Two guys are wrapping “cocaine bricks” with plastic wrap on a folding table. 

It’s a Thursday evening in March, and my day has taken an interesting turn. I’m inside a Brooklyn warehouse, where a music video for one of rap’s biggest stars is being shot. The bricks are not real kilos of coke, of course, but to someone unfamiliar with the pharmaceutical business, they look authentic. 

A studio crew is filming a felon work out in a makeshift prison cell, and in another setup, a tall, slender man practices dunking one of the bricks of cocaine into a large pot that is propelled eight feet above the ground on a white stove. If you haven’t guessed already, we’re on the set of a Pusha-T music video shoot, and the director has envisioned a very literal creative direction that mirrors specific lyrics in the song: “Hear Me Clearly,” from NIGO’s new album I Know NIGO.

The warehouse goes dark, and the man of the hour walks in, donning a sleek white and black ’fit, ready to work. The camera starts rolling, and Pusha-T jumps into character, rapping along to his verse. He uses his hands to emphasize certain words, circling a blindfolded hostage who is being strapped to a chair. 

“People think I’m crazy,” Pusha-T says, laughing. “A maniac.”

Don’t let his aggressive delivery, vicious lyrics, and unwavering dedication to tales of drug-peddling fool you. Pusha-T, born Terrence LeVarr Thornton, unmasks another side of his personality when we first meet at the Dominick Hotel in New York’s SoHo neighborhood. It’s several hours before his video shoot, and he’s waiting for his manicurist to come upstairs. When she arrives, Push is kind and professional, extending a handshake and warm “hello” before placing his hands in a bowl of water. His tone of voice is soft at first, in stark contrast to the gritty texture of his vocals on wax, but as he begins to talk about his forthcoming album—his first since 2018’s Grammy-nominated DAYTONA—his endearing personality and knack for storytelling peeks through.