Pusha T has been quiet for a very, very long time. In the fall of 2013 he released what was shockingly his first solo album, My Name Is My Name, and has given us nothing more than a handful of features since. Where seasoned hip-hop heads were more than familiar with his earlier work with Clipse (dating back to 2002), newer uninformed fans aggregated quickly once he signed to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint in 2010.
As Pusha T has grown older since parting ways with Malice, he’s become more noticeably distant from the cokeboy lifestyle that once fueled his raps (“I was really in that Travelodge!!!”). He now does interviews with CNN, rocks Balmain, and quietly enjoys his influential grip on the rap game. Darkest Before Dawn, though not even his proper sophomore LP, is a rare opportunity to hear from the man himself, and he evidently has a lot to say.
Darkest Before Dawn plays out a lot like “Scarface,” except without the scene where the police raid his home. He just wins, but it’s not enough. The new King Push seeks justice; he doesn’t want his younger brethren to go through what he went through. For the first time, we hear him rap not from the perspective of a Miami Vice cocaine cowboy, but from that of a 38-year-old label president who’s seen it all. One of the album’s highlights is the album-closer, “Sunshine”. I expected the title to be a simile for the way his SL 500 gleams in the light or something, but instead we got the most socially conscious and racially-charged song of his career.
The beat drops in layers, à la Lil Wayne’s “Let The Beat Build,” except with more subtle releases. There’s the sound of a scream right as Push snarls “These ain’t new problems / They just old ways / I seen one time turn sunshine into Freddie Gray!” By the time synths and drums chime in, he’s already thrown shots at Don Lemon and saluted Chief Keef. The song, overall, is an unexpected turn to close out a Pusha T album, but it shows his age. While a former Clipse manager is still in prison for involvement in a national cocaine ring, Pusha T has grown old enough to philosophize the condition of Black America regarding police brutality and the war on drugs.
Even the songs that seem most hedonistic have serious undertones; who would’ve thought that a track titled “M.P.A (Money Pussy Alcohol)” would be less about celebration and more about the potential pitfalls of vices? “M.P.A” stirred a lot of excitement when the tracklist revealed features from A$AP Rocky and Kanye West, but Push’s first line deaded any hopes of a banger: “The three leading killers of you n****s, is the shit that’s most appealing to you n****s.” The Kanye-produced piano loop gives the song a mournful air not too dissimilar to “Blame Game.”
But the album isn’t all serious. Tracks like “Crutches, Crosses, Caskets” see Push get back to his ever-so-poetic shit talking. He tiptoes on the beat, throwing shade at everyone in an aggressive whisper. It’s less about making threats and more about addressing the current state of rap from the perspective of a veteran with nothing left to prove: “All I see is victims!”
Pusha T is in a totally unique position in the rap game where he has gone from one half of a duo adored exclusively by rap nerds, to a unanimously well-respected MC with hardly any solo material. He has one of the finest discographies in rap behind him with Clipse, but only caught the nation’s attention when he was the “dude in the salmon suit” during Kanye’s 2010 VMA performance. He doesn’t really have anything to prove, but he kinda does. In the same vein as much of the best rap music released in 2015, Darkest Before Dawn is delivered with a certain air of charity about it. It’s just something to hold us over until he delivers what will inevitably be another fantastic record: King Push.