Last month during a promo run for his long-awaited debut album, Pusha T said that he didn’t “want to hear anymore one-dimensional street raps.” The Virginia Beach MC knows a little something on the matter; as a member of Clipse, along with his brother No Malice (formerly Malice), he spent over a decade rapping almost exclusively about selling dope. A number of rappers have built their careers on lyrics about the drug trade, but the Brothers Thorton used a level of creativity and ingenuity in their rhymes that hadn’t been heard since Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. As a result, even though they were rapping about one thing repeatedly, each line about cooking baking soda and selling bricks came off as clever and original as the last. They were poets describing their art, and they were damn good at it.
But a lot has changed since then. No Malice has repented his days as a drug dealer and moved toward a more positive message with his music, releasing a borderline gospel-rap album recently in Hear Ye Him. And at age 36, you had to wonder if Pusha would follow in his brother’s footsteps and move on to more relevant topics to his current life, which consists of hanging out with superstars like Kanye West and owning his own clothing line. But that’s not the case on My Name is My Name, an album that often functions as a grandiose version of a Clipse record. On it, Push continues to remember where he comes from and spits as if his fingernails are still full of powder residue, but he also pulls out some new tricks, rapping over immense instrumentals alongside a number of high-profile guests.
The album opens up with the snare-cracking “King Push,” which is a good representation of what the listener can expect from the rest of MNIMN. Over a pulsating, electro-tinged beat, which we sadly now know was not produced by actor Joaquin Phoenix, Push proudly proclaims that he’s still the king of crack rap, spitting quotables like, “My first Grammy was my first brick,” and even taking shots at some of today’s more emotionally vulnerable rappers (here’s to you, Drake) when he says “I don’t sing hooks.” His nasally Virginian drawl has always had a hint of repulsion to it, as if his bars were so well written that they were nauseating. Here that’s magnified, rapping lines like “Carry on like a carry on, and my side bitch I let tag along” with straight up disgust.
It gets even better when his clever bars are accompanied by unique takes on the street life concept, like on “Hold On,” where, along side a top-form Rick Ross, he speaks to young blacks in the hustle about their self worth, or on the Pharell-produced “S.N.I.T.C.H,” where he openly discusses his relationships with those who have become police informants—a traditionally taboo topic in hip-hop. Push even lets us into his family life a bit. On The Dream-backed ballad “40 Acres,” for example, he speaks to No Malice, stating “My better half chose the better path, applaud him.” Later in the song, he seemingly questions the integrity of their mother before declaring that he only truly cares about himself. These types of insights are brief, but, like when Jay Z, another traditionally private MC, throws out personal tidbits, they can be profound.
The album’s production, crafted by an all-star cast of beat makers, is big and built to match Push’s enthusiasm on the mic. Hudson Mohawke uses a gurgling Kanye vocal sample and airy synths to create a high-flying backdrop for “Hold On,” while Pharrell takes it back to the sizzled bounce of Hell Hath No Fury on “Suicide.” Elsewhere the production is slightly scaled back to create a grittier feel, like on “Nosetalgia,” which features a straightforward guitar sample over a vintage bongo break and a show-stealing verse from Kendrick Lamar, and on “Numbers On The Board,” which immediately conjures up images of dice games on dark street corners.
These traits often push MNIMN to the verge of greatness, but it’s brought down by Push’s desire to venture into familiar territory. Certain songs, like the trap house anthem “No Regrets” or the early-2000s-sounding “Let Me Love You,” are entertaining (especially for Push’s impeccable Harlem flow impression on the latter) but don’t have the inventiveness or excitement of the album’s other tracks. With MNIMN standing at a lean 12 songs, these missteps are hard to gloss over. Regardless, Pusha T accomplishes a lot here, crafting a record that is big in concept but is still rooted in the longstanding hip-hop tradition that lyricism is king. –Reed Jackson