Not many artists can rap about *diet coke for almost 30 years and maintain anticipation. Even fewer artists have the industry access to get Pharrell Williams and Kanye West on production for an entire project. When audience expectations are at the max, Pusha T shows he can still get the job done with his best work asiding “Daytona.”
His new album is called “It’s Almost Dry,” which as he explained in a Rolling Stone interview, is in reference to painting, as the artist has to let masterpieces dry before the collective of fans storm the artwork. In Pusha’s case, it’s also about letting his product dry generally. It’s a clever double entendre for the hype train behind the album.
Pusha’s serrated writing doesn’t stop at titles. “Walk it down like Brady, gets better with time,” off of “Dreamin of the Past” is one of the many comparisons between Pusha T and the life’s work of coveted stars like Tom Brady; there’s even one with Shakespeare on “Rock n Roll” featuring Kanye West and Kid Cudi.
The features didn’t pull punches either, well, mostly. Kanye’s first feature on “Dreamin” isn’t lacking in bars. There’s enough substance to drink in with the theme of luxury reminiscence. Unfortunately, there’s a mixing issue that seems to be a stylistic choice. Kanye’s voice is mixed higher than Pusha’s to compensate for Ye’s laidback cadence, but the results are a bit jarring, especially for how late his verse comes in.
None of those issues are present with “Rock n Roll,” where Cudi’s melodic voice has distorted, grungy filters over it and Kanye, this time sounding more intense, meshes well with the mix and has a longer verse, too. It’s a shame that this song is likely the last time Ye and Cudi are on a track together. “I did this song a year ago when I was still cool w Kanye,” Cudi tweeted.
“Scrape It Off” with Lil Uzi Vert and Don Toliver is another example of good feature mixing.
To summarize, the ionic relationship between distorted melodic verses and harmonized frantic verses are the best-sounding features for Pusha T. Looking at the cover art, the same thing can be said, as the moodboard of abstract materials highlight the shaky font of “It’s Almost Dry.”
But we’re not done with Kanye just yet, as he has produced half of these tracks including “Just So You Remember.” Throughout this instrumental, among others, there’s some technical nods to Kanye’s “Kids See Ghosts” era with the haunting, centerpiece sample:
“As you come out to the light
Can your eyes behold the sight?
It’s only Monday
Tomorrow never comes until it’s too late”
This comes from the 1971 rock song “Six Day War” by Colonel Bagshot, Genius annotates. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed, but the production callbacks make sense since “Daytona” and “Kids See Ghosts/Ye” were all released in 2018, all produced by Kanye. The dusty soul sample and evil laughs fill the remaining space in the core production, just bass and drums. Ghastly soundscapes met with Pusha’s aggression is a chef’s kiss to the ear.
Pharrell Williams takes a more traditional, deceptively simple approach to rap production. Incorporating pop-rap elements into “Scrape It Off” contrasts really well between the tracks Kanye takes over. This instrumental also gives Pusha, Lil Uzi and Don Toliver a good middle ground for all three to flare and do their thing. “Scrape It Off” is definitely the most summer-friendly track in the list.
Pharrell also makes a brief yet substantial contribution to the chorus and post-chorus of “Neck & Wrist.” Heavy 808s plus dizzying, glamorous synths plus a JAY-Z verse and the line “I blew bird money, y’all talking Twitter feed” equals a personal favorite of the year (so far). Jay and Pusha complimented each other before on 2016’s “Drug Dealers Anonymous,” now the pairing is 2-for-2.
“Let The Smokers Shine The Coupes” is another instrumental standout by Pharrell with twisted, wooled-together vocal samples. It’s chaotic but doesn’t overwhelm Pusha’s unapologetic verses about cars, clothes and anything with a high price tag.
There’s only one divisive track I can see, that being “Call My Bluff.” The instrumental is a bit bare, but not in the anxiety-riddling way like “Just So You Remember.” Bells and whistles in the form of vocal snippets and insignia evil laughs add to the track, but not enough to compensate for Pusha’s off-kilter flow.
The imagery of local delivery service dries quickly, but the track isn’t a complete miss as it does make a good transition from “Rock n Roll” into “Scrape It Off.” Though the track “Open Air” feels like a direct revamp of “Call My Bluff” in both structure and production.
And the opener, “Brambleton.” The sound’s aesthetics are consistent with other tracks and dynamic with Pusha’s voice painting the way with words, supported by Pharell back on the chorus.
Based on Google Trends, out of Pusha T and four other rappers who dropped on 4/22/22, most of the conversation was around Push, granted he was the only one to drop an album. On Spotify, almost every track has over a million streams within two days of the release.
It’s hard to tell what the longevity of the talk around Pusha T and his new album will look like. But what’s shown so far is a W for the record, because in rap, relevancy is a commodity.
On Pusha T’s YouTube, visualizers of the songs capture scenery of mansions, yachts and planes from the black-and-white POV of security cameras, which capture the narrative of counter surveillance. Pusha T doesn’t mix as well with the feds as he does *diet coke, which notions the security on his estates and assets.
Pusha T had a tough upbringing, but got through it all by starting a career in music with his brother who currently undergoes the moniker No Malice. They would then form the hip-hop duo Clipse in the 90s.
On the closing track, “I Pray For You” the lines “Rarely do you see the Phoenix rise from the ashes/Lightning struck twice on four classics” send a powerful message about how he and his brother used music and street smarts to thrive in bad times with the four “classic” albums Clipse had before their split in 2010.
Contributions from Labrinth’s gospel-like performance on the opening lines and production give Pusha T, united with his brother Malice, a holy backdrop to pair with the references to high-end items, religion and hellish intentions. “I greet you with the love of God, that don’t make us friends” is a standout line from Malice.
Another sentimental detail on the collaboration was mentioned by Pusha T in a bit with Twitter Music. “Malice told me that he wanted his name to read Malice and not No Malice on the track listing […] People have been hearing the record and immediately say, ‘Aw, man, I always told you, your brother was better than you,”’ said Pusha T.
“I don’t care, it’s fine, he can rap better than me, it’s okay, guys. I think it’s a dope moment for the Clipse and gives that Clipse level of nostalgia that you might have been missing,” he continued.
References to 2Pac and Biggie’s rivaling careers to the loss of a former Clipse associate in “Brambleton” show that there isn’t an overarching message for you to get in “It’s Almost Dry.” It’s more like a crossword puzzle, reading through clues to locate key words. Every new line you get is another trip down the rabbithole of Pusha’s past.
It isn’t really practical to write about all the stories and anecdotes because of how layered Pusha’s references are and because it would spoil the listening experience. If it were, this review would need to be 3000 words minimum to encapsulate all the historics.
All of it really boils down to a simple feeling Pusha gets caught in, represented by the center sample in “Dreamin Of The Past.”
“I was dreamin’ of the past
And my heart was beatin’ fast”
As a rapper who continually certifies himself as the *diet coke king, Pusha T watches the throne, even if the competition in his section of the rap game is pretty niche. Strong single releases from “Diet Coke” and “Neck & Wrist” as well as a jarring, but effective partnership with Arby’s predate/hype up what might be one of the best rap albums of the year.
What’s crazier, to those whose initiation to Pusha T is “It’s Almost Dry,” is that there’s an entire catalog of upper-echelon pen game to sift through- even with Clipse, if you’re into old-school rap.
The subject matter is all the same, but Pusha T is the type of artist who paints over his old work into something new. What he’s selling with “It’s Almost Dry” is fresh now, but the few flaws there are could dry up into a masterpiece with time.