On a warm winter weeknight in January 2016, the Virginia Beach rapper Pusha T performed at a Vice-sponsored Toronto concert at which he simultaneously was and was not the headliner. He was top-billed, though it was advertised as a “hologram party,” and he told The Globe and Mail that evening that not even he knew what celebrity the media company might have been planning to beam in.
Over time, several surprises unfolded. The hologram turned out to be the comedian Eric Andre, and the crowd, hoping for a musical guest, largely talked through the bit or visited the open bar. And the album Pusha had been teasing for months – King Push, for which he’d just released a “prelude” record called Darkest Before Dawn – wound up being delayed for an extra 2½ years.
The Globe and Mail patiently held onto the seven-minute interview, waiting to publish when King Push finally hit the public. It never did, though Pusha revealed last year that the album had been repeatedly scrapped and rebuilt as its producer, Kanye West, tinkered with its beats. On Friday, Pusha finally delivered his next long-anticipated record – the first of many forthcoming West projects – calling it Daytona. The album is a tight 21-minute showcase of dark, slinky West production, drawing out the best of Pusha’s signature fierce, crisp cadences.
In his dressing room before the hologram party all those years ago, the former Clipse member talked to The Globe about production, his mentor West and West’s label G.O.O.D. Music, of which Pusha was named president in late 2015.
What made you decide to put out a prelude before King Push?
The Prelude was simply because I wanted to round up my fans. There’s a certain way I like to make music and a certain way I think my super-fan likes to hear me. I had these 10 records, and thought, I wanna hear my album just like this. Linear, dark, mean, straight-ahead. I just felt my fans would appreciate it.
Did you take the same approach with King Push, or is it different? [At the time of this interview, King Push was rumoured to be finished, but Pusha later said producer West had scrapped it three times to improve upon the beats.]
I wouldn’t say completely different, but I would say King Push will have a little bit more colour. It’s less linear than The Prelude was. I feel like The Prelude was one straight line – selfishly done by myself, hah. But there’s definitely a few more peaks and valleys here.
You said King Push will be the album of the year [in 2016], but you’re incredibly loyal to Kanye. And with Waves [the album West released the following month, renamed The Life of Pablo] he promised it’ll be the “album of the life.” Are you willing to share in this year’s acclaim?
I just want mine to be the album of the year. So we both can have it. [Laughs] He can have the album of the life.
How has your day-to-day life changed since you became president of G.O.O.D. Music?
My day-to-day life hasn’t changed, man. Being the president of G.O.O.D. Music is just about being on the pulse of what’s going on in the culture and trying to turn that into ways to engage the fan and heighten the creativity level, heighten the art level, the musicality. It’s what we’ve been doing at G.O.O.D. Music for such a long time now. I’m still an artist, so I have to do that anyway. So my day-to-day life hasn’t changed too much.
G.O.O.D. Music almost feels like the world’s most interesting mentorship program.
That’s part of what I’m about – mentoring. Especially now, in the social-media age, an age where everything isn’t so structured. I feel like the young creatives of today have to know their worth. And nowadays when you look at it, even stiff corporate guys, they’re looking at the young, cool, hip, mail-room guy to get the pulse of the culture. It’s not a lot of ways that you can monetize cool and knowing. So we have to figure that out, simply because you don’t want to be taken advantage of.
That’s what I try to impress upon young creatives: Know your worth, stick to your guns, stay creative, but also have a business about it. We’re just trying to push forward the culture, and push forward creativity as a whole. For my field specifically, music, I’m in it and I love it. I feel like where it is now, this is probably the most freedom creatives have had in a long time. We’ve gotta nurture it, protect it and keep it going.
When you’re looking for production, what turns you on to a track?
Unorthodox grooves. I really found my way on Darkest Before Dawn by doing that a little bit. Unorthodox beats help me find different flows. I feel like they’re intimidating to a lot of other people, and once you crack the code on that flow or on that beat, you’re damn near guaranteed a flawless record.
This interview has been edited and condensed.