When Pusha T set out to make King Push -- Darkest Before Dawn: The Prequel, he knew what he wanted. The MC who grew up inspired by Jay Z, Nas, Rakim, Public Enemy and The Notorious B.I.G. wanted to make an album for himself.
"I prefer dark music," he told me earlier this month during an interview on a video set for "M.P.A." "I prefer music that’s more street oriented."
Well, the album dropped on Friday, Dec. 18 and while it's filled with big names and hit-makers, Push delivered on his promise. The project is filled with somber, thumping sounds. It tells stories of drug exploits and tragedies. It offers political and social commentary. It might even be his best work to date.
So, I decided to break it down track-by-track and provide some insight into what helped King Push create his darkest solo effort yet.
Metro Boomin laced Pusha T with the album’s intro, a track that, like “Untouchable,” pulls from a certain Notorious MC.
"I don’t know what influenced me more than B.I.G.,” Push recently told Genius. "When it comes to the art of rap, I don’t know if anything interested me more than B.I.G. and Jay Z and Nas at the same time.”
You definitely catch that vibe on this intro with an homage to classic Jay Z skits. However, Metro Boomin, who’s helped shape trap’s sound in 2015, gave Push a fresh take on the ‘90s vibe so this doesn’t feel like a throwback.
The Timbaland-produced “Untouchable” carries the Biggie inspiration torch since that's his voice being reworked for the hook. It was the first cut we got from this LP and it quickly became a controversial one.
“Still wishing on a star,” he rhymes on the track, alluding to an ongoing dispute between Lil Wayne and Baby. “The last one to find out that Baby own the cars.”
Earlier this month I asked about his stance on Cash Money. “I don’t really stand nowhere on them,” he said. “It is what it is with me. I’m here. I’m happy. I’m good. I’m well. Unbothered. Unfazed. That ain’t no stress to me. I do what I do out here. I do what I want to do.”
"Untouchable" is another example of that.
“M.F.T.R.” feat. The-Dream
Frank Dukes and Boi-1da teamed up with Push and The-Dream for “M.F.T.R.” The cut is another dagger at MCs who want to be more famous than rich, which is actually what the title stands for.
But the cut also made headlines when it dropped because of yet another Cash Money line. “The illusion of money, we don’t believe it,” he rhymes on this joint. “You ask me, Tyga’s lookin’ like a genius."
While some fans thought Push was referencing Kylie Jenner for some odd reason, T spoke to us about that line earlier this month too.
“People be misconstruing my Tyga line,” he explained. “The Tyga line was…I thought it was a ballsy move for him. At the time, he was leaving a label with so much greatness associated, record sales and everything associated with them. He was like, ‘I’m not making no money. I’m outta here.’ So, when I say, ‘You ask me, Tyga looking’ like a genius,’ that’s how I feel. That’s how I felt about it. Some people would sit in a rut. He was like, ‘Nah, I’m out. Forget it.’"
"Crutches, Crosses, Caskets"
When I interviewed Push about this track, he was quick to say that it was a state of the union for rap, of sorts. “It’s just my perspective on the rap game,” he said. “Priorities are a little bit skewed in the rap game. I feel like rappers seem victimized these days and I just jumped at that energy."
At one point here, he raps about "old n---as slapping young n---as" as an example of this. Recently, Genius asked Push if he was referring to Diddy's alleged fight with Drake here. "I never talked to Puff about that, so I don't know," Push said. "The energy is just out here."
Puff Daddy did help produce the track (along with Ke'noe, Da Honorable C.N.O.T.E. and Mario Winans), so you have to wonder. In any case, the joint bangs. And thanks to OVO Hush, someone who works closely with Drake, we're assuming Drizzy's heard about this one.
"M.P.A." feat. The-Dream, Kanye West, A$AP Rocky
This is the most star-studded track on the album. Kanye West, A$AP Rocky and The-Dream jumped on this cut, which was produced by J. Cole. It's about three vices: "money, p---y, alcohol," and Pusha was particularly excited about Cole's production.
"He did it in front of me,” Pusha explained. “I was chasing him down. He was on tour, so we went on his bus and he knocked it out then and there. He understood totally. We connected about the vision for the track and he did his thing. Cole’s great."
Look out for the "M.P.A." video -- confetti and all -- soon.
“Got ‘Em Covered” feat. Ab-Liva
The first line of this song lets you know you’re in for a different Push. “The flow plays limbo courtesy of Timbo,” he raps on the track.
And it’s true. The Virginia-based producer delivered a different bounce to this album with its sixth cut, something that was important for Pusha Ton.
“Timbaland brought the unorthodox puzzles of beats,” he told me earlier this month. “I look at all of his beats like a puzzle. He just made me rhyme different. I had to really follow his drum patterns and really navigate my way through his beats.”
Push also enlisted longtime collaborator Ab-Liva to this puzzle solving banger. It's a track about how Push has his "dopeboys covered" and it might also be a sign of what Tim's working on for his upcoming King Stays King project.
"Keep Dealing" feat. Beanie Sigel
Nashiem Myrick provided the soundscape for Push and Beanie's menacing crack tales here, but perhaps it's most important for Sigel's resurgence. You might recall, the Philly MC had a lung removed after he was shot last year. Beans recorded this while recovering from the complications, so he mostly whispers through the cut. Push wanted to keep this on the album for effect.
“The whole process of it reminded me of [Kanye West’s] ‘Through the Wire,’” Pusha told Complex, referencing Yeezy's 2004 single which was recorded while his mouth was wired shut following a car accident. “The writing was so good, I was like, ‘Ain’t no way that I’m gonna take this literature off the album.’”
This provides greater meaning to one of Beanie's closing lines here: "You watched me go through hell," he raps on the track. "Now watch me walk up out it."
"Retribution" feat. Kehlani
"Who are you?" Kehlani sings on the chorus for this Rico Love and Timbaland-produced banger. "We don't know you."
This allows Push to make his proclamation: "I’m the fire and the base/ I’m admired by the greats/ This to each and every rap n---a/ I look you liars in the face."
"My inspiration for writing this line I would have to say is Jay Z showing his appreciation for Hell Hath No Fury," Push recently told Genius. "I felt like I won. From what I understand it was a situation where the album was playing and someone switched the music and Jay was like, 'Oh nah. You gotta keep the real on. That’s the good stuff. You got to keep the good playing.' That always stuck with me."
Guess that's why there's so much conviction in Push's voice when he raps about being "the last dope dealer/ red leather in a room full of Thrillers."
Q-Tip provided one of the album's hardest beats with "F.I.F.A." It allows Push to continue flexing his coke bars with the arrogance we've come to expect over head-knocking percussion.
"I hope you bettin' on the sleeper," he rhymes in the track's chorus. "It all started on a beeper/ Now they asking for the feature/ Till I'm steppin' out the bleachers/ Drug money kicked around like it’s F.I.F.A."
This track, which also features a Souls of Mischief reference, makes you want more of the Pusha T/Q-Tip collaborations. Maybe that's something we can hope to hear more from on King Push? Fans are already pleading for it. And I can't blame them. There's something particularly hypnotic about those drums.
"Sunshine" feat. Jill Scott
"Sunshine" is, for my money anyway, the most important song on Darkest Before Dawn. The production from Claudio Ghiglino, Susan Duncan-Smith and Gian Franco Reverberi is stripped down, helping Push express his frustration, sadness and anger out in rhyme form.
"I just feel like the situations in the past year, it’d be an injustice not to speak on them,” he explained during our interview this month. “These are my people. Young, black kids are being killed. It’s really a sensitive thing with me, super sensitive. It would be an injustice not to speak on it, man.
"When I think of my favorite rap artists, I think of Public Enemy and groups like that," he added. "There was an angst and an aggressive energy around that. Now, I watch these situations happen and young people seem a bit more passive. I wanted to go polar opposite from that and take an aggressive stance lyrically through it and show people how I think, how my mind works."
And Here's The Full LP