Secret Meeting score: 83
by Phil Scarisbrick
It is very rare that the main source of intrigue for a new record is its producer. Occasionally, they do gain a prominent billing: Rick Rubin’s helmsmanship on Johnny Cash’s American series, for example, was used as a promotional tool, but never overshadowed Cash himself from being the focus of attention. When Kanye West announced through his now infamous Twitter account on Thursday that Pusha T’s new album – DAYTONA, was to be released the following day, it was soon trending worldwide. The album, produced entirely by West, seemed to be primarily gaining interest because of his involvement. Given his recent headline-grabbing behaviour (either a complete meltdown, serious character flaws or an extreme example of performance art depending on your viewpoint), it is not hard to see why his involvement would get people talking.
Completed only two days before its release, DAYTONA is a frenetic seven-track, 21 minute joyride of flamboyantly intense hip-hop. Opening track – If You Know You Know, is backed by a beat that is quintessentially Kanye. With its use of the human voice as a percussive tool, it compliments T’s rich, focussed flow. Littered with pop culture references ranging from The Sopranos to Watch The Throne, the song reads like a manifesto for his aspirations and achievements. The Games We Play carries on where its predecessor left off with another sublime West beat and T reflecting on his criminal past. Firing out lines like, “These are the games we play/we are the names they say/This is the drug money your ex-n*gga claim he makes,” he compares the similarities to the rise of a rap star with the rise of a cocaine dealer.
Hard Piano features a collaboration with fellow Def Jam alumni, Rick Ross. Backed by jarring percussion and finger clicks, here he takes aim at everything from the fickle nature of social media lifestyles to alleged Hollywood sex pests: Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer. This is one of the most considered yet intense moments on the record. Come Back Baby is a love letter to the narcotics that Push both partakes in, but also has made money from. A subject matter that may be unsavoury to some, but presented here from a perspective that differs from those that are usually considered acceptable in the on-going ‘War On Drugs’.
Santeria is Push at his most unguarded, as he discusses the tragic murder of his friend and road manager: De’Von ‘Day Day’ Pickett. Backed by a beat that feels more like something from the West Coast’s production Godfather, Dr. Dre, with its soulful guitar licks and intense bass lines, Push uses Santeria – or The Way Of The Saints – to communicate with his fallen brother. This Cuban religion uses mediums and divination to communicate with spirits, and here he utilises to tell his friend that he is battling for vengeance.
What Would Meek Do? is the classic hip-hop ‘beef’ song. The only track on the record to feature Kanye vocally, it sees the two square off against others who have called them out previously. In 2016, Drake took aim at Push as well as Kid Cudi and Meek Mill in his song Two Birds, One Stone, co-produced by Kanye. While Push focuses on his successes to hit back, Kanye addresses his recent controversial behaviour with lines like, ‘If you ain’t drivin’ while black, do they stop you?/Will MAGA hats let me slide like a drive-thru?’
Final track – Infrared, once again takes aim at other rappers who feels aren’t ‘real’. He specifically targets Drake, dusting off the regularly used putdown that he uses ghost writers. ‘Believe in myself and the Coles and the Kendricks/Let sock puppets play in their roles and gimmicks,’ he fires, paying respect to J.Cole and Kendrick Lamar while dismissing Drake for simply mimicking authenticity. It is a barnstorming closer to this short, sharp burst of brilliance.
So does the focus on Kanye’s input really overshadow the fact that this is a Pusha T record? Well, yes and no. His acquisition of the cover photo – a candid shot from the bathroom where the late Whitney Houston perished – seems to be getting more airtime than any other element of the record. This is wholly unfair. What Kanye has given Push, in reality, is the perfect platform to showcase his talents both promotionally and production wise. The beats may follow a familiar construction, but they sound too fresh and exciting to simply be Yeezy-by-numbers. Being the first of several new projects West has coming out in the next few months, Push more than holds his own under the weight of his involvement. It is his finest solo album and showcases his growing talents as the focussed verses ooze style and emotional range. Though its release may be dominated by Kanye-centric stories, it is no bad thing as it will allow a much wider audience to appreciate this 21 minute thrill ride.