…plus a brief obituary for Aubrey Graham.
Artist: Pusha T
Label: G.O.O.D. Music
Top Tracks: If You Know You Know; Santeria; Infrared
For Fans Of: Jay Z; Jay Rock; Big K.R.I.T.
Pusha T is one of the few prominent rappers from the first decade of the 2000s to side-step any waning in his relevance since then. He’s achieved what a Lupe Fiasco or a 50 Cent were not able to by inhabiting a space somewhere in between – he raps about a street lifestyle with a heavily lyrical delivery that is often cryptic and full of references. Since the end of his Clipse/Re-Up Gang era, Pusha’s solo career has only grown more successful, having been made president of Kanye’s G.O.O.D Music in 2015 and releasing a few decent mixtapes and two great albums since 2011. His last album, King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude, was his best to date, featuring gritty, dark beats and typical witty lyricism. That brings us here, to the album that was supposed to be King Push, now renamed DAYTONA, with similarly unexpected cover art of Whitney Houston’s drug filled bathroom, selected by Kanye two days before its release. In fact, this is perhaps Push’s most Kanye-influenced album with the alarmingly short album length and the production from start to finish being the work of Ye himself.
DAYTONA starts with the incredible ‘If You Know You Know’. The song’s production is infectiously chopped and layered with a mind of its own, distorted vocal samples weaving in and out at just the right moments. Another neat touch I should point out in the production: the instrumental on each song of this project flows into the next seamlessly. Push packs his verses on this first track with references and imagery that only a “trapper turned rapper” such as himself would fully appreciate, with lines such as “I predict snow, Al Roker / I only ever looked up to Sosa / You all get a bird, this nigga Oprah”. The production on the next track, ‘The Games We Play’, becomes simpler but just as effective. Powerful horns come crushing down periodically with loose guitar plucks and drum claps filling the gaps between, while Push lays down braggadocious bars with no interruptions. “I am your Ghost and your Rae / This is my Purple Tape, save up for rainy days” he claims, a particularly clever line referring to the Raekwon and Ghostface album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, which was nicknamed the Purple Tape and included the song ‘Rainy Dayz’.
The project then simmers as it leads into the track ‘Hard Piano’, with the production doing pretty much what the title promises. A piano melody loops itself, becoming slightly boring by the end of the track, especially alongside Rick Ross’ forgettable verse. The chorus is a pretty glamorous moment though, with Tony Williams singing about the drug capital Santo Domingo. The next track, 'Come Back Baby', definitely picks up, beginning with a dramatic sample of The Mighty Hannibal speaking about addiction. The beat then abruptly cuts in; a minimalistic but heavy thumping bass that demands headbanging. It’s grimy and dark and perfectly matches Push’s mean, pronounced flow. The bass melts away again for the chorus, another emotive soul sample, before coming right back in for the second verse. We then flow into the emotional centre-piece of the album – ‘Santeria’. Push mourns the tragic murder of his road manager, De’Von Pickett, with the production perfectly matching his bars. First, we get the mature but cold side of his pain matched by an eerie electric guitar refrain. The eeriness comes to a head at the chorus as 070 Shake sings a ghostly Spanish echo over synth hums. Push comes back in sounding more sombre, with lines such as “Darken my doorstep, they told me the day’s gone”, before the beat switches again to aggressive, clattering drums and Push becomes more menacing, implying that he will “draw blood” as reparation.
A similarly ominous sounding beat is maintained for ‘What Would Meek Do?’, which sees Ye and Push each spit a verse on how they respond to those “talking shit”. Push’s verse is full of materialistic bragging and cites Meek Mill, recently released from a ridiculously harsh prison sentence, as the devil on his shoulder. Kanye delivers a pretty impressive verse also, complete with a suggestion that the MAGA hat he infamously donned will make him exempt from racial profiling.
The last track on the album is ‘Infrared’. The beat is loose and echoey with a looped sample that works well. Pusha raps without a hook on this song, which is appropriate because he has a lot to say. A subliminal Pusha T vs Drake, Birdman, and Lil Wayne beef has been present since 2011, though as of this album the most attention it had gotten was on Drake’s ‘Two Birds, One Stone’ where he questioned Push’s street credibility. On ‘Infrared’, Pusha T responds to this with very explicit shots at all three Young Money associates. The bars that he directs at Drake mock his reliance on a ghost writer, arguably a brave move since this was the exact jab that began the Drake-Meek beef of 2015, which Meek undeniably lost. Indeed, Drake responded to ‘Infrared’ less than a day after the release of this album with ‘Duppy Freestyle’, a pretty scathing attack on not only Push, but Kanye too. Drake made one mistake though – he mentioned Push’s fiance’s name. It was this that Push would cite as his trigger after releasing the savage ‘The Story of Adidon’ as a response. Within the one-verse track, Push pulls all of Drake’s skeletons out the closet – his absent, dowdy father; the child that he has been keeping a secret and from whose life Drake himself has been absent; the lack of time left for Drake’s terminally ill producer, arguably the contributing factor to Drake’s popularity. The only thing Drake has offered since this public crucifixion is a statement attempting to explain the song’s shocking cover art – a genuine photo of Drake in black face. If you ask me, when you’re replying to a diss track with a press release, you have officially lost the beef. Rest in peace Drake, while the internet rekindles its pre-2015 love affair of memeing you.
In all honesty though, the real losers of this rap beef are anyone sleeping on this excellent album. DAYTONA is proof that Pusha T and Kanye are still the only ones who know how to make what they make: lyrical, luxury drug raps and hard, bumping beats that hit you right in the chest. Put the two together and clearly, you get a masterpiece.