Pusha T can sum up his career in one word: “Weird.” For most of hip hop history, an elder statesman of the game (T turns 36 in May) who wasn’t already a well-established superstar was unlikely to break through to audiences constantly seeking the youngest and freshest voices. But either the game has changed, or Pusha T is changing it: He’s on deck with his first official solo album, the Kanye West-produced My Name Is My Name, due out later this spring, and he’s about to embark on a tour that will see him co-headlining with Fabolous. In other words, it’s a good time to be Pusha T. Hive caught up with the rapper last week in Austin, Texas. and he opened up to us about a number of things, including which of the younger acts he’s feeling right now, recording with Kanye, The-Dream and Rick Ross, as well his desire to work with Adele and Andre 3000.
How do you relate to the younger guys who are coming up right now?
I think they’re dope. I’m just a fan of them, you know artistically, but the way that they have these subcultures and these fans that are grown virally, that everybody is so hip and into. I just sort of like and admire the way they grew their fanbase and now they’re bringing it to the mainstream with the MTV-type outlets. I like how they made so much noise in a viral world and in the underground world that people had to reach out to them and make sure that they’re heard and they’re seen. People want to be a part of that.
If the Clipse were starting out right now what do you think it would be like for you?
Oh man, if we were starting out right now I think it would be awesome. Just looking at where hip hop is going, it’s full-circle back to lyric-driven hip hop. It’s full-circle at lyrics and hip hop fundamentals. I’m watching people give guys like Kendrick Lamar the platform to just be real artists and admire the fundamentals and technique of what a guy like Kendrick Lamar does, which is just very raw, true-to-form hip hop and lyricism.
It seems like in the past in hip hop, you couldn’t peak late. It seems like you’re peaking right now. Is that an opportunity that existed before?
Just looking at it, my career is so weird, in regards to where I am right now. I came out in 2002 with the Clipse, had a platinum album. It took me four years in label limbo to drop probably the most critically-acclaimed album of a hip hop group to not sell massive numbers, Hell Hath No Fury. Then it took me another three years after leaving a label and going to another label. That’s three labels in seven years. I get to Til the Casket Drops album, within there’s like critically-acclaimed mixtapes from the Re-Up Gang and the We Got It For Cheap series, and touring off of that. Probably my lowest point commercially, I started a clothing line called Play Clothes that was based off touring and people being into what I was wearing. I started that when I wasn’t even popping musically and now it’s five years later and we’re still here and now the brand is growing. Everything has happened so backwards for my career. Me being where I am right now, I don’t know what to say for it. It’s crazy.
Have there been times in the past 10 years that you couldn’t see yourself being where you are right now?
No, not really. My peers always made me feel that I was underrated. The people always said I was underrated. I’ve always been embroiled and combative with the top-tier MCs. Regardless of what type of platform I was on or how low I was on with commercial success we’ve always been talked to by the top MCs. If somebody throws shots at the Clipse it was from the top guys. How did you guys even hear us? But they did. It’s things like that that kept us alive. We’ve always really been a threat. Now just me as a soloist, the flood gates have just opened. Like shots everywhere.
How are you getting ready for My Name Is My Name?
I feel like it’s really just a classic album. I’m so excited about it. I’m putting it together competitively in my mind with the great classic albums that I love from the past. I want to have pieces of Life After Death on this album. I want to have pieces of Hard Knock Life, Volume 2 by Jay-Z on this album. I want to have pieces of Harlem World, Mase on this album and then I’ll sprinkle the rest with Purple Tape. I’m going to do it all in thirteen records. I’m at eleven records right now and the last two records I’m not trying to compromise, so it’s taking a little bit. I told everybody last week I was in Paris and I was going to finish up the album and I lied to them and on Sunday I got to go back and finish it. It’s dope because explaining to Kanye what I want done he gave me that call. I actually landed home from Paris and got the call from him. He was like, “Yo, come back. I got it.”
This was last week?
This was yeah, maybe four days ago. I literally got off the plane and got the call to come back. I’m only having to leave because I have shows and shit that I booked, not knowing when I was going to be out here. It’s a little bit tedious, but it’s just what we’re doing.
Are you excited to get back over to Paris?
Hell yeah, I’m ready to go. I’m not even going home. I’m gonna leave from SXSW. Sunday night I’m just going to fly back to Paris.
Did you make the whole album in Paris?
Not the whole album, no. I really finished some of the harder records in Paris, did a lot of those. Really Paris is a few new records and the executive producer’s magic show that he puts on with the album.
When you say you’re making a classic album, is it mostly your voice? Do you have guest spots?
I have a few guest spots. Right now I got Future on the album. I got Rick Ross on the album. I got Kanye on the album. I’ve got The-Dream on the album, vocally.
That’s it. Right now. I may have a couple more. There’s a couple more features I want to get locked in. There’s one in particular if I can get it locked in it’ll be awesome.
It seems like rappers right now are looking back at their place in hip hop history more than they have been in the past. Is that something you have the perspective to do?
I just look at the history of hip hop and I look at the greats and I just look at where we are right now in hip hop. Every young guy right now, new guy, is wanting to be like the ’80s and ’90s. I said it on my mixtape, everybody is so ’80s and ’90s-inspired, but none of ya’ll is ’80s and ’90s-rhyming. Like everybody wants to put the look on. Everybody wants to wear their outfit. I think it’s really dope that Ecko made Joey Bada$$ creative director, and when I look at Joey Bada$$, he’s really giving me that throwback Polo/Hilfiger/Grand Puba vibe. He’s got it down to science. It’s really dope. He’s one of the young guys who I can tell he’s a student. He’s rapping and penning it. He’s getting his wordsmith thing going on. That’s a good thing to look at. They’re historians of it. They’re learning from the good guys. You can tell what book they read out of when you see their art. I think it’s dope. It’s been what I’ve been saying all the time. That’s the one thing that’s been keeping me alive and afloat. I’ve been here for ten years. With all the things that have been changing in hip hop, with all the different genres and subcultures, if I just stay lyric-driven I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine forever. I’m here.
At SXSW, you had Public Enemy, Ice Cube and LL Cool J playing on one stage, and the line was around the block. Everybody wanted to see that. Ten years ago that would have been like, “Oh, that’s weird. Who wants to see those washed-up guys?” Is it good for hip hop that people really care about the idea of seeing a show like that?
First of all, it’s awesome for hip hop because hip hop is the youngest music. Correct? If we’re talking about hip hop vs. rock. Hip hop is late ’70s, ’77. So when you look at rock, and when I’m looking at the year-end lists and I see the Eagles on the top of the touring list and I look at the Rolling Stones, when I look at U2, when I look at all these guys that have been in rock for a trillion years. I don’t even fucking know how old Mick Jagger is, man, and they’re touring today, selling out. They’re on the top of the touring list. I think it’s good to see our hip-hop forefathers, guys who are so instrumental and key in everything we do. I think it’s dope that they are still touring.
What’s exciting to you about hip hop right now?
I do like the TDE wave, the Kendrick, the Ab-Soul, J-Rock and the Schoolboy Q. I like what it is that they do. I think they bring a different spin to it. To me, when I look at them and I hear them, I hear a little bit edgier Hieroglyphics, to me. It’s edgier, it has a little more battle aesthetic. It’s not that they battle rap. They’re just so technical in their words. That’s something that just comes with that type of mindset. I just like that a lot. It’s a departure from what I’m used to and what I gravitate to. I’m strictly street hip hop. I think that edge opens my ear up to it a little bit more.
But you also did a song with Tyler, the Creator a couple of years ago.
Yeah. Tyler’s really a student of what I came up with, with that whole Neptune, Star Trak-wave. He knows so much. When you listen to him and you listen to Earl, especially Earl, Earl has a real hip hop aesthetic, lyrically. These guys are into raps, like really, really into raps. Whatever the content is, they are into bars. That’s just good for all of these young guys coming in. All of these guys coming in looked at as the new guys — Kendrick, TDE, Tyler, Joey Bada$$. If these guys are rapping then that means these guys are raising the bar and raising the criteria for what comes next. Because you’re not going to hear this and think that you’re not going to have to rap. It was like that for a little bit. Guys were getting into the game without having raps. That’s never been cool in my eyes.
If connections and money were no object, who would you collaborate with?
Fans want to hear me and Jay-Z do a record together. Fans want to hear me do a Pusha T/Jay-Z collaboration. “So Apalled” wasn’t enough for them.
I want to hear that.
On a whole opposite end of the spectrum, I would like to do myself and Adele. I feel like I could get Kanye to do the track of all tracks and I could get Adele to sing the soul of all soul on one of my most introspective records ever, that would be it. One more person I would like to do a record with. I wouldn’t even want to rap with him. I actually only want him to rap on my album, and not even this one — I just want him to rap on a Pusha album – is Andre 3000. I just want to hear him rap. And I would name that song “Fan Moment” and give him the whole three minutes of just raps.
I want to hear all of those, too.
And they’d be like “Why is he on your album?” Because I’m a fan. “Why aren’t you on it?” Because. I don’t rap better than that. I don’t want to rap. I just want to listen to him for a minute and that’s it. That’ll be the last song on my album and it’ll be called “Fan Moment.” You got to put that.