Pusha T makes a run at the throne
King Push: Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude Pusha T is as good at rapping as anyone else doing it on planet earth right now. You may not know this, and it makes sense why.
It’s not just that “Hell Hath No Fury” is turning ten this year and Clipse is long in our rear-view. It’s not just that he “drops every blue moon/to separate myself from you kings of the YouTube.” In order hold the belt as the greatest rapper on the planet, you need to have the ambition of Kendrick Lamar, the lyrical innovation (and controversy) of Eminem, or the natural crossover ability of Jay Z. Pusha T isn’t a revolutionary like Kanye, or a superstar like 2pac or Biggie.
Push raps about making money and moving cocaine, unabashedly and almost exclusively. He does so in complex and brilliant ways, but he often refuses to let you in on just how good he is. Even on “Nosetalgia” when he was tasked with going bar for bar with a hall-of-fame verse from Kendrick — the current belt-holder for best rapper on planet earth — it felt like he was holding back. He was comfortable letting Kendrick dominate while he quietly did work just as impressive.
But no one steals the spotlight from Pusha on his latest album, “King Push: Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude.” For 33 delightful minutes Pusha T raps as well as any person could over diverse and dark beats.
Considering KPDBDTP (greatest acronym ever) is a prequel to an album slated to be released sometime this year, it is surprising how cohesive and light on filler it is. The content of the brief 10-song tracklist is satisfying but unsurprising for the most part. Just about every song features a chorus and three verses — all by Pusha T, besides strong guest appearances from Beanie Sigel and Ab Liva.
Pusha raps about coke, money, and selling coke for money. He does so with complex rhyme schemes and clever, thrilling, often hilarious lyrics. On lead single and album standout “Untouchable,” T pushes aside a Biggie sample to spit the previously referenced bar, “Drops every blue moon/To separate myself from you kings of the YouTube/I am more U2/I am like Bono with The Edge/In Mexico, fuck Donald and his pledge.”
KPDBDTP is a major improvement over Pusha T’s shaky 2013 album “My Name is My Name,” which features a few honest-to-god classics, but is weighed down ultimately by a lack of consistency. “My Name Is My Name” struggled most with finding hooks to sufficiently complement Pusha’s verses. Its follow-up has no such problems, offering consistently catchy and complementary hooks, including standouts by Kehlani and The-Dream. KPDBDTP also succeeds by offering a more cohesive sonic palette.
Pusha T himself has noticeably improved as well in the two years in between his albums. On KPDBDTP, he raps with a grit and confidence that is lacking on MNIMN. Pusha — or a member of his team — was clearly aware of this, given that the features are cut down drastically. “My Name Is My Name” boasts a featured artist on nearly every track, often having multiple guest verses on a single song. “King Push” allows its star to fully dominate the album, and it’s a better record for it.
Push does his best work when he rides the beats featuring a little more energy, often using drums reminiscent of his “Grindin” era production from The Neptunes. The best example of this and the best beat on the album is “F.I.F.A.” which, unfortunately, is the shortest song here. Luckily though, Pusha goes just as hard on “Crutches, Crosses, Caskets” as well as “Got ‘Em Covered.” On the former, he explores a particularly entertaining tangent about sending his mother Mildred to the bahamas for three weeks while other “platinum rapper's mothers live in squalor.” Later on the same track, he refers to himself as “the L. Ron Hubbard of the cupboard.” Pusha T is really good at rapping.
Despite 30 minutes of consistent excellence, KPDBDTP saves its best song for last. On album closer “Sunshine,” Pusha turns his aim from the life and times of a drug dealer to the daily struggle of being black in America. His bars, as powerful and well-written as anything on the record, are sewn together by beautiful contributions from Jill Scott. The beat hums as Push raps “These ain’t new problems, they just old ways/I seen one time turn sunshine into Freddie Gray/Just another nigga dead, just another nigga dead/Send another to the FEDs, send another to the FEDs.”
Is “Sunshine” closing this excellent prelude supposed to suggest the following album will feature a reborn King Push? Will he turn his focus to an inequality other than the one between his and other rapper’s bank accounts? As astounding as “Sunshine” is, I hope not. Pusha T has made a career out of knowing exactly what he does well, and finding new ways to do it over and over again. To me, it would be a shame if the last cocaine superhero turned himself into just a run-of-the-mill superman.