The release of King Push’s solo debut raises a loaded question: will this certified legend in two games ever choose one?
This feature is a part of Complex's Pusha T Week.
On a humid evening in September, the Industria Superstudio in NYC’s West Village has been transformed into a Donda installation for an album unveiling from one of the most respected and enigmatic artists in rap today. Attractive ladies in Breaking Bad-esque hazmat suits distribute Hennessy cocktails. Enormous black-and-white photos from the packaging of Pusha T’s highly anticipated solo debut My Name Is My Name line the walls of the cavernous space, printed on canvas and stretched out on huge metal frames. Terrence Thornton a.k.a. Pusha T stands surrounded by a throng of bloggers, tastemakers, and fans, spitting the opening bars from a new song called “Hold On”: “I sold more dope than I sold records/You niggas sold records never sold dope!” The lyric stands out—not because of the subject matter itself, but because it’s actually believable.
Back in 2002, on the intro to The Clipse’s indelible first single “Grindin,” the Virginia-based rapper identified himself as your personal pusher. On the same record he asserted that he was a “legend in two games, like Pee Wee Kirkland,” the famous street baller who also did time for drug distribution. Add up the sales of The Clipse’s three album releases—Lord Willin’ (2002), Hell Hath No Fury (2006), and Til The Casket Drops (2009)—and you’re left with roughly 1.3 million units moved over a seven-year span. Barely enough to keep two young ballers properly laced.
Though he doesn’t go into ounces, grams, and kilos, King Push keeps his explanation of “Hold On” surprisingly blunt: “I’ve never sold enough records to take me away from the life and that’s my point. They’ve lived a whole ’nother lifestyle than I have and I’ve lived a whole ’nother lifestyle than they have. I haven’t sold enough records to turn my back.”
I’ve never sold enough records to take me away from the life and that’s my point.
Is this decision a conscious one? Pharrell Williams, one-half of the Neptunes duo responsible for producing The Clipse’s three albums thinks so. “He looks enormous success in the face and he turns it away because he still feels like he speaks for the underdog,” says Pharrell. “Pusha really sympathizes and really rides for that world, so he’s always talking about cocaine. He’s always talking about the ambition in a 19-year-old’s eyes to be a big dealer, drive big cars, run from the feds. He’s so real with that.”
Decked out in red Balmain leather pants, a gray shirt that’s likely worth more than your Js, two thin gold chains, and a colorful Ale et Ange snapback, Pusha emphatically raps along to tracks from his long-awaited release. The crowd is racially mixed but stylistically there are common themes—there’s at least half a dozen 40oz snapbacks, plus plenty of denim and camo. Pusha's fans follow his style cues to a T; they obsess over his exquisitely crafted lyrics, and most of all they appreciate his realness.
Talk of a Pusha T solo album has been bubbling since his he skipped across the VMA stage in that salmon-colored suit to perform his verse on Kanye West’s “Runaway” back in September 2010. Since then he’s put out a slew of features, two mixtapes, and played a major role on G.O.O.D. Music’s Cruel Summer album. Comrades Big Sean, Kid Cudi, 2 Chainz, and Mr. West himself, have all released solo projects since then. Meanwhile both critics and supporters began to wonder if Pusha had been moved to the clubhouse just when it seemed like he was in the on-deck circle for G.O.O.D. Music’s All-Star squad.
No official single from My Name Is My Name has charted on Billboard. The initial buzz around “Numbers on the Board” has faded despite the boisterous clip of Pusha pleading with Kanye to put the record out having over 150,000 views on YouTube. The album's release date being postponed from early 2013 to July 16 to its new date of October 8 has only fueled skepticism about whether or not Pusha’s debut would actually reach shelves.
Though Pusha heard the talk, he remained patient and kept the faith that his first solo project would benefit from all the added time and attention. “It’s been a long time coming but I only say that because people feel like it’s been a long time coming,” he says of the delay. “I think it was required. I had to make sure that all the bases were covered. I started out with mixed reviews, with me doing solo freestyles. So I felt like it took this long for me to get people comfortable with Pusha T the solo artist.”
Some listening sessions are tricked out like mini award-shows, but My Name Is My Name’s premiere stuck to the basics. There was no fancy promo gear for those seated in V.I.P. areas—as a matter of fact there were no seating areas at all, or even a stage for the artist to perform on. The lights dimmed and the sound system was cranked to ear-splitting levels as Pusha T stood toe to toe with his fans, threw his hands in the air, and began to rhyme. The crowd pushed in on him with their iPhone cameras and Digital SLRs flickering, barely giving him the breathing room he needed to perform.
Make all the records you wanna make. Say all the sh*t you wanna say. What comes of it comes of it. We ain't reaching for nothing.
“‘Ye brought that to me. He played it for me and I immediately was like, ‘I hope you’re not playing this just to show me how good of a beat this is,’” Pusha says of "King Push," the Sebastian Sartor—stepson of Metallica's Lars Ulrich—produced track that opens the album. “I was kind of shocked that Kanye gave it up so willingly.”
Such is the life of any artist signed through another artist. Mixed signals and divided loyalties come with the territory. But Kanye was not only willing to provide Pusha with this hellish-sounding, chest-thumping instrumental but also gave an epic rant on Push’s behalf in the middle of the listening session. “Everything is Pusha T! Pyrex Vision, that’s Pusha! Fear of God, that’s Pusha T! This nigga is the heart of the motherfucking culture for you culture vultures!” Though admittedly “gone off that Goose right now,” West's enthusiasm is palpable. “This is the only nigga spitting that wild motherfucking hip-hop shit right now! That’s why I stand next to this nigga!” But the question remains: Will “wild motherfucking hip-hop shit” and a co-sign from the most talked about character in the rap game be enough to push My Name Is My Name beyond Pusha's established fan base?