Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Comments on FEAR OF GOD

Pusha T seems to be experiencing a sort of Black Album period. I’m not saying that Pusha is planning on retiring, but both projects are made by rappers that, whether or not it is true, cinematically imagine themselves to be at the top of their game. The first song, “My God”, is the spiritual equivalent of “PSA”, a sort of angry, widescreen coronation. What makes this song good, other than the fact that it almost achieves the same level of exaltation that Jay-Z does, is that it maintains an essentially Clipse quality that I didn’t expect at first. While the production is by no means sparse, and Clipse tracks always seemed to be, it maintains, through the main riff and the scattered organ lines, a sort of eeriness that Clipse, especially Pusha T, always did best. This is a lot of Pusha's appeal, a sort of confident, self-recognized sinisterness, the feeling that he has no allusions about what he’s doing, but he’s going to do it anyway.

The best parts of this mixtape, “My God” really being its high point, are capable of expanding this sentiment into larger, more powerful mode. That, unfortunately, does not happen all that often. Rick Ross steals “I Still Wanna”, a huge chaotic storm without any real sign of Pusha’s influence. More subdued songs, like “Alone in Vegas”, “Raid", and “Cook it Down”, maintain the essential Clipsy-ness, but just not as well as the duo did in their heyday. Attempts at pop, like “Feeling Myself” and a remix of Soulja Boy's “Speakers Going Hammer”, are even less successful. To put it simply, it just doesn’t seem like he knows what to do with these songs, doing the same old thing in a context that just doesn’t make sense: both Pusha T and Soulja Boy, in other words, have a hard time not sounding like Pusha T and Soulja Boy. Even more left field additions, like the Queen-sampling “Open Your Eyes”, fail just as badly. It’s amazing how universal this is.

It seems that the lesson of all this is simply that Pusha T is just not a very versatile rapper. The best songs on the mixtape are forward developments for sure, but they are not at all outside of his wheelhouse. And its a small wheelhouse. His “Can I Live” remix is probably the most telling on this point. The song begins, “They say this took confidence/I just call it patience/’Cause I had too much pride to take this muthafuckin’ cadence”. This is a pregnant line, full of self-knowledge, self-loathing, and bitterness. But most importantly it shows confidence. Pusha’s sentiment is pretty close to the tortured debonair of Jay-Z’s original, but misses the essential self-questioning that Jay represented so well. This alone is enough to make the song boring and awkward.

To put it simply, Pusha T’s style is self-restrictive. This, however, is not at all a bad thing. First of all, the specificity of his sentiment is part of what makes him so good. Listen to “Momma I’m So Sorry” and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. More importantly, a lot of musicians could be much more consistently good if they realized that development often has to happen in small steps, as “My God” shows us. I really believe that one of the reasons Nas never again reached the heights of his debut is that he, a similarly restricted rapper, doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to accept this concept. So while most of this mixtape isn’t really worth keeping, its saving grace to some extent is the fact that it shows some real development to a pretty complex personal myth. Pusha T, in other words, is not repeating himself and I can appreciate that.

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