It’s not about volume, but purity.
Back in 2015, Pusha-T released King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude (based on the novel Push by Sapphire?), a dubiously titled appetizer designed to hold fans over until his sophomore solo effort, King Push proper, would be ready for the masses. That 10-track mishmash of solid-to-good outings felt like an overlong EP or a modest mixtape, but few considered it a particularly potent body of work. Three years later, Pusha is back with Daytona, the album everyone’s been waiting for, only it’s three tracks and 12 minutes shorter than the prelude that preceded it.
With the glut of bloated hip hop albums stacked with filler to juke streaming stats, a seven-song offering feels shrewd. If Howard Hawks considered a great movie “three good scenes and no bad ones,” Pusha’s criminally minimalist executive producer Kanye West seems to feel similarly about album running times, given the seven-track mandate every June-releasing G.O.O.D. Music album is purported to have. But unlike West’s own messy release ye, Daytona succeeds largely because of its efficient length and tasteful reduction.
When Pusha first went solo from Clipse a decade ago, his early efforts all felt like a man getting used to being responsible for all the verses on a track for the first time in his life. He regularly did guest spots or released tracks with special features to make up for his brother Malice’s absence. On Daytona, West’s production, working (mostly) solo for the first time in years, takes notes from Rick Rubin’s minimalist style. Leaving only Pusha’s voice, sparse drums, soul samples and artful chops produces a more concentrated sound, one as pure as the cocaine referenced throughout. It’s a far cry from the Pusha who’s spent a career destroying the weirdest, most outré-soundscapes from the Neptunes, but Kanye’s vision for Pusha lines well with his personal influences, namely the RZA and Raekwon pairing of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…
With the exception of a mediocre verse from West himself on the otherwise skeletal “What Would Meek Do?” and a pretty well-cast cameo from fellow coke rap monarch Rick Ross on the somewhat busy-sounding “Hard Piano,” every track is brutal, methodical and luxurious. It feels like a Wu album stripped entirely of skits and kung fu movie samples. Opening track “If You Know You Know” is so ruthlessly defiant, with Pusha feeding his fanbase the kind of no-frills dope music fewer and fewer artists make in today’s landscape. The discourse surrounding the album will no doubt focus on the Drake and Lil Wayne disses on closing number, “Infrared,” as well as the circus around Kanye’s politics, but what will get lost in the media shuffle is how undeniably good Pusha sounds on this release.
He’s always been a razor-sharp lyricist who puts passion and care into every line, but he’s had a tendency to sound like a blunt instrument at times, the old-head shooter of the G.O.O.D. Music crew there merely for street credibility and rude-boy savagery. But throughout Daytona’s seven songs, there’s a refinement to his on-wax aura, presenting himself as an older, sager throwback in a world full of Lil Yachtys. As he says on “Hard Piano,” “I’m too rare amongst all of this pink hair.”
But he’s not Joe Budden, running around and shitting on the youth. He’s merely asserting a lane for himself in 2018, releasing a hard-edged, luxury rap album shorter than an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” It’s a fascinating flex, taking three years to release a project this petite, but as with the narcotics Pusha has rapped about for decades, it’s not about volume, but purity.