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Pusha T offers food for thought (and a lot of drugs)

"King Push - Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude"

Release date: 18 December 2015
Pusha T Darkest Before Dawn The Prelude
21 December 2015, 14:15 Written by Grant Rindner
King Push - Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude is very much a mixtape style release, but it succeeds thanks to Pusha T’s menacing charisma and a laundry list of producers that is too big to fail. It isn’t as mesmerizing as My Name is My Name, but succeeds as a holdover for the G.O.O.D. Music president as he preps his next project, King Push.

At a lean ten tracks, Pusha T’s new record isn’t going to earn him any new fans, but for people who’ve been jonesing for pure cocaine rap it will certainly serve as a satisfying fix. The beats are grim as always, and there are still few rappers out there who can find as many ways to discuss a single topic (selling drugs) as the Virginia spitter.

For those who stick through the first nine songs, closer “Sunshine” provides some welcome theme diversification. Aided by Jill Scott on the hook, Pusha tackles some of the loftier issues in America, including police brutality and biased media. Because of his biting wit and intelligence he actually succeeds more than most rappers when they attempt to make food for thought music.

“In order to be me, you gotta see what Chief Keef see/Brenda’s baby next door to the candy lady/Same project as candyman where they still doing hand-in-hands,” he spits over a droning instrumental from Kanye West, DJ Mano and trap technician Baauer.

The presence of Timbaland on Darkest Before Dawn represents an intriguing development, but with the exception of “Got ‘Em Covered” the superproducer largely paints within the colors of Pusha’s bleak universe. The track is reminiscent of MNiMN standout “Suicide,” right down to the Ab-Liva feature, and both have a squirmy, frenetic sound that is a departure from their respective projects.

Just like previous Pusha releases, there are plenty of high profile guests lending their vocal talents to Darkest Before Dawn. Beanie Siegel brings back the Broad Street bully for a grimy good time on “Keep Dealing,” and newcomer Kehlani provides an ominous hook on the combative “Retribution.”

West, A$AP Rocky and The-Dream all converge on “M.P.A.,” a parable about the evils of excess that’s a bit too relaxed and contemplative. It channels the expensive sound of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s “Blame Game” and “Gorgeous,” with its shimmering piano and minimalist guitar, but while Pusha deviates a bit from his modus operandi the song still features a ton of snow talk.

“Money, pussy, alcohol, what a wonderful cocktail/Fronted my first brick over oxtails and ran with it/Dope is like a two-way street/The addiction, both you and me, now take a seat,” Pusha says.

Unfortunately, the track lacks the confessional quality that West was able to imbue MBDTF with, and his trio of star collaborators are relegated to intro and hook duties. The track could have really shined with verses from West and Rocky, but instead stands as a glorified Pusha solo cut.

Still, there aren’t many rappers as engaging on the mic as King Push, and he’s a true show-stopper when he builds momentum on each verse. He experiments with different deliveries and cadences on the noir “Untouchable,” and spits some of his most colorful drug dealing bars on “F.I.F.A.,” which features a head-snapping beat from Q-Tip.

Darkest Before Dawn wasn’t meant to be a groundbreaking album, more an appetite whetting for the impending release of King Push. It isn’t overly ambitious, but after more than two years without an official release it is still a treat to hear Pusha T, even if he stays largely in his cocaine comfort zone.

On “Crutches, Crosses, Caskets” Pusha likens himself to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig, a wunderkind who came out of nowhere to have a historically impactful rookie season. It’s ultimately a pretty poor comparison, because while Puig has struggled with consistency throughout his brief career, King Push has given us nothing but solid work from Lord Willin’ to the present.

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