Pusha-T – Daytona
(Getting Out Our Dreams, Inc. / Def Jam Recordings)
For this one, I must declare a conflict of interest: Lord Willin’ is one of my personal top 20 rap albums of all-time, and – depending on which day you catch me – arguably top 10.
Pusha-T, on the album’s second track, ‘The Games We Play’, compares Daytona to Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, one of my personal top 5 rap albums of all-time, and – again, depending on which day you catch me – arguably top 1.
It’s the first of the series of albums that (a possibly manic, and certainly nauseating) Kanye West promised via Twitter earlier this year, and it fucking bangs. The discourse around it has evolved into something else entirely because of a diss track that will go down as an all-timer, but it should not be forgotten that Push, on this particular release, has put out his best music since Malice found god.
Kanye has basically worked to the blueprint as laid out by a young (read: 28-year-old) Pharrell, pairing raw, soulful, momentary samples with hard-hitting, hopscotch percussion – and allowing Pusha-T to spit those sharp, cold-hearted, cocky football hooligan coke raps over the top. As a much wittier person than myself pointed out on Twitter in the wake of the now-infamous Drake diss, you do not fuck with a 40-something-year-old ex-drug dealer who still wears braids in 2018.
There’s a quasi-industrial clank to many of these instrumentals, and Pusha can still paint a very vivid picture – albeit the same one of selling coke to fiends and buying nice things with the profits – that he’s been painting for years… and using fewer words than just about any other rapper I can think of.
His raps are the sorts of raps which deserve annotations – and this is coming from somebody who thinks Rap Genius is a fucking plague. “Where were you when Big Meech brought the tigers in? Because I was earning my stripes like a tiger skin,” he sneers during a brief sonic reprieve on the incendiary opener, ‘If You Know You Know’, and it confirms to me that he’s one of the greatest, realest rappers who ever walked the earth. The fact that he’s still kicking this shit in his forties is incredible.
Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
Cardi B is the American Dream personified, or so several music writers who should know better have attempted to tell me ever since she blew up to become the biggest breakout rapper since… what, Kendrick Lamar? Nicki Minaj? Drake?
Whoever it is, she’s fucking huge, and despite the inherent lie in the idea that a half-Dominican, half-Trinidadian stripper can become whatever she wants so long as she believes hard enough, hers is undoubtedly a tale that engages and warms the cockles in equal measure. It helps, of course, that she’s a fucking great rapper who can tear through any beat on sheer force of personality alone (please address complaints about alleged ghostwriters to somebody who gives a shit).
Invasion of Privacy is her major label debut album, in the sense that it taps into a distinctly post-Biggie, pre-808s & Heartbreak idea that headline, major label rap albums should be all things to all people, cover a variety of sounds and topics in order to appeal to largest demographic possible. (When Boosie came out of jail in 2015, his comeback album Touchdown 2 Cause Hell tried exactly the same thing, albeit with only a teensy-weensy fraction of the sales, obviously.)
It was this attitude that spawned a number of charming but flawed minor-masterpieces in the early 2000s – and Invasion of Privacy is something of a throwback to that, albeit one that has the good sense not to take up 99% of a CD’s allotted 80 minutes (lol CDs).
In fairness, the album doesn’t exactly follow the once-tired ‘one for the heads, one for the smokers, one for the club, one for the ladies, one for the thugs, one for the pop charts, one for the etcetera etcetera’ formula as laid out by Biggie, under the guidance of that megalomaniacal genius, Puffy.
Instead, it largely focuses on her aforementioned come-up, with Cardi’s insecurities and paranoia being gradually and forcefully beaten down by the sheer joy she clearly takes in her success and being able to rub it in the faces of those who doubted her. The highlight, of course, is the ‘Dreams and Nightmares (Intro)’-aping opener ‘Get Up 10’, with its series of rapid-fire, self-aware, impossible-to-hate dispatches: “Went from making tuna sandwiches to making the news… real bitch, only thing fake is the boobs”.
Ski Mask The Slump God – Beware The Book Of Eli
Even in a landscape increasingly filled with strange, otherworldly, young trap rappers, Broward County, Florida’s Ski Mask The Slump God sticks out like a sore thumb.
Hooks such as “I’mma drown a n**** in a river of lost souls” basically split the difference between the comic book world-building of MF Doom and the deranged, demonic stylings of early Three 6 Mafia, while his rattling, lo-fi beat selection sounds like Timbaland trying to craft a horror film score using only the most rudimentary of tools.
Like many other records reviewed here, Beware The Book Of Eli benefits greatly from its brevity, allowing Ski Mask to get his point across succinctly without overstaying his welcome. Whether rapping about fucking witches and licking lizards on ‘Coolest Monkey in the Jungle’ (whose title references a recent, ill-advised H&M advert) or engaging in cunnilingus as though eating Danimals (a sort of American version of Actimel aimed at children) on ‘Dapper Dan’, The Slump God is a technically adept, constantly engaging presence who more than holds his own in what is becoming a pretty crowded lane.
President T – Stranger Returns
(Star Work Music)
Have you ever seen that footage of Prez T on Practice Hours 2? Fuck knows the year, but beside him is Big H. It’s the same footage on which H dropped that legendary freestyle. (You know the one. “I’m old school, fuck a phone call.”) It’s probably about 12 or 13 years old. My memory is hazy, I’ve had a few drinks, and Googling this shit is proving slightly more difficult than anticipated, but the footage definitely exists out there, even if the only versions I can find are either audio-only or bereft of Prez’s freestyle entirely.
H looks young; he’s always had a boyish face, but this was long before the dreads and goatee. A flat peak cap rests precariously atop his head, and his slight frame drowns in an oversized white tee. More to the point, he sounds young – hungry, pugnacious, a bundle of tightly coiled tension ready to explode.
President T, on the other hand, looks and sounds about 35. Probably not old enough to be H’s dad, but certainly a cool uncle. Where H raps like an excitable boy desperate to make his chance count, Prez raps like a bloke who has seen it all before. Therein lies his charm: he’s looked and sounded like he’s about 35 years old for as long as anybody can remember.
He has few peers – only Trim and Chronik come to mind when we’re talking about grime rappers who have refused to sugar coat anything they say, or let contemporary trends dictate how they say it, always appearing to hold a stern belief that listeners, cult or otherwise, will come to them, without having to pander – and his off-kilter, aggressively conversational flow and tendency to rap in question and (often entirely unrelated) answer format mean that his style can never be bitten in the same way that one can ape Skepta or D Double E. It’s like how there are numerous singers who recall Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen, but virtually none who can pull off a decent Tom Waits impression without being pilloried for it.
Stranger Returns has been promised for years, and it’s finally here. And you know what? It’s fine. It’s not great. It’s not bad. Just fine. But it’s still lovely to see Prez back. The production skews a touch too generic; full of condensed, indefinable synth lines that quite frankly sound cheap, and lazy trap snare rolls that borrow too readily from an American template (a strange choice for such a distinctly British MC).
Prez’s voice inevitably cuts through, though, and it’s comforting to know that he’s still out here – schooling youths in a way that only he can, with that canny, natural mix of weary roadman philosophy and lads-on-tour enthusiasm, as summed up on album closer ‘When They Gonna Learn’: “when you gonna expose the game and wasteguys in it? I’ll grab my whip in the mornin’, ‘cause I’m over the limit.” Party on, Anthony.