For approximately 3 months in 9th grade, I thought Pusha-T’s voice belonged to Cyhi Da Prynce. In my defense, I had just started seriously listening to music and they were almost always on GOOD Friday singles together. Once I cleared up the case of mistaken identity, I was hooked on Terrence Thornton. Here’s a brief summary of what he’s been up to since then:
Fear of God sucked so bad we collectively repressed the memory of “Touch It”, but Part II was a great record that answered the question of whether Pusha-T could survive in a rap ecosystem a decade removed from Clipse’s debut album. Wrath of Caine took a darker approach, with a sonic template indebted to a young Travi$ $cott and the drill movement. 2013’s My Name Is My Name pushed that envelope further, the beats starker and weirder, the rapping somehow even sharper and more vicious. Darkest Before Dawn, the nominal prelude to King Push, took the darker tone of MNIMN further, cutting the radio friendly guest features of his first two solo albums in favor of a more insular approach.
And now we’re here: DAYTONA, a 7 track EP being billed as an album, solely produced by Kanye West himself. A lot has changed since Pusha first signed to GOOD Music, but he remains a committed stoic, a cocaine-dealing superhero, more myth than man. But stoicism by any other name is stagnancy, and the cracks in Pusha’s armor have never been more apparent.
When it comes to subject matter, DAYTONA breaks no new ground, but no one came to a Pusha record for anything else. But have his drug talk and luxury boasts ever sounded so uninspired? Dated references to Pink Floyd, Raekwon, and Al Roker bring to mind classic tweets about generational divides. And while Pusha has never tried branding himself as “woke,” hearing him say “I won’t let you ruin my dreams or Harvey Weinstein the kid / Good morning, Matt Lauer, can I live?” on “Hard Piano” is jarring and gross. And Pusha’s propensity for weak and/or maudlin hooks hasn’t changed; “Hard Piano” and “Santeria” come bearing egregiously awkward choruses, while “Games We Play” and “What Would Meek Do?” only avoid such mishaps by paring hooks down to a single line or bar.
And on the topic of stagnancy and cracked armor, executive producer Mr. West does not acquit himself well. The inverted-”Bound 2” structure of “Come Back Baby” is gnarly and inspired, and both “Santeria” and “What Would Meek Do?” carry the atmosphere of a certain Elm Street. But the remaining tracks carry little charm or menace; they scan as tired retreads of his early work, before he was the first rapper with a Benz and a backpack. “Games We Play” is the only nostalgia play that works, anchored by a dusty, loping piano line, horn stabs and an earworm of a guitar riff.
The features are fine, unlikely to make you feel any type of way. Rick Ross’s verse holds no new surprises, save that Ross is, for some reason, still rapping? Kanye continues doubling down on his beloved MAGA hat; to answer his questions, no, he isn’t too complex for ComplexCon, what 2Pac wouldn’t do is endorse Donald Trump, and who wants to know what a seven pill night feels like anyway? Continuing an annoying trend from “Ye vs. The People,” he ends the verse with a 4th-wall break; never before has Mr. West been so desperate for public validation, and so unlikely to receive it.
Ultimately the only thing surprising about DAYTONA is the thing I least expected: the spark is gone. Whatever made Pusha-T rap with demented glee alongside Tyler, the Creator, the disdain he had for your lesser luxuries, none of it is present. What’s left is some shit for the old heads. I hope Joe Budden enjoyed it.