Pusha T Was Always Ahead of the Game, and the World Is Finally Recognizing It

Push talks the likelihood of a Clipse reunion, Pharrell vs. Ye, and where 'It's Almost Dry' ranks in his discography
Pusha T Was Always Ahead of the Game, and the World Is Finally Recognizing It
Photo: James Pereira
Pusha T exists in an upper echelon inhabited by very few. With two decades of critically acclaimed material under his belt and a signature style that has proven to be nothing short of timeless, Push's consistency has established him as one of hip-hop's all-time greats.

He's one of the few rappers to have weathered the storm of shifting sounds and trends that have occurred in the 20 years since his debut as one half of Clipse on 2002's lauded Lord Willin', and he's done so without wavering in artistic identity. "The way I record, and the way I create, is just what was the criteria for greatness at the time when I was introduced to the game," Push reflects simply, "I sort of just stuck with it."

While he's continued to remain true to himself, he's never become stylistically stagnant, either.  He's proven to be very forward-thinking in his collaborative process throughout his career, never shying away from collaborating with new artists and bringing them into his world. He collaborated with artists like Tyler, the Creator and Kevin Gates very early in their respective careers, and his initial work with Future back in 2013 led to quite a bit of scrutiny for Push.

"I had every writer in the game asking me why I put Future on My Name is My Name. People were killing me, they were talking crazy to me," he recalls mockingly, with a smile that might not be visible over the phone but is heard crystal clear. He continues to point out that those same writers praise Future and his work today, and while he is incredibly proud of Future's success, Push also sees it as very validating, adding, "It's a moral victory for me."

Push's penchant for pairing his distinct signature style with the firm grasp he has on what's fresh and current in the modern hip-hop landscape has been a strength in many of his solo efforts, including this year's It's Almost Dry. The tracklist boasts an impressive supporting cast, from JAY-Z and Kid Cudi to Lil Uzi Vert and Don Toliver, and every feature brings something different but important to the project. This ability to meld facets from past and present so effortlessly is an aspect of his music that Push deems fundamental to aging gracefully in hip-hop.

"I think you have to take a piece from all of the great eras and incorporate them into your 'now' to remain, great, timeless and understood," he says.

That recognition of what continues to work for him, paired with his understanding of contemporary trends, has continuously made Pusha T's work captivating. It's paid off majorly this time around. "It's my first No. 1 album. My shows are sold out all across the country. I feel like I've been seeing a lot of these [mid-year] lists and I'm on all of them," Push proclaims proudly, adding that "the streets are definitely saying that It's Almost Dry is the album that they keep coming back to." 

It's apparent just how proud Pusha T is of this project. There is a tangible feeling of joy that radiates from every word he speaks about it, and what he's been able to accomplish with it. Even with the immensely impressive discography he has to his name, he already has It's Almost Dry very high in his personal ranking, even surpassing some of Clipse's classic records.

"I'm going to put it number two," Push states with little hesitation, "Hell Hath No Fury is number one. I would say It's Almost Dry is number two, then I would personally go, I don't know, it's Lord Willin' or DAYTONA."

It's not hard to understand why this one holds such a special place in his heart. When putting together It's Almost Dry, Pusha T purposely enlisted frequent collaborators Kanye West and Pharrell Williams to produce a soundscape that could emulate characteristics of the greats that influence his art. "I really, really wanna look at Ye and Pharrell as my DJ Premier," he explains, "I want the soundtrack to be of a Gang Starr level cohesion. You know Gang Starr, Group Home, Jeru the Damaja level."

This is an aspect that he is prioritizing going forward as well, as his working relationships with Ye and Pharrell have repeatedly yielded the desired results. In Push's eyes, the equilibrium reached between the three has produced — and will continue to produce — the level of greatness he strives to attain. "I feel like, in working with those two, I can get that level of cohesion, and that's what I want for the remainder of my career," he states firmly, "I don't want much deviating from that personally."

As two of the most prolific producers in music history, the notion of Ye and Pharrell coming together to produce this record had fans clamouring for its release, but in the competitive spirit of hip-hop, it also instantaneously sparked debate about who would outperform the other. Exclaim!'s own review pitted the two producers against one another. After the album's release, the debate even led to the tracklist being re-ordered on streaming services for Pharrell vs. Ye and Ye vs. Pharrell versions, lumping their contributions together on either half. As far as Pusha T is concerned though, there is no competition, as they're both integral to his art.

"I'm going to be honest with you, man, I don't have a pick [as to who outdid who] simply because the greatness of both of them is something that I can't really live without," Push explains, "I need the personality and character-driven compositions of Pharrell just as much as I need the purist sample- and mixtape-loving Kanye West."

It's an understandable outlook for Push to have, especially considering the prominent roles the two have played in his career. Ye's impact and influence have been as pertinent to his success as a solo act as Pharrell's presence and production were during the Clipse era. Bringing the two together makes It's Almost Dry feel like a truly full-circle moment, one that fittingly concludes with an impeccable verse from Push's brother and Clipse collaborator Malice on its final track.

The ethereal "I Pray for You" is the first time Malice has appeared on any of Push's solo records, and his contribution is triumphant. While it's not the first time that the two have appeared alongside each other in recent years — the pair appeared on Ye's 2019 release Jesus Is King together — something about this one just feels different, more purposeful. "I think as he was finishing writing [his] verse and hearing my verse and understanding what he had to do," Push recalls fondly, "I think it was very apparent that he came to grips with the fact that, 'Oh yeah, we could definitely do this again.'"

A Clipse reunion album has become one of hip-hop's greatest what-ifs and is something that fans have desired for over a decade now. Though Push doesn't know if that album will ever happen, he is absolutely certain that both Malice and he are aware of how incredible the material would be.

"I think just speaking to the arrogance and the cockiness of [Malice saying] listen, 'I'm back up on my high horse.' Look at what I've done. Listen to how I'm talking to you," Push says as he lets out a laugh that oozes confidence and self-assurance. "I think [Malice] knows we could [make another Clipse record]. Whether he'll do it or not remains to be seen, but I think both of those offerings, 'Punch Bowl' [from Nigo's I Know NIGO! album released earlier this year] and 'I Pray for You', say so much."

And that they do. It's clear that Push is showing no signs of slowing down, and with the handful of tracks that he and Malice have collaborated on lately, as well as their recent festival performances, it feels like anything is possible. With Pusha T reaching yet another level as a solo act, and Malice seemingly having not lost a step, whatever the future holds for the duo, fans can be certain that they'll be at the top of their game.