Kanye West’s favorite Clipse brother, Pusha T, drops his new EP Fear of God: Let Us Pray today. Released on ‘Ye’s GOOD Music label, the project includes collaborations with Tyler, The Creator, Young Jeezy and Diddy, as well as the label boss himself on “Amen.” In the run-up to the EP’s release, Pusha T took a timeout from shoveling down some Chinese chow at a Midtown spot to trace the links between the Odd Future and No Limit movements, recall his days playing shows for local drug dealers around the country, and explain why he might not be that keen to work with Large Professor these days, despite “Looking At The Front Door” being his favorite song of all time.
So how did your collaboration with Tyler, The Creator come about?
Tyler was something I stumbled across ’cause he had done the record with Chad and Pharrell [“Inside of Clouds (Remix)”] and I heard it and thought it was an amazing record. Me and him had already talked prior. He’d sent me a record he wanted me to do. So I did that, and asked him to do this one for me, like we did a little swap.
In the car earlier you said Tyler had sent you some more beats and you were waiting for him to respond to your emails. Does that mean you’re looking to work with him some more?
Yeah, for sure, there will be more music from us two in the future. He’s sent four beats.
When did you first hear Odd Future?
I think about a year ago was when I sort of got hip to the whole Odd Future campaign.
What did you think of it at first?
Damn man, those kids are really just on their own shit! I have a soft spot for people who just find their own cult followings. The biggest era for music for me was the Master P/No Limit era, the Suave House/Tony Draper thing. Just all of that independent, okay, it’s not really moving or making a lot of noise where I’m from, but if you go a few states over it’s like the biggest thing in the world and these guys run their own show. And Odd Future give me that feeling on an Internet level. To see their shows and how many kids are out there and the Free Earl campaign and all of that—it makes you feel like you’re a little bit not in-tuned! I’m looking at the shows and like, Damn, you guys are so into it, where was I at?
How did you get into the Master P stuff?
I was introduced to the Master P stuff ’cause I live in Virginia and that’s a huge military town. So much people would come in from elsewhere and he had so many influences on the south, so from people coming in the army, that’s where I was exposed to it. This was like the big thing, and then a few of my boys would go down to conventions like How Can I Be Down? and be like, “Yo, Master P had this bus!” And I’d hear stories about this bus with No Limit rags all thrown out of the window. That’s the old school of just word of mouth and making impressions and the street team aspect of just building something and that shit really traveled. And when the music hit and traveled it was huge. I actually ended up running into P in about 2000 and he was about to sign the Clipse.
How did that come about?
We had tons of talks. I did a record with them, called “D-Game.” It was on Silk The Shocker’s album, I think. That was just good, good times. [Note: The song is on the 504 Boyz album Goodfellas; a remix appears on Silk’s My World, My Way album.]
Why didn’t you sign to No Limit?
We just decided not to take it.
Did you get any flack at home in Virginia for liking the No Limit stuff?
No, people were openminded. People don’t understand, man, I don’t think you can say what’s real rap. No Limit isn’t the type of rap that I grew up on, but there’s a lot of things I never thought I’d love in rap. Once you finally get to see it and understand and see it in its element—I never thought I’d like the hyphy movement until I went there. You see how passionate they are and you can’t deny it. I mean I’ve always been playing be east coast hip-hop rules, ha ha. New York hip-hop rules that was just the metaphors, the similes, the attitude and so and so forth. So to appreciate it is one thing, but I could never be it ’cause I was never from there. Those guys have an organic thing.
You grew up in New York for a bit, right?
Yeah, I was born in the Bronx. I didn’t even live there long, but my brother was such a rap fanatic that him and his cousins… I could remember like living in Virginia and coming to the Bronx to meet up with them. My brother shaped all of the dos and the don’ts and the good and the bad of rap. I was watching TV and MC Hammer had this video on, like with the hammer pants blooming and he was bouncing across the stage, and I was like, “He’s the best!” My brother was like [snaps fingers], “No, he’s the best performer, not the best rapper.” He differentiated a lot of that to me.
Malice is older than you. Did he resent you hanging around with him in those days?
He resented it all the time. He was in junior high school in a rap group with the guys around the area—the principal called them a gang—but what happened was in the group there was duos, like pairs. It was 20 guys and they were all paired off and the main producer for the group was Timbaland, who lived up the street from me, and he and my brother were really tight, and my brother would be going and my mom would be like, “You’ve got to take your brother.” So if he’s in middle school, I’m five years younger than him so I’m riding my bike, crying, and he’s beating me up all the way there because he doesn’t want to take me.
What was the group called?
Death Duel Production, DDP.
Was there a strong local hip-hop scene in Virginia at that time?
Virginia was the melting pot. There wasn’t the Miami invitation yet, or the Atlanta invasion yet, it was Virginia is the first beach you’re gonna get to when you leave New York. When you got BIG and Mase saying they got to stay on Virginia Beach for a week, and Raekwon talking about Virginia, and you got Heavy D and Public Enemy going on, and they talking about your area, and Teddy Riley moves to your area, and I see Jay-Z at the store, like, it’s a big deal. It was a really big deal.
There was a pride in being from Virginia at that time?
Yeah, a pride, definitely. Virginia was the place to be before we had artists. These guys weren’t big: Neptunes wasn’t big, Timbaland wasn’t big. We had Skillz, he was like somebody that we raised our hands to, I see him with Tribe and that, but before it was an artist or a producer town it was a vacation spot and they came down.
Were you surprised that the song “Grindin'” became so big?
No. I heard it and knew it was the greatest record ever. I wrote the verse three times; just the different approaches. Because the beat was so unorthodox it really needed to come in a certain way, be a certain type of way. [Raps] “From ghetto to ghetto, to backyard to yard…” That was just the introduction that I needed, and I couldn’t find it for a little while. Pharrell made the beat; he told us, “It’s the most amazing beat in the world. If you do not come to the studio right now I’m going to give it to Jay-Z!”
Do you feel like you have the right to first refusal on all Neptunes beats?
At that point in time and even now, any amazing beat the Neptunes make is supposed to come to the Clipse. There’s no fair way of saying it, I’m very biased, that’s just how it goes.
Is there any Neptunes beat you regret passing over?
I wish I would have gotten “Southern Hospitality” by Ludacris. That was a good one.
So were you surprised that Lord Willin’ was so critically acclaimed?
Nah, I thought that was an amazing album. And it happened the right way. It didn’t take off. “Grindin'” took nine months. By the time it was a household name I had already been on the road for nine months doing $2,000 shows for every drug dealer in America.
Did that help its success?
Yeah, it went down well because those are the people it resonated to. I used to go to the clubs and it would be a guy throwing a party for his neighborhood and that is his favorite song, and I’m in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and we got to wear bullet-proof vests because somebody just got shot there last week. But this guy is the man and he wants the Clipse there and this is what he plays riding around in his Benz and the neighborhood kids know it ’cause they hear him playing it. That was the set-up.
How many of those shows did you do?
Tons! And I loved them, every one of them. Small venues.
What has been your worst live experience?
I remember when I first started I was in Asbury Park, in New Jersey. Me, my brother and Pharrell had a record out called “I Got Caught Dealing,” the first record I ever done, and one of my favorite groups, Smiff-N-Wessun, was performing at the same show. And I got on stage, me, Pharrell and my brother, and they immediately started throwing everything they could. And we made it through it.
How did it feel when the crowd reacted like that?
I felt like I was with my brother and my best friend in the world. It could not have happened to a better bunch of people!
So what’s the strangest place you’ve performed then?
Weirdest place I’ve performed is… I went and performed the whole Hell Hath No Fury album in Wyoming one time and I just didn’t understand it. People like flew us out to this place, it was really private, 50 people only, and they had an elaborate sound system in a log-cabin almost, no stage. It was like snow outside, like a ski-lodge, and everyone there wanted to hear the album. It was amazing, they were like totally into it, but it was just like some focus group!
What one hip-hop album would you most like to hear performed from start to finish yourself?
Main Source Breaking Atoms. That’s one of my favorite albums. “Looking At The Front Door” is my favorite record; “Just A Friendly Game Of Baseball” is one of the best records ever made. I could just go on. I could sit down and watch that.
Have you ever worked with Large Professor, who produced that record?
No, I’ve never worked with Large Pro.
Would you want to?
I don’t know, I don’t know what he’s doing. I appreciate the guys for what they did ’cause they were really inspirational to me, but I don’t know if they got it any more, if they do got it or don’t have it. But the music is so timeless I could care less—that’s the only thing I want to hear.
So now the EP is done, what are you working on next?
I’m about to start working on my own mixtape, Long Live The ‘Caine, as in cocaine.
Like the Big Daddy Kane album?
Yes, the play on Big Daddy Kane’s Long Live The Kane.
There are lots of Big Daddy Kane titles that could be flipped: Wrath of Kane…
[Shouts to manager] Yo, what if I call the album the Wrath of ‘Caine? It would be sort of hard. That was, like, my favorite Big Daddy Kane record.