“Put your middle fingers up!” screams Hot 97’s Cipha Sounds from the stage at the Gramercy Theater. Hip-hop’s most hated gesture fired up the packed crowd for Pusha T’s My Name Is My Name release party on the eve of its official street date. Like playing a game of Simon Says, a mix of bloggers, industry folk and fans all followed suit, putting their middle fingers high and emulating the bulletproof attitude of the night’s guest of honor. With a DJ set consisting of throwback Dipset, Jay Z and 50 Cent, the vibe was past being polite. Pusha’s supporters were ready to bring the ruckus.
G.O.O.D. Music’s golden child isn’t cut from the same cloth as other solo artists. As one-half of the coke rap duo Clipse, he’s run the gamut of success with three albums—2002’s Lord Willin’, 2006’s Hell Hath No Fury and 2009’s Til The Casket Drops—that defined an influential and enduring strand of imaginative, criminal-minded hip-hop. Pusha’s already established himself as a formidable lyricist, so it’s only right he is confident of his material now. Plenty of rappers have vowed to deliver the best hip-hop album of the year, but few say those words with such bracing conviction that it's hard to dispute them.
Backed by large black-and-white photos of his album artwork, Pusha creeps on stage and opens with his high-energy intro “King Push.” Looking like someone possessed by the Holy Ghost of rap, the Virginia native flies through the rhymes while fans watch (and record with their camera phones) in awe. Next come a series of heaters—“Blocka” and “Millions”—that are met with emphatic gestures fitting for a dope boy with charisma. “This shit sound like God don’t it?” he asks, before moving on to “Suicide,” which features an appearance by his Re-Up Gang cohort Ab-Liva. As the show progresses, the veteran continues to display his complete sense of control, performing his familiar hit “Mercy” with the audience hanging on every word. But, Pusha wasn’t having it. “I feel like I am getting too commercial,” he admits afterward. “I’m sorry. It’s part of my discography.”
Apologies aside, Pusha made up for his seemingly “commercial friendly” material with selected tracks from his recent mixtapes, Fear Of God and Wraith Of Caine. In his own way, Pusha commands the stage, even if he isn’t necessarily the type to be an inventive performer. What works for him is straight bars, where the crowd joins in on full verses and punchlines, especially on “My God” and “Exodus 23:1.” Another standout was Pusha’s “New God Flow,” sticking to the basics of pure rhyming and getting the biggest reaction of the night. No gimmicks.
Overall, Pusha delivers a concise set ranging from his past to his present. More My Name Is My Name cuts such as “Pain,” “Nosetaliga” (sans Kendrick Lamar) and “Sweet Serenade” cap off the night, and, for a final push, the self-proclaimed Cocaine Cowboy hit fans with "Numbers On The Boards," a subtle reminder that moving big units is in his forecast. “I love y’all,” he says at the end of performing his encore track “40 Acres.” Then, without warning, Pusha throws some free shirts in the crowd and disappears into the back. Still doesn’t give a fuck.—Eric Diep