As one half of the Clipse, Pusha T released three albums with his brother Malice, including 2002’s Lord Willin' and 2006’s Hell Hath No Fury, the latter a delayed project, which caused well-publicized friction with former label Jive Records. In 2009, Til The Casket Drops followed a drug bust that claimed close friends, and early last year, Malice quit music to “find God” and write a book. Pusha, embracing the chance to pursue a solo career, made the move to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label and he will drop his debut album this fall.
According to Pusha, the recent Fear Of God mixtape—pegged for retail release as Fear Of God 2: Let Us Pray—will pale in comparison to his official debut, thanks to production from Kanye. His new affiliation with G.O.O.D. Music, he admits, has given him a fresh perspective, rare opportunities, and a new appreciation for Givenchy, Commes des Garcons and Phillip Lim.
Last year you and Malice announced plans to do solo projects. Is that something you both wanted to do? I was ready to start on the next Clipse project, and then Malice told me that he didn’t want to start another one. He’s like, actually, I’m gonna write this book—“you serious?”—you want to do a solo project anyway, don’t you? That’s how the whole thing started, but it turned out really well. Once he decided to do his book I figured, well, the ship can’t stop sailing. I felt like we should have music out there. We’ve been through that whole lay-off thing and we’ve seen what happens when there’s not product on the marketplace, so I decided—let’s just do it.
Fear Of God was scheduled for release back in fall ’10. Why didn’t it drop until March ‘11? When I was putting together Fear of God I had a tentative timeline, but it was at the same time that I was doing so much work with Ye. There was so much surrounding the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album—including the work that I’d done on it—the G.O.O.D. Friday projects, and getting adjusted to the new setting of the G.O.O.D. Music family. We were so visible, anywhere from New York to the Arab Emirates, to Hawaii. There was so much going on, everything needed to stay in its own lane, and at that time, the focus lane was My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. So I thought, you know what? Let’s fall back on Fear of God, because that’s gonna be done. There was nothing going to stop that at all. So I focused on G.O.O.D. Fridays, which was amazing for me, and I worked on Kanye’s album, which was really a big look for me.
You had two memorable performances with Kanye at the VMAs and SNL, was that huge for you? I’ve actually performed at the VMAs before, with Justin Timberlake, on his first solo project, but SNL is something that I’ve never done before, so it was really big, man. Everyone is always anticipating Kanye’s music, but it was sort of his return to the music world from the Taylor Swift thing, etc., and it put so much shine on him—like the spotlight was on his life so much, everybody was really, really waiting for him.
Kanye is also executive producing your first solo album. Is he very demanding as a producer? That’s just Ye’s personality. He’s such a fan. He’s such a fan, and there’s a certain level of artistry that he wants to get to complement his music. What we’ve been putting together as of late, for the new album, is really extreme. The music has been really extreme, so of course the vocals have been really extreme to complement it. We haven’t bumped heads on what he thinks it should be vs. what I put out. We’re really in sync as far as that goes right now. I’m happy with the records we’ve done and I can’t wait to get back in.
How would you define “extreme” in this context? And how do the new tracks compare to Fear Of God? I have to say it’s on another level, because Kanye is the executive producer of the album. And I’m glad he’s taken on this role, because you have to understand that all rap artists have a weakness. Mine happens to be that musically, if something strikes me—whether it’s good or bad—I can write a very prolific verse. I can put together a verse whichever way the music hits me, but sometimes the music isn’t that good. Some people vibe, but some people don’t like it; it’s not a produced product, or produced to everyone’s liking. And the thing is, I come from the production house of the Neptunes, I come from that house, so it’s sort of hard for me to have under-produced music. Something that sounds mixtape-esque that I might love, my fans may be like—‘ahh man, damn it, it’s still not the caliber of the Neptunes’—and that’s a strike against me.
What sort of beats would you select for yourself? It’s tough because I like a bunch of dark, hollow, demon beats that are not too musical, and if you let me do a mixtape—a rapper’s rapper would love to hear me over that all day, because I’m gonna say all the shit they want to hear. But a person who’s been into my body of work and the stuff that I’ve done since I’ve been in the game, they might be like—‘ah man, the music was lackluster or underwhelming.’ And I’m saying that because I actually hear this. So Ye being the executive producer of my project balances that and helps me out in a major way.
Your music often gets sub-genred as “coke rap.” Do you ever take any offense to that? I don’t get too mad about it, but I feel like you should get way more than coke out of my rap. I harp on so many different situations. Coke might be the universal metaphor because I’m speaking about a street lifestyle, but I’m also speaking about a whole street mentality, and I’m talking about what goes on in the mindset of the person who’s entrenched in it. So when people say it’s just coke rap, I think—yo, you skimming through the music, or what? It trips me out because you’ll go on the blogs and guys will be like “oh, another coke song," but I can’t go crazy over that because these are the same people who, after they put the comment on my song, will say how much they love the Ross record. And then they’ll say, ‘I can’t wait for the new Jeezy record.’ And then they’ll claim to be the biggest Jay-Z fan. And then they’ll tell you that “Allure” from Jay-Z is their favorite record.
So your issue is with the contradictions? Yeah, so you can love “this guy,” “that guy,” but not Pusha, although he’s doing what he’s been doing—first record I ever put out, 1997 on Elektra Records was called “I Got Caught Dealing.” My second record was called “The Funeral,” and that was eulogizing the drug-related death of my homeboy. This is my history. This is what I’ve been doing. I mean, can I get kudos for consistency? But no, everybody’s gonna slay and crucify me. That’s why on “Cook It Down” I had the line: “My travel lodge story, I pray that you ignore me, if you can’t feel the joy of a hustler in his glory.” In other words, I don’t want you to listen to me if you are not into this. I don’t need a new fan. If you stumble upon it and you happen to like it, I’m down with you, I’m cool—but one thing that you’re not gonna tell me, is that I cannot rap. You cannot tell me that I can’t rap, so don’t say I can’t rap. I don’t know what you can say—but don’t say that part. I pride myself on my pen. I don’t say I’ve got the best hooks in the game, I don’t say I’m the best beat picker—I ain’t never been that guy. I ain’t never said I was that guy, I just pride myself on my pen.
You’ve been into fashion, launching Playcloths in ’07, but how has your style evolved with regard to the Rosewood movement and such? Playcloths is my line and that’s my heart, but as an artist, the day of just having that one look—you can’t do that anymore. My style has evolved just because you can’t get trapped, and I actually like the whole suit aesthetic, I think it’s cool. I’ve always been into clothes and fashion, and this whole streetwear thing, I love it to death—it’s the most comfortable that I ever am—but fucking around with Ye? I’m not gonna keep walking into the studio where everybody’s got on Balenciagas, and I don’t have all 12 pairs also. I need it, I swear. You walk into the studio and everybody’s stuntin,’and I’m like okay, hold on a minute—you think I’m gonna keep wearing my Nike Foamposite? It’s really inspiring. On the Fear Of God mixtape I call Givenchy “Don C”—I’m like dog, you don’t even know I have a nickname for you, because I be getting in with my homeboys, who pull some looks for me. It’s definitely 360 degrees around. Being around the G.O.O.D. Music team—shoes, clothes, and shit like that does rub off.
Have you been put onto any new designers that you hadn’t known before? I wasn’t into Phillip Lim, but Kanye schooled me on him and it might’ve been at Coachella that I did the all-white with this dope ass Phillip Lim jacket. There are just certain things I was not up on, and fashion was one in particular. Right now, I have to say my that favorite designers are Givenchy, Comme des Garçons, of course, and honestly, my Louboutin game is on a thousand. My Louboutin game is so mean. Alexander Wang’s T Line, I like that it’s cut with a little bit more swag to it. The T line is something I like fucking with, because that was the problem, some of the brands—like the whole Phillip Lim thing—maybe I didn’t give it that look, because it just wasn’t that fitting for me.
How did the past year change the scope of your career? I’ve grown, and now I don’t take anything for granted. Before Hawaii, I might’ve taken a whole lot of shit for granted, but I’ve lost a lot in regard to the music industry. The predicament with my management and the eight of my friends who were involved in that whole situation (coke bust), a lot of that is related to what was going on with me musically. Going through that whole Hell Hath No Fury craziness—the layoffs, fromLord Willin’ to Hell Hath No Fury, it was tough. That climb back up had a lot to do with the predicament that my management is in today. So I don’t take anything for granted, and make sure that everybody with me is being productive as a unit.
Without Malice involved, how do you plan on navigating the upcoming highs and lows? This music industry is so big, you can have so many things going on and it doesn’t make sense for you to be the only one benefiting from this. I got the Re-Up Gang and we’re gonna run these streets together, and we’re gonna see everything together. We’re gonna make an outlet for everybody else as well. I’m really focused on building my brand and making sure everybody is progressing with me. It’s not hard for me, because I don’t have tons of friends. All of my friends are my 15-year and 20-year friends, so just think about it, that was a hard blow to me in '09—they took away five of them in one whop, so I don’t have a lot of them, and I’m making sure they know. I speak to them all the time, they call me and say, ‘You’re doing your thing, we hear your music on your radio, you’ve gotta keep going. What you doing? You ain’t in the studio? Let’s get busy.” That’s how they talk to me.