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Hawking the wrong drug never sounded so good on wax. To me at least. Any rap listener worth his/her weight in mp3s understands that we’re currently in the “Molly” era, but as English soccer commentators often proffer “form is temporary, class is permanent.” And if I dare say, cocaine is one classy ass substance – at least when it isn’t being smoked.

Like cocaine, Pusha T has long been tried, tested and approved. As the brasher half of The Clipse, we’ve long known what to expect from Pusha: raw street rap usually derived from alleged experiences in the drug game. When Push embarked on a solo career after the group’s second hiatus, the challenge facing him was whether he was capable of carving out an artistic identity that wasn’t completely beholden to his prior connections to his older brother and the Neptunes. The verses have and will never be a problem with a rapper as good as Pusha T, so he basically has to choose his collaborations wisely and make sure that the production remained on the level his Clipse-era fans had become accustomed to over the years.

I thought he made steps in the right direction on his first two projects under the auspices of G.O.O.D. Music – Fear of God and Fear of God 2. He reached out to new producers and produced a bunch of collaborations – some worked (“Trouble On My Mind” feat Tyler and “Raid” feat 50 Cent), while others failed miserably (“Touch It” feat Kanye and “Feelin Myself” feat Kevin Cossom). Overall, they were slightly above average, at best. But I thought I heard some improvement between those two projects and my criticism of both is limited Pusha’s over-reliance on collaborations, along with a few stinkers on the production end.

So how did Pusha do on Wrath of Caine, the prelude to his retail album My Name Is My Name? If you don’t listen closely enough, you might come to the quick conclusion that Pusha doesn’t really talk about anything other than coke. Well, you’d be right, but as always the charm is in the details. Over an 11-song project, he manages to weave a loose narrative of sorts encompassing (take a deep breath folks): Weapons, banking, storage, broke niggas, broke bitches, broke niggas and bitches’ unwanted opinions, violence, transporting drugs, a career retrospective, authenticity, loyalty, simping, love, crabs in a bucket, friendship, charity and last but not least, absolution. All topped off with a light sheen of cocaine residue and extreme bragadoccio.

Better yet, every Pusha T verse displays intense delivery and personality – maybe even strong enough to make up for his lack of hooks. He’s always been brash, but without Malice around to counter-balance all the flossing and bragging with some remorse, Pusha pretty much evolves into a full-on villain. I literally had to go listen to N.W.A.’s Niggaz 4 Life (the gold standard for cartoonish criminal rap) to give me some perspective.

Add in Pusha’s new fixation with reggae/Yardie culture (someone’s been watching Belly and Shottas a lot lately), varied and consistently excellent production and supplementing his trademark “EGHCK!” with a few more adlibs/vocal tics and what we’re listening to is probably the best rap project of this young year. WOOOOOOOO!

If there’s a flaw to be found, I’d have to point to Pusha’s continued over-reliance on outside assistance for hooks – even though “Millions” suggests that he might be learning a few things from his G.O.O.D. music cohorts (or maybe Rawse wrote that shit for him). Nevertheless, I feel obliged to note that when the guest on a track doesn’t contribute a verse, then there’s no competition or comparison to be had. You don’t compare verses to hooks. In addition, some listeners might have an issue with a few of the guests but I thought they were all welcome (especially Kevin Gates and surprisingly, French Montana), if occasionally redundant. One random reggae guy is enough.

Say what you want about Pusha’s current association with Kanye, but don’t use that as a reason to impugn his credibility or right to rap about drugs. Think about it. Kanye clearly does mounds of cocaine – that’s the only logical explanation for most of his decisions, artistic and otherwise, circa 808s and Heartbreaks on. Pusha T has just upgraded his clientele from Virginia: street corner crackheads to global superstars. That, my friends, is a drug dealer’s dream. Besides, until y’all get Rawse the fuck out the paint, everybody else is good money until further notice…

Download:
ZIP: Pusha T – Wrath of Caine (Left-Click)