Pusha T spent more than a decade churning on critically adored coke-rap with his brother Malice as part of the Clipse, now he's on his own for the first time.
It's been a long road leading up to this, the first official release of a Pusha T solo album. In the past decade as one half of the Clipse, Pusha has racked up glowering reviews from critics left and right, all the while commercial success dodging him and brother Malice. Then, last year Pusha appeared on Kanye West's "Runaway," and hit critical mass in a way he never could with the Clipse. He'd later go on a tear of tracks West produced for his G.O.O.D. Friday Series, while skating around the coke-rap narratives that had made him so successful. Now on his major label debut, Pusha is back to his old ways, though he's grizzlier and wiser for having spent the last decade in musical purgatory.
One thing Pusha was always good at doing with the Clipse was tempering his coke raps with the knowledge he was engaging in self-destructive behavior. "Mama I'm so sorry, I'm so obnoxious, my only accomplice is my conscience," he rapped on the excellent "Mama I'm So Sorry." Tracks like that succeeded because Pusha and Malice actually made selling cocaine sound cool one moment, and the worst thing in the world the next. Though he still explores that dichotomy in Fear of God II, he's looking at things in a whole different light now that he's a "star," living comfortably on West's G.O.O.D. Music roster.
"Kinda Like a Big Deal"- The Clipse Til' the Casket Drops
First known link-up of 'Ye and Pusha, it was sparse on the well-received coke rap of prior albums.
"I'm the only one left and the memories fading, so I write this alone in Vegas," goes the hook to album-closer "Alone in Vegas." And with that, Pusha humanizes himself in a way he rarely has before. This is no longer the same scrappy kid "Grindin" he's above that now, looking down at those cold streets from his warm penthouse suite. Listening to masterful takes like this off the album, you can't help but think that Pusha might regret his new-found comfortability more than any of the pain he felt on the ride to the top.
As reflective as Pusha gets at times, whether it be on "Vegas," or the twinkling-piano track "Everything That Glitters" featuring a well-placed guest hook from French Montana, Pusha still isn't above the hedonism that earned him so much cred in the first place. Look no further than first single "Trouble on My Mind," for proof of that. Over a classic wave of Neptunes electronic-scrawl, Pusha trades verses with Odd Future firebrand Tyler, the Creator. The balance is perfect, with the cocksure Tyler hearkening back to Pusha's halycon days when nothing outside of his own world mattered. The song is a sure album highlight and one of the best rap tracks of the entire year.
"Trouble on My Mind" ft. Tyler, The Creator- Fear of God II: Let Us Pray
Nowhere does Pusha better inhabit these two worlds than on "What Dreams Are Made Of," my personal pick for the album's best cut. Beginning with a WTF-inducing Ric Flair sample, the song backed by a spartan beat, explores Pusha's coke-slinging upbringing in the first verse. "I'm what dreams are made of, cocaine Ronald gave us. Then Nancy tried to save us, by then we had Motorola pagers," he recalls with slight trepidation. In the rest of the verse, he moves past that fear, joyously declaring "luxury is my lifestyle." The second verse acts as a balance, where Pusha mentions his need "for a way out, like Nas needed an ether."
Other than the verbal-game of hopscotch Pusha plays with his success, the album's biggest victory lies in it's brevity. Coming in at only 45 minutes, Fear of God II is short on filler with only the meandering "Feeling Myself," feeling out of place. The beats are all top-notch, fitting Pusha like a glove. To his credit, Pusha knew when to go big-budget and when to dial-down. Coupled with that is Pusha's wise guest selection. Everyone plays well, some (50 Cent) coming alive in invigorating ways we haven't seen in years. Of the guest spots, Rick Ross' in "I Still Wanna," works the best, his supreme snarl perfectly complimenting Pusha's calculated screeds.
"Heavy is the head that wears the crown," notes Diddy adeptly in opener "Changing of the Guard." Though Cicero assuredly didn't have Pusha T in mind when he said that, the sentiment is perfect for Pusha. For years, he saw his talent feebly rewarded, with only a consortium of critical adoration and an ill-fitting crown to show for it. Now he's on the VMAs turning heads, living a dream he could imagine when he was the "neighborhood pusha." That "self-righteous drug dealer dichotomy," is paying off as he wearily reminisces about it all, "alone in Vegas."
"Alone in Vegas"