For most rappers, being coy with your debut album's release date is a sign of weakness and self-doubt. That's toxic to any MC, but especially to Pusha T, whose entire mythos as one half of Clipse was built on being street rap's response to softer and more famous rappers. Signed to Kanye West's GOOD Music, Push released his Fear Of God II EP, but his unreleased album still loomed like a suspended sentence.
My Name Is My Name finally came out this week, and it accomplishes what the appearances on Cruel Summer missed: placing the anti-hero in a penthouse of his own design, with no one to cater to but the story. He raps about his past life cooking crack, but this is a far more triumphant kind of alchemy, one every hip-hop fan should celebrate.
We sat down with Pusha T back in the summer (in advance of his last projected release date) in the offices of a mixed martial arts-focused TV network. In retrospect, it wasn't entirely inappropriate. His debut is about getting everyone else to submit to his power: listeners, critics, other rappers. To create something as undeniable as a leg lock. Judging from our talk, he's pretty sure he knows how to get us to tap out.
What does your new album bring to the rap game that wasn’t there before?
I don’t think I’m reinventing the wheel, to be honest. I just think I’m putting out the purest rap album of the year.
What’s a pure rap album to you?
It’s lyric-driven. It’s a lyric-driven rap album. It’s production at its greatest. I’m basically giving you every heavy hitter in the rap game who’s known for being a super-producer. On top of that, I’m giving you street hip-hop. Uncompromised. Like, this isn’t about radio and things of that magnitude. It’s just basically about making an album that is for the fans.
How do you pick out beats?
Beats just jump out to me. I don’t know true production terminology. It’s all about feeling and sound to me. “Numbers on the Boards,” for example, that just felt like RZA, for some reason. It felt like RZA, it had a swing to it, and the thing about me and the beats that I pick, usually they’re sparse enough that allows me to be heard, clean and concise. They're beats you really have to rap over. Like some of these guys put out records and the first week it’s out there’s like nine different remixes of it by other artists.
That’s something you want for your songs?
No! If you get on it you get on it, but at the end of the day you have to rap. Nobody gets on [one of my songs] and it makes much of a splash when it drops. Nine times out of ten, [the listener] felt that the record was bodied originally.
What are some producers to watch right now?
I wanna say Harry Fraud. That’s definitely going to be somebody I’m going to seek out for the new album. Rico Beats, who did “Exodus.” People are going to surprised with what Nottz did on my album. He produced the joint with Kendrick [Lamar].
Was there a certain direction you had in mind for this album when you began making it? Did it change?
I just felt there was a void in the street energy of hip-hop. I felt there was a void, and I’m talking about articulate rap.
Yeah, there’s the Drill scene, but their lyricism’s much different to yours.
Right. I looked at that and I was like, man, I wanna recreate this energy. This is the energy I want. I want people to actually pull up to the clubs, press rewind on their CDs or their iPods in their cars, roll down all the windows before they get to the scene, and really drive slow. Let people hear what they’re blasting. I wanna recreate that moment.
I was trying to make car music. A lot of people have good albums, but not a lot of people can make car music. They’re some albums that are exceptionally good that I like to listen to in my house, but I don’t put them in my car.
What goes into the best car album?
You know what’s a great one? Teflon Don was a great car album. [Rick Ross] really killed that. And that’s more recently. It’s driving beats, it’s lyrics, brash, hard. It’s attitude.
But it’s more than just shaking the chassis. You turn and you look and you listen.
Yeah, you listen. It’s when you pull up next to the old person and you’re like “I should probably turn this down.” She's looking at you in disgust because she can actually hear what’s being said. And she doesn’t like it.