Exclusive: Pusha T explains calling "My Name Is My Name" album of the year, why working with Pharrell is "a teaching situation" and his regrets about hustling.
Pusha T appears relaxed. He’s wearing a white t-shirt and grey sweat pants as he sits under the San Bernardino, California warmth. Gold wraps around his wrist, and calm vibes resonate in his tone, as the interview is about to commence. The serene scene is surprising, considering his name is his name. It’s unexpected because his debut solo album, My Name Is My Name, is slated to hit stores soon and the mayhem of a major label Rap album release is sure to follow.
The release also marks a special moment for Pusha T. It is the Virginia-raised emcee’s first official full-length album where his brother, now No-Malice, doesn’t stand beside him as one-half of The Clipse. Together, they have crafted a career that spans approximately 15 years since they made Exclusive Audio Footage with The Neptunes. But this is Pusha’s moment to shine as a solo emcee. And he’s confident in this position.
During this interview, Pusha T explained why he feels My Name is My Name is a candidate for “Album of the Year.” He also addressed Kendrick Lamar’s verse on “Control” and his own call-outs this year. Pusha T also spoke about Pharrell, his “best friend, who happens to be a super-producer,” what it was like to work with Backstreet Boys and Justin Timberlake and why he feels he has consistently shown a conscious element in his raps. During the interview, Pusha also issued a message to young drug dealers about the importance of finding a different route to success.
Pusha T Makes The Case For “MNIMN” As 2013’s Best Album
HipHopDX: We’ve heard you say My Name Is My Name is going to be the album of the year when it drops. What are the characteristics an album needs to have when you think about album of the year?
Pusha T: It needs to have car life. When an album drops, I want to hear it in every car out in the streets at the moment. [It needs to have] lyricism, beats, college talk, school talk, corner talk and just shit like that. I’m feeling like those are all the characteristics I know for the album of the year. [Albums like] Doggystyle, Life After Death, Purple Tape [Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...],” Illmatic, Reasonable Doubt—you know, things like that.
DX: You know what’s interesting about all those albums? They all have a cinematic quality, and I heard The-Dream talk about your album and he said, “There is a cinematic, dramatic quality to the project.” What do you think it is about My Name Is My Name that makes it dramatic and cinematic?
Pusha T: I just think it’s the producers, man. I feel like the producers made movies, man. Yessir, lyrically, I think I just painted those pictures on those canvases, and I know in working with The-Dream—especially the records me and him did together—he really made it be colorful. Like, I had to be colorful. The pictures that was painted, the verses, the lyrics, you know what I'm saying? There is a record on my album called “40 Acres,” and honestly it’s almost like it’s acapella, but still it sticks out. I think it’s going to be a fan favorite.
DX: You said they created these movies with the beats. Did you write the script to it? Do you feel like you were creating these scripts?
Pusha T: Oh, hell yeah…totally man. The film is my life. Film is my life.
DX: Talk to us about those tracks, because there’s a lot out where people know who’s featured—people know the producers, and they know the names—but I think people are more interested in the content. People know you as a storyteller.
Pusha T: I just think that it’s different episodes of my life, man. You know, I really pride myself in making street, Hip Hop music. I felt like, that was sort of needed, and I felt like that was the void that was missing in Hip Hop. There’s lot of great Hip Hop out there, but as far as street, Hip Hop goes, I can’t really say there’s a true spokesman for it like myself. So, that’s how I’m looking at it.
DX: So, of those tracks, what’s a story that you’re telling through this. What’s a day-in-the-life situation you talk about on the album?
Pusha T: I just speak, and I speak from the perspective of a conscious dopeboy. At the end of the day, it’s like, giving people my perspective and letting them know my true thought process. I don’t really know if people really look at me as a conscious person. I think they hear a lot of gratuitous raps, they hear a lot of bragging and things like that; but I feel like this being my solo project, I can honestly give you my full, full, perspective.
Why Pusha T Denounces “One-Dimensional Street Raps”
DX: What’s one of your songs that you feel shows that the best?
Pusha T: Oh man, I have a song produced by Pharrell called called, “Sorry Nigga, I’m Trying To Come Home,” and the acronym for that is S.N.I.T.C.H. I personally don’t really want to hear any one-dimensional street raps; you know what I’m saying? This is probably one of the most poignant records on my album. It’s the realest record, and it just speaks from the perspective of knowing people who’ve turned over in the game, and no rapper talks about that. Every rapper let’s you feel like...
DX: I’m down to do life?
Pusha T: No—they may be. Who knows? But what I’m saying is they their crew hasn’t turned over, or they don’t know anybody… They don’t know the mentality, what it does to you as a person, and actually what it does for the public and so on and so forth. And it’s like everyone is going to make you think that we got that, and we got rich, and there was no hiccups. But there’s been hiccups.
DX: What does Pharrell bring to the project that is different than what Pharrell has brought to the Clipse projects? Because he has evolved as well as you have.
Pusha T: I don’t know, man. To me, Pharell just brings a level of musicality that’s unmatched. Like that guy is just… He’s a real music guy. You know, 100 percent, like he’s a real music guy. To me, it’s a teaching situation, and I sit there as a student. I sit there as a student and call it a day. I just listen to the advice and the direction he gives me in regards to some of the beats he hands over.
DX: I was looking at his catalogue, and he was working with—obviously the Clipse—but Slim Thug, Gloria Estefan and Madonna. With that kind of diversity, what has it been like for you because you have been on the remixes of artists from a different genres. How has it been for you to expand beyond Hip Hop?
Pusha T: It’s really what I was exposed to. I’ve been lucky to be blessed with my best friend who happens to be a super producer who lived, you know, actually up the street from me. So my first feature ever was a Backstreet Boy feature, and my next feature was Justin Timberlake—on his break-out project, trying to get out of the pop star, boy band look. I don’t have reservations when it comes to hopping on beats. It’s a flow thing, and it’s just about how I can marry it and that’s it.
DX: With you being able to record a track with Backstreet Boys and not being worried about any sort of thing, it’s like, “These kids love Backstreet Boys, and they love Pusha T.”
Pusha T: That’s always the goal. It’s not about the content. It’s all about trapping people in what you’re saying and patterns, flows and so on and so forth. So, that’s what I’m trying to do with it.
Pusha T Commends Wale; Says, “He’s Killing It”
DX: Looking at Hip Hop this year, you’ve got the Yeezus listenings where the stuff was projected. You had Jay-Z where there was a free download via Samsung, and you have J. Cole doing these listening sessions out in the middle of wherever, in the middle of L.A., New York and so on. What do you think about event type listening sessions like that?
Pusha T: I think it’s cool if you can have the peoples' attention. You named three guys that I think it’s safe to say the public pays attention to. I think as long as the public pays attention, those type of events are good, and they bring a level of excitement to a project.
DX: Are we going to see something like that from My Name Is My Name? What kind of roll out are you looking forward to?
Pusha T: Oh, man. Well I’m definitely having a listening party in New York on the 11th. Well, that will be the first, and that’s going to be pretty big. It’s going to be pretty big.
DX: Different than most listening sessions in your opinion?
Pusha T: Ummm...
DX: You look like you're hiding something.
Pusha T: You know, I’m going to just say that it’s about showcasing the music, and that's all the listening session is going to be about, man. It's definitely going to be a destination spot. You guys will hear about them.
DX: I heard you call your project the album of the year. What has been the most disappointing album of the year for Pusha T?
Pusha T: The most disappointing album?
DX: Yeah…or a surprise album.
Pusha T: Who is this new guy? I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know if there’s a… I bought everything, and I see the different moves of all the great albums, man. I mean, I don’t think anybody just died on me. What was super fresh? I’m a fan of Wale. That’s my man. I just like to watch his growth. His album came out, mad people were receptive to it, and I love his new singles, man. He’s killing it, and this new one is crazy. That’s just somebody I can watch and be like, “Oh man, he’s killing it,” or I can go to a show, and I know he turns his show into a party. So that’s what I’m looking forward to. I haven’t caught a Wale show on the new album, but that was a new album I was glad to see.
Pusha T Says He “Never Had Great Reasons” For Hustling
DX: You talked about being a conscious street artist. I was talking to your brother about a week ago about that. The Clipse have always done that. He was like, “I don’t know why people are saying I’m just doing that now. The Clipse have always done that.” What’s been something with a side of the street world and a conscious side that you look back on that you’re really proud of?
Pusha T: Me. I think just me, rapping from a perspective of the streets and then giving people my reasonings and thought process—just showing people that I know this is wrong or I know this is right. Even speaking about relationships, and showing people why I think the way I do. I think just showing people, giving people bars…where family comes into play, and then just showing them where it stems from. I feel like that gives me a conscious edge, because a lot of people just say things.
DX: Right, they’ll say, “I’m just street.”
Pusha T: Right, but you don’t get the whens, whys, how it happened and so on and so forth.
DX: Have you seen “Breaking Bad?”
Pusha T: No.
DX: The main character is a crystal meth cook, and he has the internal conflict between, “What I’m doing is wrong,” but, “I’m doing it for my family.” Do you feel like you projected that sort of art where you say, “Well, I know what I did was wrong, but I did it for these reasons?”
Pusha T: Never as good as doing it for my family. I never had a reason that good. Mine was just built off of greed, wrong decisions and wrong choices. So I never had those… I never had those great reasons. That’s why I just tell you my mentality, so you know what I’m saying and what I was thinking at the moment. You don’t have to agree with what I was thinking, and I probably don’t agree with what I was thinking at the moment. But as long as you can see from point A to point Z, you should understand it.
DX: What do you say to kids who are dealing now, looking back on your own mistakes, like you said, like not agreeing with some of the stuff you were doing?
Pusha T: Oh, man—I feel like anybody who’s out there in that street life should definitely find a better way. You should definitely find a better way. You should definitely be looking for higher goals.
Pusha T Evaluates Kendrick’s Verses On “Control” & “Nosetalgia”
DX: But was it harder to see those higher goals, growing up?
Pusha T: Well, what I will tell you is it’s harder to do that and juggle anything. It’s very hard. You sort of have to focus. You have to take yourself out of it, and there’s so many different things that will test you and keep you in it. You know what I'm saying? Money and all the spoils will keep you in it. But at the end of the day, I think everybody knows the rules and everybody knows that 99 percent of the time it’s not a happy ending, man. So you should definitely find your way out of it.
DX: Sometimes it’s hard to see that silver lining. I mean, that’s why they call it the trap.
Pusha T: Yeah, of course.
DX: What are some trends in Hip Hop that you would like to see die?
Pusha T: Trends in Hip Hop, that I would like to see die. I don't know.
DX: I heard you talk about gear, having more fitted clothes.
Pusha T: Oh, but that was on some like, fashion shit.
DX: But what about within rhyming?
Pusha T: I don’t know, man. I’m not really mad at music right now. I sort of like music. I like all genres of music, and I like all styles of Hip Hop. You know, I like lyric-driven Hip Hop. I like party music and I like club music. I’ve been loving what’s going on in the South for years now.
DX: But you’re able to blend in with a different style. Where does that come from?
Pusha T: Nah, that’s from going outside. I go outside a lot, I hang out and I’m amongst the people.
DX: I heard you talk about how people who don’t like Future on their records need to go outside more.
Pusha T: Yeah, they don’t go outside. So you got to understand what’s hot and what’s not, and see the energy that some of this music that you might not be accustomed to brings.
DX: And people fail to see that side of it. People see the watch and the ill chain, and they don’t see you in the studio trying to come up with iller patterns.
Pusha T: Oh man, you know. It’s way more than watches and chains, man.
DX: Right? Do you feel that that is an underrated element of Pusha T, how technical you can be with the rhymes?
Pusha T: Nah, I think the people always noticed how I am lyrically. I think they sort of pigeonholed me in just like, that element—even my fans. That’s why my fans be sort of having reservations about some of my musical choices when I speak out about who I feel is hot right now…things like that.
DX: You said that your lyricism is well understood. I know one person that does understand. They were just playing “Control” in the background here. What were your thoughts when you heard that joint?
Pusha T: Oh, crazy. You know, Kendrick did his thing, and I think that the “Control” verse caused a lot of stir, but I don’t see why. I feel like it’s always been the mission to kill everybody on the track. So even with him saying that he was down with us, that’s still his mission. It’s like, “Bruh, that’s cool.” That’s always my mission. You got to remember you asking someone who’s been like… Let’s just talk about the last three years. I’ve been shooting at everything, everything all over the globe for the past three years. So the competitive spirit had always been in me, and I think I’ve always showed that on numerous records, numerous times. I like it. I love what he did. My Name Is My Name is coming October 8. He’s on that album with one of those crazy verses. What track is he on? He’s on a record called “Nosestalgia.”
DX: So that’s one of those day-in-the-life records. What’s that record about?
Pusha T: I think we gave two perspectives. He was giving more of a looking from the inside of his home view, and how his family and his crusade through the drug epidemic affected him. And I was giving you what it was and where I was at in high school.
DX: That beginning origin.
Pusha T: Yeah, you know.