Pusha T Breaks Down His 25 Most Essential Songs: "Grindin," "What Happen To That Boy," "Runaway" & More

One-half of Clipse talks about how his "G.O.O.D. Friday" verses came about, who he was biting throughout "Hell Hath No Fury," and one of his most personal verses.

Today, Pusha T will finally drop his mixtape Fear of God. We’ve spent the last few weeks tirelessly talking to Push, trying to get his thoughts on everything from rolling with G.O.O.D. Music, to what he thought about Consequence accusing him of biting lyrics, and squashing his beef with Lil Wayne. But when it comes to Pusha (and by extension, Clipse) the most important thing has always been the music. An intricate lyricist with a vicious delivery, Pusha’s verses are something special. That’s why we just had to get him to break down all of his classic records. We even managed to get the true story behind his verse on We Got It For Cheap Vol. 2’s “Hate It or Love It,” how most of the beats on Hell Hath No Fury were meant for Jay-Z, and how HHNF is better than Purple Rain.

As told to Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin)

Clipse “The Funeral” (1999)

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Clipse “Virgina” (2002)

Produced by: The Neptunes

Pusha T: “‘Virginia’ was the ode to Virginia that was never made. A lot of people make records about where they’re from. And to be from N.Y. or L.A. or to be from Atlanta and make a record, a lot of people can relate to it. They see these places glorified on TV or they're known for what they have going on in their city. But Virginia wasn’t that well-known of a place.

“You might have heard that Timbaland and Missy were from there, you knew Teddy Riley and The Neptunes were from there, but you really didn’t know what Virginia was about and that seemed to be the problem. So when we wrote the record people were like, ‘Yo, that’s the hardest record ever.’ Like, I would go to Detroit and people would be like, ‘Do Virginia!’ It’s just like, ‘Huh? Y’all really wanna hear about Virginia?’ We thought it was an amazing record, but it was even better when we saw how everyone else in the world took to it.

“My whole thing with the OJ trial and that line was that everybody was in such an uproar over it. I’m definitely not saying that OJ killed that woman because I see what the justice system sees. It happens all the time, people kill people and they get off. I’m not the one that’s gonna sit around and say he did kill her. I don’t know that he did. He got off for it. Whatever, fine. But, where I came from, I’ve been seeing guys who got off for murders due to money. So I never thought that OJ was going to jail for that.”

Clipse “Grindin’” (2002)

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Clipse f/ Pharrell, Ab-Liva, & Roscoe P. Coldchain “Cot Damn” (2002)

Produced by: The Neptunes

Pusha T: “My verse [in the video version of the song] wasn’t the same as the original version of the song. When we had the song, the record was called ‘God Damn’ but we changed to ‘Cot Damn’ and did a remix for it. The reason we did that was there was a lot of issue over the term ‘God Damn’ and trying to get the record played in the bible belt. So there was all of this, ‘Yo, what you gonna do?’

“This was a big issue and this is why L.A. Reid is the greatest to me, because rarely do people make mistakes and admit to them. What happened with ‘Cot Damn’ was we just came with ‘Grindin’’ and ‘When the Last Time’ and everyone was pulling on what record to put out next, ‘Ma, I Don’t Love Her’ with Faith Evans or ‘Cot Damn.’ And, of course we were all for “Cot Damn.’

“L.A. Reid was like, ‘This Faith Evans record, I can make this a hit. If the record don’t pop, I’m shooting you another video. But you gotta let me hit radio with this.’ So we put out ‘Ma, I Don’t Love Her’ and he calls and says, ‘Okay, it didn’t work the way you wanted it to, but I’m going to keep my word and I’m a fucking shoot this ‘Cot Damn’ video. Do something with new verses and gimme something to work with.’ And, that’s how the remix came about.”

Clipse f/ Kelis & Pharrell “When the Last Time” (2002)

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Clipse f/ Jadakiss, Styles P, & Rosecoe P. Coldchain “I’m Not You” (2002)

Produced by: The Neptunes

Pusha T: “‘I’m Not You’ was just our proclamation that we are actually out here physically in the street. And you rap guys are fine, but I have a whole other motivation and these lyrics come from a very real place. Back then there was just so much going on. Like the introduction of hiding illegal things in cars. I think maybe somebody had just bought a stash car.

“That also just had a lot with me being a fan of The Lox. I just loved everything they stood for and I was like, ‘Man, I can’t get these guys on a record? Are you serious?’ I’m from Virginia so I didn’t know no New York rappers or nothing. So, it was simply just a reach, the label way. It was nothing too friendly or anything like that. It was just kinda like, ‘Yo, I would love for you to be on this, please?’ I couldn’t even get on New York mixtapes back then. Luckily they came through. They made that record really classic.”

Justin Timberlake f/ Clipse “Like I Love You” (2002)

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Birdman f/ Clipse “What Happen To That Boy” (2002)

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Re-Up Gang “Pussy” (2004)

Produced by: The Neptunes

Pusha T: “‘Pussy’ was the first record that was supposed to come off of the second Clipse album. ‘Pussy’ is a record I love to perform. More than anything, I remember the beat and I remember Pharrell making the hook solely. I remember hearing the beat and was like, ‘Oh my god.’ And Pharrell saying, ‘You know I got a hook for it right?’ And I was like, ‘What?’ And when he said that shit to me I thought it was the most ingenious hook I had ever heard in my life.

“But it got really tricky, with the label. Like when we did ‘Pussy’ they were like, ‘Damn, we can’t get this on the radio.’ Everything was just radio, radio, radio. No one wanted to touch it. The label was telling me, ‘Your vocals have evolved. You don’t even sound like yourself anymore.’ I was just like, ‘Nah, I’m harnessing the ghost man. You don’t get it yet.’ And so then once we didn’t put out the album, ‘Pussy’ just became one of those cult things"

Re-Up Gang “What’s Up?” (2005)

Produced by: Timbaland

Pusha T:We Got It For Cheap Vol. 2 was the best mixtape to me. But what people don’t really realize is that it’s hard to duplicate a mixtape. A good mixtape is the best of the time period. So, if the music in the next time period isn’t as good, when we put out the next volume it’s tough. I think that was the most current mixtape. It was current and the music was just perfect.

“But yeah, ‘Put You On The Game’ was crazy. I love that beat. Sometimes I get jealous man. When I heard that beat I was like, ‘Why don’t we have this beat? Why isn’t this ours?’ I think it’s a shame [we never worked with Timbaland]. I’ve tried a lot. Who knows why we haven’t. That’s all I’m going to say about that.”

Re-Up Gang “Hate It Or Love It” (2005)

Produced by: Cool & Dre

Pusha T: “That was such a personal verse for me. That goes back to ‘The Funeral.’ I was saying like I was fucking wit E and them, E was my road manager. E was fucking wit K, K was a well-known 'Get Money' guy back in the day. Then K got killed and Shampoo came home from jail and then he started placing 'em. Then Poo died and 'I can’t tell you who was replacing him/Cause he’s still living and I ain’t trying to catch a case wit him.'

“It was a gang of us. And at different points in time, there was always one guy that was above the rest that was helping to feed the family. K was there, K died. Then Poo came home, Poo was up there, he died. Then the other guy who just recently went to jail. He was home as well. I couldn’t say his name at the time because well...you know.

“Then there were lines in that about a friend of mine who I had went to Miami with one time. I had two friends, one was female and one was a guy. The female, she used to help me out a lot. She was making money out here too. So anyway, I went to Miami one year and I flew the girl down there. And the guy went and broke into the girl’s house and took everything knowing that we were both in Miami. And so when I came back, she went back home first and she was like, ‘Oh my God! Somebody broke into my house and they took everything.’

“So he comes, he robs her, and then he eventually died of cancer. I’d tell him that he still my man because I sure wish he was still here to this day. When he died, it killed me. I found out after he’d died that he did it. But what I didn’t know was that she was sleeping with him as well. She could have been having sex with that man and it wouldn’t have mattered. But had I known that they were, she couldn’t have been in the position that she was in with certain things.

“So, in all actuality, I don’t know if he really broke into the house or they just got together and was like, ‘Yo, it’s all in there. Just go in there and we’ll split it up later. Fuck him.’ [Laughs.] They coulda really did that to me too. I don’t know. She swears to God that’s not what happened and he died so I’ll never really know. All I know is that I really miss the fuck outta him man. And that girl is still around. She’s a perfectly cool girl to this day."

Re-Up Gang “Ultimate Flow” (2005)

Produced by: Fabian Hamilton

Pusha T: “That’s an amazing beat. See, that’s the kind of fan I am of B.I.G. And I felt like it was a great way to showcase Sandman too. I saw a lot of great things in Sandman that reminded me of things I liked in B.I.G. I was like, ‘Dog, you need to do the hook. You need to really harness everything out of that.’ I just felt it was something he could really hone in on and do his thing. I was always about the gang and everyone getting their shine.

“People knew Clipse but people weren’t necessarily as abreast to Sand and Liva like that. You know, if you’re a real rap fan then of course you did. If you like Sand and you like his flow, okay cool. If you like this hook then it was something that he could really just sorta get his off on that even more. So that’s basically that’s what I was aiming for. When I heard it, that was one of his alley-oops in my opinion.”

Dre / Pusha T, Dirtbag, Fat Joe, The Game, & Rick Ross “Chevy Ridin’ High (Remix)” (2006)

Produced by: Cool & Dre

Pusha T: “That’s one of my best verses. ‘If he claim king and he claim best, then I guess you can call me God.’ I was talking about T.I and Wayne. He was king. He was best. They took all the great names. They took all the great monikers. [Laughs.] I’m like, ‘If he claims king, I can’t have that. And if he claims best, I can’t have that. Then just call me God.’ That was my logic in it. That was me in a competitive mode and I was like fuck it.

“I was so mad about that record. I felt it was such a big record, but I also felt like they should have made the hook more repetitive. When you have a song that good and a hook that good, the verses should be hot but you shouldn’t sacrifice good verses and lose the song value of it as well. It has to be a balance. I felt like it was very verse heavy and not enough hooks."

Clipse “Momma I’m So Sorry” (2006)

Produced by: The Neptunes

Pusha T:Hell Hath No Fury is the best album to ever come out in the world. It’s the best album ever made in life. It’s right up there with Thriller and Purple Rain. Actually, it’s Thriller, Purple Rain, then Hell Hath No Fury. Matter of fact, we might be able to top Purple Rain. And ‘Momma I’m So Sorry’ is my favorite Clipse record. Well, it’s a toss-up between that and ‘Keys Open Doors.’

“My favorite record ever made by an artist is probably ‘My Downfall’ by B.I.G. There’s a few moments from Life After Death that were so crazy that they inspired me. The ‘Momma I’m So Sorry’ beat made me try to harness anything I could from the spirit of B.I.G., and then put my twist and my spin on it. So you gotta understand [Imitates B.I.G. voice], ‘I philosophize about glocks and keys/Niggas call me young black Socrates.’ That’s me biting B.I.G at my finest. I have to thank B.I.G for that cause I was biting and you can tell the world I was biting. Now, that’s somebody I’ll bite!”

Clipse “Keys Open Doors” (2006)

Produced by: The Neptunes

Pusha T: “‘I ain’t spend one rap dollar in three years?’ I was on hiatus for how long? So how many shows was I fucking doing? None! Goddamnit! [Laughs.] I was in Miami. Mark Pitts was there, Pharrell was there, and he had made this really eerie, airy sounding beat. And he was like, ‘I just gotta put one more thing in it.’ I was like, ‘Keys open doors.’ P was like, ‘Yo, say that.’ And he sampled it and the he just started freaking it through the hook.

“That was another B.I.G concoction. I wanted to be Biggie on Hell Hath No Fury. I knew the record wasn’t gonna sell, so my mind said I need to make as many records as comparable to ‘My Downfall’ and ‘What’s Beef.’ I needed to try take all the hardest moments on Life After Death and make that twelve times. That way I could live with myself and feel good because I knew I was in such a fucked-up label state. I was like, if I’m not gonna sell records anyway and they’re not gonna put anything behind me, then I might as well make the record that I really want to make.

“You’re never ever gonna hear me tell you I was trying to be somebody. But I was trying to be B.I.G. Whether I succeeded or not, hell no. I’ll bite B.I.G but nobody else. To hell with everybody else. You can’t ever be the man. I can’t ever be the man. People who love Hell Hath No Fury, I think that’s why they love it. I think it’s a great album, but if you love me on it then it’s because there’s something special about it. But people don’t know what I was trying to do.”

Clipse f/ Pharrell “Mr. Me Too” (2006)

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Clipse f/ Bilal & Pharrell “Nightmares” (2006)

Produced by: The Neptunes

Pusha T: “Amazing record. Should’ve been the first single off the record, but what was swaying my decision on that was the fact that we had been on hiatus so long. Everything we were doing was mixtape driven and any shows we were really getting was real fan shit going on. And I didn’t want to take the energy of the shows down with a record like ‘Nightmares.’ As great of a record as that is, I couldn’t fathom performing that record. Which was really stupid because you had guys like Game coming out doing ‘Dreams.’ I think that was his single, but I was just in this thinking like, ‘Damn man. How is this gonna carry us?’"

Fabolous f/ Pusha T “Joke’s On You” (2007)

Produced by: Don Cannon

Pusha T: “Fabolous is one of the most clever rhymers in the game. He’s got a rapper’s rapper quality about him that makes him able to do a song like ‘Joke's On You’ where he can pick a subject and just pull tons of references. Cause ‘Jokes On You’ was the one where we picked a bunch of comedians and pulled different scenarios. He’s one of the few that can really do it and he doesn’t make it sound lame.

“He hit me with it and I was like, ‘Man, how do you even go into this shit?’ And, once I started it man it just started really rolling. I was like, ‘Damn, this shit's gonna be amazing.’ Fab is the type of guy that you’ll be on a record with and he can honestly catch a body on you if you’re not careful. Some people hold their own. I feel like this type of rap is right up his alley because he carries that kind of cleverness all the fucking time.”

N.E.R.D. f/ Pusha T & CRS “Everybody Nose (Remix)” (2008)

Produced by: The Neptunes

Pusha T: “‘Everybody Nose’ was the shit man. I love that record and I really love the original. I was a champion for the original and I think it was a little risky for the whole theme of the record. I remember they were just like, ‘You can’t spell nose, n-o-s-e.’ When people really got to understand the true meaning of the record it was scary to video and radio outlets. And they still went with it anyway. Then when they did the remix I thought that it was only right.

"I loved the opportunity to get on that one. Those rhymes within itself was just a body of everybody that I felt was saying, ‘Yo, you only rap about coke.’ Cause it’s done so cleverly at times man. ‘You don’t paint pictures/I paint Murakamis on you niggas.’ Like, at the time they were doing the paint on the fucking Louis Vuitton purses for the girls and it’s just like, 'Damn man, how y’all miss this shit?'”

Clipse f/ Cam'Ron & Pharrell "Popular Demand (Popeyes)" (2009)

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Clipse “Freedom” (2009)

Produced by: Sean C & LV

Pusha T: “That’s a very true to life verse. I felt like the music industry traps you and at the same time it’s been the downfall for certain people in my camp. A lot of things that have gone on in this industry have been the catalyst for a lot of other things going on which ended in a negative way. The politics in music fucked up a lot of shit, fucked up a lot of lives. The life of your family can be affected just due to politics.

“Some of the people who were a part of my circle decided to just take their destiny into their own hands and do what they knew. They had put their everything into music at one point and it was going well. Then we get into this political shit and everything goes downhill. So, it was like, ‘We don’t beg, we don’t ask, so we’re just gonna get it the way we know how to get it.’ And a lot of shit just ended up in a negative way. I feel like half my friends wouldn’t have been in jail right now if there was no Hell Hath No Fury delay.

“I told my critics to jerk off because in that verse, I didn’t use one drug line. My critics always say, ‘He just talks about dope.’ It’s so annoying to hear them say that because I much rather they didn’t listen to my music. It’s not for you you fucking square! If that’s how you see my music then don’t listen to it, don’t click on it. My shit definitely resonates with some fucking body. I have proof that my shit resonates with somebody. What’s your proof? It might not resonate to you sir, but who the fuck are you? They didn’t even say a word about it.”

The Alchemist f/ Pusha T, Jadakiss, & Snoop Dogg “Lose Your Life” (2009)

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Kanye West f/ Pusha T “Runaway” (2010)

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Kanye West f/ Pusha T & Others "Christian Dior Denim Flow" (2010)

Produced by: Kanye West

Pusha T: “Listen man, 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 know you can’t lax, you cannot slow down, you can’t falter. The world is literally watching so with that being the case it’s like, man, you definitely have to fall in line.

“And we’re all really busy. [With G.O.O.D. Fridays] it was never really that situation where we’re all here doing a posse cut. It never works out like that. For example, I could have been in Miami and Kanye is like, ‘Yo, get on this beat real quick.’ And I didn’t know until you guys knew on Friday who is going to be on the songs. I have a skeleton beat and I have a hook or an idea. I just basically go off on that. It’s never like a real collective, thought-out thing. G.O.O.D. Fridays was just a real fun verse thing.

“[The reason I spit that line about salmon colored suit I wore at the VMAs was because], that was a great look. I loved it. Mushka Bergen—she’s with Italian Vogue—she helped put it together and you know Kanye was the one that made that happen. She’s extremely intense, passionate. She saw me and she was like, ‘Oh my God! Your skin is so beautiful. Oh, you’re so dark I need you to wear this size.’ She’s very high fashion and you know high fashion doesn’t always catch the eye of someone like myself.

“I think ‘Ye got a big fucking kick out of some of her fabric choices and watching me get totally flustered and deny them. There were certain materials that were silky and three sizes too small that she was trying to get me to try on. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. She was like, ‘No, no, no, I just need to see it.’ I just said, ‘Baby, I’m sorry I know myself.’ We can’t really do it right now. But it all worked out for the best.”

Pusha T “My God” (2011)

Produced by: Hit-Boy

Pusha T: “Basically, my manager, Steven, had continuously told me about this beat Hit-Boy made specifically for me. That he hears me on it, that I have to do it, so on and so forth. With that being said, I was like, ‘Damn. Alright, let me check it out.’ And once I heard it, I loved the energy of it. You know, to me it’s one of those rapper’s rapper-type of records. It’s just a canvas. There’s not a whole lot to it. Sonically, it has the sound that keeps you interested, but it still gives you that flat canvas that you can just black out on, as an artist

”That [credit score line] is true talk, you know? I think, every once in a while, a lot of people lose a lot of greatness in their raps, because they don’t show any type of vulnerability. And vulnerability doesn’t always have to mean emotionally hurt. Sometimes you do get taken advantage of. And the dealer did take advantage of me. Mind you, I’m talking from the perspective of a man with no credit, and a lot of cash, trying to buy a car. Like, that’s tough.

“What do you think the dealer’s going to do? He’s going to treat you like nothing. But, at the same time, you have to have that car. So you pay over sticker price, the cash was underhanded. A lot of people comment on what one should talk about, and what one shouldn’t talk about, and what they’re tired of hearing. I can only give inserts to my life. That’s the hip-hop that I know. If you want to hear about a whole bunch of tear-jerking and heartbreaking then, you’ll have to listen elsewhere.”

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