Despite constructing a discography whose quality rivals anyone out there, for some reason beyond my comprehension, Pusha T has continued to be one of the most criminally underappreciated artists of our generation. From his legendary work with his brother No Malice in their duo Clipse, to his early solo projects, to his recent string of immaculate albums, Push has displayed one characteristic above all else throughout his career; consistency.
This consistency has played out in the fact that when a Push project is on the horizon, you can feel the thirst for his hard hitting coke-laden bars build as the release date approaches. His newest project enticed intrigue at an entirely new scale (pun intended) when it was revealed that it would be entirely produced by none other than Kanye West. For some people like myself, the idea of Push spitting like only he can over Kanye production had about as much potential as a project can have. But potential does not always yield results, so I tried my best, as always, to go into the album with tempered expectations. That scaled back excitement lasted for about 1 minute.
From first bar to last bar, you can tell Push put his foot into every word he wrote for this concise album. Not a single line is wasted. He comes out of the gates and welcomes us to the project with an opening line that let's you know right away that this is the Push you came here for:
"Pullin up in that new toy,
The wrist on the boy rock star like Pink Floyd."
He continues over a minimal, yet ominous, production that makes you immediately think Kanye is up to something. And boy was he ever.
As roughly the 37 second mark of the song approaches, Kanye blindsides you with one of the most memorable beat drops to open an album in recent memory. As the aggressive synths kick in over the sample of Air's "Twelve O'Clock Satanial" and we see what the buildup was for, it is clear Kanye is in his bag on this one. Push's ever assertive flow over the banging production sounds like an Ocean's 11 operation was transformed into a trap song, which is exactly the type of mind boggling creation I hoped for from such a potential laden project. Just like that, the bar was set exceptionally high.
As the second beat drops in over a slowed down sample of the obscure "Heart 'N Soul" by Booker T. Averheart, the mood shifts to one that mirrors a situation in which the operation from the first song was successful and the beneficiaries of the heist now speak from a perspective of having earned their stripes. This narrative of a hustle turned life of luxury through grinding and doing the necessary dirt along the way directly mirrors everything Push preaches and seems to be a common theme throughout the album. This is further expressed as he reels us in yet again while directly addressing those who criticized the time it was taking him to release this incredibly hyped project:
"This ain't a wave or a phase,
Cause all that shit fades.
This lifestyle's forever when you made.
They tweet about the length I made 'em wait,
What the fuck you expect when the man got a cape and he's great?"
The emphasis on the luxury that Push has accrued is on full display in throughout the track, as well as his legendary ability to creatively rap about the coke game he lived in new ways. He seamlessly weaves between the two to close out the first verse, which is quotable in it's entirety:
"Oven's full of cakes that he bakes, still spreadin paste.
The love just accentuates the hate.
This is for my bodybuildin' clients movin' weight.
Just add water, stir it like a shake.
Play amongst the stars like the roof in the Wraith.
Get the table next to mine, make our bottle servers race."
This mood continues throughout the rest of the track and eventually transitions to Push making it clear that his emergence as a mogul has not made him lose sight of his less-than lavish roots. He proceeds to drop more quotables such as:
"This ain't for the conscious,
This is for the mud-made monsters
Who grew up on legends from outer Yonkers."
"If you ain't energized like the bunny for drug money,
Or been paralyzed by the sight of a drug mummy,
This ain't really for ya."
The feel of the album takes a more kicked-back on an island resting on your laurels-type turn as the pianos sampled from "High As Apple Pie" kick in on "Hard Piano." This feeling fits the subject matter as Push delivers more impeccable bars that blend the lavish, the gritty, and the assertion of his greatness in a world where lyricism has become an afterthought:
There are very few, if any, artists that have the combination of writing ability, established credentials, audacity, and actual life experience to deliver lines such as "The Warhols on my wall paint a war story," and "Still do the Fred Astaire on a brick, tap tap, throw the phone if you hear it click" back to back. Once again, this track helps display why Push is among the best to ever do it for so many different reasons. Rick Ross' came through with the bars on one of the few features on the project as well. Just when I started to think the album may have reached its pinnacle...."Come Back Baby" made me rethink my conclusion.
As soon as the sample of King Hannibal's "The Truth Shall Make You Free" in which he appropriately addresses addicts triumphantly dropped into the booming bass-heavy Ye concoction, I had a feeling this was about to be special. Those aspects combined with arguably the best lyrical demonstration on the whole project make this the stand out track to me. Though the entirety of the song is quotable, the last half of the first verse is once again a feat only the likes of King Push could pull off because of his combination of delivery and really having lived what he says.
"Blew through thousands, we made millions.
Cocaine soldiers, once civilians.
Bought hoes hondas, took care children,
Let my pastor build out buildings.
Rapped on classics, I been brilliant.
Now we blend in, we chameleons."
The chorus is comprised of a sample from George Jackson's "I Can't Do Without You," a song which was recorded in 1969 and remained unreleased until 2011. This is the type of obscure, god-level sampling that gained Kanye acclaim before he had ever touched a mic. This beat feels....dare I say it....almost like the old Kanye. Or at least the closest it has felt in some time. And as a Chicagoan who is ever nostalgic for the times when he had the whole city undividedly behind him like no one else quite has, this felt like a portal back to better times. Bouncing back and forth between that elite level of production and Push in his lyrical bag proved to be one of the most enjoyable moments in my recent musical memory.
The transition between "Come Back Baby" and "Santaria" had a lot of people buzzing, as it once again solidified that the production quality on this project is second to none. The beat shift between the second and third verses combined with 070 Shake's chorus being in Spanish make this easily the most experimental sound on the album, and it all comes together in a very satisfying way.
The mood once again shifts back to a more in your face feel as "What Would Meek Do?" begins, and one would expect nothing less from the song featuring Ye. In yet another display of sampling wizardry, Kanye uses a tiny excerpt of British band Yes' progressive rock track "Heart of the Sunrise" as the focal point for the gritty instrumental. Push comes through with the quotables once again in this one:
"Murder on the highway, the news is at six.
See, I did it my way, the proof's in the bricks.
Smell it through the Tupperware,
Two can get you four like a double dare.
I'm the king of the oven-ware."
As for Ye's verse, I found it very hit or miss. The MAGA hat line will be sure to turn many people off of his verse as a whole and I can completely understand where they are coming from and why they would feel that way. In my constant effort to separate the art from the artist in applicable cases, I tried to get past the cringe-inducing parts and was left pleasantly surprised by the latter half of the verse. Kanye showed a flash of what many of us feel he may still have despite his faults as he closed his verse emphatically:
"It won't feel right til I feel like Phil Knight.
Goin' for six rings like what Phil told Mike.
Seven pill nights, you know what that feel like?
No more hidin' the scars, I show em like Seal, right?"
Hearing that made me feel similar to what I think a Tiger fan may feel like when he has a moment where he looks like his old self after all of his tribulations and public mistakes. Being able to feel that for a split second was a welcome surprise that I didn't necessarily expect, but it definitely added to my enjoyment of the album as a whole. Not everyone felt the same way about Ye's verse, as it was easily the least agreed upon aspect of the album as far as public consensus goes:
As the project enters its final leg on "Infrared," Push reveals that he saved some of his most savage bars for last. He delivers his now infamous shots at Drake, which reignited one of the more notable hip hop beefs in some time and led to Push eventually taking the massive W, over one final perplexing sample flip. Here, Kanye turns the early 70's funk band 24-Carat Black's "I Want To Make Up" into a platform for Push to let the lyrical bullets fly with a precision fitting of the track's title.
"Remember Will Smith won the first Grammy?
And they ain't even recognize Hov until 'Annie.'
So I don't tap dance for the crackers and sing Mammy,
Cause I'm posed to juggle these flows and nose candy."
As the 21 onslaught of sound came to a close, it became clear to me that this would undoubtedly prove to be a timeless album, and as the social media and critic reactions began to pour in it became evident that I was not alone. On "DAYTONA," we have the pleasure of witnessing something extremely rare: two of the best to ever do it at their respective crafts at the peak of their respective powers while also bringing out the best in each other. This project pours another layer on the already cemented legacy of Pusha T and affirms his place alongside the best to ever pick up a mic. Some may suggest that it is too early to make such declarations about a project that has been out mere weeks, but as a wise man once said, "If you know, you know."
Peep some of the original versions of the previously mentioned songs sampled throughout the project below to further appreciate Kanye's production genius, and stay tuned for more future reviews!
"If You Know, You Know" sampled from:
"Games We Play" sampled from:
"Hard Piano" sampled from:
"Come Back Baby" sampled from:
"What Would Meek Do?" sampled from:
"Infrared" sampled from: