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Pusha T on Kanye West, perfecting coke rap and the Grammys and hip-hop

August Brown, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

The most vicious, masterful street-rap album of the year was written by a 45-year-old Virginia dad who can't wait to get home to his family after work.

Pusha T's "It's Almost Dry" is a 12-song switchblade of a record from one of rap's most focused craftsmen. Pusha T, born Terrence Thornton, came up as one half of the beloved brother duo Clipse, from the same freewheeling Virginia scene that birthed Missy Elliott and Timbaland. Alongside super-producer Pharrell, who always kept room for the rapper's trademark snarl in his schedule, Pusha perfected his drug-trade storytelling over skeletal, disorienting beats.

"It's Almost Dry," nominated for best rap album at the upcoming Grammy Awards, is a late-career highlight, with production split between Pharrell and his other longtime creative partner, Kanye West. The two have collaborated on records since 2010, and Pusha T took the reins of West's Def Jam imprint, G.O.O.D. Music, from 2015 through this year.

In a conversation with The Times, Pusha did not hold back about West's unraveling, the spate of rappers dying far too young and his decades in rap doing one thing perfectly.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

"It's Almost Dry" is your first album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, and you did it at age 45. How are you still refining your craft and getting better at this 20 years into your career?

 

That's what I'm in music for right now, to show that hip-hop does not age out. When you think about early hip-hop and the greats before me, you realize that they had such a short window. No one ever really lasted this long, and to actually be competing, it's kind of unheard of.

One thing I've always admired about your work is how you sequence albums. Every LP has a clear concept and is really precise — no skips. When does an album become complete for you?

I rarely do extra songs. I know exactly what it is that I'm looking for when I go into making an album. With "It's Almost Dry," it was to make the purest, most uncompromised hip-hop album I could. That meant the lyricism had to be A-1, and I felt it would be eventful to pit Pharrell Williams versus Ye. These two producers are hip-hop at its purest core. The passion between the three of us alone is enough to know that you're gonna get the album of the year.

You're known for some trademark themes in your music. It's astonishing how you're always able to find fresh takes on the drug underground. It's like Martin Scorsese having interesting things to say about the Mafia after 50 years.

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