Last night, Pusha-T delivered an insightful lecture on his artistic career and accomplishments as part of Red Bull Music Academy’s Berlin edition. Speaking incredibly candidly and humorously, we picked up more than a few bits of trivia from the legendary rapper, ranging from his early days with Clipse to his time spent working on Kanye West‘s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy right on through the release of his excellent solo album from this year, DAYTONA.
Highsnobiety also had the chance to briefly speak with Pusha following the lecture. Read on for a selection of our favorite moments from his talk and our exclusive interview:
On New York rap influences:
“I actually seen B.I.G. in a club. I actually… Raekwon was friends with some of my friends. So when these albums hit, it was like chaos. It was like chaos through the town. They had adopted all the slang, you just saw the bad-boy influence super heavy. It had a major impact on me.”
On that time he played Kanye’s birthday party:
“I didn’t even know him at the time, well. I knew him in passing, met him in the studio a couple times. Don C’s birthday gift to Ye was the Clipse coming to perform Hell Hath No Fury in its entirety at the Louis Vuitton store in New York. It was like an opening or something. Ye was heavy, heavy Clipse fan. Heavy, heavy Hell Hath No Fury fan, heavy.”
On working with Kanye for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy:
“You’re definitely hearing somebody cracking the whip. I mean, Ye was nuts. I came out there, I’d never worked with him before. Totally different work environment than what I’m used to… it was just closed off and very focused. Ye is laser-focused.”
“I like to write to beats. I don’t like to write to a beat, and then put those raps on another beat, because the marriage is just never the same. Rarely can you fit it like a puzzle, it doesn’t usually work like that.”
On channeling “first album energy” for DAYTONA:
“Man, I just have a chip on my shoulder. I really do when it comes to rap. ‘Cause I don’t think lyric-driven hip-hop ever goes out of style, I don’t believe that. And even with rap changing in the different subgenres and the different sounds, the chip on my shoulder is competing with those sounds. I want to be the disruption to all of this, and I don’t what you to think you can do what I do. I’m not into that. Looking for “first album energy” is trying to tap into the brash, young, Pusha-T who just doesn’t give a damn. He’s a rebel.”
You chatted quite a bit about the different collaborators you worked with and their creative process, how you work into it, and how it affects yours. But I want to ask you more about what your creative process. What are you doing when you’re coming up with rhymes, etc.?
Well, for me, rapping comes with a lot of freestyle space. I say that, just randomly in the shower in the morning, just randomly driving. If, of course, I have something on my mind, it’s a bit more calculated, but it always starts with the beat and freestyling to the beat. Whatever the emotion is that that beat evokes, I follow that.
You also spoke about your artistic ethos being “against everything.” Can you tell me more about that? What do you think informs that stance?
I just feel like, when you come unorthodox and you win, you win big. So, again, if I already know who I’m talking to and I’m satisfied with that, and am satisfied with just touching my core, I’m a bit more experimental with the music and making sure that it’s unorthodox. And that it’s a disruption to everything else that’s going on, with the hopes that it becomes a phenomenon, it becomes something different and something that people can’t compare, and it sticks out and everybody gravitates towards it. If not, I’m happy with just my family getting it. They always get it. They’re used to more unorthodox swag from me.
When you and your crew were first getting started in Virginia, where did you find the confidence to immediately engage in such competitive stakes? Or rather, what was it you were trying to say that instilled such confidence at such a young age?
You know, I would just say from the town. A lot of people don’t understand that Virginia was really the hotbed before everywhere else. If you think about that time period in raps, you think about Big’s album, you think about Mase, you think about Wu-Tang, everybody rhyming about coming to Virginia Beach. Everything that was going on in Virginia Beach, early ’90s, I’m talking about you can go back to Public Enemy, Black Greekfest weekend, where they were spraying the kids and they made the “Can’t Trust It” fucking song and video about it. But, they got footage from Virginia Beach. Everything was about where I was living at the time. When you talk about New York, they just infiltrated our area in every capacity.
So, we were hip to a lot of shit, we were hip to a lot of things. We were hip to a lot of the influences that were going on fashion-wise. It was just a lot going on down there, culturally. And we thought that we had something to say, number one, and we had a little different spin on it, because people hadn’t seen our area in lights like that. They didn’t know that… we just knew that it was something to speak about, and we knew so many people from so many different places would gravitate towards what we were saying because they could relate, and it would be like “Oh shit, yeah, that’s how it really does go down.” And Virginia was known as a “get money” state, you could come there and get rich. But nobody had every spoken about that, rap-wise, before. Ever.
More than it being where you’re from, do you feel like Virginia and its scene still informs what you’re talking about, your perspective?
Yeah, for sure. I feel like my ties to Virginia are like triple, quadruple-knotted. And sometimes I just go home to get the energy. I live in Maryland right now, I have a place, actually, in Virginia and in Maryland. So I just be between both places. But they’re super informative people… super informative, and that energy is just something you can’t get anywhere else. So, I go back for that a lot.
Do you feel like you there’s a difference now? Can you see your own influence on that sound or on that scene or not so much?
I don’t. I don’t see that a lot. I think that we were different. The era and the people that came out during my… I’m looking at Pharrell and Chad, my best friends, I’m looking at Timbaland right here, I’m looking at Missy, who were explorers. We were going to D.C. every week, we were going to New York every day, just for nothing. I wasn’t even going to school half the time. Like, really. None of us were. We’d go to school just enough to pass, so we could do what we wanted to do musically. It felt like we needed that time. I think it’s taken a little while for the next generation from out of our area to… I’m seeing the next generation now, they’re just now exploring. And, a lot of that has to do with how … the lack of support that we had from the city. Or, the cities.
How do you think that could have gone differently? Do you have any ideas for programs in Virginia or something like this? How do you think you could support young musicians or creative people trying to do their thing?
Well, we’re trying now to, basically, to support artists from out of the area. Pharrell is doing a real estate project that’s going to encourage the arts and he’s asked me to be a part of it. It’s tough. It’s tough later to try to redo it, because I feel like the city wants to grow bigger. But, it can’t really grow bigger now. It might have been easier for it to grow if you had these accolades and these artists and these things behind you, but we don’t have it. You might could have it if you had embraced it, if you made more of an uprising about what was great going on around the area. It’s a lot of little weirdo layers that I never tell.
Watch Pusha-T’s full RBMA lecture below.
For more like this, read our cover story with G.O.O.D. Music signee 070 Shake from Issue 17 of ‘Highsnobiety’ Magazine right here.