It might seem hard to believe at this point, but Pusha-T’s rap career did not manifest into a success overnight. Nowadays, it’s almost as if it’s his moral obligation to dispatch raps to listeners—supplying audio dope through depictions of his past life which notably included selling drugs. Pusha’s 2013 debut album, My Name Is My Name, released five years ago this week, has proven to be a pivotal moment in his rap career.
In 2009, Clipse released Til The Casket Drops, which would be their last album as a group. At the time, there were no expectations that it would be their final chapter. Pusha didn’t question his brother’s decision to stop the Clipse movement, and Pusha didn’t question his own ability to create from a solo perspective.
In enduring such a long career which began in 1991, turmoil was bound to surface. Through challenging times, Pusha persevered and was able to make a name for himself outside of Clipse. From being featured on two tracks on Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (“So Appalled” and ”Runaway”) to signing to West’s imprint G.O.O.D. Music under Island Def Jam in 2010, subsequently releasing an EP and two mixtapes, Pusha had assembled the assets for a solid solo career.
Pusha-T delivered his debut solo album, My Name is My Name, on October 7, 2013 in confidence, expressing at the time that he felt it was “album of the year.” A few months prior, J. Cole released Born Sinner and Kanye West released the knotty and bold Yeezus. Pusha seemed unfazed despite these two other major releases from his contemporaries. Malice also released his solo efforts in August 2013, under his new stage name, No Malice, and as a Christian rapper. Post-Clipse Pusha was aware of his presence in rap, and album sales didn’t seem to matter, his impact would surely thrive.
Notwithstanding a few failed attempts, the overall production on the album laid the groundwork for Pusha’s sound as a solo artist. Indeed, much credit goes to Kanye West, who executive produced the record just as he did with this year’s DAYTONA. With a ‘less is more’ approach, Pusha sounded at his best over the minimalist production, which in turn gave way to accentuated pop hooks behind his evocative lyrics. Since working with West in Hawaii in 2010, the two built a relationship which has flourished ever since. “I came aboard for more than to just rhyme with him, think ‘99, when Puff would’ve had Shyne with him, yuugh!” Pusha rapped on 2012’s “New God Flow.” Future production on Pusha’s releases ran with a minimal sonic template that would become his signature, elaborated on Darkest Before Dawn in 2015 and DAYTONA earlier this year.
He in fact preferred the lack of big hits, never sacrificing integrity for radio support. The album also manages to feature seven artists, but to Pusha’s advantage, they were mere additions to the full picture he painted. With features from The-Dream, Kendrick Lamar, Kelly Rowland, Kanye West, Chris Brown, Jeezy, Big Sean, Pharrell, Future and more, each artist only served to compliment Pusha’s sonic world, a place where rightful critical acclaim would soon follow.
“I’m into the ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ Kanye,” Pusha said in a 2013 interview. “Not the… ‘Gold Digger’ Kanye.” Pusha’s debut album lives in the realm of “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” in terms of the production, gritty bars, aggressive demeanor, and the demanding tone of an artist who knew their purpose and worth.
My Name Is My Name’s dark tone is met with blissful moments that appear through the cracks of the album. Cinematic arrangements shaped the course of it; Pusha has compared the album to the 1997 film, The Devil’s Advocate, starring Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron, and Al Pacino. While Pusha says the theme of his album is not related to the movie, the feeling very much is. The movie found harrowing ways of presenting the faulty side of life, purging the good out of it further and further as the plot thickened.
“There’s a scene where one of Charlize Theron’s girlfriends — a beautiful woman — is trying on clothes, and as Charlize is looking at her, her face turns into a monster,” Pusha stated in a 2012 interview with MTV. That’s one of the scenes that really paints the picture of the beauty and the dark side of my album.”
The film’s themes of risk corrupting reward hewed closely to Pusha’s past experience in moving product, in turn shaping his footing on his debut album. This quality arguably served as the muse for the vision he wanted to create. “40 Acres” is a prime example of how the tone of the movie and his past life translated into the album.
“My better half chose the better path, applaud him,” he raps on The-Dream featuring song, one he ended up rewriting three times. Pusha reminiscences on both childhood and adulthood, showing signs of resilience and a lack of regret; he utterly accepted who he became. His brother chose to walk with God while Pusha continued to reflect on his dances with the devil.
Acceptance is a major theme running through My Name Is My Name; accepting who he was and who he is now – “my name is my name,” as Marlow Standfield said towards the end of the early 2000s series The Wire. It’s a sentiment echoed explicitly clearly on the track, “Pain,” featuring Future. “Push, my name is my name,” he raps, further hitting home how his drug dealer past embraces the theme of the album.
It’s clear how much he fine-tuned his pen by way of this inspiration. Not only that, the cinematic tone of the album helped set a new foundation for how Pusha would deliver his truth moving forward. And it’s all the more impressive amid the adversity and coming off Clipse’s’ final release, Pusha had to decide what type of artist he wanted to be. “I build mine off fed time and dope lines,” he spits on “Suicide.”
What his music embodies has been intrinsically embedded since his career’s beginning. Would he conform and make music with the flow of the landscape or continue to develop his identity? It’s safe to say that Pusha forged his own path; his music often subsumed in drug talk and harsh realities. My Name Is My Name helped set the tone of Pusha’s future releases, forging a precedent for an intrepid tone coexisting with the adrenaline rush of seeing the glitz and fruitful gain of his arduous, at times hellish, travels through life.
For more like this, take a look at our revisit of OutKast’s seminal 1998 classic ‘Aquemini.’
- Words: Craig Lee