Pusha T's Combative

 Evan Dale // May 30, 2018 

Pusha T has long been a heavily debated member of hip-hop royalty, but there was little disparity in the opinion that his last full-length release, 2015’s King Push – Darkest Before The Dawn: The Prelude left a series of artistic exploits to be desired. Balance and some semblance of wholesome identity seemed to be the two traits least present in what was a release with such an extraordinary amount of expectation. The project was undeniably strong – boasting the lyrical prowess and ferocity we have always loved and admired about Push, but it wasn’t the project necessary to claim him a leading force on the then scene dominated by Kendrick Lamar, J Cole, Drake, and A$AP Rocky. Needless to say, in the years since, there has been nothing but question and even further expectation to what the future of Pusha T, by way of Kanye West and all of Good Music’s guiding hands, would bring. 


With the release of his long-awaited subsequent project, DAYTONA, we now have our answer. 


Before we dive in too much, it should be noted that DAYTONA is produced top to bottom by Kanye West. In fact, in a well-publicized decision that cost Kanye some absurd amount of money, even the photo of Whitney Houston’s bathroom that adorns the project’s cover art, was decisive creativity via West. It should also be noted that, regardless of the nearly unparalleled talent at the president of Good Music’s fingertips, DAYTONA boasts but two credited features: a recently resurgent Rick Ross and predictably, Kanye West.


One of Pusha T’s most undeniably redeeming traits is his impossibly academic level of lyricism that always seems to so seamlessly blend into an extremely digestible take on classic hip-hop entirely his own. Whether it’s his long-storied run as a predominant lyricist dating back to his Clipse era, the sheer amount of collaborative efforts his career has boasted with hip-hop’s most prolific writers, or simply that he is at his deepest self-delineation, a poet, there has never been any question about his place amongst the most talented of lyricists in music. 


Such a talent is on clear and present display throughout DAYTONA’s entirety.


‘Exactly what the game’s been missing / This fire burns hot as Hell’s kitchen.’ (Hard Piano)


In so many ways, this point is one that has been made before by a plurality of existing lyrically-focused hip-hop artists, but the claim has never been more valid than from the mouth of King Push himself. Not only does DAYTONA display the next and as-of-yet furthest step in Pusha’s lyrical development, it also comes at a particular crossroads for the greater hip-hop scene. 


A clear split – probably the widest and most unamendable in the genre’s tenure –separates what can be considered two schools of hip-hop thought. The new wave of melody-focused hip-hop artists bold in their creative experimentation at a time when the very virtues of genrefication seem to be crumbling before our eyes, is often criticized for their lack of attention to penmanship; While the traditionalist lyrically-centered school of thought, spearheaded by artists like Pusha T, continues to make strides towards a hip-hop united, as it has been historically, by the art of poetry.


And even though music will of course not move back in time, and that in fact, the new wave is a necessary and particularly impressionistic, borderline modernist take on hip-hop’s foundation, there is a case to be made that there could have been no better time for Pusha T and Kanye to release DAYTONA. The sheer impact and influence it could come to have on hip-hop, similar to J Cole’s recent KOD, while bringing to light conversation and debate surrounding the merits of the approaches spread across the spectrum’s wide breadth, is an important vantage point to be graced with, especially by an artist with so much to say. 


‘You can’t have the yin without the yang my friend / Real n***as bring balance to the game I’m in.’ (Come Back Baby)


There is an expected amount of sociopolitical input and thought carrying the thematic course of the album that grant it a high weight and require of it, a particularly sober and determined mind – traits that are again, waning in their presence amongst the current trends of hip-hop. 


Unfortunately, DAYTONA’s heavy subject matter and lyrical prominence may be some of the traits that come to hold it back. At a time when a clear public favor in the direction of the melody-focused school has taken ahold of mainstream opinion; at a time only weeks after J Cole released one of the most lyrically and thematically important albums in memory; at a time just hours post the long-awaited release of A$AP Rocky’s Testing; and at a time when Kanye West’s public opinion has taken a violent series of hits, DAYTONA, though deserving of widespread acclaim for Pusha T’s songwriting and delivery, will likely take a backseat in the public’s eye for a number of reasons.