Pusha T’s name is Terrence Thornton, and it probably isn’t a household name for the average music fan. They may know him from a show-stopping verse on Kanye West’s “Runaway”, or his numerous appearances on Mr. West’s Cruel Summer compilation. They might even know his work with brother No Malice as the coke-slinging, smooth-talking duo Clipse, responsible for some hot singles off 2004’s Lord Willin’ and their instant classic, 2006’s Hell Hath No Fury. But although Pusha is one of the better MCs in mainstream rap today, his solo career coasts along with little fanfare. Neither the Fear of God or Wrath of Caine mixtapes managed to build a buzz, while 2011’s Fear of God II: Let Us Pray—his first solo retail release—sold poorly.
Nevertheless, there’s a good chance things will change for Pusha with the release of My Name is My Name. For one, it’s a real standout among this year’s inconsistent rap albums. Pusha maintains that oft-pursued, rarely achieved quality known as “balance” by pairing his impressive and chameleon-like flow with strong lyricism and production. This album has street tracks, club tracks, introspective tracks, one or two flirtations with R&B, and plenty of solid guest appearances yet it never overstays its welcome. My Name sets a bar for what every major label rapper should aspire to release in 2013, but it must be said Pusha’s efficiency comes with over 20 years of experience in the game and several solid releases under his belt. When he raps “This is my time, this is my hour, this is my pain, this is my name, this is my power” on the thunderous opening track “King Push”, the statement is impossible to deny.
Two equally important ingredients hold this album together: effortless raps from Push and head-jerking production overseen by Kanye West. Several songs on My Name bear the mark of Kanye’s raw blueprint drafted on Yeezus earlier this year, even if he didn’t produce them: dirty drums skitter away around a deep bass line on “Numbers on the Boards”, “Who I Am” conjures a cavernous coke den populated by party animals 2 Chainz and Big Sean, and Pharrell Williams’ beat on “Suicide” is anchored by synth bleeps that poke and provoke torrents of speedy trap snares. Track after track Pusha’s raps bring energy to the ear-catching sounds and, in return, these sounds compliment and enhance his lyricism rather than distract from it.
If the album can be faulted for anything it’s that Pusha’s continued obsession with his drug-dealing past can be exhausting. Yet he’ll occasionally find ways to reimagine these tried-and-true hustle stories as mediations on his ever-changing relationship with his born-again brother or in reaction to the conditions that drove him to drug dealing. Both of these topics are confronted on the album’s sparsest track, “40 Acres”. With only The-Dream’s delicate vocal and a quietly rumbling bass to interact with, the prospect of failure is precipitous but Pusha rises to the occasion:
“The dream ain’t die, only some real niggas
We was born to mothers who couldn’t deal with us
Left by fathers who wouldn’t build with us
I had both mine home, let’s keep it real niggas
My better half chose the better path, applaud him
Younger brother me a spoiled child, I fought him
I heard that the devil’s new playground is boredom
The California top just falls back like autumn
And they say I’m on the verge of winning
I claim victory when Malice on the verge of sinning”
The track builds and builds but the release never comes. It doesn’t have to; the celebration of success Pusha alludes to at the end of each verse is delivered in full by “No Regrets”, an obvious bid for radio play that would be cringeworthy if it wasn’t so much fun. And dynamic, too: the party-hard synth blasts regress into restrained piano lines when Pusha and guest rapper Jeezy hit the mic, allowing Kevin Cossom’s feel-good chorus to hit just as hard every time. “Let Me Love You” is another pop-rap track and, unlike “No Regrets”, it doesn’t entirely fit here. But Kelly Rowland’s slinky, sexy vocals add another taste of flavor to the album’s sour menace, and Pusha deserves credit for being ballsy enough to accurately recreate the laid-back vibe of Ma$e’s glory days.
King Push meets his match on the raw and ruthless “Nosetalgia”, where Kendrick Lamar (another self-proclaimed king) drops in to describe drug dealing’s impact on “crack babies” like himself. And, because this is Kendrick Lamar we’re talking about, he tears apart Nottz’ production with dazzling proficiency:
“Quantum physics could never show you the world I was in
When I was ten
Back when nine ounces have got you ten
And nine times out of ten niggas don’t pay attention
And when there’s tension in the air nines come with extensions
My daddy dumped a quarter piece to a four and a half
Took a L, started selling soap fiends bubble bath
Broke his nails misusing his pinky to treat his nose
Shirt buttoned open, taco meat land on his gold”
Just after Pharrell sings the last note on the clever closing track “S.N.I.T.C.H.”—short for “Sorry Nigga, I’m Trying to Come Home”—it’s clear My Name is My Name marks Pusha’s true arrival as a solo artist. With high listenability, welcome diversity and A-grade production, listeners should find this record more than worthy of the accolades King Push expects to receive. It’s not controversial or game-changing. It’s just dope.