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Pusha-T - Daytona Music Album Reviews

Pusha-T - Daytona Music Album Reviews

Produced entirely by Kanye West, the spare and serrated solo album from Pusha-T is a near-airtight exercise in flair and focus.

Sometimes the conveyor belt of hype and rumor slows down long enough to spit out something fully formed. Daytona appears as the long-awaited Pusha-T album we’d all been told to anticipate; his last full-length, 2015’s Darkest Before Dawn, was meant as a teaser to this, the major work. It’s unclear whether there are remnants from early drafts of the album that’s been delayed year after year, or if these songs sprung entirely from the Wyoming of Kanye West’s imagination.
In either case, Daytona is Pusha’s best work as a solo artist, a tightly wound record that doesn’t recapture the highs of peak Clipse, but finally makes ideal use of the now middle-aged rapper’s considerable skills. At just seven songs and 21 minutes, it shirks the bloat and radio concessions of Darkest Before Dawn and, to a greater extent, his 2013 solo debut, My Name Is My Name. The beats—sample-heavy and produced entirely by Kanye—are uniformly excellent and let you see the seams: It’s like an album full of “Bound 2”s, without the sentimentality. And while the slew of G.O.O.D. releases slated for June threatens to swallow everything else alive, Push included, the spare and serrated Daytona should hold up as a near-airtight exercise in flair and focus.

The business has shifted several times since the rapper’s heyday with Clipse and the Neptunes in the mid-2000s—rapping about coke is no longer the shortest route to the genre’s cutting edge—but the memory of that second Bush term gives Pusha’s wheelhouse a certain highbrow appeal; JAY-Z knew he needed to tap into something similar on 2007’s American Gangster to correct for a disastrous, buttoned-up comeback album.

But unlike Mr. Carter, Pusha-T does not have an expansive list of topics, nemeses, styles, and tics. He raps, sometimes wittily and sometimes gravely, about: selling drugs and buying luxurious things with the profits; the peril and paranoia that comes with selling drugs; guilt; and, sometimes, his grudges against Lil Wayne and Drake.

This leaves Pusha open to charges of being one-dimensional, but, really, he’s a specialist: His writing has as much stylistic and syntactical variety as most of his peers, and few are operating at anything close to a comparable level more than two decades into their careers. It’s simply enthralling to hear him twist his tongue around passages like, “Angel on my shoulder, what should we do?/Devil on the other, what would Meek do?/Pop a wheelie, tell the judge to Akinyele/Middle fingers out the ghost, screaming ’Makaveli’”; whether the subject matter is played out is beside the point.

Pusha has made a career being an outlet for celebrated producers’ weirdest beats. There’s nothing on Daytona as avant-garde as the synth-drenched “Trill,” but the tracks here skew grim and steely, luring him into custom-fitted pockets. (Daytona comes out nearly 13 years to the day after Common’s Be, where Kanye pushed his Chicago mentor into lusher, more soulful spaces that were similarly ideal.) Kanye’s involvement in the album comes with its drawbacks: He reportedly paid $85,000 for a last-minute cover art change to a macabre and misguided picture from the late Whitney Houston’s bathroom and drops a MAGA-hatted verse that asks if he’s “too complex for ComplexCon”—unlike most of Pusha’s raps, Ye’s is so tethered to the news cycle that it yanks you out of the illusion. But their musical chemistry is undeniable. The oafish opening to “Hard Piano” aside, the writing on Daytona is knotty and strong, with texture and grit and plenty of tight turns. The album is, in many ways, a years-late payoff of the promise shown when Ye and Pusha performed “Runaway” at the 2010 VMAs.

As creatively in-sync with Kanye as Pusha seems to be, he defaults more than once into Jay’s lyrics. On “The Games We Play,” Pusha lapses into Reasonable Doubt, specifically that run from “Politics as Usual”: “Ain’t no stoppin’ the champagne from poppin’/The drawers from droppin’, the law from watchin’.” On that JAY-Z song from more than 20 years ago, the next line is a curt and disgusted “I hate ’em.” Pusha doesn’t end his verse there; he locks back in and nods to his producer: “With ’Ye back choppin’...” “Politics as Usual” was Jay playing the coolheaded hustler, the one who could barely be bothered to come to the studio. But the next time Pusha quotes Jay is on Daytona’s closing song, “Infrared,” and by that point, he’s channeling Jay in weary, skeptical industry observer mode. The song opens with the same line (“The game’s fucked up, nigga’s beats is banging/Nigga, your hooks did it”) that Jay used to open Kingdom Come. It’s clear how Pusha sees himself: yanked from hustling into the record industry but uncompromised in his ethics.

Pusha wastes little time on “Infrared” before diving back into his shots at Drake; there’s a Quentin Miller reference and at least one other jab about ghostwriters, and in context, the anecdote about Jay needing that Annie sample to match Grammys with Will Smith seems pointed.

The real venom is saved for Baby and Wayne, though. Pusha thanks Rick Ross—who appears earlier on Daytona—for holding Baby’s feet to the fire for his alleged exploitation of Cash Money artists: “Salute Ross ’cause the message was pure/He see what I see when you see Wayne on tour/Flash without the fire/Another multi-platinum rapper trapped and can’t retire.” It’s withering, and while it’s likely rooted in fact (the details of Wayne’s lawsuit against Cash Money were unbelievably bleak), it serves primarily to cast Pusha as the savvy one, the one who could face boardroom or back-alley obstacles and come away unscathed. That’s not the whole story, of course. But what Pusha has done is carve out his own corner of rap where he can reign as king for as long as he wants.

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