In the spring, Pusha T dropped “Numbers on the Boards” like twenty tons of bricks. And by that I mean, it was heavy. Feel me? The joint was so mean — it hurt my feelings for a good week. Mean like Don Rickles’ movie theater scene in Dirty Works…but meaner. It was Hell Hath No Fury Pusha, sans Malice. Pitch-black production underneath a truckload of Pusha’s coded bars. We featured the song in an edition of Please Jam where I mentioned that it surprised me that Kanye — and not Pharrell — produced the cut, given its Clipse’ish vibe. Pusha T is always, essentially, Pusha T…but, Yeezy-Push sounds quite different than Pharrell-Push.
No duh, right? I know. This is not to be taken lightly, though.
Most rappers, these days, buy a collection of beats from various producers and go in the studio to make an album. It’s an ad hoc approach to music that often bears uneven products that doesn’t lend itself to the actual rappers owning a sound. But when a singular talent/personality/voice, like Pusha, spends the first 15 years of his career teamed with a singular, legendary sonic maestros like Pharrell (The Neptunes (sorry, Chad)), that music comes with DNA. There are very discernible characteristics that attract the listener. We ain’t talkin’ “Blurred Lines” Pharrell. We’re talking “Grindin,’” “Hello New World”, “Popular Demand (Popeyes)” — Pharrell with The Clipse.
It’s like watching a gifted quarterback excel in a particular offense of a genius coach.
I don’t know about this new Kanye offense.
My Name Is My Name , Pusha’s solo “debut” for Kanye’s GOOD Music, is a well-made album with a high-ceiling. But for those of us that heard “Numbers on the Boards” and “Nosetalgia” in advance of that album — the album’s two grand highlights, both helmed by Kanye — and thought that Kanye would somehow channel the sound that made Pusha Pusha without Yeezy’ing it up too much, well…nah. This album has Cruel Summer-Kanye pawprints all over it.
It smacks of an attempt at an, I don’t know, 2013 street-hop-pop album. Whereas The Clipse album's always sounded like Pharrell and Chad threw on some Carhartt hoodies and spun their genius into unique tapestries meant strictly for The Clipse, My Name Is My Name sounds like Ye’s attempt to produce a level of mainstream love for Pusha without rocking the boat too much.
Some of the music is puzzling. On “Hold On,” Pusha flows like old Jay-Z (Jay “in his ‘40s, not Jay “in the ‘90s”), while Yeezy moans through an auto-tune and Hudson Mohawke drops emo-chords. It sounds like a throwaway track from MBDTF or Blueprint 3. Kanye was like, “I’mma breath on this a little, Push.” Push should’ve cut the oxygen. Then there’s more faux-ambient sheen from The-Dream on “40 Acres.”
The-Dream (another virtuoso from this era) shows up again on “Let Me Love You” — this time with Kelly Rowland in tow.
None of this should be particularly startling. I just wasn’t prepared.
It all goes back to how I was duped by “Numbers” and “Nosestalgia,” somehow thinking that Ye and his production team would leave well enough alone. We’re not talking stagnance, we’re talking sticking to a formula. The smart listeners, however, knew joints like “Hold On” and “40 Acres” were coming. They knew the excessive features were coming. They knew this could produce some bangers (“Who I Am” is a problem, courtesy of the “Mercy” trio). They also knew that this new coach calls different plays and, ultimately, we’d be getting a different QB.
It’s always been Kanye’s noble mission to rescue Pusha from the cult and give him to the masses. That wasn’t going to happen via an album full of Pusha dwelling in the “Numbers”/”Nostalgia” underbelly on his stickup kid/coke kingpin ‘ish.
There’s a reason why “Sweet Serenade” will spend the Fall playing on your radio and banging in the club.