90% of his friends are behind bars. His oldest brother is a recovering drug addict. His other brother has long since repented. All that and Pusha still wants to, well, push. “That’s what happens when you Michael and they treat you like Tito,” he raps on the hook for “I Still Wanna.” For the first time in his life, Pusha (Terence Thornton) is not following in his brother Malice’s footsteps and distancing himself from the coke raps that the Clipse brand was built on. There are claims that new Clipse material is on the way, but for now, Pusha is flying solo dolo.
We caught up with Pusha T at his local barbershop, right before he left for Miami to shoot a video for his version of Jay-Z’s hustler anthem “Can I Live” (it appears on his mixtape Fear Of God), Push had plenty to say about detractors wanting him back on a strict diet of Neptune beats, his Bronx roots, and his relationship with his older brother. Gather ’round.
Your mixtape was so highly anticipated and managed to keep from disappointing the fans. At least most of them. How do you feel about people saying you should stick to spitting on Neptune beats and off of Jay’s classics?
I think those people are super corny. I should just stick to Neptune beats?! I feel like people who say things like that show say that don’t know the art of mixtapes. Jay was rapping over “The Symphony,” B.I.G. was rapping over Death Row beats… that’s the essence of a mixtape. I wanted songs that were inspirational to me over the years. I come from the Clue and Doo Wop era. Buying mixtapes in Norfolk and shit. If you can’t feel that then it’s not for you, sir.
Well put. So tell us…
See, I put those types of questions in the same category with the critics who ask why I only rhyme about coke. See, I do this for a particular consumer. If you’re not that individual but you can still relate or you like the way I put words together, bet. That’s cool too. Because this is what you’re going to get, the mindset of a brash decision maker.
The mindset of someone who has lost 90% of his friends to jail sentences. Anyone you’ve seen me with in the last 15 years, all my fam, all my friends, gone. Doing 30 years, 50 years. So that mindset is what you’re going to get ’cause that’s all I know.
But Malice seems to have had a different reaction to the recent strife.
Yeah, he has. Everyone has different boiling points for different things. See, Malice is a little more introspective and I guess conscious, for lack of a better word. His shit is still aggressive but there were always consequences to his street tales. My shit is more brash, more unapologetic. It’s not that I don’t think like he does it’s just that when you’re in a group, especially in hip-hop, everyone gotta play their part.
Hence “I Still Wanna?”
Exactly. That song is all about that mindset of “This lifestyle has cost me and hurt me but fuck it all. I’m gonna do what I know and not deal with the headache of figuring out the psychology of my actions.” That’s what happens when you Mike and they treat you like you’re Tito. In this genre of rap we’re still the best. Dealing with this slow industry, though, I get frustrated. So of course you still want fast money ’cause of this frustrating industry. Instant gratification versus slow grind? I’ll take the former.
So how does it feel venturing out on your own for the first time without big bro?
Initially I felt like, “Damn.” I was writing the “Blow” verse and was about four bars in when it dawned on me that I was alone in this. Truthfully, it scared me a bit. Malice is five years older than me. I remember being a kid and telling him that MC Hammer was better than Run-DMC. He was like, “No way. Maybe a better performer, but not a better rapper.” Then he totally broke it down for me. And when he started rapping I would cry until my mother made him take me to Timbaland’s [Editor’s note: Malice and Timbalnd were in a rap group together as teenagers] house so I could dance around while they made music. My brother is the realest ever. Unfazed, unmoved and unimpressed with so much of this industry.
It was interesting because the whole Fear Of God concept came from me invoking the fear of God into these rappers now that I’m solo. I felt the fear of God myself though because my brother’s not here this time. So I had to regroup. Then Ab Liva called me and told me I’m not alone and we’re gonna do the shit like we’ve been doing the shit. After that I was pretty much good to proceed.
What’s it like working with ‘Ye as opposed to Pharrell?
P has the beat finished and the hook almost down pat when I get to the studio. We may change a word or two to the hook but the melody and all that is there. It’s like just insert the verse. I’ll ask P how I should rap on it sometimes, how my cadence should be. He has a broad view of the whole beat, you know? With ‘Ye, a lot of his songs come from conversations, so at first the beat is just a skeleton. I’ll hear a stripped-down version, lay my verse. Then ‘Ye takes the beat and makes it soooo different. It took a little getting used to at first, but now I love it because it comes back a surprise.
Speaking of surprised I wasn’t at all surprised when I heard you guys were born in The Bronx. Castle Hill represent!
Ha, yeah, that’s right. I was pretty young when we moved to Virginia, but my parents sent me up to see the family in New York all the time. I’d come up like, “Run-DMC is the shit!” and my cousins would be like, “Nah, Rakim is.” Then I’d like Rakim and they’d be on Kane or some shit. But we always had a good idea of what was popping in New York, though we were a little late.
Were you mad your parents moved you out of the cradle of hip-hop, the crossroads of the universe, the Big Apple?
Nah, I could never be mad at my parents. I had great parents. I don’t have the usual rapper “fuck my dad” story. Both my parents provided for us. We didn’t have everything but we had enough. I hustled out of greed and sometimes it spun out of control. Just another set of values compromised by plain old American greed.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 15, 2011