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Pusha T’s ‘My Name Is My Name’ Is Too Ambitious to Fail

Pusha T / Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty Images
SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: October 08, 2013
Label: G.O.O.D. Music

When the Clipse finally dissolved after a decade-plus as critical darlings and major-label hostages (those situations often being synonymous before the Internet Rap Renaissance), felled by the disappointing street/boardroom half-compromise of 2009’s ‘Til the Casket Drops, the two MCs headed off in radically different directions. Malice morphed into Christian rapper No Malice; meanwhile, Pusha T went for it, linking up with Kanye West as a self-serious cog in the busy G.O.O.D. Music machine. His subsequent solo work (mixtapes Fear of God and Wrath of Caine, plus the 2011 album Fear of God II: Let Us Pray) felt joyless and perfunctory, lacking in his crafty punch-line spark. He was out of place and uncomfortable: a crack-rap hero relegated to art-radio-rap second banana.

My Name Is My Name is a vast improvement, using Yeezy’s beautiful, dark, twisted baroque-rap moves to serve Pusha’s legend, rather than the opposite. Even the goofiest one-liners seem coy rather than contrived (“Rage against the machine, black Zack de la Rocha / In a cranberry ‘Rossa, inside track on the G Rap poster”); that kind of post-lyrical “Clunker or Heater?” game was always part of Clipse’s charm. Plus, the slow-rolling, kitchen-sink production style that defines G.O.O.D. right now matches Pusha’s Old-Testament-kind-of-guy persona, every fiery line aimed at every dude who hasn’t done the dirt he did launched into a messy maelstrom of moving parts for maximum impact. Dying Auto-Tune soul moans and Vegas-chintzy synths make Hudson Mohawke’s “Hold On” beat appropriately half-triumphant; thanks to Kanye and DJ Mano, stalwart real-hip-hop samples (ESG’s “U.F.O,” Mountain’s “Long Red”) meet melting dubstep on the genuinely triumphant “Who I Am”; the Kanye-produced “Pain,” a mean-mugging march of money-machine flickers, gunshots, and taiko percussion, suggests Pusha as an unstoppable avenging force, the rap game Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb from Raising Arizona.

But when a Jay-Z sample is shoved into “Numbers on the Board” because why the hell not, it has the strange side effect of reminding you that Pusha refuses to indulge his energetic side anymore. Nowadays he’s riffing on the slow, fumbling, declarative delivery of Kanye and crew, and, well, he’s just better and flashier than that. ‘Ye is a selfish benefactor, and the downside of affiliating with G.O.O.D. is that plenty of elements on My Name Is My Name clash with Pusha’s street bona-fides: Phony-baloney d-boy Rick Ross shows up on “Hold On,” undermining a song that calls out rappers that ain’t never sold dope IRL, while de rigueur rap & bullshit featuring Chris Brown (trying to sound like the Weeknd), The-Dream (likewise), and Kelly Rowland (doing anonymous hook-diva heavy lifting, because Pusha has no time for these kinds of songs) tend to render the headliner anonymous.

Don’t tell King Push, but My Name Is My Name bears a weird resemblance to Drake’s Nothing Was the Same: Here is another deeply considered collection of top-shelf beats and uncompromising-though-still-pop-enough raps that justifies the fairly awful personalities driving it, which, depending on your tolerance for wounded narcissism and a complete lack of insight, is either fascinating or frustrating. Kanye and all the production cosigns he can bring to this thing (Don Cannon, Pharrell Williams, and Swizz Beatz all contribute apocalyptic hip-pop) make this record too ambitious to fail; Pusha T, forever an outlier even when he had clubby crack-rap hits, has finally made a solo project that isn’t totally beneath him, even if parts of it still are.

Was it worth it? That’s the question he’s posed from day one: At what cost, success? He could do far worse, but he could do better.