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Pusha T is stuck, as always between a rock and a hard place. Yes, that’s a coke pun. Get used to it, there’s gonna be a few.
As president of Kanye West’s GOOD Music, he’s (rightly) been placed in the crosshairs as a recipient of at least some of the spillover from his boss’s recent Twitter drama. While he’s done a decent job of distancing himself from the toxic backsplash of West’s bizarre, alt-right-leaning tweet-spree, there’s only so far away he can get while Kanye is producing his album in its entirety after cooking and discarding it three times. It probably doesn’t help that just hours ahead of Daytona‘s release, its cover was revealed to be a photo of Whitney Houston’s bathroom, taken just hours after she was discovered dead from an overdose of Pusha’s favorite powdered product. It’s as tacky a move as any of Kanye’s clothing designs, and decidedly less popular.
Now, the only solution for Pusha is to take yet another page from his sensei’s playbook and hope that the quality of the high from his latest musical release is strong enough to outlast the inevitable comedown when his audience’s buzz is killed by yet another Kanye West shenanigan. So, Pusha’s dilemma is as it always has been: Is the music dope enough to overpower the negative publicity surrounding its release, or has he cooked up a dummy brick that isn’t worth the soap it’s cut with? Spoiler alert: Hell yes, it’s dope enough.
I told you there were going to be a few.
One of Pusha’s shortcomings over the last few years of his career has been an attempt to juggle beats that push the boundaries of hip-hop and beats that strain the credibility of his coke-centric raps by overreaching for radio accessibility. That particular weakness has been excised from Daytona, which after a slightly shaky start on “If You Know You Know” becomes a showcase for some of Kanye West’s best soundscapes in at least a generation. Don’t expect those oddball, video-gamey Pharrell beats that appeal to some and repulse others. These are rock hard, stone cold, “Old Kanye” productions, with Mayweather haymaker style drums and face scrunching samples, the perfect complements for Pusha’s luxuriously, criminal activity rhymes.
Much digital ink will be spilled over “What Would Meek Mill Do?” and especially “Infrared,” wherein Push finally airs his grievances over a laser beam-focused beat, but his flurry of flechettes against Cash Money’s Baby, Wayne, and longtime rival Drake may need to take a backseat the snaky “Come Back Baby,” the soulful “Hard Piano,” or the hypnotic “Santeria.” As far as bars, there are few surprises here. Cocaine, cocaina, white girl, yayo, yola, Bolivian marching powder, snow, perico… there are a lot of ways to refer to the drug, and apparently, just as many ways to rap about it.
At just 30 minutes long, Daytona is more freebase than powder, but that’s just an age-old strategy that Pusha knows well. Keep the fiends coming back and you’ll never go broke. The project’s brevity is a gamble, but it’s one that pays dividends, allowing the consumer to slip into it and the initial hit to wear off before it can go bad on you, each song sliding quickly into the next. With only seven tracks, there’s no room at all for filler. Hell, there might be negative room for it. A single bad song could have banished the entire collection to the abyss. After all the margin for error becomes thin enough to line up rails with, yet for a veteran spitter like Pusha, who’s spent years refining his craft to a level of purity that just doesn’t exist on street level anymore, that tightrope may as well be Abbey Road.
Daytona is potent, no doubt. Does it make up for all the publicity stunts that have preceded its release? The answer falls to the individual listener to determine, but I’ll say this: Pusha T makes one hell of an argument for our continued patience with GOOD Music’s tomfoolery. If the label’s remaining releases live up to the high bar he sets — look, no one’s going out and buying a MAGA hat, but Kanye may earn himself a little more leeway, at least until he figures out what it is he’s actually been trying to say this whole time. As for Pusha, he already knows. You know exactly what you’re getting when you drop by his corner for a sample of his product, but his upgrade in supplier ensures he’ll be in business for a long, long time.
Daytona is out now via GOOD Music and Def Jam Recordings.