On ‘It’s Almost Dry,’ Pusha T Plays the Long Game: NPR



AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

The Martin Scorsese of street rap – that’s how Pusha T sees himself these days. And Virginia Beach artist, government appointee Terrence LeVarr Thornton, has reason to. He rose through the ranks of hip hop in the 90s and 2000s in the group CLIPSE with his brother, currently known as No Malice. Then in 2010, Pusha T launched as a solo artist and signed on Kanye West’s GOOD Music label. This year, his new album, “It’s Almost Dry”, reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF THE SONG, “DREAMIN OF THE PAST”)

PUSHA T: (Rapping) We made our way. We don’t need wishes. It’s levels. These are diapers, so pray for the players. We hollowed out the walls behind the bodegas. I have plenty of them. It’s so, yeah. They say, give it to me, he’s got plenty, yeah.

RASCOE: To talk about this record and how it fits into the context of his decades-long career, Pusha T joins us from the tour. Pusha, welcome to the program.

PUSHA T: What’s up? What’s new? How are you?

RASCOE: I’m fine. I’m really happy to talk to you. I want to start with this Martin Scorsese comparison. Martin Scorsese is known for making gangster movies, and you’re known for rapping about selling cocaine.

PUSHA T: Yes. To correct.

RASCOE: You know, you even called yourself the Dr. Seuss of cocaine. Like, what is this parallel you’re drawing there?

PUSHA T: Well, basically, you know, sure, there are times in Scorsese’s discography where he ventures out of gangster movies, but for the most part, Scorsese does a very particular type of film towards which we all culturally gravitate to. And he does it very well. It’s iconic. And I look at my rhymes and my content and my music and my discography the same way. I do something very specific, and I do it very, very well.

RASCOE: I mean, obviously, the pun that you’re known for — and that’s like what I love about hip hop and rap, even though I grew up in Durham, North Carolina, so I didn’t grow up in – like, I don’t know anything about the streets.

PUSHA T: Oh, but let me tell you something. Durham is in the – Durham has the hood. Don’t play.

RASCOE: He did – no, he did. He does. No, he has a hood.

PUSHA T: Don’t do that. Do not dare. Wait, did you tell me you were from Durham?

RASCOE: I’m from Durham.

PUSHA T: Like, do you know – like my friends would – brother, no, no, no, no. We’re not going to do that. We’re not even going to do that.

RASCOE: (Laughs) No, Durham is the neighborhood.

PUSHA T: Yes.

RASCOE: Like, I had other family members from other parts of North Carolina who would be like, we’re not going to Durham. It’s dangerous.

PUSHA T: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I know.

RASCOE: (Laughs). But I didn’t live that lifestyle.

PUSHA T: It’s good.

RASCOE: There was – I wasn’t one of them.

POUSHA T: OK.

RASCOE: Of course, I’m listening. I listen to Jay-Z. I listen to others. And I love puns. I like like – I don’t do any of that. But, you know, if they rap about coke boys or whatever, like I resent the pun. I feel its energy.

PUSHA T: It’s true. I think a lot of it is about energy and aspiration. Oh, rap? It’s a whole way of life. It’s a whole culture. It’s like – rap teaches you how to live and aspire and, man, it teaches you how to dress sometimes. There are so many other different avenues and so many other different things you can take out of an album like “It’s Almost Dry”. And I would say aspiration is one.

RASCOE: And so, with regard to “It’s almost dry”, where does this name come from?

PUSHA T: Oh, man, “It’s Almost Dry” is – it’s about, you know, art and just, like, creating a masterpiece. And everyone is still waiting for this masterpiece. And you always have to tell them that it’s almost dry. It’s almost ready.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF THE SONG, “DIET COKE”)

PUSHA T: (Rapping) Imaginary players haven’t been trained properly. Master recipes under the fires of the stove. The number on this jersey is the quote price. You ordered a Diet Coke. It’s a joke, right?

RASCOE: With this album, half is produced by Pharrell, who you’ve been making music with since the very beginning of your very famous career. The other half is produced by Kanye West – we know him – who was obviously integral to you as a solo artist. How does working with the two differ?

PUSHA T: I would say me and Kanye connect very deeply on just being a very purist, dark hard samples, hard drums, very minimal. He likes to treat my voice like an instrument. He loves, like, the Pusha T mixtape. He loves it. So he makes records that lean heavily into that vein.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “JUST SO YOU REMEMBER”)

COLONEL BAGSHOT: (Singing) Tomorrow doesn’t come until it’s too late.

PUSHA T: (Rapping) Just so you remember who you’re dealing with. The number does not change. I know who the chemist is. Brick by brick, we kept dealerships open. Little by little, we built our villages.

PUSHA T: Pharrell is always trying to turn me into a character. He’s definitely passionate about songwriting and songwriting, songwriting, cadence, flow, melodies, always trying to turn even the darkest or hardest records into some level of success, you know? And that’s the difference between these two for me.

(SOUND EXTRACTION OF THE SONG, “NECK AND WRIST”)

PUSHA T: (Rapping) First to the beach with a million dollar car. Bring the cameraman, we can film our own Narcos. 812 matte black, resembling charcoal. I promise you the floor plan has nothing to do with the model.

PHARRELL WILLIAMS: (Singing) Neck and wrist don’t lie.

RASCOE: I mean, I want to ask you about the song “Call My Bluff”. I know you were talking about getting into character. You were watching Joaquin Phoenix’s “Joker” movie a lot while working on that song, getting into character. Tell me about this process.

PUSHA T: Yes. You know, Pharrell just thinks me becoming a character is the next level in my career. He feels like I’ve always been a quintessential rapper, but yet, you know, I haven’t really tapped into a character. And so we were looking at the Joker, and he was like, man, this is who you are. He said, you laugh at things you’re not even supposed to laugh at. He was like, it’s, like, you. I’m like, fuck bro, that’s what you think about your man?

RASCOE: (Laughs).

PUSHA T: So we started watching the movie, right? And then it turned into us watching the movie in silence, and he was making music to the energy of the TV.

RASCOE: Oh, okay.

PUSHA T: It tells you the energy that you are supposed to be in. You know, that’s how we kept creating his part of the album.

(SOUNDTRACK FROM THE SONG, “CALL MY BLUFF”)

PUSHA T: (Rapping) Calling my bluff, go say hello. Service with a smile when I distribute halos. Shooters on the clock, when I point them, they go. Now everyone asks, what happened? They know.

RASCOE: I wanted to ask you, because obviously you have longevity – don’t you? – in hip hop. What do you think longevity looks like for hip hop artists right now? Because there’s been a long time where rappers haven’t really been this popular, and they’re kind of getting old. And it would be like, okay, you’re not hot anymore, and you were…

PUSHA T: Right, right.

RASCOE: They kind of got pushed aside. But now it’s different, right? Like everyone was like, who’s gonna be like the Rolling Stones for hip-hop?

PUSHA T: It’s true. Oh, man.

RASCOE: So what do you think?

PUSHA T: Well, that’s my goal. For example, my goal is to see how far I can really go competitively. I don’t want to just exist in rap or just make records that aren’t considered classics or things like that. Like, it’s funny that you mentioned the Rolling Stones as a band, but speaking of which, Rolling Stone just made a list of the 200 greatest hip-hop albums of all time, right? And I was on that list three times. You know, I want to keep making albums that will end up on all those lists. If I stop making albums that don’t get that kind of fanfare or attention, then I don’t want to make music anymore.

RASCOE: And that’s Pusha T, with his No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart, “It’s Almost Dry.” Thanks to him for joining us.

PUSHA T: Rap album of the year. Rap album of the year.

RASCOE: He said it.

(SOUNDTRACK FROM THE SONG, “SCRAPE IT OFF”)

PUSHA T: (Rapping) New toys, convoys. A hundred carats on my neck, boy, a hundred rabbits trying to catch, boy. Tweaker, tweaker, tweaker, course. Tweaker, course. My boy.

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Raymond I. Langston