2013 has been a disappointing year for hip hop – one that promised so much, but has failed to deliver. There have been some quality albums from commercial rappers, but classics? Arguably the only genuine contender for that lofty title thus far has been “Yeezus” by Kanye West, and even that album has continued to prove extremely divisive. Thus, the “Album of the Year” spot on has opened up far too easily for Pusha T, finally delivering his solo debut “My Name Is My Name” to the masses. Once you’ve heard it a few times, the similarities to former joints from the Clipse ring true, but with added trademarks of a modern day Kanye/G.O.O.D Music venture. Almost unilaterally, it works – as well it should on a concise twelve track, forty-six minute album.
As with “Yeezus”, it certainly takes a while to sink in, though. You’d be forgiven for being a touch disappointed after the initial couple of spins, as there is a notable absence of those Neptunes club bangers (like “Grindin'” and “Mr Me Too”); the middle core of MNIMN also loses a bit of steam (tracks four to eight are practically shuffled without thought, it seems). For someone who likes it “purer” and habitually delivers albums and mixtapes with near-bulletproof sequencing, Pusha T has dropped the ball here. It’s probably the biggest downside on display, as each song (apart from, perhaps, “No Regrets”) is an eight or higher – so although the consistency is there, it’s somewhat sabotaged by the middle order.
But if that’s the only actual problem – it’s something that can be sorted out with an iTunes playlist in thirty seconds – then it’s a good sign, as otherwise Pusha T has certainly gifted us with a strong set of brilliant and varied hip hop songs. The word “songs” is important, as (like Big Boi) he can actually write one from start to finish, with the craft and subtlety of a screenwriter placing you instantly within the scene. That deadened delivered is occasionally punctuated by an endearing “Woooh! Ric Flair, nigga!” and Pusha always knew how to communicate his message effectively. He’s 36 now, and has remained remarkably consistent over the last dozen years plus, and the two immediate standouts – “Numbers on the Boards” and “Nosetalgia” – are unimpeachable classics. The way in which the instrumentals, samples, lyrics and delivery come together are masterclass displays; Kendrick Lamar again donates a fantastic verse on the latter. Alongside his brother, the Clipse always knew how to craft a clever track centred around the ladies (“Ma, I Don’t Love Her” and “Dirty Money” were both highlights) and the bizarre “Let Me Love You” featuring Kelly Rowland doesn’t disappoint. That creeping beat coupled with Rowland’s chorus takes some time to blossom, but Pusha does an uncanny Ma$e impression in the second and third verses, interpolating “What You Want” (a song that still kills today). It’s a bit of a WTF moment, providing a near meme-level of humour and brilliance. It also proves to be one of the best numbers on MNIMN.
Other more traditional bangers include the moody introduction of “King Push” (apparently NOT produced by Joaquin Phoenix, though), the thunderous hammer blow of “Pain”, the raucous label posse cut “Who I Am” (which just about works with 2 Chainz and Big Sean) and the traditionally thoughtful Neptunes album closer coming in the form of “S.N.I.T.C.H.”. As previously mentioned, however, it’s that middle core that poses a few problems. The momentum after “Sweet Serenade” needed to be continued, but is somewhat sapped by “Hold On” (we will return to that in a moment), pepped back up by the funky “Suicide” and entirely deflated by “40 Acres” (a fine but misplaced song; surely the pace and specific line “I’d rather die than go home” leading into “Sorry nigga, I’m trying to come home” would have made it the perfect choice for the penultimate track). Follow that up with possibly the only genuinely average song on the album – “No Regrets” featuring Jeezy – and it’s a quartet of songs that doesn’t mesh well, especially at that point in the forty-six minute set. The other blindingly obvious moment that needs to be put under the microscope is at the start of “Hold On”, which opens with the lines “I sold more dope than I sold records, You niggas sold records, never sold dope!” Fair enough. Then RICK ROSS shows up. For Pusha to spend numerous bars lambasting studio gangsters and record booth drug lords, and then invite the worst perpetrator of all along for the ride makes very little sense. It’s still a good song on a basic level, but the entire premise is undermined from the off.
Pusha T has been hyping this up as “Album of the Year” and with each subsequent major label effort to not quite connect, he’s become more vocal. It’s a tough one to call right now, but there are very few other competitors left (perhaps Eminem?). Considering he’s had three years to craft it, one can’t help but feel a slight tinge of disappointment – it would have been perfect to receive an opus at the level of “Hell Hath No Fury”. In the end, however, this is certainly a fine album, pretty much throughout – “My Name Is My Name” is worth your time, attention and money. Is it a classic? No. The commercial hip hop scene is lucky to get one a year right now – the underground is far more vibrant, exciting and daring. But if this is what Pusha T is offering – that raw shit with just a few concessions – we’ll still take it and enjoy the hit.