By now Pusha T’s story is familiar with RapReviews readers. As one half of rap group the Clipse, he released three albums and several mixtapes of cold-as-ice coke rap over banging beats. Then Pusha T’s brother Malice found God and decided that rapping about selling drugs conflicted with his values, so Pusha was left on his own as a solo artist. Tired of appealing to a small subsection of music fans, Pusha signed to Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint in an attempt to make fans who weren’t rap nerds or actual drug dealers.
If there was any question that Pusha was going to explore new territory, the title of his mixtape puts that to rest. Pusha’s career has been made rapping about being coke dealer, and he’s not changing gears this far into a good thing. The older he gets, though, the more outlandish and unbelievable his lyrics get. On the Clipse’s “Hell Hath No Fury,” he was a grimy aspiring drug lord. On “Wrath of Caine,” he’s in full Rick Ross mode (the rapper, not the drug dealer), acting as if it makes any sense at all that a criminal mastermind making billions in the drug trade would also be rapping about it. Any sense of reality that was present in the early Clipse material is gone. Pusha is in full-on Hollywood fantasy mode now.
As always, Pusha assumes the persona of a ruthless drug dealer who occaisionally dwells on the horrors his lifestyle has wrought. Pusha hasn’t gone Christian like Malice (now No Malice) has, but his rhymes are full of Biblical imagery. Pusha knows he’s doing the devil’s business, and alternates between celebrating his wicked ways and trying to atone for them, although there isn’t a hell of a lot of atoning on “Wrath of Caine.”
“This is the energy I’ve been missing,” he announces on the opening intro. “A thousand drug dealers with the cruelest intentions.” I don’t know where he is with No Malice’s newfound churchiness, but on the Rick Ross and Kanye assisted “Millions,” he almost seems to be mocking No Malice:
“This shit cook up hard, don’t it
Y’all gotta beg my pardon on it
But this shit sound like God, don’t it?
Yeah, I’m tired nigga
And y’all gotta pay your tithes, nigga
Call my Phantom the Holy Ghost
Church on chrome with tires, nigga”
It all culminates in a chorus of “Millions in the ceiling/Choppers in the closet” over an appropriately bombastic Southside beat.
French Montana guests on “It Doesn’t Matter,” one of several younger artists that Pusha works with on this mixtape. The beat is lethargic and Pusha is in full-on Godfather mode, trying so hard to be serious that he ends up a little ridiculous:
“There’s a meaning to the kissing of the ring
The gods don’t mingle with the mortals
Peasants ain’t sitting with the kings
Goliath ain’t worried about your sling
And Cassius ain’t bothered by your swings”
“Blocka” has Pusha rapping over a dancehall-tinged Young Chop beat. It’s nice to hear a rapper who can actually rap working with Chief Keef’s go-to producer, but Pusha’s half-hearted rhymes about pushing weight sound recycled and tired. He’s makes better use of the melodic Harry Fraud beat on “Road Runner,” although there is some irony in having Pusha brag about being a drug dealer in one bar and then complain about the police profiling him as a drug user in another.
Pusha teams back up with the Neptunes on “Revolution.” The beat, which seems to sample “Take 5,” is miles away from the weird futuristic beats the Chad and Pharrel supplied for the Clipse, but it still makes for the best song on the mixtape. Besides being the most original beat here, in that it doesn’t sound like every other hip-hop song out now, “Revolution” also sees Pusha rapping about his brother and the Clipse. It’s fascinating to hear him describe, in verse, how the brothers went from selling drugs to rapping about them. He also gives some hope to a Clipse reunion. “Never thought a hiatus/Only change/Hi haters.”
Boogz N Tapes continue the terrible rap trend of making the hip-hop equivalent of 80s power ballads on the Wale-assisted “Only You Can Tell It.” Despite the cheesy beat, Pusha manages to get off some good darts like “best nigga to run base since A Rod.” Kevin Gates provides the chorus on the drug dealer romance “Trust You,” offering the ultimate sweet nothing from a drug dealer: “I just might trust you with my drugs/Might trust you with my money, girl.” Meanwhile, Pusha explains “Started out as a fuck mission/who’d have thought that I’d fuck with you?” Aww, true love.
Where “Fear of God Part II” ended on the sorrowful “Alone In Vegas,” Pusha is feeling no such remorse on “Wrath of Caine.” Instead, the mixtape ends with “I Am Forgiven,” with Pusha unapologetic about his lifestyle:
“I ask forgiveness Lord
In hopes of getting more
Then beg forgiveness for the same thing He forgave me for
I wasn’t crazy poor
See I was lazy more
1,000 kilos crosses lines that you can’t ignore”
In some ways, Pusha’s career follows the trajectory of a filmmaker who got his start making gritty hard-boiled crime films and decided to transition to big-budget Hollywood action flicks. He sacrifices some of the artistry that made his early work so interesting and hard-hitting, replacing it with shiny beats and more cartoonish imagery. Pusha’s gone from being this generation’s Ice-T to being a superior version of Rick Ross. The resulting music is fun to listen to, but doesn’t match the power of his earlier work. Still, when Pusha is in his zone rapping about drugs over a Jake One beat on “Take My Life,” it is easy to overlook any of his flaws. “Wrath of Caine” may not be a masterpiece, but it is enough to get you excited for “My Name Is My Name.”