Interview: Pusha T Talks G.O.O.D. Music, Kanye's "Cruel Summer" Raps, and His Solo Debut

Neighborhood Push opens up about his team's upcoming album, working with Yeezy, and his own anticipated project.

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Complex Original

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"Reality bites like a Rottweiler/The Givenchy hoodie is top dollar,” Pusha T (né Terrence Thornton) raps on a ghostly No I.D.-produced gem on his forthcoming debut solo album, out this Fall. The line exemplifies his approach to to rap: Talk flashy and expose the harsh truths. He's told press that his first album without Clipse member and brother, Gene "No Malice" Thornton, is inspired by director Taylor Hackford's The Devil’s Advocate, but an early listening reveals that Frank Miller and Quentin Tarantino’s crime thriller Sin City may be just as good of a fit.

Pusha’s yet-to-be-titled set is gritty and somehow even sexy. Cannons blow gloriously on one track as he warns that he’s got "assault rifles in the back like Rambo." On a destructive Kanye West record, he dubs himself the "Hines Ward of the crown lords" before the hook comes wailing in.

A few weeks back at Complex’s G.O.O.D. Music cover shoot in downtown NYC, Pusha was a proud teammate. Between individual and squad shots, he pulled over to a staircase to talk about crew's Cruel Summer album (out Sept. 4), what some of its highlight moments will be, the direction he and The-Dream are going on his solo offering, and adjusting to West’s recording style.

Interview by Brad Wete (@BradWete)

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Complex: I sense that the spirit of competition is strong within your team. Do you guys think about what other labels like Maybach Music Group and Young Money are producing and how you can best it when you're in the studio?

I'm still a fan and I’m still in awe sometimes of just being around guys like Common, for real. Because I've been listening to him all my life, he's been nice all my life. It's not even competitive on that type of level with me when I'm watching him.

Pusha T: No. I don't think that G.O.O.D. Music ever considers any of the other labels that are out there. We like the music. We appreciate it. But at the end of the day I think it’s more competitive in-house. You've got guys like Sean, who's like running his little section. You've got guys like Common, who will just rap you out of house and home. You've got guys like myself who, you know… I get busy. You've got Kanye. You've got Cudi in his lane. It's more of a puzzle trying to get all those different characters and all those different forms or rap to mesh well on a record. [To even] find the right record. Ye's got to go through his whole production line process before it's perfect. That’s really what we consider in the studio.

Talk to me about that studio vibe.

You know what, Sean in particularly, he's like a major vibe type of guy. As soon as hears the beat, it starts with these hands like this. [Chops and throws hands around.] From there it's like he just comes with the words and he really pulls you into the mood of it. Common, I'm still a fan and I’m still in awe sometimes of just being around guys like Common, for real. Because I've been listening to him all my life. He's been nice all my life. It's not even competitive on that type of level with me when I'm watching him.

Kanye critiques the hell out of his work and has been known to ask others collaborating with him to revise their stuff as well. How has that process been for you?

As far as revisions go and revising your verse when you're dealing with G.O.O.D. Music, it happens to all of us. I have never rewritten more verses in my life than right now. Being signed to G.O.O.D. it just comes with the territory, man. These guys are perfectionists. I write verses and already think they're perfect. At the end of the day, ‘Ye will come through and be like, “Ah, no. We can do better or we can edit that out.” He's really taught me in a sense of what he's looking for now, so now I sort of got it down to a science so I don't got to revisit it so much. But it's not beyond any of us. We revise stuff all the time.

Is that a humbling experience, having Kanye criticize your work?

It's not humbling because you have to look at who's telling you to revise your verse. I never look at revision or any type of criticism as humbling when it’s coming from a 90-time Grammy winner. You've got to listen to somebody. Music is still a learning experience for me. I came into the game under super producers; I deal with super producers a lot, whether it be Pharrell, whether it be Kanye, whether it be The-Dream. You have to listen to somebody. Me specifically, I have to. I'm a rapper.


On Cruel Summer, I’m sure we’ll hear each artist a few times throughout the album. Which rapper on the team do you think fans are going to think went the hardest?

I don't even know. We've done so many records. We haven't even done the narrowing down process of who made what or whatever. But I can tell you right now that CyHi is definitely somebody to check out for. Definitely, hands down. He's always surprising. I think everybody got busy on the rap tip. Everybody got busy. This G.O.O.D. Music album is in conjunction with the movie as well. The music sort of plays the soundtrack for the movie. So there is a variety of things up there, like Cudi has hit records. I think everybody is going to be happy.

My solo project is the gospel. There is nothing touching it. Kanye West producing. Dream's producing. The verses are mean and I'm the best.

Are you acting in the Cruel Summer movie, too?

It wasn't any speaking parts or anything like that. We were definitely the Lamborghini dons, though. We were Lambo thieves. We were cars thieves. Just a couple scenes. It's a really deep movie. I think everybody is going to be really surprised with how Kanye directed this. Cudi was acting in it. He was the star. He gets busy.

Who are you excited about on the production side?

Mannie Fresh definitely gets busy. It's a lot of new guys. You've got Mike Will. You've got Lifted, who did “Mercy.”

Are there any true Kanye beats on Cruel Summer? Ones that he started and finished? Nowadays it seems like Kanye’s more of an editor than the beatmaker he used to be.

“New God Flow” is one of those beats for sure. Everything on this album starts with Kanye as far a production goes. Like, we not rhyming on it until he says thumbs up. Whether it be a sample or whether it be the inspiration of it. And then everyone else comes in and puts in the hard drums and the kick that he feels is whatever. But it starts there and ends with Kanye.

Compilation albums can seem very thrown together. For this, it seems to be very well thought out and more conceptual. What are some topics you guys will be hitting on?

People are going to be in store for a wide variety of music. As far as raps, you've got me, so you're going to get more braggadocios stuff. You’re going to get colorful street rhymes. But you've got Common on the conscious end. You've got Cudi. He goes through his female angst on the album. Kanye definitely goes relationship dumb on the album. Sean brings the party to the album a lot of times and CyHi definitely brings witty wordplay. People are going to be in for a surprise.

What are some things you're hearing from Kanye lyrically?

I like the fact that when it comes to Kanye, the Kanye that I'm hearing these days musically, he addresses a lot of the naysayers. He addresses a lot of the rumors. He addresses anything that's said in the media, because 99% of what's said in the media isn't real in reference to him. He addresses it, because he doesn't do interviews. If you like gossip, I'm telling you now: You need to really check out and listen what he's saying because he's telling so many stories.

How many songs have you personally rapped on so far for Cruel Summer?

20 or more. And that's why it's so hard right now to say what's what. I don't know what’s being produced on, what's being edited, I don't know what's happening right now. And it's happening right now.”

Let’s talk about your solo project.

My solo project is the gospel. There is nothing touching it. Kanye West producing. Dream's producing. The verses are mean and I'm the best.

Noted. What's its been like working with The-Dream? People were a bit surprised that you picked an R&B cat to handle your album along with Kanye.

People always like to speculate and think that they know who does what and who's going to be good with who, but I think it's going to catch everybody by surprise. As a point of reference, just to try to put people's heads in perspective, everybody is a big Pac fan, everybody loves the hard Pac records. A lot of people don't remember that DeVante Swing did those records. A lot of people are forgetting the era of what we are listening to now is produced with that polish of an R&B-first style producer. So let's just see what happens. I have faith. I got confidence. I think y'all should believe in what I say.

Me and Dream have mastered the whole realm of harsh reality. We both make very real music, whether it's talking about the streets, whether it's talking about ladies. When you're talking about me, I do hardcore street rap. But to act as if women aren't a part of my lifestyle and my world… that's not the case. But I do tell the story the way it is. I just want people to understand I'm speaking from a street perspective.

Are you still working with Pharrell and the Neptunes?

I’m still going in with Pharrell. I just got off the phone with him, as a matter of fact. That's something that will never stop. Hopefully we find the right joint. I'm sure we will.

What can we expect from the songs that feature you and Kanye?

I think that the true rap fan is going to be really happy when it comes to me and Kanye together, because he totally caters to that fan when it comes to working with me. There's no compromise, there's nothing but hard, street-driven raps. Kanye turns into a thug immediately and I am already who I am.

What’s your recording regime like?

Ever since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, I've been exposed to working the midnight shift and working later in the day, overnight and so on. I've never been like that. I wake up in the morning, I write in the morning, driving around throughout my day, and I'm out of the studio by midnight. That's just my process. I've now learned how to work overnight. I've learned how to even catch a nap and hop back into it. I've never stayed in the studio until 4 or 5 a.m. so much in my life, ever. ‘Ye exposed me to it. Dream made me do it, and now that's part of the game. I don't sleep when I'm home now.

So now you’re fully adjusted.

I am fully adjusted to the way G.O.O.D. Music works.

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