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Acclaim Digital Cover 022: Pusha T

Our latest Digital Cover features Pusha T: The Happiest Man In Hip Hop.

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In August 2022 it will have been a full 20 years since Lord Willin dropped. We’ve been blessed with a full 20 years of coke raps from Pusha T. Two decades of breaking news from the Robb Report Of The Snort. 20 years of tales from the L. Ron Hubbard of the cupboard. 240 months of replayable, rewindable, slowly decipherable rap riddles from Cocaine’s Dr. Seuss.

By now, we’re familiar with King Push. When a new album is on the way, we know what it is and how it’s gonna be. Push is gonna rap about coke, and he’s gonna do it in the most bone-chilling way. Snow fights, blizzards. His demeanor is ice cold like the slopes you imagine when you hit play and zone out. On It’s Almost Dry, Push shifts gears like an 812 GTS to go from a sprawling suite at Paris Le Meurice to musing about the full clip under his seat, then back to his Jean-Georges reservation for a glass of French white wine. It’s luxury and lawlessness, combining like the yin and yang. A black-hearted outlaw with the purest white. 

His famous ‘euuch!’ adilb is gone, replaced with a chilling Joker-inspired cackle. Push is no longer just writing the coldest raps. Inspired by Joaquin Phoenix’s turn as Arthur Fleck, he’s now playing the role as well as he pens the bars. On Call My Bluff, the career criminal recounts his exploits with a frosty detachment. On Just So You Remember, the crime boss flexes his credentials and snarls a terrifying warning. 

It’s Almost Dry is loaded with luxury rap and is rich in cinematic inspiration. But, in cinema, the trappings of the game are balanced with the pressure and the stress that goes hand-in-hand with Arm & Hammer. The opulence comes at a cost that the cocaine can’t cover. Carlito Brigante, Tony Montana, Carl Jung. The bad guy eventually succumbs to the game.

20 years deep, Pusha T isn’t about to go out like that. He’s looking as comfortable as ever. The spoils are there; sunsets in Turks and Caicos and custom orders with Lorraine Schwartz. But on a deeper level, It’s Almost Dry is his first album in four years. Time is the ultimate luxury, and Pusha’s clearly got plenty. 

Our hero isn’t on TikTok creating viral trends or threatening his peers on Instagram Live for clout. He’s in the studio, honing his craft and creating art. He remains in Virginia, not LA or NY, in a new house with his wife and young son. Just a few months back, Ye gifted Push ownership of his masters. He’s living life entirely on his own terms. He’s the happiest man in hip hop, but he’s still down to scare the shit out of us now and then. Just so we remember who we’re dealing with.

Speaking to Acclaim, Pusha T discusses getting into character, getting his brother Malice back in the booth, and the genesis of luxury rap.

You’ve mentioned that executing the verses ‘in character’ to Pharrell’s standard got a little frustrating at times. You said [the track] Call My Bluff took some acting, can you tell me more about that process?
The verse was written and I just said the verse how I usually would, and [Pharrell] was just like, “No, man, you’re still rapping it. This is a conversation,” and I was like, “What?”, because by the time he heard it, I was already in love with it and married to it. 

He was like, “Bro, you’re rapping. This is a conversation. You’re not in character. You’re not Arthur Fleck. You have to get into that energy. You’re saying the meanest, toughest bars, but you’re saying them like they are mean and tough. You need to get in character like you’re matter-of-factly speaking all these things, and it’ll give a whole new dynamic to what you’re saying.” And I had to wrap my head around that concept and that theory and really just get into character. Because he was like, “Man, it’s not the words. It’s not the raps. It’s you.” He was like, “It’s not what you wrote. It’s how you’re saying it. You don’t have to change one word.” 

I’ve also read that after you played Pharrell Hear Me Clearly, he said, “This is great, but do you want to be a mixtape rapper for the rest of your life?” That’s quite cutting criticism.
Yeah…I think that’s what we are though, man. I think we’re just brutally honest in our convictions, and I think it has to start from that brutal honesty, and then we have to find where the compromise is between us both. Because a lot of days I can get in here and I’m like [to Pharrell], “Man, I fucking hate this beat,” like, “What is this? Tell me why this beat is good. Where does this record play at? Who’s going to love this? Tell me why.”

So it goes both ways.
It goes both ways.

We’ve spoken a bit about getting into character, and you’ve mentioned Martin Scorsese quite a lot on this press run. I believe your comparison is that basically, he stays in his lane; Scorcese isn’t gonna make a romance film. And comparatively, you’re staying in your lane. How are you able to stay in that same genre, but improve every time?
I think life helps me with that. I just feel like the music, the content, the parallels, the fundamentals of hip hop, metaphors, similes – all combined with what’s happening in my life at the given moment – is always going to make for a different album than the one before it. And that could be any and everything in life. Four years ago, I wouldn’t have been rhyming about my son, or even thinking of clever ways to incorporate him [into my raps].

It could be as simple as new purchases, new cars. It could be as simple as just current events. When you’re living in this rap space, and you’re living in this rap game, it’s always about upping the ante and saying the cleverest thing. So, my job as a lyricist is to keep that creativity at the highest level, and keep speaking the things that are relatable to my core.

I want to talk about Open Air. I feel like it kind of nails the theme of the album. The raps are all luxury, that last verse is all about different luxurious French things – I had to go and look up, like, all of that. That’s not my life.
Right, right, right.

On that track, lyrically, you kind of have the trappings of the game; all the luxury that comes with success. But the production is so claustrophobic. It’s eerie and spooky with the organs and choir. And that claustrophobia, that pressure that comes with living in that life – I feel like that’s kind of the two sides of the game that you give us on It’s Almost Dry.
Yeah, for sure. I’m liking this luxury rap title everybody’s [using] these days when it comes to me. And I think people can hear the taste in the music. I feel like that’s why luxury is something everybody’s clinging onto. It’s taste level, man. You’ve gotta have a certain taste level to love and admire what I’m talking about. Or you even have to have the drive to even look up like, “What is he talking about? I just want to know what’s up.” I’m personally that type of rap nerd. I’ve been a rap nerd forever. I always wanted to know what a person was talking about. What was that car? What was this brand? I had to find it. What does it look like? What is it? It just made you more connected to the artist.

Luxury rap is a great term. Do you feel that the genesis of luxury rap was Reasonable Doubt?
The genesis of luxury rap. That might be very true. That might be very true as it relates to an album. Luxury rap for me started with magazines, and being able to see Rakim in a fresh outfit, you know what I’m saying? And cars, and clothes – just being able to see posters of artists and rappers being fly. And having to wait from month to month to get magazines to see what the next coolest guy was going to be wearing on Yo! MTV Raps. That’s what fashion was like. It was like, “Oh, what are those sweatshirts?” And then going to the mall and trying to find it. But luxury rap, in album form, I think it’s fair to say Jay was definitely going to make me go buy a Versace t-shirt. For sure.

Speaking of fashion and influence, your impact on streetwear is significant. Do you ever reflect on that at all?
Man, yeah, I actually do. I see my impact on streetwear and fashion, but in a very humble way. I don’t call myself fashionable. I don’t consider myself fashionable or fashion-forward. I feel like I’m a translator for the streets. And I feel like there are guys who are very fashionable, like Pharrell or a Kanye or A$AP Rocky and they take fashion risks and they do fashionable things and that’s their world. They’re going to take the risk. I’m probably never taking the risk.

But, when you see me, and when people see me in the street, they’re like, “Oh, wait a minute. That’s how you wear this brand.” The guys who look at me might be like “Oh man, I’m not going to wear the Givenchy kilt, but I’m going to wear the t-shirt with the half-sleeve and the thousand-dollar joggers and the kicks. And I’m going to tuck my socks into the joggers.” It’s a way to translate to them, and I think that’s what I do best at. Not being the guy who jumps out there with the furry hat on; I’m not that.

Do you feel pressure? You’ve used the word masterpiece a lot in this press run. I would consider Daytona to be a masterpiece. Do you feel pressure in trying to follow up something that was just so universally loved?
No, there’s no pressure. It’s just a certain standard, man. The raps are always going to be A1. Always. And it’s a certain standard and non-compromising energy and attitude in making those raps work with the tracks that [Ye & Pharrell] produce. I don’t think we’re ever going to put out anything wack; we’re going to sit there and hammer our way at it until we love it. And we all have the taste level. We know when it’s right. When we know when we’re sort of giving up on it, we come back. We’ll get a song done and be like, “Yeah, but the hook’s a little weak,” and we’ll say, “The hook’s a little weak,” for four weeks. Then on that fourth week, we might find the hook and be like, “Yes, I knew it.” You’ll just say the whole time, like, “Man, we knew it was trash. We knew it wasn’t right. But we found it. We unlocked the code.”

Malice is on the album and delivered such a tremendous verse for you, to the point that it closes the album, which says a lot. Can you talk a little bit about the process of getting Malice involved? He stepped away from what you guys were known for, what’s the process of getting him back in the booth?
The process wasn’t too tough. It was a simple ask. You gotta remember, just a month before, he had done the Punch Bowl record on the I Know NIGO! album, which again, a simple ask and it just made sense. He was part of that whole Nigo era of BAPE with all of us. Of course, Nigo was a fan of the Clipse. To ask Malice to do [the record] was nothing, coming back to ask my big brother to be on my album – the last song on my album – he wasn’t going to tell me no.

I know it comes up in damn near every interview but what’s up with a Clipse comeback? Is that something that you’ve proposed to Malice? Or is it kind of unspoken?
Oh, it’s something that he definitely knows that I want…I was very clear.

What do you think it would take to get him on board?
There’s no convincing him to do anything he doesn’t want to do. I think it’s just a thing of the right timing…I think that Malice is definitely seeing how people are receiving what he’s done on my album, as well as the Nigo album and I mean…it was a cakewalk, so I don’t know why we can’t knock out a quick 8, 9, 10 records.

You’ve proven yourself across so many decades now, and I start to look at things, like the fact that this is your first record in four years. You don’t have to go out there and create top 40 singles. You don’t really have to be on social media trying to make viral moments. You own your masters. Your whole focus appears to be just making the best music you can. You’ve achieved a level of freedom that I feel not a lot of other rappers have. Can you talk to me about that?
I think that it’s a testament to me just staying the course. And just really believing in what it is that I do and really believing in what I feel is the cornerstone of hip hop. I don’t think anything is better than East Coast, sophisticated, drug, culture, fashion, raps, money, cars, you know what I’m saying? And vulnerable moments as well. I know exactly who I’m talking to. I feel like I could spot out my fan in the crowd from anywhere. And that only comes with being consistent and being very pinpoint direct in who I’ve been talking to this whole time.

Looking at your family life, your freedom, your music, the things you’ve accomplished. Are you the happiest man in hip hop?
For sure I am. You should see my new house. It’s so nice.

Stream Pusha T’s new album It’s Almost Dry out now.

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