Reviews

REVIEW: “Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude” – Pusha T

“Espera, ven aquí, who you wanna be? Drug dealer? Demon? Rap nigga? You tryna save the culture? Ay dios mio. You gotta pick one, daddy.”

 

Mr. Lee narrates in the opening lines of Pusha’s latest, Darkest Before Dawn. The first track, “Intro, proceeds with an incredibly strong verse from Pusha addressing the trap lords and drug dealers. He makes it clear he is holding nothing back and intends to surpass Jay Z and Biggie, his greatest inspirations. Lee returns at the close of the track:

 

“A Pablito le dieron pa’ bajo (Pablo was taken down), but I’m still here, y el otro tipo (and the other guy)? he’s running, but I’m still here, I don’t even know why you doing this loco, yo no se pa’ que (I really don’t know), but always still right here. You wanna be like them, don’t you huh? you’re not like them… Y definitivamente, they’re not like us”

 

The song in a way sums up Pusha T’s path in the rap game and his approach to the drug dealer – rap artist dichotomy, which has played such a large role in his life: “fuck it.” He, unlike the rest who have tried, embraces both sides of the contradiction and used each to the others advantage.

 

This album is particularly interesting as it is his premiere album as the president of G.O.O.D. Music and is therefor subject to a higher level of scrutiny than before. In a Billboard interview following his crowning, he expressed a joint view between him and Kanye that heavily stressed the need for everything to be “manicured” (he used the word not once or twice, but five times). Naming a new president made sense as Kanye pursues external ventures like DONDA and Yeezy, but I was intrigued by what his and Pusha’s definition of “manicured” would entail. I expected Pusha to ease off drug talk, which had played such a large role in his previous albums, but instead he took the spotlight as an opportunity for a full fledged boast of his unique success as a leader of both the rap game and the drug game, deeming himself “the last cocaine superhero.” Jay Z, Lupe, A$AP Rocky, and even late partner Malice all gave up dealing with their rise in fame as rap artists after using their businesses to fund their artistic careers. Interestingly, although there is a clear contradiction in being a cultural leader and criminal leader at the same time, its hard to dispute the similarities between the rap game and the drug game. Joey Bada$$ puts it simply in “Sweet Dreams” – “somehow the rap game reminds me of the crack game, in fact it’s the exact same, and these tracks is my crack cane, And if you listening then you a fiend, Our music is the cure like some vaccines.” This entire album is a victory lap for President-elect Pusha, telling a story of his path to success and acting as a running metaphor between the rap and crack games.

 

The album seemingly functions as two parts, with a brief interlude and a closing statement. Tracks 1-4 are Part 1, 5 is the interlude, 6-9 are Part 2, and track 10 is the closing statement.

 

DBD starts strong and hard hitting, silencing critics that question his appointment as G.O.O.D. Music commander-in-chief. It’s full of straight-shooting lyrics that are both tastefully boastful and aptly critical over cleanly produced beats that are reminiscent of his Clipse-era self, but with a modern polish. A great example is in the the thrid verse of “M.F.T.R. (More Famous Than Rich),” a stand-out on the album:

 

Ni–as talking it, but ain’t living it
Two years later admitting it, all them ni–as is renting shit
They ask why I’m still talking dope, why not?
The biggest rappers in the game broke, voilà
They say it’s hate, but it’s these well-dressed snakes
That learn to walk on the concrete, I just saw it and spoke to it
Yuugh, you ain’t know, you got coached through it
Wooo, the rap fans got hoaxed through it
Haaa, the whole time I sold coke through it
Ni–a, and records I was Bo through it  

 

Pusha addresses the falsities he has observed in the rap game and society, as well as the blind following by fans, and then wraps it all up with a simple but clever boast (Bo Jackson was the only American athlete to be an all-star in two major league sports, again referencing Pusha’s domination of the rap game and the streets). Examples of his lyrical prowess like these are found across the album, as he continues to both call out whatever and whoever he sees fit while bragging though it all. Constant references to his past remind us how far he has come, and that he knows where he himself has come from. Theres something to be said for its simplicity and subtle complexity, which I found incredibly refreshing and elegant.

 

For the “interlude”, track 5 (“M.P.A.“) Pusha and Kanye tone it down a notch. They talk over a beautiful beat coproduced by Kanye and J Cole, discussing the vices of rappers: money. pussy. alcohol. The song acts as a good break from the intensity of the other songs and provides a necessary mellow jam.

 

Despite its undeniable quality and continued lyrical intelligence, the continued drilling of Pusha’s trap background becomes a bit repetitive in the second half and sounds incongruous with the first. “Keep Dealing” is the highlight, giving insight into Pusha’s grind in the streets and his unwillingness to relent. This can also be viewed as the successive rise and fall of Pusha in the rap game with the continuous changing of style with time and his ability to adapt.

 

He finishes with Jill Scott and “Sunshine,” where he coldly addresses his disillusionment with the current state of America. Easily the most intense song of the album and debatably the strongest, addressing issues with race, the media, police and a slew of other topics to be predictably pissed off about. Emotion comes through in such an sudden and authentic way where it is hard not to be captivated, and before you know it the song is over. The track brings the album full circle, to Mr. Lee’s opening statement, waving the artist-dealer dichotomy right in front of your face. And just as Pusha has spent the last half-hour telling us, he makes it work. This is a must-listen for any rap fan, at least once.

 

 Darkest Before Dawn (2015) — 8.2 / 10