As well seasoned and well respected as they come, Pusha T somehow continues to find new and compelling ways to dissect his drug kingpin persona on DAYTONA.
Now almost three years removed from his well-received solo sophomore album King Push-Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude, Push sounds lyrically sharp and noticeably hell-bent on solidifying his status as one of the greatest rappers of all time.
With an album as hard-hitting and well executed as DAYTONA, the 41-year-old former kingpin from the Bronx certainly makes a strong argument.
Sitting at seven tracks and just over 21 minutes, DAYTONA leaves no room for filler. Despite the album’s brevity, Pusha T and producer Kanye West capitalize on almost every moment, as Kanye’s dynamic sample-based production allows Push’s commanding presence on the mic to shine.
Pusha’s aggression is immediately felt in the opening track “If You Know You Know”. Less than five seconds into the song Push starts spitting pointed bars in his signature conversational flow.
Every verse on the track is peppered with sharp wordplay and metaphors referencing his path to success as both a drug dealer and a rapper. Bars like “A rapper turned trapper can’t morph into us, but a trapper turned rapper can morph into Puff,” exemplify the type of razor-sharp wit many have come to expect from Push.
The second track on the album “The Games We Play” is unquestionably one of the hardest-hitting hip hop tracks I’ve heard this year. Kanye opens the song with a sampled guitar arpeggio that’s plucked so violently it almost sounds like a banjo.
Lyrically, Push stays consistent, talking about his stature as a dealer, while also touching on the glamour of his lifestyle. Push’s third verse hits especially hard as he comes in with a hypnotizing flow, steadily bragging while also paying respect to some of the artists who influenced him, rapping that he “Grew up on legends from outer Yonkers, influenced by n*ggas straight outta Compton.”
Daytona’s third track “Hard Piano” definitively stands out to me as the lowest energy cut off the album. Kanye’s production uncharacteristically lacks energy and dynamic range, often leaving the track feeling stagnant.
“Push sounds lyrically sharp and noticeably hell-bent on solidifying his status as one of the greatest rappers of all time.”
Push talks about his struggle to avoid being taken advantage of by higher up executives and women. His line “I won’t let you ruin my dreams or Harvey Weinstein the kid, good mornin’, Matt Lauer, can I live?” poignantly compares the struggle of victims of the #MeToo movement to Pusha’s own struggle not to let record label executives take advantage of him.
After Pusha’s verse, the track steadily declines as Tony Williams’ hook lacks energy and Rick Ross fails to deliver anything worth noting. Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like Rick Ross is completely incapable of writing lyrics that carry any semblance of passion or substance at this point in his career. Sad.
Track four “Come Back Baby” is both simple structurally and nuanced conceptually and emotionally. The chorus of the track features an untouched sample sung by George Jackson about the pains of heroin withdrawal, starkly contrasting the tone of the sample.
Though his subject matter is mostly par for the course on this track, Pusha gets off more than a few gems like “If we go by connections made, I can still climb ladders when complexions fade.”
The following track “Santeria” is one of Pusha T’s most emotionally riveting tracks to date. Push angrily raps about avenging the death of his slain tour manager, De’von Pickett, while simultaneously expressing the pain he went through in mourning Pickett’s loss.
Push ends the song with a series of apparent death threats to the man who murdered Pickett, further exploring the relationship between pain and anger in the wake of senselessly losing a loved one. The track also includes a beautifully sung hook by 070 Shake and a well-balanced blend of guitar samples and trap drums by Kanye.
The final two tracks on the album “What Would Meek Do?” and “Infrared” end the album on an absolutely ruthless note. In “What Would Meek Do?” Pusha uses rapper Meek Mill’s famously unjust incarceration as a reference point for what might have happened to him had he not successfully evaded incarceration.
Finally, “Infrared” viciously closes the album out. As I’m sure you’ve heard, this track sparked what became an ugly beef between Push and Drake. Pusha attacked Drakes authenticity and stature in hip-hop. Notably, Pusha used infrared vision as a medium to explain how he can see beneath the surface and identify fake rappers pretending to understand the dangerous waters Push was able to navigate.
With enough punchlines to pen a novel, Pusha T appears to be in peak form on Daytona. Though not perfect, this album is a shining example of what can happen when incredible production meets incredible lyricism. Push really outdid himself.