“Didn’t have to reinvent the wheel, just a better design,” Pusha T raps on “Dreamin’ of the Past,” the third track off his new album, It’s Almost Dry. It’s a true line. The 44-year-old Push comes from a long line of rappers whose ethos comes from the cocaine kilos they once dutifully delivered to the streets. Like that line, Push says his raps with glee and an experienced jubilance of a man who can’t wait to tell you the crimes he committed the week prior. That line is also an example of his subtle but significant limitations. Where other trapper-turned-rappers like JAY-Z have multiple topics, emotional resonance, and their own mystique attached to their music, Push is often a specialist or a punchline rapper for fans that want to claim the Purple Tape on gauche Sidetalk NYC videos. There’s nothing wrong with knowing who you are as an artist; rap is full of artists that know the one thing they’re good at and execute it. But since 2018’s DAYTONA, Push has begun to think of himself as an arbitrator of authenticity and purity in rap music — a tall task for a man who often has oafish gimmicks like Whitney Houston bathroom binges as album covers, and a tendency to set up punchlines for himself.
Look, despite my skepticism, Push can be a fun rapper to listen to. Unlike DAYTONA, It’s Almost Dry (which is out today) is a real full-length album, with production split by frequent collaborators The Neptunes and Kanye West. If a listener was concerned about two separate entities like The Neptunes and Kanye being able to flow together on the same album, you don’t have to worry here. The production blends together well. “Dreamin’ of the Past” is chipmunk soul Ye, with Push claiming “you hollering top five, I only see top me.” “Call My Bluff” is exactly why there’s a generation of folks that call The Neptunes their biggest influence. There’s an impressive snare that functions as a scream all over the record. It keeps you on your heels; you never know when it is going to happen, just know that your ear will buzz when you hear it. Push knows that the production should aid him, as well as stand alone as an instrumental. Such is the case on “Just So You Remember.” Essentially a lost file from his 2013 debut album My Name is My Name, Push is demonstrative on “Just So You Remember,” punishing you with his eloquent sermons while utilizing his biggest strength and weakness — his punchline setups: “Looking outside, the landscape ridiculous/Motion lights surround it meticulous/architectural digest my premise.” The insignificant boasts that Push does are only rivaled by Rick Ross, and at least Ross promotes escapism. Even when Push is in a reflective mode, there’s still an allegiance to telling coke stories in only the way he can. “Sometimes I wish my fanbase was like J. Cole’s/But dope boys gotta be the men like they know,” he raps on “Call My Bluff.” Whether you believe him or not isn’t the point.
The runtime on this record is a concise 36 minutes. There are rappers that are talented but have an inability to craft records. That isn’t true with Push; he hasn’t started an original style but he wins track sequencing MVP every year he drops a record. But that’s also a part of the problem, isn’t it? There isn’t a rewarding style here. Nothing is recherché — everything is mathematical and precise. “Neck and Wrist” has diminishing returns; hearing Jay-Z come back to rap about God’s favorite son was chic in 2011, but now it’s out of its moment. Push’s first verse line, “We fishscale niggas like we all Pisces,” is delivered in a 50 Cent on “Window Shopper” flow that sounds better when Curtis did it. Lead single “Diet Coke” is boring, with Kanye and 88-Keys’ beat sounding dry and Push mentioning “reverends, and being everything you couldn’t be” — something we’ve heard before. Consistency is a continual quality output of new ideas and styles, but Push is more stagnant than consistent. Everything is fine but it does sound like a 44-year-old made it.
At least Push isn’t calling out other rappers for their authenticity and contract issues this time. Say what you will about Lil Wayne, but at his peak he kept re-inventing himself and had an eccentric personality that matched his expressionist streak. Push gets rewarded for his comfortability in a world where streaming and algorithms reward safety. But just because Push’s music comes from the seeds of realism and delirious sacrosanctity of ‘90s coke rap, that doesn’t mean that it’s less derivative.
It’s Almost Dry is a testament to Push becoming too impressed with his own mythology. At his listening party for the album (which was dubbed “Cokechella”), Push handed out fake bricks to fashion kids. This is also the same person who recently made a coke reference in a McDonald’s diss track promoting Arby’s. For someone who claimed that DAYTONA was his Purple Tape, I fear that the only thing Push will revive with his latest outing is clout chasing.
Jayson Buford is a Brooklyn based music journalist seen in Rolling Stone, GQ, and Okayplayer. Go Knicks.
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