July 6, 2022

As soon as upon a time, the alliance between Pusha T and Kanye West made excellent sense. Clipse have been critically and cultishly beloved — laborious and literary rappers’ rappers who may lovingly describe avenue economies with verve, specificity, and mordant humor. After their first album, although, Clipse acquired themselves trapped in record-label hell and struggled to attach commercially. Kanye West, in the meantime, lived a commercially charmed life, however he all the time radiated little-brother tendencies. He wished to be generally known as one of many world’s greatest rappers, however even the important reward of Kanye needed to point out each try-hard clanger of a punchline. Clipse have been cool, and so they wished to achieve success. Kanye was profitable, and he wished to be cool — or cooler than he already was, anyway. When Clipse and Kanye first got here collectively to cite Anchorman, they gave the impression to be approaching the collaboration from reverse angles.

Shortly after the discharge of that 2009 collaboration, Pusha’s brother Malice discovered faith, modified his title to No Malice, and determined that he didn’t need to be part of your coke-rap style. Pusha, on his personal for the primary time, joined Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music empire when it was first changing into a drive. All of a sudden, Pusha’s record-label troubles have been gone, and he instantly jumped right into a higher-profile aircraft of existence, excelling at any time when he acquired an opportunity to shine. Kanye West, in the meantime, acquired to tackle some credibility from teaming up with an authorized rap monster whose aesthetic aligned along with his personal. (Kanye additionally acquired entry to some nice ghostwriting; Ab-Liva, as soon as a part of Clipse’s prolonged Re-Up Gang crew, has writing credit on most of the greatest Kanye tracks of the previous decade.) From all accounts, Kanye and Pusha are shut mates, however theirs was additionally a mutually useful relationship.

In his first few albums for G.O.O.D. Music, Pusha struck a stability between the chilly, calculated precision of Clipse’s traditional mid-’00s mixtapes and the calls for of an evolving market. With Kanye’s imprimatur, Pusha may work with massive stars — Kendrick Lamar, Future, Chris Brown, Rick Ross — and produce them into his world. These data by no means turned Pusha right into a industrial behemoth like Kanye, however they gave him a distinct segment. In the event you beloved rap music, you merely needed to acknowledge Pusha as a grasp of his craft. Across the identical time that Kanye West began his spiral into ignominy, Pusha reached his public-life pinnacle, launching right into a feud towards the largest star in all of rap and brutally, decisively successful. That very same summer time, Kanye produced all of Pusha’s transient, hellacious album Daytona, which labored as proof that Kanye West, for all his appreciable faults, may nonetheless make cold-blooded rap music, particularly if he had Pusha T with him.

4 years on from Daytona, it’s much less and fewer clear that Pusha’s Kanye affiliation is doing him any favors. Kanye continues to be one of many richest, most well-known individuals in all of music, however his public life is a sequence of more and more gaudy automotive wrecks, and music barely ever looks like his focus anymore. Pusha has all the time appeared comparatively snug inside that entire circus, however his repute as a rapper is immaculate, and he wants Kanye West lower than he ever has. That ever-changing energy stability is without doubt one of the most fascinating issues about It’s Nearly Dry, the brand new Pusha T album that’s out immediately, only a few days after Pusha introduced its existence.

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To listen to Pusha inform it, It’s Nearly Dry is a piece borne out of competitors. Kanye West produced (or, extra precisely, co-produced) roughly half of the album, and the opposite half got here from Pharrell Williams, Pusha’s first rainmaker. Clipse acquired their begin on the Neptunes’ Star Trak label, and the Neptunes produced all the first two flawless Clipse albums. For It’s Nearly Dry, Pusha labored intently with each Kanye and Pharrell, taking part in them off of one another and pushing them to outdo one another. This course of apparently took some time; in a latest tweet-and-delete assertion, Kanye’s estranged collaborator Child Cudi says that he recorded his look on “Rock N Roll” a yr in the past. (Cudi additionally says that he’s cool with Pusha however not with Kanye. A few of us can relate.) The results of that course of is a fast, nasty document that coaxes a number of the greatest work out of those two ageing super-producers that we’ve heard in years.

Make no mistake: It’s Nearly Dry may be very a lot a Pusha T album. Which means he spends a lot of the transient working time reflecting on his drug-dealing recollections, luxuriating in his escape from poverty, and expressing infectious disgust for anybody unable to make it the best way that he made it. Pusha frames his personal magnificence in mythic phrases. (On one unnamed clueless affiliate: “Had 1,000,000 solutions, didn’t have a clue/ Why Michael kissed Fredo in Godfather II.”) That is nothing new. Actually, there’s not a lot new concerning the album. Pusha toys round with just a few totally different flows, however there are not any radical digressions. Pusha is right here to speak his shit, and he not has the urgency of youth or of a looming feud with a rap titan. As an alternative, he’s dashing fortunately inside his personal lane, by no means working any danger of crashing. He’s doing what he does, and he is aware of it: “Like Brady, will get higher with time/ Didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, only a higher design.”

However the design is nice. Pusha continues to be rapping about coke within the ceiling and hidden chambers at the back of a bodega, however he’s most likely higher at rapping about these issues than anybody, ever. Pusha’s been treading this floor for 20 years, and he hasn’t worn it out but. There are moments on It’s Nearly Dry the place I ponder if Pusha ought to discover a new idea, a brand new thought. It’s not thrilling, as an example, for Pusha to be displaying a weary, just-OK Jay-Z verse as a standing image on “Neck & Wrist.” However each time Pusha’s strategy begins to really feel drained, he comes up with a line that forces me to make involuntary ugly faces: “Kilogram Kickstarter push a brick tougher/ Left my elbow within the pot a la Vince Carter.”

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Pusha actually does get nice work out of each Kanye and Pharrell, too. On “Simply So You Keep in mind,” as an example, Kanye and co-producers BoogzDaBeast and FNZ construct a spacey, ghostly observe out of Colonel Bagshot’s eerie anti-war 1971 psych-rock lullaby “Six Day Conflict,” the identical observe that DJ Shadow as soon as used as the idea for “Six Days.” Pusha makes use of that ominous float to ruminate vengefully: “Simply so that you bear in mind who you coping with/ The purest snow, we promoting white privilege.” (I can’t imagine Pusha continues to be discovering ferociously poetic methods to explain promoting cocaine, however he’s doing it.) Elsewhere, Kanye reverts to his outdated soul-sample self, and he will get off at the very least one nice bar: “I used to look at the Contemporary Prince and pray the home can be mine/ Coulda purchased it, however I ain’t like the best way the kitchen designed.”

However the Pharrell tracks are the place the album really comes alive. These beats don’t sound just like the funky, playful Neptunes beats that Pusha used to routinely annihilate. As an alternative, they’re sparse and sinister and imply. Pusha has mentioned that he and Pharrell went to work early daily on Pharrell’s compound, repeatedly watching Joker for inspiration: “If the music didn’t really feel that evil, if it didn’t have that character, we didn’t use it.” Joker is a horrible film, but when it acquired Pusha and Pharrell into the correct headspace, then perhaps the movie has justified its existence. No matter it took to convey these outdated mates into that alignment, it’s value it. At his greatest, Pharrell makes use of empty area higher than nearly some other producer in rap historical past, and Pusha makes use of that vacant area to mission gleeful malevolence: “You recognize the sort, all the time tryna get in your image/ I used to be tryna get the dope by means of in your sister.”

Except he’s at a marketing campaign cease with Tim Kaine, Pusha’s by no means been the sort to hammer us over the top with social messaging. As an alternative, Pusha prefers to sprinkle his music with obscure intimations of tragedy and remorse. He’ll flex about his vehicles and his garments all day lengthy, however he’s additionally acquired ache and trauma in his life. He doesn’t need to dwell on that stuff, but it surely comes out anyway. Contemplate this: “AMGs on auto-cruise/ The wrist sing in Auto-Tune/ The dope recreation destroyed my youth/ Now Kim Jones Dior my fits.” Amidst these sharply worded strains about materials items, you would possibly breeze proper previous that half a few destroyed youth, but it surely’s nonetheless there, its presence casting every little thing else into indirect shadow.

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On the very finish of It’s Nearly Dry, Pusha’s massive brother reveals as much as throw these moments of darkness into stark aid. “I Pray For You,” the ultimate observe on It’s Nearly Dry, isn’t the primary Clipse reunion; that occurred on “Use This Gospel,” the music from Kanye’s non secular LP Jesus Is King that additionally featured Kenny G tootling up a storm. “I Pray For You” head-fakes within the path of gospel, with its title and with Euphoria soundtrack man Labrinth crooning churchily. However “I Pray For You” isn’t a gospel music, and Pusha’s brother, you’ll discover, is not No Malice. He’s billed as Malice, and he appears like Malice.

Malice will get the ultimate verse on It’s Nearly Dry, and it’s a head-splitter. Malice begins off with a masterful reintroduction — “inform me what I missed” — and goes on to nod at his previous, each as a drug seller and as a microphone destroyer: “Vietnam flashbacks, I get triggered once I sniff/ Right now’s high 5’s solely strengthening my fable.” In just a few strains, Malice, talking with matter-of-fact endurance, outlines his personal struggles and makes it clear that he’s nonetheless himself: “After I was within the combine, opened up your nostril like I’m chopping it with Vicks/ Slaving over stoves like I rub collectively sticks/ Paved one other street so my soul may coexist/ However heaven solely is aware of, I’ll dig one other ditch.”

“I Pray For You” is a music about these two brothers discovering one another once more, concerning the return of the Clipse. Pusha: “Harold Melvin with out the Blue Word/ The previous 10 years, screaming ‘Uno’/ Then sidestep again into the duo.” Malice: “Again up on my excessive horse, it’s chariots once more/ Put the ring again on her finger, marry it once more.” Look: I may very well be studying an excessive amount of into this. After I first acquired my promo stream of It’s Nearly Dry, “I Pray For You” wasn’t on the album. The music may very well be a last-minute addition. It may imply nothing. Nonetheless, in ending with that Clipse reunion, It’s Nearly Dry tells a narrative.

Pusha T is his personal man, and he doesn’t have to be a supporting participant within the numbing, countless Kanye West narrative. Perhaps that is wishful pondering, however I hear It’s Nearly Dry as Pusha ending one chapter of his profession and starting one other — stepping away from Kanye and towards the return of the older, wiser Clipse. If that is the tip of solo Pusha, then the person went out laborious.

It’s Nearly Dry is out now on G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam.