Review: Pusha T, ‘Daytona’

In just 21 minutes, Pusha T has baked the best album of his career – an excellent exercise of lyricism and top-tier beat-making.

For those that only listen to chart rap, Pusha T needed some introduction. Pusha T served most of the early 2000s as half of the duo Clipse, alongside his brother No Malice. The duo worked closely with Pharrell Williams and saw a taste of pop success with their appearance on a classic Justin Timberlake song. Since going solo, Pusha T has been under the wing of Kanye West and GOOD Music and become known for his minimalist, cutthroat approach to hip hop music. With two albums under his belt, the long-awaited, nearly mythical King Push album was scrapped in favour of Kanye West producing an entirely new album, who stated “I can do better.” A bold statement to make, but in consideration of Kanye West’s track record you cannot put it past him. As the first of the seven-track GOOD Summer releases, Daytona has little room for missteps.

Whatever King Push was, maybe we’ve been given something better. Daytona is Pusha T’s best solo work to date, incisive at its core and sonically intimidating. In just 21 minutes, Pusha T is able to exercise what most rappers are unable to pull off in triple the time. Daytona excels due to its distinct, unique sound and the sheer skill of Pusha T on the mic.

Daytona explodes into life when the beat drops on “If You Know You Know”, reflecting on his come-up while administering ruthless metaphors and one-liners (“The company I keep is not corporate enough / Child Rebel Soldier, you ain’t orphan enough”). Imagine Push riding in a topless Wraith with money flustering in the wind and you get a personification of “If You Know You Know”.

As the opening track suggests, the production is what drives the identity of Daytona. Kanye supplies vintage production through chopped samples and dark impressions, whether that’s on the Western-tinged “The Games We Play” or the eerie “Come Back Baby”. The care for constructing beats that match Pusha T’s performance is ideal for Pusha’s message to come across successfully, a piece of the puzzle that Kanye achieves perfectly.

“Hard Piano” proves that the flair of Pusha T and Rick Ross on a track is unmatchable. It may not top their 2013 collaboration (“Hold On”), but it is equally poignant. Cocaine is instantly mentioned before you even press play, the title “Hard Piano” being a metaphor for crack cocaine (keys). It is one of the more stimulating cuts compared to the minimalism of the other six. “Santeria” is the peak of Daytona, forming a thrilling, layered journey in a stunning three minutes where Pusha has never sounded so alluring. Packed with three beat switches, a haunting bridge by 070 Shake and personal lyrics from Pusha T, “Santeria” embeds itself into memory.

As airtight as Daytona is, “What Would Meek Do?” narrowly exposes redundancy in Pusha’s subject matter, a detail that has been a regular critique of Pusha T’s music. Nonetheless, the track is only weak by comparison and the redundancy in topic could have been overseen if there was more vibrant production behind it. Even through the stability, Pusha T ushers quotable after quotable through his verse, ensuring no bar is wasted (“Pop a wheelie, tell the judge to Akinyele / Middle fingers out the Ghost screamin’ Makaveli”).

Minimalism is what ends the album off with “Infrared”, possessing a subdued, creeping eeriness as Push responds to Drake’s “Two Birds, One Stone” in the biggest stage of their long-running beef that stems back to 2012 (“It was written like Nas, but it came from Quentin”). The track’s title matches the lukewarm shots by Push, as he is merely aiming the trigger before sending the real shots just like an infrared beam on a gun. Shots aside, “Infrared” is the album’s best display of clever metaphors and punchlines, an imperative quality of Pusha T and Daytona that mainstream rap is currently yearning for.

Remember Will Smith won the first Grammy?
And they ain’t even recognize Hov until “Annie”
So I don’t tap dance for the crackers and sing Mammy
‘Cause I’m ‘posed to juggle these flows and nose candy (yugh)

–Pusha T, “Infrared”

It’s easy to call Daytona a “coke rap” album, but it is more than that. Daytona is a razor-sharp, 20-minute life lesson of a trapper turned rapper. Kanye West could not have assembled better beats, nor could have Pusha T left anything that he didn’t already bring to the table. As proclaimed by the man himself, Daytona may just be album of the year. Welcome back Pusha T, you’ve been missed.

Rating: 9 / 10

Best tracks: “Santeria”, “Infrared”, “If You Know You Know”, “Hard Piano”, “The Games We Play”