This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Genre: Hardcore Hip Hop
Favorite Tracks: “If You Know You Know,” “The Games We Play,” “Infared”
The year has been full of blown-out and drawn-out hip hop releases, including double and triple albums from some of its biggest stars. SR3MM, the triple album released by Rae Sremmurd had a total of 27 tracks—if every song on the album was only one minute long, it would still be longer than rap veteran Pusha-T’s DAYTONA, which clocks in at a total of 21 minutes. In that way, DAYTONA is both an absolute delight and a much needed entry to this year’s hip hop catalogue, a tightly wound and boa-constricted project that showcases Pusha’s greatest talents as a lyricist, poet, and master storyteller. After pushing the boundaries of coke rap in the early and mid 2000s with Clipse, this record is Pusha’s first real masterpiece as a solo artist.
Pusha is the rap game’s Kyle Korver, still immensely effective and a marksman at his craft even as an elder statesman. Just like Korver, Push’s abilities are elevated by others’ talents, in this case producer Kanye West. Entirely produced and mixed by Yeezy himself, you can feel the comradery emanate in each track. Kanye shepherds the album towards a peak instead of losing impact by inserting songs and beats that serve no purpose other than presenting the possibility of reaching a new audience. Like a great director, Kanye plays towards his talent’s strengths, and allows them to do the thing they’re great at while pushing them towards a higher ceiling. DAYTONA is made for King Push fanatics that have been frantically waiting for a great Pusha-T solo project, and he sounds more than game enough to handle his own and spin rap poetry that we all fell in love with him in the first place for.
Since the genre’s conception, hip hop has been a storytellers’ medium, and that’s what separated the good from the great. Even though hip hop has grown to allow for many different styles, the art of storytelling still remains a key component of rap and there is currently no one better at doing just that than Pusha-T—see “The Story of Adinon” for reassurance. Pusha brings a professionalism and workmanlike mentality into his raps that not only brings out the seriousness of the subject matter, but also an excitement that uplifts your own intrigue. Captivating through the shady extravagance of it all, DAYTONA reads like a classic crime noir novel about the dark underbelly of society. Every time Pusha drops a line like, “This is for my bodybuilding clients moving weight / Just add water, stir it like a shake,” I slightly jump out of my seat in excitement and am immediately hooked. Push has clearly spent decades in the world he relates to us, landing fresh and innovative metaphors that never feel repetitive or even boring. Those types of hard-hitting and punchy bars are aided by some fantastic tone-setting production. The beats all contribute something different and breathe life into the music as Pusha gains steam and utilizes the production to mold his narrative on DAYTONA. On “What Would Meek Do,” the siren-spinning beat allows him to put on his villian hat on and talk shit; when Pusha-T is allowed the freedom to get his gears turning, there is no one more clever than him.
With top-notch bars you can feel the large-scale vision of such a tight project. Pusha isn’t afraid to dip his toes into into other non-drug-related subject matters as well. That’s most notable on the finale of the album, “Infrared,” where he starts out by kicking lines about the possible Trump collusion with Russia, seamlessly tying it to and reigniting his prior rap beef with Drake and Lil Wayne. Pusha has never been one to shy away from beef, but here he hits it head on. He takes the entire final song on DAYTONA just to take shots at Drake (and, by proxy, Lil Wayne), from comparing his rise to stardom to Trump’s rise to power, even name checking his ghostwriter. It’s unclear what it is about this beef in particular that keeps getting Pusha worked up, but I know for a fact it re-energizes his raps, and you can hear it in these songs. He’s been sharpening these knives for a long time.
For those of us who have been following Pusha’s career recently, he has been very vocal about his political affiliations, lining himself up with the Clinton and Kaine presidential campaign back in 2016, while also constantly taking shots at her opposer and future President, Donald Trump. All of this came to a head when in the weeks leading up the release of DAYTONA the other main contributor to the album, Kanye West, came out and became very vocal about his support of Trump. While many of us wondered how it would affect their relationship and, more pressingly, how that relationship would be reflected in the music they made, this album would not have come together if not for that kind of close-knit partnership. Luckily for us, Pusha had enough juice of his own, as well as a mutual respect for Kanye, that seemingly nothing was compromised in the process of making the record, yielding something beautiful and magnificent.