Pusha T Talks Collaborating with Future for “Pain,” Untitled Debut Album and Ric Flair
"I don't ever think that lyric driven hip-hop go out of style," says a goaded Pusha T. We're talking about his latest single, "Pain," a record that sounds as dark as Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino's 1997 flick The Devil's Advocate with Push blanketing his verses with lyrical gems that'll have many rewinding it back like a DJ. The record, which finds Future crooning a sinister hook, will serve as the first official single of P's forthcoming Def Jam solo debut and he can't stress that enough. "That’s the biggest thing that I want people to get across," he explains to XXL, placing strong emphasis on the words first and official over the phone on this rainy Monday afternoon in NYC. "This is the first official single off of my album. This “Pain” record really embodies the whole mood."
How fitting is it that this record comes as the aforementioned flick, which he previously explained will embody the soundbed of the album, celebrates it's 15th anniversary this week? The new single arrives as the Virginia lyricist enjoys quite a run this year. His Rico Beats-produced "Exodus 23:1" sent shockwaves within the blogosphere, an appearance alongside The-Dream for the crooner's "Dope Bitch" record made for one of this past summer's dope offerings, "New God Flow" continues to be mentioned in the 'best rap record of the year' conversations and, well, we can't forget the release of Cruel Summer.
So with that in mind, XXL talked to Ziplock P about a number of topics including “Pain,” his untitled debut, aligning with The-Dream, lyricism and his affinity for wrestler Ric Flair (Woooh!).
So "Pain" will serve as the first single off your Def Jam solo album, right?
That’s the biggest thing that I want people to get across, this is the first official single off of my album. This “Pain” record really embodies the whole mood. [I mean], just in the chorus, “I don’t never feel pain, cause I done felt too much pain” that’s the whole theme to the whole album. I just want people to really dial in and take notice to this record as such. This is the beginning to the trilogy right here.
This record reminds of the mid-to-late ’90s era rap singles where we had hardcore singles like “Shook Ones” or “Renee.” Plus it sort of captures that “Devil’s Advocate” theme you previously mentioned in a past interview.
The thing about these records—and records on the album— are when I even came up with the “Devil’s Advocate” comparison it was mostly because I felt the soundbed, whether they be dark or a little more lighthearted, was so beautiful and the verses were so brash and so harsh. So like, it was a juxtapose of the two. It reminded me of the movie, I had Keanu [Reeves], Charlize Theron, I got Al Pacino and at the end of the day, she’s changing and I’m seeing demonic images in her body and she’s acting in the dark side of the law firm—that’s how I viewed the album.
So this is poised to be a real dark album.
I feel like that is the whole album is like the sweet and sour in that comparison. Not everything is as dark as “Pain.” The reality that I’m giving off in the verses, whether the song is lighter than “Pain” or not, is all in reality and my reality is a little darker. Even if we’re celebrating. I don’t think people are going to be let down at all. Not the purists of the Pusha T fans. I brought everyone into my box. I brought Chris Brown into to my [world], The-Dream is in my world with this. The suspects that you may feel, you’re going to be surprised by those guys.
You mentioned The-Dream, now a while back you spoke on “taking the student role” when you first entered the studio with him. How has the chemistry built since then?
It’s awesome man. Dream, melodically—see the problem with rappers like myself, cause that’s how I view myself as a rapper and writer, sometimes you get caught up so much in the literature that you forget about these song’s values. Sometimes you write so good that you forget about other important elements that makes a song just that, a song.
Elaborate on that a little bit.
Like, what makes a song really tap into someone emotionally. Just because you’re so—me personally I dial in to just trying to make sure I smack the hell out you with my line. [However,] sometimes it’s overkill. Dream will point that out and be like, “Pusha but I got that, I got the point when you said this. You wasted three more bars on something that you already slapped me for. You’re abusing me now. [Laughs] In all honesty those other three bars could’ve tapped into a whole other emotion. It could’ve took the record elsewhere.” So, when you got people who will master that, people who write records and will master that, the student role is the best way to describe it. That’s what the fuck I turn into, I have to because he pointed it out like a teacher.
And he’s paying attention.
Hell yeah. Dudes like Dream, you gotta pay attention to what the fuck they saying. He makes some records, and to know Dream—he likes all the shit I like and we both born in 1977. He taps into people's emotion. He makes the biggest records you know, that are on radio right now. He makes the records and he taps into a wide variety of people.
That says a lot, especially after the initial skepticism from folks when it was first announced that you two would be working together on this. But that seems to have ceased now with records like "Exodus 23:1" and "Dope Bitch." The same thing happened with the artwork for "Pain" released.
Yeah man, they're skeptical. As soon as this record said "Pain," people were like, "It got Future on it? Why you do that?" People don't always understand the vision. People don't see things as I see things. Like, Future sounds eerie and scary to me. I don't hear Future the same way that people hear [him].
Even with records like "Turn Off the Lights," "Same Damn Time" and/or "Parachute"?
Melodically, he's in the club and I hear him and rock to those records but there were records that I hear from him that have a darker overtone to 'em. So I'm like man, there's something eerie about this guy, it's just depending on what he's saying. Now when you throw a record like "Pain" and got him on there in that trancing tone he got—talking about [sings chorus]— that shit is borderline seance/witchdoctor/The Serpent in the motherfucking rainbow. That's what I hear. So I watched people immediately jump to conclusion and it's like man, Ya'll don't even fucking know. But it's okay, we call it down here: You gotta let them sleep. You just let them sleep and when you striking with the record then they'll wake up. Don't ever wake'em up before then because that means you're putting them somewhere they don't belong.
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Let's talk about how this record came together. Kanye produced the beat right?
'Ye produced it and what happened was, a lot of sessions start with conversations. We were talking about what was going on in our respective hometowns, because I was just coming from Virginia. He was like "What's hot out there? I was like, Man you know what's so funny, I was in the club and Future was like rocking. It was like seven records and I said, Ye I only knew two of 'em. I'm not into knowing only two, I'm the person who's outside. I like Future and I really like what he does but, you know at the end of the day, I said if I [get him on a record] I want to use him in a different capacity. I don't want to touch a club unless it organically happens so, the track for "Pain" comes. I was like, Man this shit is so eerie, so mean. [So from there we decided] to get Future to see what he'd do. Now this is happening somewhere from 11AM to 1PM, we make a few calls and Future is here by 9PM. He walks in, he has on red clad shoes, red pants, red t-shirt, red leather jacket, red hat and black Versace shades that he never takes off the whole time. We just sitting there talking and we were like, We just got this record and wanted to see what you would do. He said, "Aight just turn it on." Soon after, the first thing he said was, "I don’t never feel pain, cause I done felt too much pain.” So what you're hearing [on the song] is the reference. He probably referenced it for maybe 48 bars. It was so dead on that we were like this is the record totally. Aint nobody [tell him] to talk about pain, he [just immediately started with that line], that was it and so it was locked in from that point on.
Were your verses already placed before he layed down that hook?
After he laid it, they were placed soon after you.
One of the things fans admire about you is your lyrical dexterity. It seems like you can't help but drop intricate lines or blanket your rhymes with gems. Like say a line like “I come from graffiti doors now the X marks the spot on my graffiti walls/My ghetto bitches ask why I say it just be-KAWS” or on "Pain" with “Pain is joy when it cries/It’s my smile in disguise.” How important is this to you when rhyming?
Man, it's the greatest joy when someone points out one of these lines. We call it sacrificing for greatness. A lot of times people don't get shit that you said or they don't get all the dimensions of the lines. For example, "In the kitchen with a cape on, Apron/Tre 8 on could've been Trayvon/But instead I chose Avon, powder face like a geisha."
That's a triple entendre man
Yeah, triple! That's the thing and it don't stop. Sometimes people don't go all the way through the whole thing to get it. Or they just hear pieces of it. Like, "Oh man he just said Trayvon." What about, "Avon, powder face like a geisha," you know Avon make up, Avon Barksdale. Sometimes people don't get it. So when they do, it's the best thing ever. That's where shows and performances and doing House of Blues shows come into play.
Because it's more intimate.
Yeah, when you get to see those motherfuckers, aint nothing like that. When they get those type of lines, that's what they need to understand.
So you're not worried about these rhymes going over the heads of average listeners?
You can't. I'm only rhyming for that listener anyway. I'm only rhyming for the person who appreciates it anyway. Anybody else I grab or get or begins to understand and accept what it is that I do, that's a plus. That's extras and that's cool. I'm really only rhyming for us. I'm rhyming for the people that are still listening to Reasonable Doubt and still discovering things. Those that breakdown the intricacies of B.I.G.'s "Notorious Thugs" bars, "Buy the coke, cook the coke, cut it/Know the bitch before you call your self loving it/Niggas would've been fucking it," [Laughs]. I'm rhyming for that guy. Shit I was raised on. These are my rap conversations with my rap friends.
I think it's safe to say you and 'Ye have one of the best records this year with "New God Flow". Hard bars, hard-hitting raps and Ghostface Killah.
That's it. I just said that earlier, I feel like in 2012 I released the hardest hip-hop record this year. All around this year, I feel like I really released those records and "New God Flow" is my favorite. As much as I love "Pain" too but "New God Flow" and "Exodus"—I don't know man. "New God Flow," "Exodus," "Pain" and my sleeper is the Alley Boy record “Favorite Rapper.” The Alley Boy record is ridiculousness. There was a lot of gems this year. It wasn't fair.
This goes back to my first comment on these records becoming a spectacle when they release. The intricate lines get attached to you throwing subliminals at such and such, the going hard, etc.
I don't ever think that lyric driven hip-hop go out of style. I don't care what trends are going on that never goes out of style. So it's like, in regard once you infuse that in whatever it is that you're doing, I don't think you could lose man.
You hopped on a record with Ma$e on Cruel Summer-
Yeah that was dope.
How'd that come together? Did you know he was on the record before you hopped on it?
There was two things that I didn't know about Cruel Summer: I didn't know that Ghostface was on "New God Flow" and I didn't know Ma$e was on "Higher." I had no clue. I heard the album on August 28th, so I'm sitting there [in the studio] in Hawaii and they're like yeah we gon' play the album for you. So they just start playing the records, everybody in there and they're looking at my face—because they of course know. Then when Ghostface got on "New God Flow," I was done. I mean, I crowned him and Raekwon at the same time as the most timeless ever. They have the two most timeless flows in hip-hop. I don't even think it's debatable at this point.
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You have on an affinity for the wrestler Ric Flair. Was he a childhood hero of yours?
Actually he wasn't. I was watching wrestling a lot growing up as a child right so, NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) one of the major stops was Norfolk, VA. WWF didn't really do Norfolk as much as NWA did. So, I was into the Dusty Rhodes, Road Warriors and the Four Horsemen. I was a Dusty Rhodes fan more. My dad would take me to these matches and he'd be like, "Why you like him?" I would be like, What you mean that's Dusty Rhodes. My dad would be like, if gonna like somebody you need to like Flair. "Why aren't you into this [guy]?" So I was like, Aight dad I'm not into him [Rhodes] no more. He's telling me what to be into and that was it. From there it was Flair, bang. Four Horsemen, bang.
So it started from there.
Flair was a showman. Just comparing him to rap and people in rap, Flair was rocking out Gators like they would. Gators, Rollies, jets-listen he was on it.
You're celebrating a couple anniversaries this year. Lord Willin' turns 10 and Play Cloths turns four years. Do you often keep track of these celebratory moments or does it just hit you when someone else mentions it?
It's like a rude awakening. A lot of things move so fast in this game and we lose track of time a lot of times. With losing track of times it takes for something like a Lord Willin' to hit its 10 year anniversary for people to make a big deal out of it for you to even digest that it's been that long.
You and Malice hopped on Justin Timberlake's first solo single 10 years ago too, for that "Like I Love You" record produced by The Neptunes.
Yeah for his breakout solo career. You know what's so funny, I couldn't get on a mixtape back then but Justin Timberlake put me on his first single. When I had the hardest street record. [Laughs].
Now you’re about to embark on your own solo career.
Yeah, it's really just about the music now, like seriously. I done been through everything in and outside the rap game, now it's just about my fans. I want them to be happy. I remember when I, for example, I was really into Nas coming up. I was like man, Illmatic was great but when "If I Ruled the World" came out I was so happy for his success because I felt like the guy that I championed is finally getting his recognition. That's what I want to be and I hope I'm like that to somebody and I want to achieve it so they could feel like that.
But you're on the right path.