Pusha T has a lot to be thankful for. After being named the president of G.O.O.D. Music, he kickstarted the campaign for his forthcoming album King Push by rolling out the prelude titled King Push – Darkest Before Dawn. While news of King Push first surfaced in 2013 (he also teased the release with the Kanye West-produced “Lunch Money” last year), the 38-year-old Virginia spitter channels the same darkness as heard on his 2013 effort My Name Is My Name for his new 10-track offering.
On DBD, he delivers music that can’t be clumped with contemporary hip-hop. The MC born Terrence Thornton (and formerly one half of the rap duo The Clipse with his brother, Gene “No Malice” Thornton) doesn’t use his dope boy raps as a crutch. He’s more focused on cohesion, painting pictures of pain (“Keep Dealing”) and addressing the current state of America (“Sunshine”). On the production side, Push calls on a few friends for assistance including Puff Daddy, J. Cole, Kanye West, Timbaland, Q-Tip, Hudson Mohawke, Metro Boomin’ and Baauer, each contributing brooding soundscapes to enhance DBD’s evil mood.
Read on for Billboard’s track-by-track review of Pusha T’s Darkest Before Dawn.
“Intro”: On the album opener, Pusha T ponders his legacy in the rap game. “Who you wanna be? Drug dealing? Rap n—a? You trying to save the culture? You gotta pick one, daddy,” says Lee Sanchez, the voice behind Pusha’s conscious. Right out the gate, Pusha shows his teeth on bombastic production by J Gramm and Puff Daddy: “Christopher Wallace, think big, keep climbing / Reasonable doubt, drug era, keep climbing / I’m my brother’s keeper, Lord Willin’, keep climbin’.” Pusha shows he can do it all without breaking a sweat.
“Untouchable”: Released on Nov. 12, “Untouchable” was the first taste of Darkest Before Dawn. The newly appointed president comes out of the shadows for a special announcement to his lyrical peers and foes: “I drops every blue moon / To separate myself from you kings of YouTube.” From there, Pusha does lyrical calisthenics with two menacing verses, each line hitting harder than the next. He has an agenda, too — name-checking Donald Trump and Birdman through clever subliminals. With a Biggie sample weaved into the song’s hook, Pusha feels invincible and rightfully so.
“M.F.T.R” (feat. The-Dream): The tempo picks up on “M.F.T.R.,” an acronym for “More Famous Than Rich.” Once again, Pusha is calling it as he sees it, pointing out hip-hop’s tendency to fabricate their stories for credibility. Often describing himself as a prophet, the rapper doesn’t hide his disdain for Birdman and Cash Money, addressing the ongoing turmoil between Baby and Lil Wayne: “The illusion of money we don’t believe in / You ask me, Tyga looking like a genius” and later “N—-s talking it, but ain’t living it / Two years later admitting it, all them n—-s is renting shit.” The-Dream offers an edgier falsetto, allowing Pusha’s boasts to sting harder.
“Crutches, Crosses, Caskets”: Here, Pusha’s back to talking big. “This the ministry of street energy / The church of criminology, teaching my chemistries,” Pusha rhymes on a sparse beat by Puffy. Pusha establishes himself as a threat to MCs he used to look up to, but now views as victims. He continues the theme of self-importance, outlining a moment of frustration with Puff during the making of this very song.
“M.P.A.” (feat. Kanye West, A$AP Rocky & The-Dream): Channeling the ambiance of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Pusha gathers, ‘Ye, A$AP Rocky and The-Dream for a smooth track about three vices: money, pussy and alcohol. Kanye and Rocky star as background vocalists over elegant piano keys and guitar strums, a melody co-produced by J. Cole. Pusha tones down his aggression to kick reflective rhymes about how “M.P.A.” plagues men.
“Got Em Covered” (feat. Ab-Liva): Ab-Liva, the Philadelphia rapper part of The Clipse’s group Re-Up Gang, makes a rare appearance on this bass-thumping number produced by Timbaland. Pusha matches the tempo, detailing cocaine trafficking and serving his clientele like a dealer. A seasoned veteran of the drug world, the Pyrex God isn’t here to water down his lyrics for no one. “Trap phone, gun at your backbone / Graduated from the corner where the crack’s grown,” he rhymes.
“Keep Dealing” (feat. Beanie Sigel): There’s no better example of Pusha getting the darkest moments out of his producers than on “Keep Dealing.” In interviews, Pusha has referenced Notorious B.I.G.’s “My Downfall” as the Mafioso sound he wanted to capture, and Puff doesn’t disappoint with a sonic canvas that captures those cold nights on the corner. Pusha can’t seem to escape his past, dropping boasts like “the last cocaine superhero / I got the cape on, to cover kilos.” Beanie Sigel arguably steals the show, reassuring fans that he’s bounced back from his gunshot injury and is sharper than ever: “Reporting live from the project benches / Hella ‘caine, dope in cellophane, dirty syringes / Heron zombies street-walking on three-week binges / Clientele look like the ‘Thriller’ vid in 3D lenses.”
“Retribution” (feat. Kehlani): Grammy-nominated singer Kehlani caps off her incredible year with a guest spot on Darkest Before Dawn. Timbaland could have have grabbed this one from Jay Z’s Magna Carta…Holy Grail sessions because it embodies the same grand and woozy sound. “Retribution” has the best chance at crossing over, with Kehlani’s powerful hook proving every music critic’s case as R&B’s next “it” girl. Pusha is cold and calculated with his rhymes. It’s a solid listen from two artists at the top of their game.
“F.I.F.A.”: Q-Tip fuses classic boom bap with alternative rock on “F.I.F.A.,” which aims to be a vibrant spot for Darkest Before Dawn. Pusha provides his signature rhymes rooted in his drug-dealing past and how he’s moved on to a better life. “It all started on a beeper / Now they asking for the feature,” he says. But aside from the excellent Tip production, “F.I.F.A.” is the weakest link on the album, revisiting a familiar topic with a stale approach.
“Sunshine” (feat. Jill Scott): Ending on a serious note, Pusha T addresses the constant problems with institutional racism in America. R&B vet Jill Scott doesn’t mince words with her emotional call for brighter days after seeing so much turmoil in 2015. Pusha T and Scott cite the murder of Freddie Gray, the unrest in Baltimore, and police brutality. The lines “In FOX eyes, we the dark side / So they tell you lies / Through a TV, C-N-B-C / C-N-N, Don Lemon, no Kweli when you meet me” are as honest as it gets.