As told to Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)
”When I was a kid, wearing suits annoyed the hell outta me. But now, ain’t nothing like getting fitted for a suit. The Rosewood aesthetic is something that accentuates everybody’s musical talents as well as sets us apart. We feel like we are the upper echelon of hip-hop, so we should look the part. And you’re with Kanye West. You put a lot of thought into everything ’cause he’s going all out all the time. All eyes are on him, so you can’t be lax.”
Money ain’t a thing.
”I definitely don’t care about who has the most money. I’ve always known how to make $100,000 look like $2 million. I value money, but I don’t value it for the way it makes me look to other rappers. I value it in terms of making sure my mother gets what she wants. I came to find out that a lot of people that you think are up there, they’re poor. It’s disheartening to find out that one of your favorite rappers don’t really got paper like that.”
Some things are better left unsaid.
”There are certain things I can’t get into, and Twitter is one of them. Twitter is like a fly pair of kicks some jackass is wearing. Not everybody is a jackass, but there are so many who have turned into thugs over Twitter. Music is great because you can speak through it, and don’t have to answer questions about it. But when you begin to tweet, everything you say is up for discussion. I don’t want anyone to feel like we can really talk.”
Go hard, not home.
”My former manager’s and some good friends’ incarceration forced me to make the most of music. I don’t want their incarceration to be in vain. Now, there’s no way I could even speak to them like, ‘I’m home’—they’re like, ‘You’re home? And I’m here for the next tons of years? Come on, get it going.’ We owe our family and friends the opportunity to see something better materialize because everything with us went bad.”
You used to rap with guys like Fam-Lay and Roscoe P. Coldchain. Now you’re rapping with guys like Big Sean and CyHi Da Prince. What’s the difference for you?
Pusha T: With Re-Up, it was 100% street-based mentality. When I’m with the G.O.O.D. Music family, everybody has their own lane. I think that the diversity of the G.O.O.D. Music gang is a big asset in regards to being heard because it differentiates you from the rest while exposing you to more people who might not be into street hip-hop as much.
Now that you’re on G.O.O.D. Music and solo, will there be an adjustment to your rapping style?
Pusha T: I tell people a lot of times, the dichotomy of the Clipse is Pusha is the brash one and Malice is the more introspective, conscious one. But when you’re in a group, there are roles that you have to play. With me being by myself, you’re going to get more of what might have been Malice’s role when I was in the group. It’s not that I don’t think that way…he’s just better at that than me. [Laughs.] That’s his first thought when wordplay is my first thought. You’re probably going to get a little bit of me articulating really introspective things and getting the full spectrum of me.
What is it like for you rolling without Malice?
Pusha T: It’s really not a big deal to me. When we’re together, there's been plenty of days where we’ll come do an interview and I’m just not into it. I just don’t answer, and he gets that sense of me and he takes the reign. Right now, it’s all on me. No days off. So I can’t really slack. Having him with me, I can slack. Other than that, it’s not really much of a change man. I mean, I guess I’m in New York and he’s not here. But in the studio at home, he’s there. He’s like, ‘Yo, that’s crazy,’ or ‘Yo, that’s mean.’ The visual to the public is what it is. But you got to remember we’re brothers, like we’re brothers. This isn’t made for TV. This is family.
When you freestyling on Hot 97, you said Malice found religion. Is that true?
Pusha T: Malice has always been religious. That line had a lot to do with the situation of my manger and his incarceration. Not just my manger, but a band of like five or six people I been with every day of my life for the past 15 years or so. So in regards to that, it’s like a lot of people all took certain paths in life and said, ‘Well, damn.’ Me personally, I’m like, ‘This happened? Well, then this rap shit is definitely not gonna go in vain. They’re not gonna go in vain.’ Malice looked at it a different way, he’s really fucked up about it. He started seeing things differently. He’s always been really conscious, he always had that about him. Before that even happened, we sort of felt that coming. You hear the wishers and all that. That line came from me seeing him being really enlightening to myself or my manager or just the whole crew. He was sort of like, ‘Don’t look at it at face value. Look at it a little bit deeper.’ Once you get into his vlogs—his vlogs are all based off of scenarios. That just makes me say, ‘Damn he’s right.’ When he takes the actual scenario, and then can go to it in the book, and then put it on screen for me, I’m like, ‘Damn, that’s what that means.’ I start connecting the dots and its like, ‘There he goes, he’s better [than me] again.’ He’s an asshole too. His sense of humor is very Larry David. His whole vision is very like, ‘You’re stupider than me.’ With his vlogs, I think it all works.
Why is this the moment for you to go solo?
Pusha T: Doing the group thing—we always were going to do solo projects but we wanted to build the Clipse brand and the Re-Up brand. So once that happened, we had just done the Til The Casket Drop album and the touring and everything was really tedious. And then the whole stress of the federal stuff. And Malice was really into his book, too. And with all that going on, I was like, I’ll do this. So it’s full speed ahead with the solo project. This is the first time in my mind I really been a rapper. [Laughs.] Like a full-fledged rapper. I’ve never had my heart so much into it. Through all the great music, through ‘Grindin’,’ through the whole We Got It 4 Cheap series, I still don’t feel like I had been engulfed in rap as I am now. I would tell someone, ‘I don’t feel like doing that shit today.’ Like, I don’t care. I used to be like I’m going to All-Star weekend and they be like, ‘Oh we’ll try to get you some shows down there.’ And I was like, ‘Nah, I just want to party. I don’t want to do all that shit.’ Now it’s like, ‘Let’s see who wants me there.’ Now I feel like, I’m into the rap game. [Laughs.] I like it.
Are you a rapper now because Malice isn’t here?
Pusha T: Nah. I feel like I am now because…I’m trying to talk politically correct...Let’s put it like this: I came into the rap game in ’99 or so, lost my first deal, and sort of like got cashed out by a label, like, ‘Take some money and go away.’ I’ve never done the struggle that most rappers go through in trying to get to this point. I came in with the production duo. I had a successful first album. After that, I went through label drama and learned about the game. But when things went bad, I found out that even when things are bad they ain’t that bad. I learned how to survive through it. You couldn’t have told any girl or guy that I wasn’t still in the music business [during that period]. And with all that going on, and then the crash of my manager and friends—I thought, ‘I’ve had great time doing this without being in it with both feet. There’s no reason for me not to jump in now.’ I don’t want to do anything else. I just got a sour taste in my mouth—pause that—from a lot of dumb shit so I’m like, Let’s jump in with both feet.
You did a lot of posse cuts last year, how do you know whether or not you had the best verse on the song?
Pusha T: It’s not competitive for me like that, it’s just about marrying the beat. My subject matter is not like everybody else. I come from a whole different perspective. This guy will say, ‘Oh, he said this and Big Sean said that.’ And everybody, depending on what type of rap fan they are, they latch on to what moves them. That’s my biggest thing: I don’t get caught up in the best verse hype, a verse really lasts just that time. It’s really about the body of work and it’s about you going out there in front of them fans and they relating to everything that you say.
Rolling with Kanye, has he put you on to shit?
Pusha T: Hell yeah. I can sit around him and he talks about Phillip Lim. And I’m like, ‘Who's Phillip Lim?’ Then he breaks down and shows me the whole thing. And I’m like, ‘Okay, that’s fresh.’ You learn from these people, just being in their world. Because we’re not in the same world. We’re really not. We’re just in two different places. But being around them you’re exposed to the things that they’re exposed to.
You went from being the leader of Re-Up to being a team player on G.O.O.D. Music. Is that a win or a loss?
Pusha T: I feel like it’s win for me, and everybody. I’m always going to be within my own lane. I don’t think we’re going to step on each others toes. I think it’s like when Boston Celtics came together, they had this amazing team and guys with amazing history. It’s just about being a team player. And I’ve always been a team player. Even when people felt I was the head of Re-Up, you gonna put that on me because I’m the most vocal?
Well, you were the guy yelling at the end of the songs...
Pusha T: That’s just my ode to Puff Daddy and the Bad Boy mixtapes. I just always loved that. It’s just my ode to Diddy. I always thought they were the greatest mixtapes. I even redid some of those with the Re-Up Gang. But I’m all about what’s best for everybody. And the G.O.O.D. Music move has been better for myself, Malice, and Liva as well. It’s all about making moves that can benefit everybody. I don’t ever want to just benefit myself. I’m too close to too many people. I don’t just live for myself, I live for more than myself.