Artist: Pusha T
Album: My Name Is My Name
Label: Def Jam/GOOD Music
Release Date: October 8, 2013
The title of Pusha T’s debut solo effort alludes to a quote from Marlo Stanfield, antagonist from HBO’s cult-classic series, The Wire.
In many ways, Pusha, one half of Virginia’s venerable sibling duo Clipse, is looked upon as the Marlo Stanfield of the rap landscape; a wide-eyed, unassuming lyrical wolf in sheep’s clothing. His raps are as ruthless as the sociopathic Stanfield and like Marlo, Pusha’s defined by his underdog story. He’s transacted a decade-long career out of a penchant for peddling spurious and self-aggrandizing tales of a drug dealer’s past.
Whether Pusha ever actually moved kilos, has and will always be up for interpretation, which only adds to his perceived legend and pervasive reverence amongst hipsters, rap nerds, and 40-something thugs alike.
My Name Is My Name isn’t much of a deviation from that script, in which Pusha struggles to fully embrace his fame, fortune and self-anointed “King Push” persona. Under the direction of Kanye West, Terrence Thorton’s cocaine parables are dovetailed with West’s newfound sinister minimalism to produce a project that is more radio accessible than it was probably intended to be.
“Numbers On The Boards” is a perfect rap single; the Frankenstein creation of West and Thorton’s creative evil geniuses living in conflicting harmony. Pusha spits four verses of double-entendre boasts (“Givenchy fittin’ like it’s gym clothes/ We really gymstars, I’m like D. Rose/ No D-league, I’m like this close/ ’88 Jordan, leaping from the free throw”) and shots at his colleagues (“How could you relate when you ain’t never been great?/ And rely on rap money to keep food up on your plates?”) against the backdrop of choppy percussion and shouting samples.
Kendrick Lamar, the talk of the rap Twitterverse for the time being, joins Pusha on “Nosetalgia,” a bilateral, balanced account of both sides of the crack game. Pusha recants his “20 plus years of selling Johnson & Johnson,” while K. Dot speaks from the perspective of an impressionable CPT youth:
“You wanna see a dead body?/ Instrumentals from my mama’s Christmas party/ Trouble’s on my mind, I still smell crime/ My little brother crying/ Smokers repeatedly buying my Sega Genesis/ Either that or my auntie was stealing it/ Hit the pipe and start feeling it.”
Pusha T is a rapper in the most literal, 1993 sense of the term. Visceral beats like “Numbers On The Boards” and the Nottz and ‘Ye-produced “Nosetalgia” are powerful and gritty enough to give the listener a swift kick to the cortex, without overpowering Pusha’s supreme lyrical prowess. Moments of boom-bap simplicity like these are where Pusha’s debut project is at its absolute best. Unfortunately, they don’t last long enough.
My Name Is My Name starts off strong with the grandiose “King Push” intro (produced by Sebastian Sartor, not Joaquin Phoenix) then sees its cohesive identity and energy levels waver on a track-by-track basis, teetering between “Yo, this is that raw $hit!” and “I’ve been listening to Hot 97 for 20 minutes and heard this four times.”
The album as a whole, is disappointingly turbulent, an issue which is only magnified by the relative leanness of the twelve-track project. For every banger there are two duds, most notably the corny and overproduced “Hold On” featuring Rick Ross as well as the clunky “Who I Am,” in which Def Jam punches Pusha into their go-to template for a radio single, awkwardly pairing him with 2 Chainz and Big Sean.
While forced features are the sad reality of any major label debut, twelve (yes, TWELVE) is a bit much for any artist, especially one with the proven track record of Thorton. Pusha T’s artistry sells itself and the 75,000 individuals who purchased copies of My Name Is My Name this week would have done so, regardless of whether 2 Chainz, Big Sean, or Chris Brown were appearing on the album or not.
My Name Is Name is a good record and an all-around solid solo debut from one of the game’s most respected veterans. But somewhere, lost between the ashes of A&R bullsh*t, is something that could have been truly great.
We want it to be one way. But it’s the other way. Word to Marlo.