“I can't push my views on ‘Ye, [Big] Sean, anybody," he says. "I handle business. I do the things I do because people get out of line. When the guns come out, that's how it comes. I hope at the end of the day everybody can respect my stances like I respect theirs.” He continues, “That ain't gonna ever affect us. [Kanye] said Wayne was ‘the best rapper’ at one point. I ain't never thought that man was the best rapper! He'll say that Mase was his favorite rapper of all time. Alright—he ain't been mine. And I think at the end of the day, ‘Ye knows ‘Man, Pusha don't give a fuck.’ I don't give a fuck about anything! None of this bothers me. I live on a very real level of life.”
Ye played ['King Push'] 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…' I was kind of shocked that Kanye gave it up so willingly.
When he played Kanye “Exodus,” the song where Pusha appears to be getting at Lil Wayne and Drake with thinly veiled lyrical shots, Pusha says 'Ye told him, “'This is the rawest song ever. This is a great song. This song needs to be out now.’ He doesn’t care about subliminals as long as the music is good.”
Pusha’s "real level of life" is different from the man who gave him the platform for his solo debut. Trips to London or Paris to meet with Kanye often involved hotel stays lasting weeks or more at a time. During these trips Pusha was happy to collab with Kanye but also needed to stay active in the public eye, not just to maintain a buzz but to keep his paper up. This was a sentiment Kanye didn’t always understand.
“He's like ‘You leaving?’” Pusha recalls. “I'm like, ‘Yeah man. I gotta go get some money.’ There's a disconnect in lifestyle with me and him. It's like ‘Alright, well, can you come back?’ But he's talking like I'm going from north of Virginia to D.C. when I'm going from Virginia to fucking London or Paris. And I'm like, ‘Yeah, I'll come back. I'ma let you know when I come back.’ In that sense, when I do come back I gotta come with ‘Numbers on the Board.’ You know, you gotta spark these guys. You can't just be sitting with these motherfuckers. These guys are rich.”
While recording My Name Is My Name, “corporate shit” or pushing for radio singles was not allowed. Indeed, any mention of such sentiments was enough to get people banished from the studio. “He would say ‘Fuck that. We doing what the fuck we wanna do,'" Pusha recalls. "'Make all the records you wanna make. Say all the shit you wanna say. What comes of it comes of it. We ain't reaching for nothing.’”
The absence of "corporate shit" doesn't mean Pusha is one dimensional on his solo coming out party however. "It’s easy working with him. He’s not a diva at all," says Kelly Rowland, who sings on "Let Me Love You" the standout R&B-influenced cut on My Name Is My Name. "That track shows a softer side, and that’s what I like about it. I felt like we balanced each other out. It changes things up a bit and shows how he can rhyme about it all."
Whether he’s in the studio or dealing with press, Pusha does his best to avoid distractions. On a gloomy day after the My Name Is My Name listening session, the rapper, his small entourage, and a few media members pile into a black Lincoln Navigator. On the ride up to the birthplace of hip-hop, the Sedgwick Houses in the Bronx, for an interview with MTV News, the hot-button topic of the day comes up in conversation—Hot 97 DJ Mister Cee's latest scandal involving a transsexual.
“Just play the 'Throwback at Noon' and rock out, man!” Pusha says, annoyed. “I'm sick of outing it! ‘Oh, he outed!’ No! Live! I just want you to live!” Pusha remembers Cee as the guy with a spot on the back of Long Live the Kane. “I don't want no more forums,” he says. “We're growing as a country and we need to be accepting of everything.”
As with any other form of entertainment, the biggest hip-hop stories are fueled by controversy. Whether it’s Mister Cee’s sexual orientation, Gucci Mane suffering from a case of logorrhea on Twitter, or Miley Cyrus making twerking a household term—many of the genre’s most talked-about moments have little to do with beats and bars.
Hate it or love it, King Push is not immune to this. Slick jabs have stolen the spotlight from his lyrical acrobatics. A quick Google search for Pusha T doesn’t find My Name Is My Name at the top of the page—instead the first result is about him saying Lil Wayne’s Dedication 5 is “trash” in an interview.
Pusha may not be fond of this fact, but he plays the cards he’s been dealt. “I think it’s horrible, but it’s just this rap game that we live in,” he says. “I answer the questions that I’m asked. I can’t afford to shy away from anything at this point.” His self awareness is refreshing in an era where some rappers spit rhymes about cars worth ten times their album budgets. You won’t find Pusha T rapping about copping Bugattis or matching Learjets with Mr. West. Instead his focus remains on the two things he’s best known for: dope and (dope) lyrics.
"He loves walking into the ratchet halls and hearing his music ring," says Pharrell, "and seein’ all the new, young hustlers being inspired by that. He loves that. But, that’s not the only slice to his personality. There is far more, and I think that probably on this next album after this, people are gonna start to see Pusha from the Zeppelin view versus Pusha in that new $200,000 something with tinted windows, throwin’ money out the sunroof screaming, 'Money ain’t a thang…'”
As Nasty Nas once observed: "Sometimes the rap game reminds me of the crack game." And the cold hard truth of the rap game in 2013 is that there may not be a next album after this if My Name Is My Name fails to achieve some semblance of crossover success. But Pusha T appears confident that the fate of his solo debut is already sealed. “I told you guys months ago that I got the best album—the best hip-hop album. Everybody thought I was talking shit. Everybody thought I was doing the typical rapper thing. I’m not no liar. I don’t lie. Don’t nobody got a better hip-hop album than mine. And I called it, so I already won in that aspect. I called it. I told everybody. Now y’all know that my Ouija board does work.”
He does not say what sort of first-week sales his Ouija board foretells. Fans will have to wait and see whether My Name Is My Name goes gold in an era where moving 500,000 units almost automatically guarantees a spot in the top 5 selling hip-hop albums of the year. Whether he receives a plaque or not, Pusha's insistence on remaining true to the life he's always known gives him a hood certification that can't be tracked on SoundScan.