Pusha T’s 2013 solo album My Name Is My Name was a wrecking ball of coke rap brilliance merging raw, uncut flows with a series of lean and mean beats, but as soon as it dropped, the Virginia-raised MC promised there was something even better around the corner: a follow-up called King Push. The record has yet to arrive, but he’s still teasing the set in grand style with his newly produced King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude. As the mid-section of that lengthy title suggests, it’s another gritty entry in his catalogue, and it finds him one step closer to claiming the throne.
Despite the snow bank soft synth tones of “Intro,” the opener is one of the strangest, most jarring entries Pusha’s produced thus far. A warped operatic warble describing a struggle of the self sets the tone of the piece before an unknown figure asking Pusha why he’s trying to be a drug dealer, demon and rapper all at the same time. “You trying to save the culture?” the figure questions of T’s intentions. “You’ve got to pick one, daddy.”
What follows is a confidently spat verse that acknowledges the greats (Notorious B.I.G., Jay Z, J. Dilla), lines up his loyalty with Kanye West and the GOOD Music team (of which Pusha T was recently named president), while also putting “fears into…peers”. The multi-tasking works. “Get ready for the placing of the crown,” he adds.
Pusha’s rise continues to fascinate. The 38-year-old has been grindin’ since the ’90s, as part of celebrated rap duo the Clipse, but he saw his solo career blossom after linking up with West a few years back. But while he’s generally in the public eye and has collaborated with an arsenal of big timers over the years, there’s still something slightly outsider about his approach. On My Name is My Name’s “King Push,” a single that managed to sketch an outline for at least a couple of releases, he noted that he mainly raps about the trap. “I don’t sing hooks,” he sneered.
He continues to traffic in coke raps on Darkest Before Dawn, specializing in paeans to the power of powder. He critiques the one track minds of fame-focused career rappers on “M.F.T.R.”, expressing how you have to diversify your portfolio to keep the cash flow coming. “We all know I did it,” he confesses of having, at one point, made money pushing drugs, while poking holes at the flossy, falsified images of his foes.
T tough-talks his way through more coke-themed situations on “Keep Dealing,” which floats by using an eerie, mid 70s’-styled prog rock keyboard melody. Of a fiscally-minded fiasco that found him losing his first million, he notes of some backup product to hock: “Luckily, there was somethin’ in the ceilin’/Keep dealin'”. The track features a similarly potent guest verse from Beanie Sigel.
Despite his drive, Pusha notes we all have our faults, and brings The-Dream, Kanye West and A$AP Rocky along for the vice-centred “M.P.A.”. The hook, which confirms that the acronym stands for “money, pussy, alcohol,” assures that it won’t hit airwaves without some serious editing, but West and J. Cole’s boot spurs-jingling beat is one of the catchiest moments on the LP. R&B vet Jill Scott also brings a big hook to the Baauer-produced “Sunshine.”
Timbaland is also aboard the guest-heavy Darkest Before Dawn, but his popcorn-poppin’ “Got Em Covered” beat doesn’t push T too hard. It’s efficient, to be sure, but the stilted clank of the piece recalls Pusha’s massive 2013 single, “Numbers on the Boards.” Most oddly, guest rapper Ab-Liva’s opening “Game too emo, I’m too Nino” seems suspiciously paced the same as Pusha’s introductory bars from that earlier track. Intentional nod or not, this sequel doesn’t quite hit the same heights.
Despite a few dips, Darkest Before Dawn is a concise and pounding presentation from the veteran rapper. If this is what he’s prepped for the prelude, one can only wonder what treasures King Push will display during the coronation.
– review by Gregory Adams