May 30, 2013

Pusha-T11Joshua Lerner is keeping these clothes.

In recent years, I thought that Pusha T had devolved into a gravel-mouthed sidekick to Kanye West.There was that time when he strolled on stage to perform “Run Away” at the VMA Awards. He was a little brother in a peachy suit, making little impression next to his leader’s blood red get-up. Even on “New God Flow” which is catalogued officially as a Pusha T song, Kanye outshines him with that climactic, sanctified final verse.

I always liked Pusha T, though, and I was really glad to see him back in center stage a little while back on “Numbers on the Boards.” It’s as enticing a track as Pusha T is capable of these days, and I found myself listening to it on repeat when it recently popped up as a single on Spotify. It’s true there have been more recent incarnations of this song—Julian Malone, then Jonwayne, as was discussed earlier on the site—and it’s no wonder why so many have made use of that Don Cannon beat. The syncopated layers and the pedal-tone swelling of the production is downright hypnotizing. Say what you will about Jonwayne’s being the better rendition. But there’s no denying that all that computerized clunking is a great counterpoint for Pusha T to rap about the subject he knows best: himself. More specifically, how good he is at selling cocaine to white people.

Pusha’s style these days seems more suited for the mixtape than the major release. He really has no sense of hook, and he doesn’t seem too interested in traditional song structure. So he’s well suited to a track like this, a spacey thing with enough sonic space to let loopy rhymes like these live in the foreground: “I see flaw, cracks in your diamonds, CB4 when you rhyme simple Simon, come and meet the pieman…” And he’s witty enough to cut the whole final bar so the final self-defining quip can breathe: “I might sell a brick on my birthday, 36 years of doing dirt like it’s Earth Day.”

As a side note, I appreciate Pusha T making overt a trend that has been intensifying in recent years: rap’s mutual fascination with the celebrity world of basketball. In Pusha’s mind, any game can be akin to hooping. The rap game, the drug game, it makes little difference. Hip hop’s increasing name checking of Lebron and Wade and Rose cannot be ignored. Nor can we pass over the nostalgia factor, like Tree giving ups to Karl Malone. Meanwhile, basketball icons have become fashion icons, and Lil Wayne is pouring drinks for the Bulls bench for handing it to the Heat in Game 1. We are approaching something like synergy.

Which makes you wonder. If rappers are so in touch with the hard-court glitterati, why do they continue to shout out Derrick Rose, even after so many of his hometown fans have turned their backs? Pusha T compares himself to Rose and Michael in this track. Which of course makes me love it more. Maybe it’s that Kanye influence again. Hey, if I were a rapper I’d be doing the same thing. I’m from Chicago. I’ll take it.

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