Pusha T has been incredibly busy since starting up his solo career. This year was particularly hectic for the rapper, who appeared on one of the year's most successful singles ("Mercy"), released several tracks of his own, and collaborated with several of the most respected musical minds of the past few years.
Complex spoke to Pusha about the studio sessions with Kanye West and G.O.O.D. Music, the Common record that he really wants everyone to hear, and why he loves regional rap.
Interview by David Drake (@somanyshrimp)
Do you have a favorite record from Cruel Summer?
My favorite record was probably records that didn’t make the album. People don’t know there were records where Common was rapping over—like, we had Common rapping on strip club records. Do you know how great that shit was? That shit was so good that it was like—it’s annoyingthat I don’t know if people will ever hear this shit.
We had Common rapping on strip club records. Do you know how great that shit was? It’s annoying that I don’t know if people will ever hear this shit.
You know me, you know my perspective. You got me, you got Big Sean, and then you have Common who’s super conscious. He has a whole ‘nother perspective. He was really rapping and really wanted to get on this record. He heard our verses and was like, "Man, I’m laying one to this." I’m like, "Are you for real?" He’s like, "I’m doing it."
We leave and come back—we were in LA—and he laid a monster fucking verse. And I don’t think people are going to hear it. Cruel Summer was a collection of verses and raps and songs and it was almost done like ‘Ye’s album. The biggest thing that shocked me [about My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was] when I got over there, [Kanye] opened up his album to everybody. That’s how Cruel Summer was. Cruel Summer was a ton of beats and he was like, "Yo, lay verses to this shit."
Do you think there will be a "lost Cruel Summer sessions" type of record?
Listen, if he’s a smart businessman there will be. [Laughs.] If he wants to capitalize off of already-made music, then yeah. I hope so.
Were you happy with how the project turned out?
Hell yeah. I was really excited. I felt like we did a really good job. It sounds like a real G.O.O.D Music project. The different styles, the different attitudes on the project—it’s all of that. It’s really, really good and I believed it came across really well. I think it incorporated everybody who needed to be incorporated at the time. It was like a fair distribution. It was really dope.
Did you expect “Mercy” to be as big as it was?
Hell yeah. That was dope. When you do great records that are a bit unorthodox—this hasn’t happened to me since “Grindin”—people just accept it. When you with ‘Ye, being unorthodox gets that listen. It gets that five-times listen.
If I put some unorthodox shit out, people would be like, “Man, you on some crazy shit.” Not all the time is it given that fair shake. When you do it with [Kanye], it definitely gets that type of attention. When you do things innovative and new, people respond to it so I thought it was going to be huge.
Let’s talk about your new single, “Pain.”
“Pain” is the beginning of Pusha T’s solo album. It’s the set-off for my album. This is no warm-up. This is for the fans. This is for my family. This is for people who understand what it is that I come from and who know and recognize my dynamic to G.O.O.D Music. The theme of it embodies the whole theme of my album. The hook is “I don’t never feel pain, ‘cause I done felt too much pain.” It embodies all in that one statement.
Did you actually work in the studio with Future?
Had you ever been in touch before that or was this the first time you guys connected?
Well, what happened was this. Everyone was away from each other. With everyone, I mean G.O.O.D. Music. We were in our respective homes. I was in Virginia. ‘Ye was somewhere in L.A. or Paris. Somewhere. Who knows. Then everybody was around and we all got together and was like, “What’s going on? What’s hot? What’s the deal?” We were just discussing shit and I was like, “You know what’s crazy? Future is on fire in the club.” I said what’s so scary is that I knew two of the records—he had like seven records in the club that were reacting.
There’s an eeriness that I get from Future when I hear his vocals. I said it could be utilized and I would like to use him in a darker fashion.
I just liked them. I liked it a lot. I like Future a lot and I think I hear him differently than other people. A lot of people use him on some club shit because of his melodies. But there’s an eeriness that I get from Future when I hear his vocals. I said it could be utilized and I would like to use him in a darker fashion. I said I think it would still be ill and that’s the day we made “Pain.”
‘Ye was like, “Yo, we got to get in touch with Future.” Future was there that night at 9 o’clock. He came in the studio with some red pants on, a red T-shirt, red leather jacket, red hat, plaid-red shoes and dark sunglasses. He heard the beat and for like 30 minutes, he started being like, “I done felt too much pain.” [Laughs.]
That was it. He heard it and then bodied it. It just embodied what he felt the song was and I thought that was so crazy that that’s how he felt without having talked it out.
One of your singles earlier this year was with The-Dream. What was the difference working on “Dope Bitch” versus working on “Pain”?
What I’ve learned about melody is that it’s about feeling. Both of those two people—Dream especially—Dream is borderline wacko. I say this because he knows how to embody the spirit of people. He knows how to harness all the emotion on a record for 45 seconds.
It’s the same thing with Future. “Pain” was nothing but a feeling thing. Dream always tells me, “When you think too long, you lose some of that.” That’s the rapper in me. That’s a tug-of-war sometimes with my portion of the record. I’m like, “That shit’s dope...but I wanted to say this!” and he’s like, “You’re thinking for way too long.” Dream’s super-locked in and zones in on a record. He locks in on the emotion of it and it comes really quickly.
It seems like it comes very naturally to him.
Yeah. Like, really natural. I’ll tell you the funniest thing. I was in the studio with him one time and we were just discussing records and people we wanted to put on records. I think I was talking about Missy Elliot or something. From that, he said Missy would be awesome. We were trying to get her—it would sort of be her emulating the Total sound from that Bad Boy era. He immediately started singing like Keisha from Total.
We toyed with the idea of Keyshia Cole. We toyed with the idea of Rihanna. We toyed with the idea of a lot of women, and he started singing in all of their [styles]. He’s like, “What do you think about this?” I’m sitting there thinking like, “This guy. You’re out your fucking mind. You’re like schizophrenic almost.” That’s what I was thinking and I’m telling him, “Yeah, that could be dope.” I’m like looking at him like, “Yeah...you’re different.”
There were two strong singles that you’ve had, but you also had some delays. Has that been frustrating for you?
Nah, man. When I signed to G.O.O.D. Music, people were immediately like, “Oh man, you got to come out [with a record].” I was like, “Man, I’m signed to G.O.O.D. Music as a solo artist." I have to treat this like a brand new solo artist. Hence the features, hence the mixtapes, all the noise and shit on the records I’m putting out. Whether they’re attached to a project or not.
I think people were like, “Man, everybody knows you. Come on out.” I’m like, “Fuck that.” I’m about to work this up and—
Start from scratch.
Yeah. I’m like, this is how my project’s going to get built. I’m not too worried about dates. I’m worried about being in the now and being relevant, and making sure that people know and love what I do. That everybody knows and loves what I do. I’m new to some people. I’m definitely new to some people. I’ve never given a date. There hasn’t been lag time in the music. I’ve been on projects constantly. But now it’s time. Now it’s time for my own project.
I’m not too worried about dates. I’m worried about being in the now and being relevant, and making sure that people know and love what I do.
It seems you got some inspiration from the current Chicago rap scene, like Chief Keef and all of that. What else have you been listening to that inspires you?
I've been inspired by the new subcultures of rap. I just like it. It’s just a matter of me liking the music. I’m always going to do what I do. If I hop on a record, I don’t even take cadences from people. Even on “I Don’t Like,” I could have easily done Keef, but I still got to throw my spin on everything I do.
I have a lot to say, so there are certain ways I have to rap to get my point across. Yeah, I’m into the Chicago movement. I’m definitely into Keef, King Louie —I did a dope record with him. Lil Durk. “L’s Anthem” is my shit.
What is it about that stuff that you find refreshing?
It’s authentic. It’s the same authenticity I felt with “Ha” [by Juvenile]. The way they articulate it, they’re really dope. I’m a fan of that. There are a lot of things and genres of music that I’m not sure I would be into if I didn’t go there and see it, i.e., the Oakland culture, that thizz shit.
These are things that I gravitated to when I had to go there. I didn’t know. Then I go there and into the club and I see these girls that are beautiful and they’re making thizz faces and fucking dancing. I’m like, “Oh, wait a minute, she’s really passionate about this shit.” If you’re passionate about shit, it makes it so much easier to appreciate it.
What’s some of the stuff you heard in Oakland that you got into?
Erk Tha Jerk is dope. Just that whole culture. You got Mistah F.A.B. You got a lot of guys out there. There are records that I don’t know personally. It’s just shit that I’m exposed to and I’m like, “Wow.” I’m exposed to it on a major level because I’m actually there. I go out to clubs when I’m in cities. It’s a thing where if you’re exposed to it, you can see the level of passion and you can understand it a whole lot better.