Pusha T Talks Duality Of Street Metaphors & Bonds With Timbaland & Pharrell
Exclusive: Pusha T reveals why he values touring over record sales, why he's taking so long to record with Timbaland and why he doesn't gauge his success by commercial sales.
It’s entirely possible 2014 is the year of the follow-up. There’s more than a few solo efforts that premiered last year to critical acclaim that are getting the sophomore treatment, and thus, are subject to the sophomore jinx. Of course there’s Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city, A$AP Rocky’s Long.Live.A$AP, and French Montana’s Excuse My French, but all of those guys are relative new jacks compared to “King Push.” Appropriately, King Push is both a moniker for the beloved VA rapper and the name of the hotly anticipated follow-up to 2013’s My Name Is My Name, and as usual, the stakes have been ratcheted up a full league higher for the second solo effort than they were for the first.
Fair or unfair, we judge artists by the veracity of their second solo presentation. Did they stick to their signature sound or did they improve upon it? Did they take any chances? It proves that the first great album wasn’t a fluke, and although Push was one half of the VA supergroup the Clipse, two great solo records puts you in line to be in a different conversation with different Rap company altogether.
So in an age where brand integrity trumps artistry, Pusha T has stayed strangely authentic while winning over the wider listening public through sheer force of Rap will. It’s been fascinating to watch as he opens up to high fashion while spitting the most ruthless and multi-varied rhymes of his career. And he just continues to expand his sound through songs like “Blocka” and “Nosetalgia into “40 Acres,” which featured The-Dream and a more somber and emotional King Push ready to show there’s levels involved in taking the throne. As such, Pusha has a few king-sized thoughts in mind for the next chapter to the story of one of the most interesting Rap careers of our generation.
Pusha T Calls Nottz, Pharrell & Timbaland Legends Of Virginia
HipHopDX: The last time we spoke, you stated you were in the studio with Pharrell, so how’s King Push coming along?
Pusha T: Really good, man. I’m sort of taking my time with King Push. You know, the title is sort of a proclamation to where I feel I am lyrically in the game. So, it just needs to live up to that. And I’m just making sure that it lives up to that. So, being in the studio with Pharrell’s been good. I just left ‘Ye for about a week... a whole bunch of other guys, man. I got Reefa and Needlz, Nottz. I got some good guys, man. I got some good things in the works. And just trying to get it right. No I.D., he’s been helping me out. But, like I said, man just really trying to carve it out the right way.
DX: Speaking of Nottz, “Nosetalgia" with Kendrick Lamar was one of My Name Is My Name’s best records. How did that record with Nottz come about?
Pusha T: Um, man, I just really try to reach out to the legends of VA. And he’s a legend to me. You know, I have worked with Neptunes out of Virginia. And when we came in it was exclusively working with my team. But, I tell people all the time, the Neptunes lived three minutes to the left of me, and Timbaland lived three minutes to the right of me. As a child, I knew Tim first and things like that. So there are so many people who I wanted to work with that I never got a chance to really work with due to the fact that I was exclusively with the Neptunes at the time. So, as I’ve been working on my solo mission, I’ve been reaching out to guys like Nottz and anybody else who got the heat from around the way.
DX: It’s interesting you bring up Timbaland, because you haven’t done a solo record with him. Why hasn’t that happened yet?
Pusha T: I record in his studio, right now to this day. It just hasn’t happened, and it’s a certain expectation level too. So it’s not something that I want to rush, or just take a Timbo beat because it’s a Timbo beat—like, it’s Pusha T and Timbaland. Like, it’s a Virginia thing. I got something to kind of prove to the area. That’s my underlying motivation, and it has to be that level of right. So, we haven’t really… We talk about it all the time. I mean, he just played his album for me the other night, actually. Incredible. But, you know man, my Virginia connects. It’s weird because it’s like friendship with a lot of people. And it’s not like… Half the time we don’t even talk about music. You know, we be talkin’ about other stuff. It’ll happen when it happens, but we still all link all the time for nothin’.
Pusha T Talks Gauging His Success & Showing A Different Side
DX: What do you want to do with King Push in terms of your mainstream appeal?
Pusha T: See that’s a funny thing right now, because I don’t know what mainstream really is anymore. I mean, with the way that social media has taken such an effect on music, it’s like I don’t even… I used to gauge myself off of record sales. Now if you ask me how I gauge my success, it’s off of my touring. I look it and it’s like, well damn, I could look at someone who sold more records than me it’s like, okay? But when you look at my touring schedule, and you look at the festivals… every last festival that I’m doing this year and they’re not on them. Well, then it’s like, “Man, then how are we really gauging this?” I feel like the people really have a voice these days no matter how you get my music—whether you buy it, whether you download it, steal it, whatever. I feel like when it touches you, you’re going to come out to see me, and that’s what I like to see. That’s my thing. Also, I look at it like, even when it comes to corporate sponsors and shit like that. You’re not hip as a corporate entity if you just go by what sells the most. It’s not like that anymore. There are guys that are not hired in these places to find what’s hot, what’s cool, what’s bubbling, what’s on this subterranean level of like heat that’s bubbling up and so on and so forth. That’s how they stay witty and on edge. Somebody like myself or Danny Brown with like, wild sponsorships and it’s ending up in places like, “Damn,” because that’s the new way. So, I don’t know, man. I don’t look at it… I’m not into the whole mainstream, records sales thing. I mean, you’re looking at somebody who was with the Clipse and sold a platinum record and somebody who was with the Clipse and sold no records, so. You know. I’m still here. So it doesn’t really matter to me.
DX: Do you feel hemmed in by the “lyrical” tag a bit? Do you think it limits people’s perception of you?
Pusha T: Well, when I was with the Clipse, it was more like me being the more brash, the more braggadocios one. And, seriously with My Name Is My Name, I consciously… that was something that I consciously tried to do was show more of my introspective and emotional side. Whether I’m telling you about my family or my personal view on whether it’s women, relationships, or my family outlook, my brother... [Those are] things that probably would have been left to [No Malice] if we were doing the Clipse album right now, while I’m telling you about the Porsche and the red and the ah ah, you know. I’m still trying to trap my Clipse fan in as well, and I was thinking about them. And, it’s actually fun. It’s pretty good. It’s pretty good to do. I think it shows a side of me, and it shows my perspective on life. And, trying to lock people into the whole notion of Pusha T as a solo artist, you gotta know who I am, and hopefully you love who I am.
DX: So are you trying to portray a little more of an equal balance of raw emotions and lyrics on this next project?
Pusha T: For sure, man. I just want to show people that I’m a multi-faceted diamond. For real, man, you’re going to get all the colors of the spectrum out of me. And I’m the type of person that can deliver those things. A lot of people can be looked upon as one dimensional and people be like, “Oh, it’s the drug rap thing with him.” And, the street life is like the seamless metaphor throughout my rhymes, but it’s way more than just drugs, drugs, drugs. So I think the more that I show of all the other sides that, they’ll tone that down a bit and begin to appreciate it for the metaphor it is, and the similes they are, and the parallels. You’ll be able to see the other dimensions of the bars the more you see of my personality.
Pusha T Advocates Showing Both Sides Of Street Life & 90’s Era Sounds
DX: The last time you spoke to us you spoke about being a “conscious dope-boy.” Can you describe what that means?
Pusha T: [Laughs] Yeah. You know, I was really just telling you guys that I have the… I know both sides. l know there’s some people who glorify, but I think that what I do is that I tell you both sides of the tale. Nobody today raps about snitching and waves their hands and be like, “Yo, one of my best friends called me and said such and such and so and so...” In regards to the record “S.N.I.T.C.H.” It being them and they were saying that story was a real story. Nobody does that. Everybody plays super hero. So it’s like, if you play super hero all the time—and I feel like that’s what rappers do—rappers can tell you about everything. Rappers can tell you about the Lamborghini, the Porsche, the everything. But they never tell you… And they never tell you personally. Because if you’ve really been out here like that, you’ve been faced with that. You had to have been. And so when I say conscious dope-boy, it’s not about glorifying; it’s about telling both sides of the story and basically telling people how it is. And you just got to take the good with the bad.
DX: For My Name Is My Name you mentioned you were really in the mode of the Golden Era of Hip Hop, like ‘94-‘99. Are you still on that mode, or are you listening to other things right now?
Pusha T: Yeah, I’m still on that mode. I just think that’s where Rap is going. I’m listening to everybody now. Everybody’s stripping down the beats now. You know what I’m sayin’? It’s like, I’m listening to these new records like people stripping it down and rapping over it. I know that’s the baby of “Numbers On The Board,” and songs like “Nosetalgia.” I know what that is. That’s your version. That’s just my lane because I feel like I don’t hide behind the beats so much, and it’s just bars. And I think that’s my lane. So I hear it, and I kind of think that that is where Rap is going.
DX: Kanye and yourself have an interesting chemistry. You mentioned before that you feel like you show Kanye what’s happening on your level, what’s happening on WorldStarHipHop and the club… By the way, is he on the next record?
Pusha T: Yeah, for sure. For sure.
DX: Is it going to be necessarily “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” Kanye?
Pusha T: Oh, I don’t know as far as rapping wise. I haven’t gotten that far, yet. And that ain’t how I like decide my features. You know, if I hear it and I feel that’s where it belongs, then it’ll go. But, production wise, for sure. And, we do have an interesting dynamic because I feel like we live on two different levels of life. Like, I really am outside everyday. Like, every night I’m in whatever club it is in whatever city it is. So I run across records. That’s how I run across the WorldStarHipHop… That’s how I run across a “Don’t Like,” Chief Keef original version 3Hunna and then we make the remix, boom. That’s how that happens for me. He does show me things as well. I wasn’t hip on some of the brands like Phillip Lim that are some of my favorites now. But, you know, it’s things that you learn messing with G.O.O.D Music. It’s a taste level. You know, I’m not too keen on…so particular about art. I wasn’t really on it like that. And then they turn you on to things, and you begin to open your eyes up to things like that as well, and see it, and like it, and learn about it and so on and so forth. So, you know, it’s a give and take.
Pusha T Details His Chemsitry With The-Dream & Pharrell
DX: My Name Is My Name was a really “hard” album musically and it was A&R’d by The-Dream. Are you going to stay in that direction?
Pusha T: Yeah. I think it always gotta be hard coming from me. And I’ve been working with The-Dream as well, and I think we have a great chemistry. Me and Dream we were both born in ‘77, so we have this thing where we go through the different eras of music—whether it be Rap or R&B. We find all our best joints, and then we start chipping away at them, and I’m like, “Man, I want to make that. I want to make that.” And he’s just one of the greatest. So it’s fun in dealing with that guy simply because he knows exactly what I’m talking about and he knows exactly… If I’m going back, he was there too. So it’s something that comes with age and being your actual peer in regards to music and hearing things.
DX: Working with Pharrell, right…
Pusha T: Yeah! The GOAT. [Laughs]
DX: With Pharrell, the chemistry is always there, but what’s it like working with him versus someone you aren’t as comfortable with? What does that chemistry mean for a record?
Pusha T: Man, Pharrell earned his “super producer” title. And, I feel like he’s definitely one of the GOAT’s out here, man. But he earned it in a way of like he’ll make the beat, and by the time I come in the studio sometimes the beat will be made and the hook will be 90% there. It may be terminology we change or something like that or not even. Working with him is just like, “Just insert the verse.” And, being a super producer, that’s where he’ll check me and be like, “Yo, you need to carry this flow out longer.” He’ll stop my verse and be like, “Yo, that was the verse to keep riding. I mean, you’re at bar six, and you just done got off that part that we was groovin’ to. What happened?” That means you gotta change it, and you gotta play with the verse and so on and so forth, but that’s the super producer. Working with people I don’t know, a lot of the times you’re working with people who are fans of your music. You give me a beat, and I’ll rhyme to it to the best of my ability, but sometimes it doesn’t call for that all the time. And, you know, super producers they notice that, and they know how to differentiate between the two time periods.