Interview by Joe La Puma
It’s not the norm to start your solo career 13 years after starting in the music business. But Pusha T has never been the norm. Label fuckery caused the Clipse headaches, but it wasn’t until 2009 — when their manager, Anthony “Geezy” Gonzalez, was sentenced to 32 years in prison for leading a $10-million drug ring — that things started getting murky. A year later, his blood brother and Clipse partner Malice said he wanted to take a break from rap to write a book. It was sink or swim for Pusha, and an invite from Kanye West put the wheels in motion for his career revival.
After flying to Hawaii, Pusha shined on two standout cuts on Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. His verse sealed the douchebag anthem “Runaway” and he held his own against Jay-Z and Kanye on “So Appalled.” With Pusha’s solo momentum building, he signed to Kanye’s GOOD Music imprint. Since then, it’s been onward and upward for Pusha. He dropped the mixtape Fear of God, has the highly anticipated sequel (Fear of God Pt.2) on deck, and he inked a solo deal with Def Jam.
With the machine behind him, Pusha’s ready to make the transition from rap-game regular to household name. Hours before hopping on a flight to London, Pusha talked about working with Kanye, his new LP, and the ugliness of the industry. Don’t call it a comeback…
How does it feel to have your first solo deal?
PUSHA: It’s dope, man. I was ready to make the next Clipse album after Till the Casket Drops and Malice wanted to do his book Wretched, Pitiful, Poor, Blind & Naked. He was like, “I don’t want to do the Clipse album right now; don’t you want to do your solo album? Go ahead.” From that day forward, it was just like mixtape, freestyles, Fear of God, go to Hawaii, “Runaway.” Everything has been good since.
Fear of God Part II is highly anticipated. What can we expect from that, compared to the first?
PUSHA: This whole Fear of God thing is spiralling out of control, honestly. It’s supposed to be a mixtape then somebody comes along and they want to help me shoot videos and stuff so now it’s an EP. As far as the EP, look for street rap, to me this is the part of hip-hop that I love, the mixtapes and so-on.
Why the title Fear of God?
PUSHA: I needed something powerful. And it’s so funny because it sort of flipped meanings like, Fear of God is what I wanted to invoke on the competition, but I wrote the “Blow” freestyle, and I realized that Malice wasn’t going to be coming on the second verse, and I was like, “Damn this is really about to be all me?” And I saw the Fear of God. I was really taken aback and I was like, “Wait a minute, you just got to go forward.”
So there was this time of pressure, like you’re all in the limelight?
PUSHA: I tell people this a lot, it would be nothing for me to write a sixteen [verse]; get to the fourteenth, thirteenth bar and get lazy and say, “The hell with it,” because I know Malice is coming.
“Raid” the song you have with 50 and Pharrell is crazy. A lot of people feel like 50 is in vintage 50 form on that record…
PUSHA: I called Pharrell and said, “Yo, if you go back in with him and you make about seven more of those type of tracks you’re going to be responsible for something that’s monumental.” People don’t know that 50 Cent is like my favorite. Lyrically he’s not my favorite artist, but as a whole he’s my favorite artist. No one has done what he’s done in such a short time. What I always wanted 50 Cent to do was to get with all top-tier super-producers — Just Blaze, Kanye West, Pharrell, Chad Hugo, put out an album like that.
On Fear of God you also tackled Jay-Z’s “Can I Live.” Did you feel any added pressure to rap over that classic?
PUSHA: Not really, I come from a school where it’s got to be right lyrically. I’m such a fan of that record that I wasn’t going to cheat that record, it was not going to be cheated. It’s one of the best rap songs ever.
Did you talk to Jay about that at all?
PUSHA: No, I don’t know Jay-Z, man. I see him in passing, definitely with Kanye and the Throne sessions. When I say Jay, I’m still looking at my favorite rapper of this time.
You were around for some of the Watch The Throne sessions, were there any beats on that album that you passed on?
PUSHA: “Niggas in Paris!” [Laughs.] I tell people all the time that I don’t know if I would’ve attacked it that way which means the record might not have been as special once I got on it.
Wow, that’s interesting.
PUSHA: ‘Ye gave me beats and that was in the bunch. “Niggas in Paris” was playful to me and I was in demonic rap mode. I was like, “Yo, I don’t want this right now,” he was like, “Man, this will be a club smash,” and I’m like, “Maybe, but don’t ask me to wrap my brain around that when I’m writing stuff like ‘My God,’ which is another Hit Boy beat.”
How is it to be co-signed heavily by two of the game’s best producers ever? Who else has worked as closely? Probably no one, really.
PUSHA: It’s really a blessing. I can’t look at it as anything other than a blessing. I could easily been turned off by music. I never did, and it never turned me off that bad and, all honesty, my ups and downs and trials and tribulations has only made me work harder.
What was the toughest time for you?
PUSHA: April 09, everybody I came into the game with, from my management to my friends, all went to jail. It’s not a lot of us, it’s only a few of us. And that few is who comes to New York with me when I come to New York.
Your former manager, Anthony “Geezy” Gonzalez, is currently serving a 32-year prison sentence for leading a drug ring. How does he feel about your recent success?
PUSHA: He loves it. I write about it in “Amen.” “Front that shit you put a flame on/My niggas locked in the cage for/they keep telling me to go hard number 1 spot you was made for.” He calls me everyday like, “What’s up? What you doing? I heard ‘Amen!’ And he’ll be like, “You in the studio? You know I’m not in here for nothing.”
Switching gears, what’s it like working with a young person like Tyler, the Creator?
PUSHA: His spirit and the spirit of the whole Odd Future gang, those guys are so happy, like they love it, and they’re enjoying every ounce of it, and I love to see that, and I wish I could jump back into that. Tyler’s comfortable, and he’s a genius in his own mind. It is an uncalculated foolery. I look at him and that’s one thing I wish I had, that I don’t have anymore. I don’t have that happy-go-lucky spirit that he has.
PUSHA: This game, I’ve seen too many ugly sides of it. I love music, I’m happy, I’m like in a really good space, but I just know that it’s so ugly, it’s like really ugly and it’s surrounded by ugly.
Obviously the Consequence thing kind of popped up out of nowhere, were you confused by that?
PUSHA: It was always something that I didn’t really want to get into, never. I sort of saw it coming, the records, the jabs. At the same time you have to think when all of this was happening I’m new to the fold of GOOD Music. He knows damn well that I totally embraced him. Man, I embraced everyone, and everyone embraced me. He knows that this isn’t even about me. It is what it is.
There’s a line that you have on “Trouble on my Mind” where you say, “Who else can put the hipsters with felons and thugs,” and it’s a line that I think really encapsulates your fan base.
PUSHA: I’ve been blessed with a gift to rap and I rap articulately, this is articulate street music. When I draw parallels — something off the wall with cocaine that a Yale grad student can get with — that opens them up. It’s a different person than the guys who I was speaking to when I made “Grindin’” and was doing shows for $3,000 for every drug dealer in the country. I want to make the records that make everybody see that translation, and see that happen. I’ve made records that have impacted each of those genres at certain points, but I want to impact everybody. That’s the goal right now. ♠