Review: Pusha T elevates his drug raps, bolsters his legacy on ‘Daytona’

Originally Posted on Emerald Media via UWIRE

Pusha T’s visceral cocaine raps have sustained him for nearly 20 years. His all-knowing street vernacular and menacing bravado have expertly conjured up authentic kingpin imagery since he was a member of 2000s hip-hop duo Clipse. With his acclaimed “My Name Is My Name” in 2013, with Kanye West at the helm, Pusha developed into an artist motivated by taste. While still paying homage to the hustle that made him, his direction grew clearer with the release, and he consequently became one of the genre’s leading creatives.

Half a decade later, with West behind the boards again, Pusha took an even bigger step towards refining his artistic identity with “Daytona.” His cocaine-laced poetry is propped up by 15 years of compelling perspective that is wholly unique to the Virginian ex-dealer. Fully donning West’s newest styles in rap compositions, Pusha T’s 21-minute, 7-track “Daytona” is as concise as rap records get, and strikes as the finest hip-hop product released so far this year.

The essence of Pusha T budges little on the wildly exciting “Daytona.” Pusha has unapologetically shared the sinister details of his life consistently throughout his work. In “Daytona,” he builds a dark and dangerous atmosphere by forcing listeners to confront the anxious sensations he’s felt in his traffickings.

On “Hard Piano,” he cleverly warns “Still do the Fred Astaire on a brick / tap, tap, throw the phone if you hear it click.” He delivers a believable tip regarding his dope stash location on “If You Know You Know:” “If you know about the carport / the trap door supposed to be awkward.”

While he’s still very much settled in the ways of drug and cash braging, “Daytona” indicates a developing progression within the 41-year-old rapper — a sense of growth. On “Come Back Baby,” Pusha plays with the notion of “don’t let the money change you.” Pusha went from an impoverished life to now purchasing “big boats” and “rapping on classics.” He handily recognizes the profound effect money has had on his life and relishes in it. “Santeria,” Pusha’s homage to his murdered road manager, De’Von Pickett, is an impressive exhibition of Pusha’s emotional capabilities.

Pusha’s elevated, sprawling lines of drug deals, luxury consumer goods and slurred proclamations of superiority remain entirely self-aware throughout the record. Pusha never shies away from speaking his thoughts on the industry or his role within it. He is certain of his legacy and the seniority he has over most other rappers. He doesn’t see his competing contemporaries as much more than trends, and separates himself with lines such as “I’m too rare amongst all of this pink hair, ooh.” “Infrared,” a diss track aimed at Drake, contains perhaps the most striking bars on the entire record. He raps: “So I don’t tap dance for crackers and sing Mammy / Cuz’ I’m posed to juggle these flows and nose candy.”

West’s new and lively production is just as exciting as Pusha on the record. To say “Daytona” is merely a fusion of West’s soul-reliant formulas of the past and his electronically saturated movements of late is unfair. Despite using familiar tools, West manages to elude any aesthetic that’s been used to describe his production before. And he finds the perfect combinations of sinister movements, shades of arrogance and mainstream sensibilities to foster Pusha’s exotic flows.

The beats can hardly be considered trap. Deep, lingering bass and synth lines liken the tracks, but most find an individual identity. “The Games We Play” feels like a sample from Tony Montana’s cassette tape collection, ultra-fitting for King Push. “Santeria” begins with sleek guitar play, then briefly transforms into a sly groove fit for a heist. “What Would Meek Do?” is glistening, with a Kanye verse that seems like a good indication of what his forthcoming album will be like.

“Daytona” is the first of four releases executively produced by West planned to be released in the next four weeks His 8th solo album, “Love Everyone,” is set to release this Friday.

“Daytona” is unlike any other project produced by West, though. Purposefully ominous and forward-thinking production accommodates the finest raps from one of the brashest, most authentic figures in the genre. In a strong catalog including one inarguable classic, “Daytona” may be the finest, most complete album put together by Pusha T.

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