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Pusha T Interview – Best Rap Album of The Year, Kanye West, More

I Won
Pusha T’s 20-year rap career has been a marathon run for the ages. From bricks to billboards, grams to the Grammys, he’s still grindin’ while carrying top-shelf street rap on his back.
Interview C. Vernon Coleman II
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands soon.

It’s a chilly afternoon in early December inside an exposed brick fifth-floor photography studio off Canal Street in lower Manhattan. Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…A speaker is blasting an album. A small, well-organized team of management, styling and publicity personnel, along with a large security officer nicknamed Thanos, are watching. Pusha T. The rapper is literally getting his flowers. King Push poses behind a botanic display of fake plants, flowers, and buds, wearing a Celine outfit and flashing a gold-and-diamond grill. This scene is both highfalutin and hoodie. “Is this art?” the Virginia Beach, Va. lyricist half-jokingly asks the photographer and his assistants for confirmation between high-powered camera flashes. He gets a bunch of yeses back from the group.

Since Pusha T, born Terrence Thornton, began rapping alongside his older brother Malice as the Clipse in the late 1990s, musically, it’s always been about the art. The duo’s Neptunes-produced debut album was released. Lord Willin’In 2002, it was followed by the celebrated Hell Hath No Fury(2006) ’Til the Casket Drops(2009). Before Malice took a sabbatical in rap around 2009 and left Push to press on by himself as an artist signed. Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music.

Push’s career has aged like Angela Bassett, with his Grammy-nominated third solo effort, Daytona, dropping in 2018—the same year he David and Goliath’d Drake during their rap battle—and culminating in Pusha’s 2022 magnum opus, It’s Almost Dry. This is a pure hip-hop album that was released without drama, manufactured beef to sell and no stunts. Just an avant-garde canvas from two of hip-hop’s greatest producers, Pharrell and Ye, with the help of a few other producers and a small selection of guest appearances. It is decorated with colorful coke motifs, and layered with stunning brush strokes of cinematic Street Rap. Impressionism at its best.

The offering scored the Down South native his first No. 1 albumAt 45, the average age of most MCs is the Mesozoic Era. The album is the most popular rap album, according to hip-hop and critics. The Recording Academy might concur as they’ve nominated it for Best Rap Album. Pusha believes that he has created a great masterpiece and deserves the Grammy.

G.O.O.D. has ended. Music and dealing with a contentious relationship with producer-turned-pariah Kanye West, Pusha doesn’t plan on slowing down. With a new album and mixtape already in the works, he’s also balancing the life of a husband, father to Nigel, 2, and label owner of Heir Wave Music Group. The Vincent van Gogh of blow has no problem saying why all of 2022’s best album trophies belong on his mantel. Here, Pusha TIt is all covered in this speech.

XXL:Is it possible that you will win the Best Rap Album Grammy?

Pusha T: Damn right. I don’t see how we can’t. I produced the best, most uncompromising rap album. At the highest level and with the highest production. Greatness. Beats and rhymes. I don’t think nobody beat that. I think that’s an easy go…[The Recording Academy]It was undeniable. I don’t care which way you cut it, man. [It’s Almost Dry]It’s too much. It’s too much of an event wrapped around it. I gave you the gift of life. I gave you a bow-adorned gift.

The music speaks for itself. But if you could speak in grand pitch, what would it sound like?

For sure. At the same time, I’m very focused on what it is that I do. This is the best! AlbumNo. This is the best RapAlbum of the Year because I know what it was. I did it. All the best album of the year talk and all that, I don’t know. That ain’t what’s pure to me. What’s pure to me is rap. Give me your rap space.

Pusha txxl 2022 Winter Issue

Ahmed Klink

You’ve been rapping for over 20 years and are critically acclaimed as a lyricist. Do you feel that you need the Grammy to be validated?

I don’t think I need it for my validation, but I do think I need it for the subgenre of street rap. It is often criticized for its content. This is art. And I been saying I’m the Martin Scorsese of street rap. I hope that this helps people to see the art in street rap better and to understand it. This is a talent.

Tom Brady, football legend, crowned It’s Almost Dry Albumof the Year. That’s a different type of cosign.

It’s crazy, man. Street hip-hop has come a long way. This is a testament of street hip-hop, articulate hip-hop. It’s tastemaker hip-hop. This is a taste that people will recognize. They see the art, the parallels, and the metaphors.

This would have been one of the first street-hip-hop albums to win a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album. How important is it for your brand of hip-hop to be recognized by mainstream media in this way?

I’m trying to win that Grammy, but I’m trying to walk. It’s something I want for you to see. People gotta see it. They have to see it. It must be seen by the next generation. It has to be seen by all. They have to understand it. This is all built from y’all. That’s the most important part to me.

How disappointed would you be if you don’t win this one?

I’ll be disappointed. No lie. I’ll be disappointed. But I’ll make another one.

The flip side is how excited you will be if you win it?

This is a celebration. This is a celebration that ain’t gon’ end ’til I don’t know how long. It’s a celebration for the subgenre. This is why I think it’s so important to keep this thing alive. Articulate, lyric-driven, taste-level hip-hop. Street hip-hop and street music all in one. It adds some legs if you bring it home.

One of the few knocks on your music is people asking, “When is he going to stop rapping about coke?”


You seem to have an extreme focus on being great at what you’re great at.

Yeah, that’s it. I’m not chasing any trends. My first record was called “I Got Caught Dealing at the Age of 1-5.” That was ’98, ’97. From there, you get “The Funeral.” From there, you get “Grindin’.” Why do I gotta change? Nobody else needs to change their content. Who has ever changed their content? Few.

So, fans are not gonna get anything like Drake’s Nevermind.You?

Never. Never. Never.

You are known as Drake’s sleuth. This was after Drake and you had a beef back in 2018. Although you considered it another day at work, is there a part of you that sees that as a badge?

Every time I hear a Subliminal in one his songs, it just makes me feel how deeply it hurt him. Because it’s been four years now. It’s still a topic we are discussing. He is. I don’t. I’m cool. But every time it’s a subliminal, I’m like, Yes. It still burns. It still burns. It lets me know. It’s my favorite.

Drake implied that Drake believed you had taken it to a place where you couldn’t squash it. Things have been quiet. Do you think he will ever throw you out of the window?

We should all be open to the possibility. I don’t know what he’ll do. At this point, that’s contradictory. Would he throw himself out of the window to escape? He’d like to say that he took it too far. Then he gon’ tell people. Tell the label. Tell J Prince. My God. It’s a lot. With all of that being said, it’s like I’m not interested anymore. I’m just really not.

You compared yourself to Tom Brady on “Dreamin of the Past,” saying you are getting better with time.

One thousand percent. I think I’m proving it. But I also think I’m proving that rap don’t age out. This is not about putting any ceilings on Black music. If you think about people my own age and older, those are probably the guys who are joysticking to the culture. Those are the men who are clearly the ones calling the shots.

A lot of rappers your age are looked at as dinosaurs, but you don’t get that stigma. Why is that?

Because I feel like hip-hop to its core. Hip-hop to the core ain’t just music. Hip-hop is music to the core. It’s lingo. It’s being outside and appreciating everything that’s going on in our world of hip-hop. It’s fashion. It’s me opening up a magazine and seeing what somebody is wearing and being like, that shit is fly. Let me find that shit.

That energy don’t leave me. So, it’s hard for a muthafucka to call me a dinosaur when I’m fresher [and] I know what’s coming next. When you’re actually living it, in the mix of it. That’s what I think happens with the times, and the social media age. You can’t be behind. If you want to be competitive. I want to be competitive. These are the things you need to do in order to compete.

Are you still currently the president of Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music?

No. No, I’m not.

According to reports, they have left Def Jam Recordings.

I’m at Def Jam. I have a 50/50 venture in Def Jam. My own music and my label.

But you’re not tied with G.O.O.D. You don’t have to be tied with G.O.O.D.

Uh uh.

Recently, you came out and stated that you were disappointed by the hate speech coming from G.O.O.D. Kanye West is your music boss, friend, and long-time collaborator. Are you guys still in touch?


Pusha txxl 2022 Winter Issue

Ahmed Klink

When was the last time you spoke?

I was still on tour. I just spoke up. He is a great listener. He spoke to me. And he got off the phone saying, “Thank you. I know you don’t agree with me, but you never kill me in the public. And some people can’t wait to do that.”

In 2010, we began working together. So, my relationship with him has never been like everybody else’s in regard to the filter. I have never shared a filter with him. I’ve always spoke my mind. People gotta remember, too. This isn’t new for me, when it comes to disagreeing with him politically and things like that.

Right. Right.

Remember, I’m the one that said the MAGA hat is the new Klu Klux Klan hood while he’s making my album. He is beefing with [former President Barack] Obama. I met Obama. But it’s the same thing with him and the Drake thing. I’m going through this and that, he’s doing shows [with Drake].

How does this dynamic work

You’re probably wondering what I’ll say about this? He knows that I will do whatever I want to do. Anything that could jeopardize my appearance, my pride, or anything else. He knows this. He knows there’s no talking me off any ledges. He just can’t do it. It was obvious to him. I was too proud to ask someone to stop moving in a certain direction. I don’t do it. But I’m going to react as Coo Coo Cal as I fucking want to when I feel like something is not going in my favor. It is what it IS, man.

Your musical collaborations are amazing. You must feel it.

Oh no, for sure, men.

Are you getting texts from him every time he does something?

People know that I’m a very strong individual. That’s the thing. At the end of the day, shit is being said today that’s beyond disappointing.

He was on far-right radio/podcast host Alex Jones’ InfoWarsPodcast in December: Some wild stuff.

It’s beyond that and it’s nothing to tap dance around. It’s wrong. Period. But to me, it’s just me and him having a difference of opinion yet again. ’Cause we done had this for years.

Do you think it will get to a point where you say, “I have to wash my hands of this guy?”

He’s not speaking to me now. If you ain’t with it, you ain’t down. And I ain’t with it. I’m not budging on that. I’m not with it. I heard about this new stuff [on InfoWars]. I don’t know. It’s something that just sort of tells me he’s not well, at the same time. I will be honest with you. It’s going to places where it’s no way to move around it.

The Young Thug/YSL RICO lawsuit is also a big news story, with authorities trying lyrics against them. What would your lyrics have been if lyrical evidence had been prevalent in the 2000s?

Because I believe that there was so much creativity back then, so many layers of lyricism. For me, it’s always been about being creative about the life. The lyrics are a little too complicated. You know what I mean. There is nothing else that can be done to pin you down and send you to jail.

At the same time, I think that it’s unfortunate what those guys are going through. This is art. I don’t think you can scrutinize art like that and put people in jail. Let’s hope everybody comes home.

You still live and work in Virginia. Rappers are often told to leave their hometowns. You haven’t adopted that. Is it because Virginia is safer?

Yeah. I feel safe at my home. I feel like I also don’t do anything at home that incites that energy. People see me. They see me with my people. They see us performing for the city. Now granted, I’m not outside every day. I do contribute. And I’m hoping the people see me as more of an asset to the city and would want me to be around.

You seem more mature even though you still give fans street content. You are now a husband and father. How do you balance your music career and your family?

It has made me more focused. Time-wise, I’m laser-focused on what I’m trying to do because I’m always trying to get back home to them. But being that they are my focus, I feel like it’s unlocked another chamber and another level of just creativity and art in it.

You can be creative however you like [me]. One thousand percent. This is only the beginning. I’m on my director shit. My imagination is limitless. I can unlock chambers that I probably couldn’t have done back then. Simply being ensconced in so many things at that time.

Pusha t xxl 2022 Winter Issue

Ahmed Klink

What’s your favorite thing about being married and a father?

Being able count on my wife. Count on her stability. Count on her as a partner to where I’m lazy, she catches my slack. Being in the music business, it is not easy to be super-focused on music. I know I have the ability to turn my back and be assured that my house, my child, and all other things are taken care of.

My son is the greatest thing ever. He’s the best verse I’ve ever written. It’s just a discovery every day of him and him discovering himself. I love everything about this kid. I feel like he is my complete understanding. It’s a different, different kind of bond. It’s priceless.

You said recently that you were busy working on other projects. Do you think one of them could be your next solo album.

I am currently working on another solo album. Just trying to gather a lot of ideas. I never stopped working. I sort of made a three-year plan and I’m trying to follow it. We get past [the Grammys], it’s back-to-back-to-back.

Your previous album, Daytona was released four years ago. You’ve been a person that’s never rushed the process. Is there an urgent need to release a new album due to the hype? It’s Almost Dry?

No, I think it is something that I must do to serve my base better. Because we understand that there is a cult of die-hards. That person is our goal. We came to the conclusion that there would be more product.

What’s been the inspiration for this new album you are working on?

Right now, it’s no real direction. Just trying to find that music and find the energy. I have been working with Pharrell. I actually went in with no I.D. As well. Steve Lacy, he delivered some shit. You mentioned that you worked on two special projects.

What’s the other one?

I’m working on a special mixtape.

Why mixtape when you’re at this point in your career.

It doesn’t seem like something you need to do. To have the joy I want. What I’m trying to do is restore the feeling in every aspect of this subgenre of music. And that’s just from this cloth, at this level of taste. I’m just trying to make people realize how viable this is. To show people that I can’t do what you do, but you definitely can’t do what I do. I must show these differences. That’s the whole premise behind the mixtape.

Are you going to take it back? We have it for you! days?

If we get there I might go to prison on that. If you can get there, I might go to jail on that. Vol. 2That’s all. Woah.

Imagine winning the Grammy. What does success look like for you with this next album?

I would love to win the Grammy and record a new Clipse song. I don’t give a fuck if the shit sold one copy. He and me [No Malice] being back together doing [music]That ticks a lot of boxes.

How close are you two to actually releasing an album by Clipse?

I don’t know, bro. I can’t say that we are close at all. It’s up to him. I do know one thing: he’s hearing the people. Do you think working faster will make a difference? Nah. To be truthful with you. To put it another way, when it comes this, I have to be six steps ahead whoever is next in line. So, if speeding it up makes me three steps ahead, I’m still ahead. I don’t think anybody is making street rap like me. I don’t believe that.

Pusha txxl 2022 Winter Issue

Ahmed Klink

The winter 2022 issue will be available on newsstands in January 2023. online at the XXL store.

Pusha-T’s winter issue of XXL magazine is available on newsstands January 2023. You can also find additional interviews and conversations in the magazine. Freddie Gibbs, Chance The Rapper, Ab-Soul, G Herbo, DaBaby, EST Gee, Murda Beatz, Morray, Ice Spice, Jeleel!, Armani White, Destroy Lonely producer Dez Wright, singer Kiana Ledé, actor Shameik Moore, plus a look at hip-hop’s love for wrestling, a deep dive into how new artists get on in hip-hop these days, the ways in which women in rap succeeded in 2022, the rapper-run podcasts the game has grown to love and a tribute to rappers we lost in 2022.

Pusha T’s Images XXLWinter 2022 Issue Cover story

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