’s identity as a drug dealer is never lost, but neither is his identity as one of the smartest, most calculated rappers in the game.

The production, overseen by Kanye West, is solid on every count. The producers recruited for the album all have some cred — Kanye himself, Pharrell Williams, and Swizz Beatz are the biggest names, but there are also tracks produced by R&B favorite The-Dream, trap upstart Hudson Mohawke, and veterans Nottz and No I.D. Some of the best beats on the album are ”King Push,” a threatening Kanye beat that oozes power through pitch-shifted vocal samples and military snare drums, “Numbers on the Boards,” the Don Cannon-produced polar opposite of “King Push” — it’s driven by droning bass and muted percussion, and “Hold On,” a Hudson Mohawke track featuring Rick Ross that combines emotional piano, victorious strings and an auto-tuned Kanye’s wordless singing / snarling to create a great beat.

There are a few shortcomings on the album, such as “No Regrets,” which doesn’t go much farther than its title, and isn’t helped by an uninventive Kevin Cossom or a past-his-prime Jeezy, but the album is overwhelmingly solid, and it’s always clear that skill, thought and dedication went into practically every aspect. This is easily one in the W column for Pusha T. All that’s left is to wait for his victory lap.

Oscar Hallas

Tags:  2 chainz album clipse coke complex drugs kendrick lamar my name is my name pharrell pusha t rap

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