On Pusha T’s It’s Almost Dry, refinement is the name of the game
Pusha T calls on Kanye and Pharrell to double down on what he does best.
On “Just So You Remember” from his new album It’s Almost Dry, Pusha T brazenly spits, “the book of blow, just know I’m the Genesis.” The lyricist born Terrance Thornton didn’t quite create coke rap; he’s preceded by spitters like Jay-Z and Raekwon, who ran the ‘90s with their own detailed street soliloquies. But with more than 20 years of persistent drug raps between his time as half of the Neptunes-produced duo Clipse and as a solo artist under Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music, Push has a legitimate claim as hip-hop’s chief cocaine narrator. His incisive punchlines, colorful imagery, and cocky, authoritative delivery have earned him an inimitable reputation in the rap world. But it goes beyond the music itself: Pusha’s symbolism, mythology, and the running metaphor of his creative output itself being the addictive substance have grown to meme level at this point; a recent listening session for his new album was earnestly titled Cokechella. His deadly 2018 diss tracks toward longtime rival Drake, “Infrared” and “The Story of Adidon,” both earned viral traction for their revelatory tea, but they were buoyed by the seven-song masterpiece Daytona, as crisp of a distillation of his coke rap brilliance as he’s ever crafted.
Pusha T earned that reputation alongside Pharrell Williams, who produced the Clipse albums as part of The Neptunes, and Kanye West, who has steered much of Push’s solo material. Both legendary producers have had crucial roles in his career, and It’s Almost Dry is the first album to give both of them equal billing. Kanye produces half of the album, and Pharrell does the other half, with the latter appearing on a Pusha T album for the first time in nearly a decade. On the lead appetizer “Diet Coke,” Push spits witty drug raps over a Ye and 88-Keys-crafted palette of mid-tempo drums, a brooding bass line, and an earworm of a piano loop. Meanwhile, Pharrell’s contribution to the album’s rollout process was the hypnotic “Neck & Wrist,” whereby Pusha and Jay Z have fun toying with high-pitched inflections and boasting the spoils of wealth.
The singles give a telling indication of what both of Pusha’s producers offer to the album. As he explained in a conversation with Jimmy Fallon, each of them has different artistic approaches and preferences for the version of Pusha they like the best: Kanye opts for Pusha to provide the straightforward, sinister bars that have earned his reputation, while Ye adds his own musical flair on the backend; Pharrell, on the other hand, wants to press Pusha to try new approaches to grow beyond his usual mixtape-ready rawness. On “Call My Bluff,” Pusha T rocks his own version of a teetering, Slick Rick-patterned flow over a synthy Pharrell number that would sound in place on Clipse’s debut Lord Willin’. “Scrape It Off” throws his fans another curveball, as he raps alongside Lil Uzi Vert and Don Toliver; Uzi employs a playful, bouncy delivery and Don Toliver lends a melodic, radio-friendly chorus, while Push matches their youthful energy and finds his own pocket on P’s seven-note ensemble. Meanwhile, Kanye’s cavernous “Hear Me Clearly” has the spirit of Clipse’s We Got It 4 Cheap mixtape series. That’s not to say that the songs with Kanye don’t have their own sense of adventure, though; it’s just executed in ways that accentuate Push’s strengths instead of pressing him outside of his comfort zone. “Dreamin of the Past” uses a gorgeous Donny Hathaway sample before allowing Ye to rap back and forth with Hathaway’s vocals, and Ye’s adoration for gospel organs gives the Clipse reunion “I Pray For You” the gravitas it deserves.
But while each of Pusha’s mentors makes their stamp, his own coke raps are as pristine as ever. Album opener “Brambleton” is a tale that contains both the euphoric imagery of super soakers filled with champagne – a lavish boast that could have appeared on Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt – and the disappointment in a former partner-in-crime dissing him in an interview with DJ Vlad. “Let The Smokers Shine The Coupes” is a rambunctious, high-octane moment made memorable as he refers to himself as “cocaine’s Dr. Seuss,” while the minimalist bassline and percussion of “Just So You Remember” gives the stage for Push to drop one of the best lines of his career, a rare and legitimate triple entendre: “My boys in the hood is mixed with the menaces/ The Caine is sugar and cut by Dominicans.” And though it could be easy to lose track of Push on “Rock N Roll” with Kid Cudi’s moany chorus and Ye’s emotive verse about ex-wife Kim Kardashian, Push still drops potent rhymes that celebrate his success and transition into fatherhood. “We don't make mistakes here, we don't take no breaks here,” Pusha insists. “My son is like a work of art, his father’s like Shakespeare.”
As a legacy act without much to prove at this point, what Pusha T lacks in regards to a broad array of perspectives is more than compensated for with his palpable passion for the art of rapping – not to mention his use of vivid imagery throughout It’s Almost Dry. Though he runs the risk of his topic material eventually becoming stagnant to listeners (a criticism that some fans have levied for years, including with his new record), his decision to double down runs in tandem with the urban survival and social commentary that have made hip-hop so special in the first place. Having braved the odds and found his comfort zone, he’s elevated the art of lifestyle rap, and in the process, has maintained his spot as the lead spokesman for detailing the intricacies of the drug game. “I’m trying to be the Martin Scorsese of street rap,” he recently declared. “... Just make sure you’re creating the greatest product ever, to get it out to the people who love this shit.” He may not conquer new land, but he’s perfectly fine where he is — at the top of coke rap supremacy.