Pusha T and Pharrell Shine on 'It's Almost Dry' — but It's a Shame About Ye
Published Apr 25, 2022The tale of Terrence Thornton a.k.a. Pusha T's rap career has two clear and distinct chapters. The first was his time as one half of Clipse with his brother Malice, an era defined by some of the Neptunes' sharpest production ever and a pair of monumental, classic hip-hop albums: the 2002 debut Lord Willin' and 2006's follow-up Hell Hath No Fury. The second chapter is as a solo artist signed to GOOD Music by Kanye West, who would become an integral part of Push's work thereafter. With production credits and features across the majority of his catalogue, Kanye's influence and presence can be felt immensely in Push's solo career, both musically and business-wise, with him even promoting Push to the role of president of his GOOD Music imprint in 2015.
On It's Almost Dry, we see these two eras bridging together, with the album's production being split down the middle between Kanye and Pharrell. The pair each have production credits on six of the album's 12 tracks, resulting in a stellar showcase of what has made Pusha T so consistently great for so long, while simultaneously causing the album to suffer from a lack of sonic cohesion. It's an uncharacteristic and unfortunate issue, as Push is firing on all cylinders here, delivering at the highest level, verse after verse, only to be let down by production missteps and mixing issues on a couple of occasions — namely at the hands of Ye.
It's very clear from the outset that Pharrell came to perform on this album. From the second the project's opening track, "Brambleton," begins, his signature four-count leads straight into a gritty, bass-heavy instrumental that Push wastes no time attacking, instantly jumping into a trio of verses that are as streetwise and matter-of-fact as they are menacing. It harkens right back to the peak of the Clipse in an unbelievable way, feeling like it would fit comfortably within Hell Hath No Fury's tracklist.
The spirit of the impeccable work that Push and Pharrell have done together previously is alive and present within this intro, and it bleeds into "Let the Smokers Shine the Coupes" and every subsequent Pharrell-produced track on It's Almost Dry. The moments that the pair share here play as a new, refined take on what they've done together already, staying true to the distinct sound and style of the Clipse era while modernizing it with more contemporary instrumental conventions. It's a true show of the undeniable chemistry they have together, and witnessing them go six for six on their tracks together on this LP is incredible to hear.
The same can't be said for the Kanye-produced cuts. It's not a stretch to say that Kanye's short and poorly mixed contribution on "Dreamin of the Past" (which was clearly recorded on his iPhone's voice memos app) and his incredibly flat, monotonous and, again, poorly mixed verse on "Rock N Roll" are the worst two vocal performances on this LP. It's a shame too, because Push sounds incredible rapping over the looping, chopped-up sample of Donny Hathaway's "Jealous Guy" on "Dreamin of the Past" (even if his work on the hook is questionable), and the first verse on "Rock N Roll" is among his three or four best on this whole project.
Outside of these two instances, the Kanye-produced moments are quite good for the most part, even if a couple of the instrumentals can be slightly underwhelming. "Just So You Remember" sees Push at his most engaging, as he commands the listener's attention for the entirety of the song despite the extremely sparse and skeletal instrumental that samples Colonel Bagshot's "Six Day War" as the track's bassline and chorus. The beat is not bad by any stretch, and the song itself is incredible off of the strength of Push's performance alone, but when the album has two of the greatest producers in hip-hop history coming together to create a soundscape for an all-time great, the expectation is for an instrumental with a little more to chew on.
Still, these moments, while underwhelming and slightly disappointing, don't do enough to derail just how enjoyable it is to hear Push demonstrate a true mastery of his craft. He is beyond incredible throughout the entire runtime of this album. He had already cemented himself as one of the greatest talents that the genre has ever seen albums ago, and he still comes out with a hunger to prove it every time. It's rare to see a rapper this deep into their career approach every instrumental that they happen across with zero complacence and a burning desire to prove that they still deserve their place in the upper echelons of hip-hop, but that's the energy Push brings time in and time out.
Nothing has ever brought that energy out of him quite like standing toe-to-toe with his brother Malice, and that is made evident by the album's remarkable closer, "I Pray for You." The Labrinth-assisted song sees the Push and Malice triumphantly asserting their position as hip-hop royalty, celebrating their achievements and looking back at their lives through a celebratory lens, perfectly accented by the track's ethereal, organ-laced instrumental. While Push is at the top of his game here, it's the immaculate verse from Malice that steals the show, closing out the song by hinting at a possible Clipse reunion in the near future ("Back up on my high horse, it's chariots again / Put the ring back on her finger, marry it again"). The song is a perfect closer and allows the album ends on a high note, despite its inconsistency.
Even if It's Almost Dry isn't the flawless masterpiece that many had hoped Push would deliver this time around, it's still a great album with many standout moments. Pharrell and Push's incredible chemistry, some fantastic tracks, a welcome reunion of the Clipse, and yet another lyrical tour-de-force make up for any of the album's issues. It's not entirely clear what's next for Push or Clipse, especially given Malice's last two lines on "I Pray for You" — but whether it be a full-blown reunion or another solo effort, it's clear that Pusha T intends to keep on proving why he's one of the greats. (Good Music/Def Jam)