Pusha T, ‘King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude’ [ALBUM REVIEW]
December is oftentimes a dead zone for new music releases. Eligibility for music awards nominations are past at this point, and music websites are already rolling out their year-end lists. Only a few artists can drop albums during this time and not get lost in the holiday season shuffle.
Yet the past few Decembers have yielded brilliant releases that rank among the best and automatically make those "year-end" lists irrelevant. In 2013, it was Beyonce's surprise self-titled album. Last year, D'Angelo shocked the music world by releasing his long-awaited project, Black Messiah. This year, Pusha T has the end-of-year MVP album with King Push - Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude.
The Virginia rhymer isn't an artist who isn't going to really chase those year-end lists and awards. He's already accomplished tons of success. While he was part of Clipse he released some of the best tracks, mixtapes and albums of the 2000s. Since then, he's teamed up with Kanye West and made a phenomenal solo career for himself. Shortly before releasing Darkest Before Dawn, he became president of West's G.O.O.D. Music label. His focus hasn't been on mainstream success, but continuing to build his cult following with some of the most grimiest hip-hop around.
When Pusha calls himself "King Push," he means it. Ever since his days with Clipse, he's never stopped sounding hungry. His harsh voice never fails to add an edge to a track, and he always makes sure to bring the best he's got in him. You can put him on a track with anybody and he can assassinate them with his lyricism. He's been on tracks with all-time greats like Common, Raekwon, Ice Cube, T.I. and Jadakiss, and left them lyrically dead in his tracks. His output might not be as prolific as his fellow rap peers, but he makes his presence known whenever he appears on a song. That's how he can sample the Notorious B.I.G. on "Untouchable" and make it seem like the arguable greatest-of-all-time rapper is talking about him.
King Push makes sure no other rappers will take the throne from him. On the standout track "Crutches, Crosses, Caskets," he takes aim at lesser artists.
"Rappers is victimized at an all time high / But not I, you pop n----s thought I let it fly / I'm Yasiel Puig, I'm in another league / I defected, only thing we have in common, n----s bleed / In ya thousand dollar joggers as you rhyme about ya dollars / Is there shame when a platinum rapper's mother lives in squalor?" he raps.
On the tone-setting intro track, Pusha boasts about making some of the all-time great producers even better with his rhymes over their beats. "Ask Ye who's loyalty is more realer / Ask P who's core's a drug dealer / Me and Tim, it's coming, it's gonna kill 'em / The only great I ain't made better was J Dilla."
There are plenty of guest features on the project, but the star of the show is always Push. Kanye West and A$AP Rocky show up on "M.P.A.," but it's just hook duty. The-Dream, Kehlani and Jill Scott are also on the LP to provide hooks and intros. The only guest verse that appear are longtime Clipse-affiliate Ab-Liva on "Got 'Em Covered" and Philly great Beanie Sigel on "Keep Dealing." Both rappers kill their verses, but don't quite match the lyrical fire that Push spits.
The production is largely great as well. Metro Boomin provides a dark, banging beat for the intro. "Crutches, Crosses, Caskets" is Diddy's best beat in what seems like forever. J. Cole and Kanye West make a beat that wouldn't sound out-of-place on Ye's immaculately produced My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy for "M.P.A." Timbaland's "Got 'Em Covered" is really the only weak beat on the project, but Push and Ab-Liva's rhymes cover it up, and Timbo made up for it with his great "Untouchable" beat.
What might be most impressive about the project is that it's short, clocking in at just slightly over 30 minutes with 10 songs. Rap albums have a tendency to run overly long, so having a concise rap album with no filler is a breath of fresh air.
Long albums done well can be great (Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly comes to mind), but oftentimes, quality is better than quantity. Pusha T understands this, and it's especially helpful considering his relatively limited subject matter. He raps about hustling, his status on the top of the rap game and lots more tales about drug dealing. Only a few rappers do these things as well as Pusha T, but he's better off for not overstaying his welcome.
Darkest Before Dawn is just a prelude to Pusha's King Push album that's been delayed for some time. Basically, it's a B-sides album. Yet the project feels coherent and not like a compilation of rejected songs. There's a vision to it, which is rare in these kinds of projects.
If the end result is just to keep fans happy with an appetizer of great music while they wait for the main course, Pusha T has accomplished that with Darkest Before Dawn. If this was the actual King Push album instead of an appetizer for the main course, it would still be a great effort. A lesser artist would get lost in that year-end shuffle releasing a project this late in December, but Pusha T demands your attention.