Pusha T’s “Daytona” kicks off a month of big album releases and reignites a feud
by Andrew Millman
“Album of the year contender every year,” Pusha T boasted back in 2016 on a single that was originally intended for his third album. However, since his first solo album My Name is My Name in 2013, Pusha has only released three albums in six years and the last one, King Push—Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude, came out in 2015.
You may have missed it between his tweets about Trump’s “dragon energy” and his proclamation that slavery was a choice on TMZ; but in May, Kanye West announced an ambitious plan to release five albums in five weeks, with the first being Pusha’s on May 25, followed by a Kanye solo album, Kanye and Kid Cudi’s Kids See Ghost, a Nas solo album, and a Teyana Taylor solo album. This plan is even more ambitious considering Kanye has never been good at keeping deadlines (see The Life of Pablo or Cruel Winter).
A$AP Rocky finally released Testing the same day as Pusha’s and other big-name rappers such as Drake and Nicki Minaj are also planning summer album releases, in addition to albums from Cardi B and J. Cole in April. This summer is shaping up to be a great summer for rap.
Anyway, back to Pusha’s album. As far back as 2014, the album was meant to be called King Push, but he changed his album name just days before its release to Daytona, after the Daytona Rolex watch (meant to reflect “the luxury of time”). Then, at Kanye’s insistence, the album cover was changed a day before the release to a photo of Whitney Houston’s drug-filled bathroom. Whether West intended it as such or not, the picture exemplifies the darker side of drug dealing, the subject of the self-proclaimed “king of the coke flow” Pusha T’s raps. It’s jarring to listen to lines like “still do the Fred Astaire on a brick,” while starring at the chaotic aftermath left in the wake of victim of what the rapper often glorifies. It was a bold move to juxtapose the glorification of drug dealing through rap with the toll it takes on its victims.
Daytona’s brevity is one of its biggest strengths, coming in at seven songs and twenty-one minutes, in comparison to Testing’s fifteen songs and fifty-two minutes, which is pretty standard for recent rap albums, and lends itself to multiple listens. The album is Pusha’s best solo project, packing a concise punch and getting across its message. Like all of the Virginia rapper’s discography, it’s filled with intricate references and allusions, many about drug dealing, that this white kid from the suburbs has to go on Rap Genius to understand.
The opening track, “If You Know You Know,” is right and I don’t know, but Pusha’s still one of my favorite rappers, for lines like “energized like the bunny for drug money.” The album has two features, Rick Ross and Kanye. Rick Ross is featured on “Hard Piano,” a song with, you guessed it, piano-based beat and raps “from Honda Accords to Grammy Awards.” As the driver of an ’04 Accord, I can appreciate this a lot. The feeling of driving one is the exact opposite of what I’d imagine winning a Grammy is like. “Santeria” was one of my favorite songs on the album, probably in part because I just learned about Santeria, an Afro-Cuban religion (in short, it’s a mix of Yoruba religion and Christianity), in my theology class last semester. While learning about it, I never though that knowledge would be applicable to understanding the rap lyrics of Pusha T, but here we are. Jesuit education at its finest. The song itself is mostly about the death of a close friend and is one of the few instances in which Pusha confronts drug dealing’s dark side directly without glorification. The results are harrowing.
Kanye was a big part of the album. He produced the entire project and is featured on the penultimate song, “What Would Meek Do.” His verse on the song is better than his other recent output, but it’s still not great. He probably does more to hurt than help when he starts rambling about how wearing a MAGA hat will stop a black man from being racially profiled. This is the crux of Kanye’s recent Trump support. His belief is that in order to move past racism, black people have to love and embrace the white supremacists who show them nothing but hatred and contempt. It’s not very convincing and what’s worse is that it distracts from Pusha’s great album in a completely ego-driven way. Pusha, for what it’s worth, was a staunch Hillary Clinton supporter for her stance on criminal justice reform and his verse on the song is much better (“angel on my shoulder what should we do? Devil on the other, what would Meek do?”). As far as production, Kanye has returned to sampling older soul music, something he helped popularize at the start of his career on The Blueprint and College Dropout, among others. He’s clearly been influenced by his former mentor’s similar work on Jay-Z’s 4:44 last year. Overall, the album is great, possibly the best rap album of the year (Diddy is already calling it a classic).
The closing track, “Infrared,” has gotten the most attention since its release for its several shots at Drake, such as “It was written like Nas, but it came from Quentin,” alluding to Drake’s ghostwriter Quentin Miller. He continued “How could you ever right these wrongs when you don’t even write your songs,” a reference to a Drake line from “Poetic Justice,” which is itself a reference to a Kanye line on “Touch the Sky.” Pusha and Drake have been taking shots back and forth at each other since I was in middle school. Drake took less than 24 hours to respond to the diss with “Duppy Freestyle” (duppy is Patois for ghost). The track opens with Drake bemoaning “I’m in shock, the never, the audacity,” followed by a long sigh. He then calls out the hypocrisy of Pusha coming after him when Kanye had to ask Drake for help with two songs on his last album and claims Pusha’s drug-dealing tales are hyperbolic. He closed the diss saying that he’s going to invoice Ye for the extra attention Pusha’s album is getting from dissing him and he later posted an invoice for $100,000 on Instagram. That’s cold-blooded and also hilarious at the same time somehow. I can’t really give an unbiased opinion about which diss was better, but these are probably just the opening shots in a feud that will continue up through Drake’s Scorpion is released on June 29th.