Pusha T. The name alone conjures up an entire volume of rap history, a career defined by innovation and reinvention. In 2018, Terrence Thornton is no longer just one half of Clipse—he's the president of GOOD Music, a political activist, a public figure. When we spoke on the phone, he began by calling back on a different cell. Pusha T is busy, and admitted this would most likely be his last press day. "I just want the music to do what it does and call it a day," he says.
When Kanye suddenly announced he would be "hand producing" a new Pusha T album, how it would actually sound was anybody's guess. Was this King Push, the spiritual followup to 2015's Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude? Or would it be something else entirely?
The answer arrived all at once—Pusha played DAYTONA to a packed NYC club earlier this week, even before the cover art was finalized. He presided over the room from a DJ booth in the center, grinning and greeting luminaries like Pharrell and Swizz Beats while Chase B ran the boards. It was a moment for the hip-hop illuminati, with an album to match.
Seven tracks long, with Kanye and Rick Ross as the album's only features, DAYTONA is Pusha delivering the goods. He's barred up beyond belief, and uses Raekwon's iconic Only Built 4 Cuban Linx as a guiding light. "DAYTONA is what I’d like to call my Purple Tape," Push says. "To me [it's] the holy grail of rap albums."
Pusha has a lot to say, facing the 2015 death of his road manager De'Von Pickett on "Santeria," responding to Drake's "Two Birds One Stone" subliminals, and delivering another book of "fine rhymes" for the rap connoisseurs. DAYTONA is a masterpiece
Today must be crazy.
I’m definitely in transit right now. This will probably be my last time ever doing a promo run. That’s just where I am. I just want the music to do what it does, and call it a day.
How are CJ and Widdle?
I’m so glad you started with my dogs. Definitely the most important part of what’s going on right now. They’re doing really well. They're probably upset because they’re at the sitter’s house right now.
CJ’s been a part of the family, but is Widdle a recent addition?
Yeah. She keeps CJ on his toes.
When you released Darkest Before Dawn, it was framed as a prelude or appetizer for what would become DAYTONA. Does it still feel that way?
I do feel like it was an appetizer. It didn’t arrive in the most timely fashion, but DAYTONA is what I’d like to call my Purple Tape. To me the Purple Tape is the holy grail of rap albums, and I tried to do the closest thing I could do to match that energy. I feel like Ye, sonically, did everything in his power to get me close to that feeling and emotion, and lyrically, I’m just super proud of this album.
DAYTONA IS MY PURPLE TAPE. TO ME THE PURPLE TAPE IS THE HOLY GRAIL OF RAP ALBUMS, AND I TRIED TO... MATCH THAT ENERGY.
The Complex office went crazy when Kanye's “ComplexCon” line dropped. It feels like there's a more general message he's sending there, too.
I see that line as people misunderstanding him. It’s him asking a question—am I too complex for ComplexCon? I feel like he feels he was and has been part of that culture, and I think he feels a little misunderstood. So questions like that would arise, and I think it was dope that it came up in a verse.
You decided to release this without much of a rollout—is that a sign of the times, or an indication of your success?
The only part of a rollout that I’m concerned with is people and access. As long as they have the access to get it, and it’s in their awareness route, that’s cool. I feel like I’m good with that.
One of the things I love about this album is its laser focus on verses. You're not reliant on traditional hooks.
This album is pure to me. It's like, if you love Pusha T as an artist—on a record with Ross like “Hard Piano,” you’ll hear Tony Williams crooning between the verses, and then you’ll hear a higher pitch of him, which is me trying to create that energy and chaos of a record like “Glaciers of Ice.”
SOMETIMES, FOR AN ARTIST LIKE MYSELF, A CHORUS GETS IN THE WAY.
I feel like a record like “Hard Piano”—it didn’t have a true, definite hook, but the purist wants to hear me and Ross, back to back. They want to decipher the bars, so on and so forth. Sometimes, for an artist like myself, a chorus gets in the way. Sometimes you have to check off the box, but make sure that it marries it, so the connoisseurs of fine rhymes who are out there; we gotta make sure they get that, and they don't have to wait for it.
I love “What Would Meek Do,” and I was hoping you could talk about his case, and his decision not to meet Trump and attend the White House talks on prison reform.
Meek is a special case, because of his reach, his awareness, and his celebrity. I’m glad he didn’t go and talk to Trump, because I feel like Trump is a self-serving President. Everything he does is to sell his look and his acceptance—more so than the actual cause and the actual community. So I’m glad he didn’t go.
But by the same token, I know Meek. Meek is an artist, he's an ambitious artist. His label’s called Dream Chasers. He just sat down—he’s been in jail for months for doing a wheelie in the street, basically. He knows his reach, he knows his audience, he knows his influence. I’m pretty sure in his heart of hearts he thinks he could’ve gone there and talked reason, because it makes sense to anybody who’s reasonable. I just don’t think Trump is reasonable.
I wanted to ask you about one more song—at the listening last night you said that “Santeria” was made in memory of DayDay Pickett, your former road manager. It's a really profound moment, especially with lines like "I am just a stone's throw away from the streets."
It’s just a special moment on the album. I was trying to be artistic, as well as show people how my mind works. Most people really don’t understand how tragic events affect people, and they don’t understand the mindset of the people it affects.
I’m at a place in my life and my career where these type of thoughts do cross my mind. You may think that they won’t or can’t, but they really do. And I’m so close to my world, still. The world that I come from. I'm so close to that, my friends are still my friends. Those are the wars you play with when you’re in a position of money, celebrity, and influence.
During your Zane Lowe interview the other day, you mentioned how Kanye came in a couple of times and scrapped an album’s worth of material. Did that mean you were writing new verses as well, or was it just his production?
It was mostly his production he was upset with. He would say, “Man, I can redo this.” But with production, the words will sound different on a different beat. It’s not just plug and play.
What was the setup in Wyoming?
The setup in Wyoming was crazy. Resort, mansion in the middle of nowhere. 10 bedrooms, six of them studios.
You’ve become more of a philanthropist in recent years, too—what’s the story behind your A 1000 Shoes for 1000 Smiles initiative?
We used to go to this shoe store called DTLR. And when school time came around, we’d call it “buying the wall.” Just buy a wall of shoes for everybody in the store. And that eventually turned into something more organized, something to ensure that the people who needed it were there, instead of just, “if you missed it, you missed it.” We started working with child welfare groups, and then I got adidas involved… it turned into way more of a curated thing. But people don’t know that it started from just buying the walls.
I WANT FOR YOU TO BE SELF-SUFFICIENT AND AWARE OF WHO YOU ARE, SO YOU CAN KEEP A STRONG HOLD OF YOUR CRAFT.
You’ve been running GOOD Music for a couple of years now. What are you looking for in new artists who come through your door?
I’m looking for self-contained artists, who know exactly who they are. They have some knowledge of honing in on their fan base and being true to themselves and their craft. I’m not saying they need to be A1 in all of those places, but they need to have that direction, so we can take it and blow it up to its highest potential. But I want them to at least know.
There’s too much damage happening in regards to the business of music—we’ll teach as well, but I want for you to be self-sufficient and aware of who you are, so you can keep a strong hold of your craft.