Nearly a quarter of a century into his career, Pusha T drops off his best solo effort to date.
Earlier this week, just a few days after dropping his best solo effort to date, Pusha T seemingly eclipsed himself by letting loose “The Story of Adidon” - a cutthroat rebuke of Drake as a person, not just a rapper or pop star, complete with evil asides directed at utterly innocent bystanders. Even more menacing is the fact that it dropped exactly six years to the date after “Exodus 23:1,” a street single from earlier this decade that re-ignited a beef that started way back during the honeymoon phase of the Bush administration.
Time is a complex concept, often debated fiercely in the most pretentious of circles. “The luxury of time,” as Pusha T has been pontificating during his recent radio tour, seems even trickier. DAYTONA - which arrived last week to equal parts critical acclaim and controversy - was supposed to come out in some form or another a few different times over the past couple years. Instead, it now arrives as the first of the five promised albums from GOOD Music this summer, from the newly minted label president himself. Not only that, but they seem to have caught Kanye West in a particularly creative state of mind, which has led to him claiming that he’d executive produce all five albums, from scratch. The luxury of time, whether intentionally or otherwise, has seemingly carved out a perfect rollout for this camp.
After two great but lowkey albums on GOOD Music, this is the most attention a solo Pusha album has ever garnered, and at 21-minutes, rarely is a syllable wasted. In just seven songs, he managed to create a dense narrative of fame, loyalty and perseverance. When you take less shots, there is naturally more pressure to sink a higher percentage of them, but the detached cool with which Pusha approaches his raps makes for an exhilarating, stress-free listen. You’re not sitting there wondering if he’s going to fumble any of these precious moments - instead, it’s kind of like watching Tom Cruise pull off yet another “impossible” mission.
DAYTONA’s hooks are sparse and to the point. There’s no ostensible single, yet each track catches a groove that deserves to be experienced at every BBQ this summer. The soul and funk samples fit together like abstract, minimalist puzzles, with the engrossing rapping serving as a much needed adhesive that pulls it all together. This is Kanye in his most truest sense; this is the Kanye that’s a fan of the rapper he’s serving beats to, first and foremost. Whether it be a Jay-Z, a Common, or a Pusha T - Ye creates these compositions as if he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the given rapper’s most piercing moments. Rap is a cloaks and dagger game and Kanye has always been an advocate for pulling back the curtain. Combine this with Pusha’s need for integrity and you get first true post-4:44 album of our time.
Over the span of two decades, Pusha T has managed to maintain relevancy and, more importantly, influence. His role in all-time classics, from “Grindin’” to “Runaway,” already certify him as an all time great, the graceful aging of his skillset simply makes for an even better case. Save for one misguided reference to Harvey Weinstein, the writing is gleefully self-aware. On “What Would Meek Do,” the shoehorned Kanye verse could have easily been replaced by another verse from Pusha, especially if he was to continue the sharp-tongued wit found in the first passage: “Angel on my shoulder, ‘What should we do?’/Devil on the other, ‘What would Meek do?’/Pop a wheelie, tell the judge to Akinyele/Middle fingers out the ghost, screamin’ ’Makaveli’”.
While Pusha may openly admit to letting Kanye take the helm on creative direction since before the days of Cruel Summer, Ye has no visible bearing on Pusha’s actual verses. There, he still clearly takes inspiration from the school of Jay-Z and Scarface alike, doling genuine insight into the codes that have defined his life, while still engaging in some well-deserved machismo. It’s this sense of pride that has him leaving bread crumbs throughout the first six tracks - subliminals at certain types of people and their ethics - before fully stating his intent on the closer, “Infrared”: “Salute Ross because the message was pure/He see what I see when you see Wayne on tour.” And under the guise of this renewed beef, it’s hard not to see certain bars as direct jabs at Drake (from silly Rihanna references to scratching asides like, “So I don't tap dance for the crackers and sing Mammy”).
After the events that have transpired over the past week, the album’s central conceit only deepens and the messages only become more layered. After seeing Meek stumble, Push knew he had to out-strategize the most well-known industry-strategizer and has effectively orchestrated a brilliantly choreographed dance. He left hints all along the way, to the extent that he actually named the most direct diss to Drake “Infrared,” implying that the actual shot was still on the way. Yet, Drake took the bait. In his defense, when you listen to DAYTONA under the guise of it being a calculated rebuke of his integrity, it’s probably hard not to feel insulted (just think - Pusha and Ye had a song called "What Would Meek Do" lead into "Infrared").
It’s a cold album. It’s calculated in its approach. It’s an album full of coded language and subliminal meaning. Some layers of his grievances have been peeled back over the last few days, of course - during his interview with Funk Flex in particular, Pusha makes it clear that he was ready to keep it just rap until Drake name-dropped his fiancee. Now, Pusha is being surgical with it - he’s pushing the right buttons and asking the right questions. And his careful approach only stands to add value to the project over time, coating it in an instantaneous prestige that almost shields it from any criticism.
This isn’t a perfect album, but it’s a perfect moment. In the same Flex interview, Pusha goes on to emphasize “real estate” - more specifically, the real estate of the month of June. The same month Drake has been rumored to be dropping Scorpion. There’s a major power struggle going on behind the scenes, and you can tell that GOOD Music, with Pusha T at the helm and Kanye in his ear, value prestige more than ever before; DAYTONA, despite it’s titular reference, is a product of necessity, and not a luxury of time. The bloated nature of recent rap releases, from Views and More Life to Culture II, seems to have GOOD Music signees - whether it be a Valee, a Desiigner, or a Pusha T and Kanye West - reverting back to the meat-and-bones of rap records. They each do it in their distinctly unique ways, but these are all grand ideas being distilled and reduced into digestible, purposeful, brush strokes that will, hopefully, cut through the current drone of pop music and leaving a lasting impression on the listener.
Littered with references and Easter eggs, this album will serve not only as a time capsule for the now, but as a historical document for rap fans to come. Within the first sixteen bars of the first song, he’s made reference to Pink Floyd, Trugoy of De La Soul, the producer Hit-Boy and a rapper from Alabama by the name of Rich Boy - if you know you know. On the most fully realized joint, “The Games We Play,” he raps, “To all of my young niggas, I am your Ghost and your Rae/this is my Purple Tape, save it for ‘Rainy Dayz’”.
The instantaneously infamous artwork, which has already received severe backlash from Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston’s estate, is as suggestive and cold as Pusha’s own rhymes. The image is a reflection of society rather than an outright indictment, much in the same way Pusha’s own existence in 2018 is a testament to the prevailing hurdles he’s had to face to secure his position. It’s a reminder of the world we live in and a justification for the notion of “the luxury of time.” When juxtaposed with the tragic tale of Whitney Houston’s fame and addiction, Pusha’s triumphant entrance on the album feels decidedly morose and way too on the nose.
Pusha T is uniquely tapped into his core audience and refuses to let go of their loyalty in search of greener pastures. With DAYTONA, he plays on his audience’s hunger for Scarface-level bravado while showcasing a crystal clear mind.