Pusha T Disses and Never Misses on ‘Daytona’

Pusha T‘s latest album has been several years in the making, originally planned to be titled after his moniker, “King Push.” At the last minute, he changed the name to “Daytona,” after his favorite watch, the Rolex Daytona, which he claims represents the idea of having the luxury of time. Pusha first first rose to prominence as one half of hip-hop duo Clipse, and catapulted to stardom, eventually becoming president of Kanye West’s GOOD Music imprint. Kanye produced every track on the new record, and one can detect his contributions both in the sonic signatures and lunatic antics. It’s a barebones, hard-hitting release that calls out haters and keeps it real.

In an outrageous publicity stunt, Kanye spent $85,000 to license a photograph of the late Whitney Houston’s decrepit, drug-strewn bathroom for the album’s cover art. This has drawn outrage from some of Houston’s relatives and approval from others. Considering that there’s no ostensible, overt connection to Houston’s life in the album’s subject matter, the appropriation of the photo seems little more than a gesture of shock value. Consider the charges once leveled at post-punk legends “Joy Division,” whose name alluded to a Nazi operation, but who casually shrugged off their adoption of the term to the free interplay of signs and signifiers in the postmodern age. At any rate, the cover art makes for a shockingly compelling image, and it’s nothing short of what we’ve come to expect from a bona fide provocateur like Kanye West.

Pusha T has always shined over minimal productions — just think back to Clipse’s “Grindin. This is especially an advantage today, when chart-topping trap/EDM/pop monstrosities seem to condense every conceivable sound except for actual beats and rapping. Opener “If You Know You Know” starts in this tradition, with Pusha rapping over minimal production, before the track erupts into one of Kanye’s more raucous, aggressively repetitive beats. It has the feel of some of some of Mos Def’s Black Jack Johnson output. Lyrically, there’s much of the standard fare that we’ve come to expect from Pusha. He raps about how he started in the drug game, managed to hustle his was to the top, and is now living the big life.

“The Games We Play” is downright infectious, constructed from just a single melodic sample and a boom-bap beat, There’s no filler, no filigree, no bullshit, just a brief, solid track. “Hard Piano”  is non quite as “hard” as the title suggests, but succeeds as another pairing of sampled piano and crisp beats, that has been classic since as far back as Nas’ “NY State of Mind.” “Come Back Baby” is classic Kanye — pre “I am a god” era — when extended soul vocal samples were his trademark, and it works swimmingly. “Santeria” runs over a subdued, funky sample, over which Pusha’s flow sounds sharp as ever. The affair takes on a darker note midway, as the beat empties into spanish vocals, accompanied by only bass, and punctuated by gun shots.The song is a homage to Pusha’s friend and road manager, De’Von “Day Day” Pickett, and the choice of the mysterious, mystic Santeria to commemorate him seems a vaguely relevant choice, considering its rhythmic-central theatrics.

“What Would Meek Do” is titled because Pusha wanted Meek Mills on the record, but was unable to make it happen, as Meek was locked up. In the opening bars, Kanya asks, “Niggas talkin’ shit, Push, how do you respond?” to which Push retorts, “I’m top five and all of them Dylan,” a reference to ”Dave Chappelle’s parody of Diddy’s 2002 show “Making the Band, in which a rapper named Dylan named himself as all five of his top five favs. Such audacious braggadocio is such a defining characteristic of hip hop that lines like these can function simultaneously as stamps of legitimacy and light-hearted jests of selfawarenes. Come his turn, Pusha pitches the question back to Kanye, asking, “Niggas talkin’ shit, ‘Ye, how do you respond?” Now this is a particularly loaded question, considering Ye’s recent, divisive support for Trump, his controversial comments about slavery, his manic antics over the last few years, and the general consensus that he very well might have finally lost it completely.

Of course, leave it to Ye to never disappoint. He responds with a lyricism profound and prophetic enough to outshine anything from his illustrious career: “Poop, scoop! / Whoop! Whoopty-whoop!” The idea is, “You want to criticize and throw a tantrum over everything I say? Well, cool.  Here’s what I got for you now.” Hats off to Kanye. While there’s an obvious, juvenile humor to the nonsensical lyrics, it’s also a reclamation of an artist’s right to espouse whatever views he/she desires, regardless of how they sit with his/her general milieu. Ye follows the line, asking, “Am I too complex for ComplexCon?” a reference to his headlining role at Complex Magazine’s music festival and cultural exhibition, which cancelled him for undisclosed reasons. It appears he is too complex for them indeed, in which they can be satisfied with “poop, scoop!”

In the final track, “Infrared,” Pusha really unleashes. The title itself calls attention to the invisible portion of the spectrum, and Pusha is calling out everything that goes unnoticed. He alludes to Nas’ classic album, “It Was Written,” in the line, “It was written like Nas, but it came from Quentin,” referring to Quentin Miller, an alleged ghostwriter for Drake. Pusha also takes a jab at Baby aka Birdman from Cash Money Records — whom he criticized long back for stealing material. Recently, Rick Ross has been credited for leveling similar charges, prompting Pusha to call out, “Oh, now it’s okay to kill Baby / Niggas looked at me crazy like I really killed a baby.”

Pusha takes a leisurely stroll down memory lane, bringing to light all the phoniness that has paved the way. “Remember Will Smith won the first Grammy?” He recollects the laughably sanctimonious, bubblegum acceptance speech, which prompted Eminem to remark, “Will Smith don’t gotta cuss in his raps to sell records / Well I do, so fuck him and fuck you too” Pusha goes on to recall how it took the chirpy, ultra-accessible Annie sample of “Hard Knock Life” to really put Jay-Z on the map, stating, “they ain’t even recognize Hov until “Annie”s.” Having always kept it about as real as can be, unfiltered, undiluted, and unvarnished, Pusha boasts, “So I don’t tap dance for the crackers and sing Mammy” — and he really seems to have the track record to prove it. “Daytona” is only seven tracks, but it’s seven tracks of straight-up, telling it like it is: real facts, real rhymes, and real beats.   

Daytona” is available May 25 on Apple Music.