This is a photo of Pusha T with a tiny crocodile
In the dimly lit green room of a VICE studio in Brooklyn, Pusha T leans back on the squeaky leather couch, and laughs. And then he laughs again. And again. And again. Not knowing what to do, I pause my interview questions, wait an awkward moment, staring at him, unsure of what’s next because, seriously, Pusha T—a rapper who’s built an entire career on cocaine raps about pushing drugs and creating general menace—cannot stop laughing.
“Man, I didn’t know what to expect,” he says, now through a chortle.
The reason for his laughter is understandable. He’s just told the story of what went through his head as Kanye West grabbed the mic at the release party a few weeks earlier for My Name Is My Name, Pusha’s debut solo record, where ‘Ye went on one of his now infamous rants, which he capped with the simple statement, “THIS IS MUTHAFUCKING PUSHA T.”
Push may chuckle about Kanye’s praise, but that doesn’t change the validity of Kanye’s point. Over the past decade, there have been few rappers who’ve eclipsed the influence of Pusha T. In Clipse, alongside his brother Malice (now No Malice), he established lyrical hip-hop as a Thing you can do and not be lame, pushing the genre to investigate itself, challenging what rap music could sound like with forward-thinking production from the Neptunes, breaking out of the traditional molds while maintaining respect for the heritage. Since going solo, he signed to G.O.O.D. Music, put out a handful of well-respected mixtapes, dropped in a few incredible guest verses (“Runaway” and “Mercy” come to mind), but despite all that, Pusha’s moment is still, somehow, now. And just how does he do that?
Because. This. Is. Muthafucking. Pusha. T.
Noisey: What’s it like to go through this whirlwind of a press cycle for a solo release?
Pusha T: Man. It’s just been really hectic, man. When you’re putting out an album, the rollout is extremely important. Especially for an artist like me—I’m not an artist who gets radio play. I don’t get automatic video play. It’s just a core fan situation. It’s just a cultural thing, meaning in the hip-hop culture and those who are into lyric driven hip-hop. Going to all these places back to back to back to back, all piled in through one week, your year and buildup is piled into one week—interviews I might have if I was a more commercial artist. It all happens in five days.
Is it weird to come out of a creative space and enter this?
Yeah. I mean, this is very tiring. It’s very tiring. I want to be done with this portion, and actually just get back into making music and back into searching for beats and things like that. But, you know, it’s only a week. It’s only a week. [Laughs.]
At this point in your career, is this where you imagined you would be?
I never had expectation of where I’d be 11 years ago, but I can say I’m extremely happy with where I am right now. But there is so much room for me to go further.
Where do you see yourself going?
Oh, I want to be one of the next moguls of hip-hop. I want to perpetuate and grow the hip-hop culture. I want to see hip-hop be around forever and to match the rock ‘n’ roll counterparts, you know, the touring of Eagles and Foreigner. I want to see hip-hop do that.
The genre is finally hitting that place. In a sense, Jay Z is the first classic rock rapper.
Yeah, we’re finally bout to. Jay is the first one. I really hope he is. With so many other things, he’s giving us so much promise. He’s the first generation, to me, of hip-hop that didn’t frown upon what was coming after him. I feel like everyone else—all the other generations before—did frown upon new trends, and that’s why they became dated. Jay is the first one who’s about to show us that you don’t need to be dated in hip-hop, it doesn’t have to be old, which is the same reason why the Rolling Stones can put out an album—whether people think it’s shit or not—but they can do it. And people are looking forward to it. You know, it may not be as good as the one from the ‘70s, but that opportunity and that level of open-mindedness lies within the fans. And I think it’s about to be built like that for hip-hop.
Rap music is in such an interesting place right now, because there seems to be no limits on what it can be. Look at Yeezus—it’s like, a post-punk rap album. What are your thoughts on the genre right?
I love the young rappers in the game. I like that the young rappers are playing by the old school rules of lyricism and cleverness and storytelling and inflections and things like that. I see the cycle coming back to lyricism, where it hasn’t been for a long time. I see how hip-hop is still influencing what’s going on in popular culture, still today.
You say Yeezus, but I don’t put Yeezus in that category. I was with him when he was making that and his whole intent was to not be classified in any rapper category.
I mean, that’s what I mean. That’s what’s so amazing about it.
[Laughs.] Yeah. I’m not going to sit around him and say, “Yeah, man. You’re moving rap forward.” He’d be like, *adopts high-pitched Kanye voice*, “MOTHER FUCKER, I TOLD YOU, I DIDN’T WANT BE AROUND ANY OF YOU RAPPERS.”
This is a photo of Pusha T without a tiny crocodile
Is Kanye just as intense in person as he is in interviews?
Oh yeah, man. [Laughs.] One hundred percent. When he did the rant at my listening party, it’s funny, I was wondering where it was going to go. But more so than anything—we have very candid conversations, man. I’m talking about relationships to our opinions on rap music or rappers, you know, things we will never say publicly. We have very, very specific candid conversations about a lot of stuff, and then when he starts talking publicly, I’m like, wait a minute, do you really want to say this in front of all these people and all these cameras? That was my biggest worry. I love the brash arrogance of Kanye. I mean, we’re rappers, that’s what we’re supposed to like, right? I love that he talks like that. So that wasn’t a big thing to me. But my biggest thing was that I don’t know if I want to let people know our thoughts—me and Kanye—outside of the raps, you know what I’m saying?
Not deserving. People aren’t deserving of that. People are so two-faced. It’s cool, and I can accept that, I just would rather have those conversations in house. I mean, it wasn’t a bad thing. This particular rant wasn’t anything crazy. But for the majority of those type of expressive moments, I’d rather not let people hear it.
Is it weird being famous?
Not to me. I’m not super famous. I’m regular famous. I’m like low-budget famous. Poverty famous. This is poverty fame. [Laughs.] Poverty fame is where I can get into the club—the hip-hop club—with my friends and they’ll give me a table and a bottle. One bottle. One poverty bottle. Not two. Not five. We’re drinking one poverty bottle. But there’s not paparazzi. I’m not paparazzi famous, so it’s not that weird.
It gets a little funny with my mom. I don’t like people talking to my mom. I don’t like any writer talking to my mom. I don’t like people leaving notes on her car at home. I don’t like people talking to her at church. I don’t like people telling her that her son’s in the Illuminati. It’s like, who is saying this? My mom is mid-60s, and I can’t deal with that. That’s a bother. But outside of that, I’m not trippin’.
Eric Sundermann always tries to yell YUGH like Pusha T but sounds like an idiot because he's not Pusha T. Find him on Twitter — @ericsundy