After turning in the finest album of his career to date, Pusha T should strike while the iron is hot.
If a common thread existed between all of Pusha T’s endeavours in 2018, it was that everything happened on his terms. No longer just an artist but a record label impresario too, each step felt as though he’d fully excised the brashness or naivety of the past infavour of a succession of well-executed chess moves. His heralded 2018 release, Daytona, was renamed from King Push just two days before its release-- The G.O.O.D Music president explained the new moniker of his album on Twitter, claiming that: “I changed the album title from King Push to Daytona because I felt it didn’t represent the overall message of this body of work. Daytona represents the fact that I have the luxury of time. That luxury only comes when u have a skill set that you’re confident in.”
When his first album since 2015 arrived, it became clear that Pusha had used that self-assuredness to turn in one of the high watermarks of his catalogue. Free of filler and an over-reliance on features, the seven-track tour de force brought us Pusha’s trademark tales of “interstate trafficking” and extravagance with a heightened precision, making it the biggest critical triumph of his post-Clipse career. Reignited by barbed remarks on Daytona’s closing track “Infrared,” the next instalment of Push’s 2018 came in the shape of a verbal sparring match with on-off adversary Drake, and served as another case study of his cooler head prevailing.
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Like a seasoned hunter, Pusha covertly sprung a trap for Toronto’s finest and bided his time until his retort arrived. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s entertaining to think back on the release of “Duppy Freestyle" and how social media hastened to award Drake the victory before the factually robust exposé of “The Story Of Adidon” had arrived. Viewed as one of the most strategic disses of the modern era, Pusha was hellbent on escalation. He succeeded: by confirming that Drake had fathered a 'secret' child, he left the ranks of coke-rap vet and entered the mainstream news cycle. Google would concur -- his search traffic spiked immensely in the month of May, and while it has since stabilized, it's remained at a consistently higher level than prior to the verbal sparring.
At the tail end of the year, Pusha elaborated on this premeditated decision and why the ensuing response was no happy accident:
“It is a machine in dealing with him. So we deal. But I had to do things at my own time. You can’t just jump out there. We’ve seen how that works when you just treat it like a street battle. It’s really not.”
From album roll-out to the ensuing battle of wits, the recurring motif that’s arose from Pusha’s 2018 has been time and his perceived mastery of it. However, now that he’s got his first Grammy Awards nomination under his belt and brought himself into the gaze of casual hip-hop fans like never before, his 2019 calculations will need to account for the intensified spotlight that’s bearing down upon him.
At the outset of 2018, the 41 year-old stalwart had been hiding in plain sight rather than staking his claim for supremacy. Occupied by activism and nurturing newly acquired talent at G.O.O.D. Music, the divide between Pusha T and Terence Thornton was more pronounced than ever, but he still kept one foot in music with features on tracks from Common, Meek Mill and Vic Mensa, among others. When Push first uttered in November 2017 that his third solo project would be the “album of the year,” it seemed more like the average, hyperbolic marketing tool than anything tenable. Yet in an unprecedented turn of events, it took little more than six months for this narrative to be forged not just through his insistence but through the unmistakable merits of his Kanye West-helmed record. An album that epitomized all that’s made Pusha so routinely brilliant throughout his career, his decision to forego any passing trends in favour of sticking to his guns paid off in dividends. In fact, it was the catalyst for Pusha’s status in the game to reach previously unassailable heights, and what's more, it could indicate a new golden era for his tenured career.
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Mirrored in Pusha’s own admission that Daytona is the pinnacle of his catalogue, this newfound success has redistributed the weight of expectation that lies on his shoulders to a level that hasn’t been felt since the early 2000s. As the crown jewel of The Neptunes’ production stable, Pusha and his brother galvanized the streets like few others during Clipse’s heyday The duo’s authenticity and no-holds-barred documentation of an alternative route to the American dream brought cocaine-fuelled rap to the outskirts of commercial airplay and spawned two classic records in Lord Willin’ and HellHath No Fury. Yet for all the accolades that came their way and their position as one of hip-hop’s finest duos of all time, the operative word in all of this remains “outskirts.”
Fast-forward to 2018, and you can see how much has changed, with four of Daytona's seven cuts debuting on the Billboard Hot 100 and the album gaining the highest position of his career, at number 3 on the Album Chart. To contextualize the magnitude of this upswing, these four tracks not only constituted his return to the Hot 100 after four years, but resulted in his first placement on the singles chart as a lead artist in the entirety of his solo career.
At a time when many rappers are racking up millions of streams at an increasingly young age, it is remarkable to see a man that’s been plying his trade for a quarter of a century finally reach the apex of his career. Much like Christoph Waltz finally winning an Oscar at 53 or George Foreman coming out of retirement to recapture the heavyweight title 20 years after his first victory, Pusha’s renaissance is one that can and should carve out a new chapter in his legacy. Despite claims that he’d planned to drop Daytona’s follow-up before the year was out, Pusha still seems intent on striking while the iron is hot. Comprised of “a brand new cook-up” rather than material from the cutting room floor, the G.O.O.D Music figurehead is entirely aware of the fact that he has a lot to live up to:
“2018 was pretty great all around for me. It will be hard to top it, but [it’s] not going to stop me from trying."
Whether or not Daytona has “Best Rap Album” Grammy bestowed on it in February, the fact that Pusha T is already discarding the rear-view and focusing on the future is incredibly heartening news. After reassuring fans that he has “heavy hitters” on standby should ‘Ye be unavailable, his resurgence comes complete with the sense that he has finally escaped the formidable shadow of his producers, and is no longer beholden to their vision. 20 years on from Clipse being dropped from Elektra and the cancellation of their planned debut album, Pusha T has finally reached the summit of the hip-hop mountain but he isn’t content to just stand there and take in the view. Instead, he’s finding a way to ensure that he can maintain this position for as long as he can.