When you’re Pusha T, the stakes are always going to be high with each solo outing. It’s apparent that the G.O.O.D Music founder thrives under pressure. In 2017, the rapper emerged with his magnum opus, Daytona – a seven-song album produced entirely by Kanye West that set an unrealistic expectation for everything else that came out of the Wyoming sessions. In an incredibly rare instance, the immediate declaration that it was a classic actually withstood the test of time.
On It’s Almost Dry, Pharrell and Kanye West share production duties over the course of 14 songs. Skateboard P brings these eerie, maniacal laughs out of Pusha T that trickle across the album. These nuances help add layers to song structure – a primary focus for Pharrell. Meanwhile, Kanye West allows Pusha T to bring it back to the basics of beats and rhymes. Together, they brought out the best parts of Push and created a confident Rap Album of The Year contender.
“I felt like having them split it half and half would sort of show the differences in them as producers, but also the differences in what they like from me, artistically and as a writer,” he explains. “It was a show of each of their taste levels and what they are into when it comes to me.”
The results were undeniable. The album quickly became applauded by critics and fans alike while scoring Pusha T his first #1 on the Billboard 200. And while Daytona didn’t necessarily reach those same heights on the chart, the commonality between It’s Almost Dry and its predecessor is the luxury of time that he was afforded in creating both. So when he drops, we should "be happy," he says.
“I’ve been fair. I drop when I drop, and when I drop, I just want it. I want what's mine. They can have all the other years and they can put out five albums a year of mid and they can keep doing that. That’s fine. But when I drop, I want what I want and that is rap album of the year. And it's okay,” he says of his competitors for Rap Album Of The Year.
We caught up with Pusha T in early June to discuss Rap Album Of The Year, the Clipse reuniting, Kendrick Lamar, and the significance of a Grammy to his illustrious career.
Image provided by the label. Credit: James Pereira
HNHH: If Daytona is your Purple Tape what classic album would you compare to It’s Almost Dry to?
Pusha T: Man, you know, I haven't found the actual album to compare it to. I know, I kinda missed the mark for myself because – it's funny me and Pharrell were talking about it the other day. Had I had a worldly single like, let's say “Hard Knock Life”, this would have been my Vol. 2. But I don't think that we created that particular song or the song that would check that box so I can't really say that it's my Volume 2, my Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, it's close. But I think we might have missed a song. And he agreed with me. He agreed with me in that aspect. And we have new targets on our dartboard now for the next project that we are working on.
One thing I noticed is that, there is such a deep East Coast influence on this project. The Clipse is the sound of Virginia, it's part of that era. I was wondering how do you think your solo albums reflect your birthplace of the Bronx.
For me, I did not live in the Bronx long. I was just born there. During the times which I was raised in Virginia, I would say New York Hip Hop and just the era of the street culture had adopted Virginia as part of that New York to VA pipeline. There is an East coast sophistication that is definitely apparent in my music. Virginia wasn't adopted by quote-unquote the Dirty South during that time and it shows today. You know, where I am geographically, my music leans more East Coast than it does southern Atlanta.
Pharrell and Kanye, half and half on the production. How does this new album tie into your journey as one half of the Clipse and as a solo artist on G.O.O.D. Music?
I think that people always ask me how I navigate between one of my best friends forever, in Pharrell Williams, and how I navigate the business of Kanye West and how we've created this brotherhood together. And I felt like having them split it half and half would sort of show the differences in them as producers, but also the differences in what they like from me, artistically and as a writer. And I think it was very clear, like who – like what Pharrell likes to hear. It was a show of each of their taste levels and what they are into when it comes to me. I think it made for a very well-rounded, cohesive album. We heard Daytona with Kanye West at the helm. And now, we’re hearing It's Almost Dry with both of them sharing the duties and I think it really lends itself to just a great, well-rounded album where you get a lot of character in the production of Pharell Williams but you also get a lot of the purest elements of the sample-driven Kanye West. And I think it makes a perfect match.
After working with two of the greatest producers of our time, I was wondering if you could describe the feeling that Madlib's production gives you in comparison to both Ye and Pharell?
Man, Madlib’s ear for just unorthodox sonics and samples is really, really strong and I feel like that's what I would be taking from a Madlib project and adding my own nuances to that. I feel like he just has a very obscure and unorthodox taste and I think it plays into another chamber that I haven't tapped into ‘cause I haven't worked with him like that but I think it would be very beneficial to the Pusha T brand and when it comes to that music. That's something that would really play well in my favor.
As somebody who is frequently championed by the streets, what are the keys to relevance in that space while also elevating beyond that?
I think the streets is forever changing, forever evolving. And just being in tune and in touch with everything that is going on outside, that's how you remain relevant. I don't think the streets ever gets old or stale. That's one thing that has been a constant in hip hop. Whatever is hot in the streets is what – that's the template for what's to come. The streets is the dictator for everything that's important culturally. It's trendsetting. The streets are always first, so just stay in tune. If you stay in tune with streets then man, you can always sort of speak at the frequency of the people or at least a sub-set of people that, again, will play towards your benefit.
"I think the streets is forever changing, forever evolving. And just being in tune and in touch with everything that is going on outside, that's how you remain relevant."
Image provided by the label. Credit: James Pereira
I also wanted to dive in-- the rap album of the year campaign that you are on, I wanted to know your thoughts on Kendrick's new album.
I think Kendrick's album… I think he made a strong album. I think his album is definitely a conversation piece, for sure. I think that Kendrick does what he does lyrically. I think… man, it was impressive. I think it was impressive, for sure. I think it's great competition. It's a matter of what you want to hear. I feel like for what it is that I do and what I was going for, and like I said, this is rap album of the year to me. It's Almost Dry. That is the mood and that is the energy. I think I put out that type of energy. I don't think me and Kendrick made the same type of album, at all. It's two different listens.
"I think he made a strong album. I think his album is definitely a conversation piece, for sure. I think that Kendrick does what he does lyrically. I think… man, it was impressive."
In the same breath, I feel like these are two of the most anticipated albums of the year. When you look at the soundscape of rap right now, why do you think these albums are so important for the culture?
Because we are the best rappers. I’m just talking about in a sense of being like really good rappers [laughs], fundamentally good rappers. You know that from those two artists you are getting the truth. That's it. People know that they are getting quality. You know that you are getting taste. You know that you are getting well-thought-out compositions. Again, what you prefer is what you prefer but you can definitely count on – I haven't heard anybody say that they hated my album or his album. I feel like you're gonna like both, for sure. But it's just a matter of what you are feeling and what mood you prefer to be in.
"You know that from those two artists you are getting the truth. That's it. People know that they are getting quality. You know that you are getting taste. You know that you are getting well-thought-out compositions"
And what other drops do you think belong in the conversation for rap album of the year right now.
Who else dropped? Tell me.
That's a good question. I can't think of that on the spot right now.
Exactly, so let's stop. Let's stop fucking playing. Let’s stop it. Everybody knows what's up. This is not rocket science bro. And listen, be happy. I don't drop every year. So, be excited. Say, ‘hey, you know what, it's gonna be his.’ And then we have probably a year and a half or two or whatever, maybe. Unless I switch my pitch up but you know, I’ve been fair. I drop what I drop, and when I drop, I just want it. I want what's mine. They can have all the other years and they can put out five albums a year of mid and they can keep doing that. That’s fine. But when I drop, I want what I want and that is rap album of the year. And it's okay.
"I’ve been fair. I drop what I drop, and when I drop, I just want it. I want what's mine. They can have all the other years and they can put out five albums a year of mid and they can keep doing that. That’s fine. But when I drop, I want what I want and that is rap album of the year. And it's okay"
I did want to ask about the Clipse reunion. I know in 2020, you shot down the possibility of it happening and then we got these two records. I wanted to know what has changed in the past two years to make this possibility of a Clipse reunion happen?
I just think that there’s just very important circumstances. The Nigo project is very important. Just as friends and like, as far as the history goes and as far as the friendship, the history and the actual theme of the album, I Know NIGO! Nigo didn't necessarily want to do music with people he did not know, and to not have the Clipse on that project would be blasphemous. You have that. And then you just have big brother-little brother going on on It’s Almost Dry, so it's like that was a simple ask for me. It's not anything so grandiose happened. It was just actual things that made really, really good sense and I feel like the stellar work of my brother has ignited the talks and the flames of like, “Oh no. The Clipse definitely could put out another album tomorrow.”
On that note, I noticed that Pharrell is bringing out the Clipse for Something In The Water, so can we expect a new single from the Clipse for the summer?
Ah man, I'm not going to say that. No. Again, though, another ‘what kind of ask is that?’ That's a family ask. It's like, you know, it's Pharrell, it’s Something In The Water, it's us, we’re there. Why wouldn't we come out and speak to… you know, we’re in Washington, DC. That's really speaking to people that are traveling up from the 757, to just, you know. It's always been a really strong place for the Clipse and for myself as a soloist. So it's good to engage with the fans and again, speak to the history and the legacy of what we've built. It's special times. But no, you’re not getting a single [laughs] it's not going to be that. I wish, I wish.
Exclusive Audio Footage just arrived on streaming services. I wanted to know what memories comes to your mind when you hear this project?
When it was just the funnest times. The most creative times. I was like… I had my nieces and my nephews on songs and you know, we were making music in such a carefree space. Everybody was at a very creative -- it was creative freedom that everyone sorta felt and had at that particular time. We would try anything. I remember actually trying absolutely anything. We did not mind, we did not care. There was no idea that was shot down before trying it five different ways. And when I think back about it, that carefreeness. It’s something that, at times, has gotten lost along the way by overthinking. Overthinking was something we didn't do back then. We were kids.
One of my favorite lines is “Award shows the only way you bitches could rob me.” How do you feel about award shows recognizing your work now?
I want to be recognized. I'm from an era where I had to do – I have been nominated for a couple Grammys, and there was a time where I would have to go to a whole separate ceremony. There was a time when the Grammys weren't ever televised. There was a time when we were boycotting the Grammys. And there was a time when rap, what we would classify as rap, wasn't represented properly. And I feel like the Grammys has been like, especially when I was actually nominated, I felt like my category was really strong. I felt like it was a very fair and good representation of a) the winner and b) The actual finalists that were up for the award. So its good to see things progressing and moving forward in a good light and in a good way, to show that rap is growing, and there are a lot of different subgenres, and to be able to compete with – you know, and have a niche fanbase – but be able to compete on a popular level, too. I think that's a testament to them actually getting it right. So yeah, I want awards. I want everything. I want everything I am coming for.