Pusha T has been making music for over two decades, first as the younger brother of Virginia’s rap duo Clipse and then, in the 1920s, as consigliere and attack dog to Kanye (Ye) West. . He spent the vast majority of that time rapping about his big topic, cocaine. Since releasing his mixtape “Fear of God” in 2011, Pusha has built a reputation, brick by brick, as a relentless rhapsodist, culminating in a Grammy nomination for his 2018 album, “Daytona.” The record seemed to elevate it to a new echelon of rap fame – Nas called it a classic and Diddy said it was “a modern-day masterpiece” – and its rollout was crowned by a vicious triumph in Pusha’s feud with Drake that lasted for years. The small win and critical acclaim set the stage for his latest album, “It’s Almost Dry,” a coke epic about authenticity and rank that doubles down on exposing counterfeits.
Early in his career, Pusha’s rapping served as a flamboyant underscore to his brother Malice’s thoughtful storytelling. That same punch makes Pusha stand out as a soloist. He’s far from Coke’s greatest rapper — he’s described Raekwon’s “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx” as his North Star — but his emphatic, unapologetic style lends itself to drug lord splendor. He often cites ruthless leader Alejandro Sosa, from Brian De Palma’s crime drama “Scarface,” as inspiration in his songs; the two seem to share a ruthless demeanor and a penchant for dispatching enemies. He is determined to a fault, but the work is backed up by his intelligence and consistency. And it helps that he’s a favorite of two of 21st century hip-hop’s top producers: Kanye and Pharrell Williams, who both created the beats that support his visions of a narcotic empire.
“It’s Almost Dry” is as quiet as it is confrontational, played from a relaxed and assumed position of superiority. Here we see Pusha looking down from a higher level of fame and wealth, dismissive of those he considers inferior but unable to resist mocking their acts of lack of grace. He’s long been fluent in the idioms of shit and one-upmanship, and, on this record, the targets of his disdain are social posers and climbers – those who ape a lifestyle they’ll never have. He seems more eager to outdo his competitors than to enjoy the spoils of his drug money. “Few your bitch to Cuba for the thrill”, he sneers on “Just So You Remember”. “But I’m not going to show you what you should have done.” Twice he compares himself to the Joker. Unlike Jay-Z, whose transformation into a mogul was the byproduct of career ambitions, Pusha’s rise appears to have been fueled by pure grudge. Their collaboration, “Neck & Wrist”, is a meeting of minds, which situates rap as an intersection of their profiteering dreams.
Beyond a lyric where he dubs himself “the Dr. Seuss of cocaine,” Pusha makes room for some character development here. We see reluctant memories, spurred on by challenges to his dealer credentials from his former manager Anthony (Geezy) Gonzalez, and these songs provide rich narrative fallout. On “Brambleton,” Pusha sets the record straight on her street romance and split with Gonzalez, drawing parallels to both real and fictional feuds. We almost see him expressing something like regret on “Let the Smokers Shine the Coupes”. “The dope game destroyed my youth,” he admits, before quickly recovering: “Now Kim Jones Dior my suits.” The closer album, “I Pray for You”, brings Clipse together to reflect verses of brotherly loyalty. This is one of the rare moments where we see Pusha expressing his love for something more than himself or his product. But, as has always been the case, his brother (now called No Malice) is the more grounded of the two. In its verses – by turns introspective, penitent and hopeful – No Malice seems to express thoughts that Pusha will never do.
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Pusha spent her Clipse years on Pharrell’s Star Trak label and her entire solo career on Kanye’s GOOD Music. “It’s Almost Dry” connects these eras with its production. Each of the famous beatmakers produced half of the songs on the album, bringing their creative signatures to the face-to-face – Kanye posts examples of chops that mimic classic soul, and Pharrell calibrates off-kilter, worm-inducing riffs that buzz and buzz. . In interviews, Pusha has stated that he was looking to produce and direct on this album, and that Pharrell was looking to get characters out of him. This last effort proved somewhat futile – Pusha’s garish personality always seems to overshadow any role she’s been given – but it wasn’t completely wasted. Attempts to squeeze something new out of the rapper obviously brought more reach to his streams. The songs bask in the accumulated spoils of Pusha’s peddling empire and dismiss her rivals as charlatans, and the expensive beats seem to bolster her claims. “See you rappers, apply for the stimulus,” he memorably raps on “Just So You Remember.” “Live a lie, but die for your images.”
On previous projects, Pusha often spoke as if rapping was a front for his real business. On the 2002 track “Grindin'” he claimed to be a “legend in two games”, but he made it clear that the music was the secondary commotion. “It’s Almost Dry” is his first album to put some distance between his career as a salesman and his career as a rapper. If it’s not a farewell, it’s something similar. His verses are looser than piercing, primarily concerned with social ascension and his taste for beautiful things: the five-star hotel Le Meurice, the jewelry brands Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels. When he raps, “Look at me, I’m legally selling drugs on all these stages,” on “Rock N Roll,” it almost feels like he’s crossed a threshold. But the lure of the old way of life never completely disappears and it sometimes slips into the present. “I grabbed these coins while I was breaking the brick / Make the leap every level, Super Mario exists,” he later raps. “All the spoons that’s been twisted, all the smoke through the vents / I don’t care what they do – that’s not it, that’s not it.”