Since signing to G.O.O.D. Music in 2010, Pusha T has struggled to maintain momentum in his solo career while fighting uphill against his own standout appearances on songs like “Runaway.” Do late leaks like “King Push” and “Nosetalgia” prove that he’s righted the ship just in time?
1. “Be all you can be.”
In sports, athletes are sometimes asked whether they prefer to work on their strengths or their weaknesses. It’s a question that works across vocations. On My Name Is My Name, Pusha T makes clear which side of the ledger he’s on: “Always knew I could rule the world, Let’s define what my world is, Knee deep in this dope money, Damn near where my world ends.” If you thought Pusha’s debut solo album would be a chance for him to break away from the coke rap legacy of the Clipse, you’re sorely mistaken (“You thought Tony in that cell would have made us timid?, We found his old cell, bitch, we searching through the digits”). My Name Is My Name features references to dope boys, block bleeders, pie talk, selling birds, raw, dope drums, ‘caine copping, Johnson & Johnson, and Pyrex — and that’s not nearly an exhaustive list.
2. Write what you know.
There is something to the argument that to mine from the same place for an extended period while continuing to reap rewards requires a certain level of skill. Pusha T certainly hasn’t exhausted colorful ways to illustrate the drug game. He describes the spoils of his trade as “a label deal under my mattress.” The kingpin way is the “Sergio Tacchini life.” The preferred way to cut up cocaine? “Step on the brick like a promenade.” He likes his product “purer, Aryan, blond hair, blue-eyed, like the Fuhrer.”
His vivid, densely-packed come-up story on the Kendrick Lamar-featuring “Nosetalgia” – a stripped down showcase of two rappers doing what they do best – is as well written a verse as you’ll hear on a rap album in 2013 (and you can probably make the same case for Kendrick’s). Pusha’s delivery, slightly less biting and more nonchalant than in past years, remains as clean as the subject of his rhymes.
3. “Give the People What They Want.”
Rather than reach for a more commercial sound, Pusha seems to have internalized the criticism of his pre-album output (which essentially boiled down to “It’s not Lord Willin’/Hell Hath No Fury”) and reverted to what has worked for him in the past. If it’s a somewhat safe guiding principal, it’s one that pays off handsomely in spots. The best songs on My Name Is My Name come close to matching the lofty heights of those revered Clipse albums. Pharrell is credited on just a couple of songs, but his influence can be heard all over the album, from the bare-bones, pots-and-pans feel of “Numbers On The Board” to the sparse, skulking minimalism of “Nosetalgia.”
4. The Kanye Effect
The other super-producer whose presence hovers over the album is Kanye West, the man who hand-picked Pusha for his G.O.O.D. Music stable three years ago. In Kanye’s case, it’s a less permeating effect, surprising given the extent of his work on the album – you’d never guess from a blind listen that he produced on more than half the tracks here. There are a few obvious instances, however, where his ear, melodic touch, and penchant for pathos and grandiosity shine through: namely the visceral early single “Pain” and the Rick Ross collaboration “Hold On,” where the scaled up musicality is the audio equivalent of a well-fitted gold crown for King Push.
5. Keep a small circle.
If Kanye succeeds in cutting small holes in Pusha’s sonic safety net, Pusha isn’t nearly as successful pulling others into his world. He taps Chris Brown for a hook, but he ends up sounding dreary, badly miscast on the cold, murky “Sweet Serenade.” 2 Chainz and Big Sean, two of Pusha’s Cruel Summer running mates, rob “Who I Am” of all its immediacy. And the Mase-aping “Let Me Love” with Kelly Rowland is kind of a lazy spin on Lord Willin’’s “Ma, I Don’t Love Her.”
Most of these songs pop up in the weaker second-third of the album, a mostly forgettable bridge between a surprisingly watertight start and finish to Pusha T’s first solo foray.