Keep Dealing: On Pusha T’s “Puppets (Succession Remix)”

The veteran MC was recently tapped to add bars to the HBO series' slapper of a theme song. Dean Van Nguyen investigates.
By    October 16, 2019

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Dean Van Nguyen always wins the sausage when he plays Boar on the Floor.

Pusha T ostensibly raps from the perspective of one of the Roy children on “Puppets (Succession Remix)” but maybe he’s more like their malevolent father, Logan Roy. In rap game survival terms, 42-years old might as well be 80 and, despite all attempts to depose him, King Push is still right at the top. As we call into question Justin Timberlake’s cultural footprint over the last decade, it’s extremely pleasing to see it’s one of the rappers that helped launch the pop star’s coming out single all the way back in 2002, remains near the height of his relevancy.

HBO’s Succession is obviously a pop culture phenom right now, with the Nicholas Britell’s memorable theme music engaging in its own hostile takeover of the cultural zeitgeist. An official rap remix weirdly makes sense. We first meet Kendall Roy psyching himself up to the sounds of Beastie Boys’ “To The Five Boroughs.” And, let’s be honest, you haven’t gotten this far into this article without thinking about “L to the OG,” the buck-fucking-wild rap King Kendall performs live in honor of his bewildered father. A line like, “My boy Squiggle cooked up this beat for me” deserves its own Emmy. Maybe Kendall is destined for Freshman of the Year status—if the Roys buy Succession universe version of XXL.

Back in reality, Britell was certainly lying when discussing the making of “Puppets (Succession Remix),” he spoke about Pusha in the most glowing terms: “There was only one person on the list of people to reach out to. Of course it had to be Pusha. There was no backup, there was no plan B.” But that doesn’t mean that the Virginia coke rapper’s record of covering wealth, opulence, and the pursuit of power doesn’t make an excellent pick. “The company I keep ain’t corporate enough,” he spit on “If You Know You Know.” Now, Push enters the mindset of a player in the Waystar Royco boardroom.

Despite being dubbed an “official remix”, with input from Britell and the blessing of HBO, “Puppets” feels more like a mixtape cut than a single. It’s short and to the point. To my ear, the audio quality is slightly lossy, with Britell turning the bass way up, presumably because he felt a rap song demanded it. The chorus feels quickly assembled, with Pusha slowly punching out single words that sound like they’re from the show’s first pitch to network executives—“family, fortune, envy, jealousy.”

It’s on the verse that Pusha cuts deeply into the Roy kids, exploring their insecurities and feelings of powerlessness. “When the love’s gone and the hate’s there/ Better watch out, ‘cause it’s Cape Fear/ When your family ain’t your family/ And your legacy is just a name there.” Pusha voices what the Roys either can’t see or can’t bring themselves to discuss: what is the use of having billions if it means selling out, surrounding, and sacrificing your own children?

Though he might not rap with the precision of “Infrared,” Pusha’s voice sounds great over Britell’s famed tinkling piano keys and haunting symphony. The star naturally blends with Succession because both the show and his body of work carry a similar theme: whatever figure is in your bank account, the American dream isn’t always visible through the dirt. Wherever you are on the spectrum, capitalism is always just different numbers on the board.

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