Is this the Virginia rap great’s finest solo album yet?
Let’s engage in a little sacrilege. Really, it’s fun. Put on Pusha T’s Fear of God II: Let Us Pray for the first time in probably a decade. (You’re not a great rapper if you don’t have a dubiously numbered album title, but the first Fear of God volume is a mixtape and the Clipse guys owe more to their mixtapes than most.)
Listen to that stomping, chewed-up orchestral beat out the gate, the propulsion, the confidence, the guests; early Tyler, the Creator adaptation following Diddy! This is Pusha’s least-celebrated solo release. It slaps like the Three Stooges.
Clipse were great, but like the Smiths, they made one undisputed classic (Hell Hath No Fury, just switch out the Queen for Jive Records) and most of their majesty can be heard outside of their other three official albums, on essential, unofficial reconfigurations with names like Re-Up Gang Presents: The Saga Continues. This is not to say Morrissey’s solo discography comes anywhere near equaling Pusha’s. It’s the career he wishes he had, five unbelievable albums and almost frightening relevance in 2022 despite playing the heel. Even his moral compass is up to date, which says something when he’s infamous for rapping almost exclusively about the manufacturing and distribution of cocaine.
Artist: Pusha T
Album: It’s Almost Dry
Label: G.O.O.D. Music
★★★★★ (5/5 stars)
This isn’t to say he’s a good guy or a grown-up; just four years ago he warned the social-media obsessed Spotify audience to “never trust a bitch who finds love in a camera / She will fuck you then turn around and fuck a janitor.” What he is is the antihero of dreams, a born comedian, crime novelist, crowd mover and technician who will convince you not only that it feels good to be bad but that his sworn enemy Drake is the real bad guy, comparable to Trump and here’s why.
Across five albums, Pusha T has entered his 40s slyly continuing to draw from a well of unending coke metaphors that are more outrageous every year while knowing full well that no one believes the president of Kanye’s record company, G.O.O.D. Music has a reason to keep slinging on the corner when he’s already made. Clipse did a good job of convincing us that rap was just their pocket money, between their withholding label and their management team getting locked up near the end. It was enough to scare Pusha’s brother and rhyming partner Malice into finding religion, making spiritually charged rap as No Malice while Push himself continued to peddle “Nosestalgia.” At this point we know he writes about coke because he loves David Simon, he’s in it for the action flick he knows he’s phenomenal at scripting. He also knows his obnoxiousness, as Clipse’s theme statement “Momma I’m Sorry” put it, is funny as fuck, all the way back to the hook where he’s “spending money like a rich white girl” from Fear of God II.
So let’s give it up for those five albums: Fear of God II (strong and somewhat taken for granted), My Name Is My Name (literally named after The Wire’s coldest character while coming into his own), King Push—Darkest Before Dawn (a hyped-up, Timbaland-assisted preface to a classic that never materialized, and it sounds like one), and Daytona (indeed a classic but not the one anyone expected). Numero cinco, It’s Almost Dry, dropped Friday and you’re permitted sacrilege: If the dust settles and it turns out to not be Push’s best record, it’s worth preserving that it instantly felt like it might be.
Having given it more than half a dozen spins in 48 hours, including some back-to-back match-ups where the unassailable Daytona came out on the ugly end, I’m ready to call Dry the man’s most musically enjoyable album, à la Danny Brown’s still addictive three-years-and-counting uknowhatimsayin? even if XXX was his thunderous peak as a rapper. This shouldn’t be too controversial, with Pharrell and Kanye helming the entire thing, and even those of us who wish Kanye would sell his earthly possessions and take a vow of silence to become some kind of monk know that Push is the only human alive who always gets genius work out of him regardless.
You also don’t expect a Pusha T album to sound beautiful, you come to his music for a spiky voice lobbing weird imagery over fractured beats that hit from odd angles (Kanye’s confounding “Numbers on the Boards” production might be all of hip-hop’s peak as regards the use of negative space and musique concrète sampling). But opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is Pusha’s favorite album of all-time, which he never stops gushing about, and for sure the soul-powered grandeur of “Dreamin of the Past” and “Rock N Roll,” not to mention Euphoria maven Labrinth’s downright gospel “I Pray for You” prove that the 44-year-old’s ear for irresistible melody is as unscrupulous as his harder skill set.
Of course that’s not even close to full story of this record, which is no poignant lookback even if “My son is like a work of art, his father’s like Shakespeare” makes an appearance. (His rabble-rouser history even shades the context of such a proud and lovely sentiment, as it stands in contrast to Drake “hiding a child” on Push’s baby-in-a-blender takedown “The Story of Adidon,” which briefly stopped time altogether in rap a few years ago as its biggest star was fitted for a toe tag.) There’s the sad-Sega synth figure that keynotes “Brambleton,” the regal fanfare contorted into stabbing “Psycho” strings on “Let the Smokers Shine the Coupes,” the woozy melt of “Neck & Wrist” matched by experimental squeak-rapping. “Just So You Remember” allays the apocalyptic Colonel Bagshot sample from DJ Shadow’s “Six Days” between meth-cooked synth bass, rolling timpani and a growl I wish Push deployed even more than just here and 2019’s A-list one-off “Sociopath.”
When Push calls himself “cocaine’s Dr. Seuss,” he might have finally found the right nickname, imparting a psychedelic palette and otherworldly creativity to a medium that’s somewhat rightfully one-dimensional and gray by nature. (“Didn’t have to reinvent the wheel, just a better design,” he explains on “Dreamin of the Past” before name-dropping Third Eye Blind.) Likewise, there may not be a better musical moment in 2022 than Pusha’s 3000th metaphor for his product being “We selling white privilege,” outrageous for being both fucking hilarious and for flipping all kinds of race / class / Reagan analyses on their heads.
It’s Almost Dry may not be this man’s peak as a wordsmith but you’d never know that from the best lines here: “I could send some n****s right there right now / 1-800-Call-My- Bluff,” “Open the box, it’s like ten Christmases,” “That hole in the attic was not for a ceiling fan,” “Your favorite rappers dressing like Comic-Con” “Career’s in eighth gear, nothing left to do but levitate.” Daytona is a truer masterpiece to what this guy does best, seven off-kilter Kanye productions of ugly shop-talk that never blink. But as a listening experience, Pusha has equaled it at absolute least, and here he goes out on a Clipse reunion to boot; No Malice is even credited as Malice again, and who knows what will come of that?
Celebrating 20 years of their garage-door-slamming smash “Grindin’,” they could be completely unstoppable in this moderately reflective mode. There’s nothing left to do but levitate.
- I Would Call It Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Roots’ Phrenology at 20 - December 8, 2022
- When Cloven Hoofprints Turn Up in the Garden: The Mountain Goats’ Tallahassee at 20 - November 21, 2022
- Pictures Are Dead, Man: Miles Davis’ On the Corner Turns 50 - October 23, 2022