Pusha T’s continued relevance gets more improbable every year. Twelve years after breaking up, Clipse has now been on hiatus for almost as long as their original run. During that time, Push has managed to fashion a rock-solid solo career from just a handful of musical statements: two EPs and three focused full-lengths, each sharper and shorter than the last.
It’s Almost Dry breaks that trend, at 15 minutes and five songs longer than the ultra-slight Daytona, but it still feels like an elaboration on its predecessor. Both projects are assertive, soulful efforts with Kanye West’s fingerprints all over them; Daytona was the first and best in a series of five short West-produced projects in the summer of 2018, offering clear proof of his chemistry with Push. Critics and fans adored the project, which did something no Pusha T release—and few rap LPs—had done before: create a viable LP from seven songs of average length.
It’s Almost Dry blends the new with the old: half of its songs are produced by West, and half by Pharrell (one half of The Neptunes behind the Clipse classic Hell Hath No Fury). Though markedly different, the two styles blend well: Pharrell helms the more muscular, opulent cuts like lead single “Neck and Wrist” and the commanding “Let the Smokers Shine the Coupes.” From a production standpoint, frequent Push collaborator Ye remains at the top of his game. The Ye-produced “Dreamin of the Past” and “Rock n Roll” are the two best songs here. “Dreamin of the Past” is early 2000s Ye of the highest order—warm, analog soul stomp with bright piano twinkles on the turnaround. “Rock n Roll” is an emotional livewire; Ye sounds hoarse in a ghostly verse, though his flow has a subtle dexterity. This and his “Dreamin” verse are glints of hope for more focused projects to come.
Notably, Push welcomes Lil Uzi Vert into his orbit for “Scrape it Off.” The song is forgettable, but it’s to Pharrell’s immense credit that he makes these two sound natural together; Uzi is a surprising choice for the old-schooler who claimed to be “too rare amongst all of this pink hair” on Daytona, and jabs at “your favorite rappers dressing like Comic-Con” on “Call My Bluff.”
But then again, if there’s one thing that sets Push apart from most high-profile rappers, it’s his overt lack of ego. In his recent interview with Charlamagne, he talks extensively about stepping back and “knowing his role,” at one point saying, “I don’t necessarily wanna be a king. I wanna be a knight.” Arguably, this M.O. is a big part of Push’s success and enduring relevance. He may be old-school, a “coke rapper,” but he knows when to make room for new voices.
Or old ones. Push’s brother Malice gets the last word on the stunning closer “I Pray For You.” The blistering verse from the other half of Clipse is an album highlight, hard-edged and witty (“I greet you with the love of God, that don’t make us friends”; “Belong on Rushmore just from chiseling a brick.”) It’s not hard to see where Push got his style.
As with every Pusha T project, there’s a lot to admire in It’s Almost Dry. But while there are really no skips, there are no instant earworms on the level of “If You Know You Know,” “Games We Play”, or “Numbers On the Board.” Still, it’s the best balance of breadth and consistency he’s managed so far. On It’s Almost Dry, Push settles into what he does well and executes with panache. At 44, he has a string of successes behind him and a possible reunion with his brother ahead. It’s Almost Dry is just the next project in line, the latest compact rap statement keeping him in the conversation.
Label: G.O.O.D./Def Jam
Casey Burke is a published music journalist and creative writer with a wide-ranging taste in music. His work has appeared in Grandma Sophia’s Cookies, Brainchild Literary & Arts Magazine, and blogs for WTJU and Plaze Music.