What a time to be a Pusha T fan. With the release of King Push – Darkest Before the Dawn: The Prelude and the promise of its spiritual sequel, King Push, coming in April, Pusha has truly reached a prolific peak.
Nonetheless, it was difficult to not be slightly ambivalent about a ‘prelude’ album; would this be a cohesive work able to stand on its own merits or would it just pave the way for superior material? After soaking in each track in a two-day binge, I can loudly and definitively proclaim that this is no mere precursor. Darkest Before the Dawn is a dark, confident and engrossing album. Its success also belongs fully to Pusha, despite a vast array of established producers and collaborators.
He is not simply acquiring a beat but has an agenda in creating dark, jagged, experimental music with little to no interest in crossover melodies
Pusha T’s first full-length solo album, My Name is My Name, was an impressively constructed, entertaining work but frequently felt indebted to its collaborators. With its Yeezus heavy sound and best verses belonging to artists like Kendrick Lamar, I couldn’t help but feel that in his post-Clipse career, Pusha was a good artist with great friends. In Darkest Before the Dawn Pusha has equipped legendary producers like Timbaland and Diddy and features like A$AP Rocky and Kanye West. The difference here is that they feel well within Pusha’s creative control. First off, he is not simply acquiring a beat but has an agenda in creating dark, jagged, experimental music with little to no interest in crossover melodies. Take Timbaland’s contributions to the album. These are well and truly collaborations with Pusha driving him to go beyond his recent more mainstream work on the TV show Empire into creating one of his eeriest, basiest and best tracks in ‘Untouchable’. He is going out of his comfort zone to make something exponentially superior. ‘M.P.A.’ on the other hand illustrates that any guests on this album are always subservient to Pusha. Any disappointment that I had in realising that its features A$AP and Kanye were only on the chorus was short lived considering how satisfying each of Pusha’s verses are. Yes, the credits feature a who’s who of famous musicians but none of them even begin to eclipse King Push.
Push continues the sentiment of Black Lives Matter, with lines like “I see one time turn sunshine into Freddie Gray” and “America, you need a miracle/Beyond spiritual”
The standout track of the album is the powerful and provocative ‘Sunshine’. It is a simple yet hard-hitting reflection on the continued violence and persecution that African Americans are subjected to throughout America. Kendrick Lamar proved earlier this year, when ‘Alright’ became the unofficial soundtrack of the Black Lives Matter movement, that the simplest statements can often be the most effective. Push continues this sentiment, with lines like “I see one time turn sunshine into Freddie Gray” and “America, you need a miracle/Beyond spiritual”. This is where the biggest disappointment of Darkest Before Dawn lies though; Pusha is clearly adept at writing politically conscious introspective rap. For most of the album however, he insists on harking back to the same themes of his past work, most prominently his drug dealer turned rapper narrative. To have seen these heavy and unnerving beats put together with more lyrics like ‘Sunshine’ could have elevated this record to the next level and made it one for the ages.
Here’s hoping that King Push more consistently stretches Pusha T lyrically. For now though we have a cohesive, atmospheric album with Pusha’s usual captivating flow and great beats.