Before the release of his GOOD Music/Def Jam Recordings solo debut this spring, veteran emcee Pusha T unveils his new mixtape Wrath of Caine. The set features previously-released singles “Blocka,” “Millions” and “Only You Can Tell It,” while guest features nods include French Montana, Rick Ross, Travi$ Scott, Wale and more.Read the full album review
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DJBooth Album Review
It’s been a long, winding road to hip-hop stardom for Pusha T. Pulled out of Virginia by a then relatively unknown young producer named Pharrell (perhaps you’ve heard of him?), he and Malice would eventually drop three albums over the span of seven years as the Clipse, including the classic Hell Hath No Fury. But each album was a hard fought affair for the brothers Thornton as label moves and industry politics lead to a seemingly endless stream of delays. And then, as if the story wasn’t already complex enough, Malice found Christ, the Clipse era came to an end, and Pusha signed to Kanye’s powerhouse G.O.O.D. Music.
In the more than two years since he joined forces with his royal Yeezyness, the G.O.O.D. platform has given him exponentially more exposure, which he’s used to prove that he’s one of the game’s most feared emcees. (That opening verse on Don’t Like? Crazy.) But he’s also struggled to establish himself as an individual artist, only recently earning a title and tentative release date for his solo, The Wire-quoting debut album, My Name Is My Name.
Yes we know Pusha can rap, and rap better than almost anyone else on the planet. But who is Pusha T apart from the Clipse? What does he sound like without Pharrell? After two years largely defined by guest verses, just what does a Pusha T song sound like? New mixtape, Wrath of Caine, is Pusha’s attempt to answer that question before My Name Is My Name arrives, but ultimately it still leaves some of those questions open.
We’ve known for almost a decade now that Pusha is not to be trifled with on the mix, but Wrath of Caine yet again confirms his status as an elite rapper powerfully. Or, as that girl says on Intro, “My one with a new esse, nobody not f**k with the boy up.” (I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.) Speaking of which, Intro’s exactly what we’ve come to love from Pusha Ton; there aren’t many who can combine that kind of wordplay and aggression while still sounding completely under control. It’s a balance he strikes perfectly again on the lyrically-driven Only You Can Tell, although it’s odd to describe an opening verse dedicated to college girls and porn stars as lyrical. But that’s always been what makes Pusha stand out. He’s too complex and intelligent to be slapped with the “trap rapper” tag, too covered in cocaine residue to be placed in a “lyrical” box. It’s the same story on the excellent Take My Life and I Am Forgiven, both auto-biographically driven cuts that demand to be played on repeat (especially I Am Forgiven, get ready for the first Peat Moss reference in rap history). Thank God, or the devil, for Pusha T. Hip-hop needs him.
However, Wrath of Caine also points out Pusha’s rap Achilles heel. He’s never really had a hit as a solo artist, and part of the reason is because he’s yet to really figure out his sound. I could tell you what a Kanye song sounds like, what a Common track sounds like, what a Big Sean track sounds like. But does a Pusha T record sound like the soul-sample confessional of I Am Forgiven, or the heavily auto-tuned Trust You; which, by the way, doesn’t actually feature Future, just someone doing their best Future impression. Similarly, Doesn’t Matter never really lifts off, dragged down by an unlistenable French Montana hook and an unremarkable beat. From a pure enjoyment, “I could hear this getting some serious radio perspective” Millions is easily Caine’s best offering. Here’s Pusha’s raw rhyme style channeled into something truly head-nodding, and even then he’s really only following the MMG blueprint. I have to assume that Kanye won’t let My Name Is My Name drop without ensuring it’s cohesive and filled with worth production and hooks, but that’s no guarantee. Instead I’ll have to spend the next few months worried Pusha will end up traveling down someone else’s road as he tried to find his own lane.
Here’s what we do know. Continuing the Clipse’s trend, Pusha T comes up with album titles doper than most rappers verses. (Caine as in cocaine, Cain, as in Bible’s murderous evil brother. He’s now No Malice’s “evil” brother. Etc. etc. etc.) Given the right production and hook, he can create songs that move through the mainstream while remaining firmly planted in the streets. He sometimes struggles to find the right production and hooks. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn good for a skinny kid from Virginia, and something tells me Pusha T’s story is only going to get better.
G.O.O.D Music/Def Jam
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Back In The Go Go ft. Bun B, Pusha T & Tre (from UCB)" (2008)
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