Pusha T makes hypnotic rap: “MNIMN” reviewed

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I still remember the first time I heard “Grindin’” by Clipse about 10 years ago. That simplistic, thumping beat with two rappers laying mesmerizing lines over the top grabbed my attention and didn’t let go. Pusha T and Malice (now No Malice) had (have) everything I look for in rap: varied cadence, clever lines, interesting voices, memorable verses. To this day, my mental soundtrack replays “When The Last Time,” “I’m Not You,” “Virginia” and other tracks from that debut Clipse album when I least expect it. I’ll be doing laundry, saying “more cash than you seen, with an Aston that’s green, me drivin’ up fast with a lean” under my breath and not even know how that song started running through my head.

That’s a sign of quality songcrafting. It’s been 10 years and I still absentmindedly rap that stuff in the shower. Pusha T has been working on his solo career for the last few years, stealing the show in songs he features on, putting out mixtapes, generally not fixing the unbroken formula he crafted at the start of the decade. And he’s been good, staying among my favorite rappers all this time despite not being super prolific. But every once in a while, he drops a song like this: 

or this:

and it’s so great it makes me start to think things like “is Pusha T actually the best rapper working right now?” even though I know that’s not the case. I know he does certain things so well; is so transcendent with certain types of beats that it releases a bunch of crazy chemicals in my brain and puts me in a rap trance.

You may notice both songs I shared feature very, very, very simple, sinister beats that don’t distract from the rhyming going on. They’re very similar and indeed, they’re not unlike “Grindin’,” which is more than a decade old. And on most of the rest of the tracks on Pusha’s new album, “My Name Is My Name,” he sticks with a variation on that formula. It usually works, though a few of the tracks don’t really capture that minimalist sneer that Pusha T excels at as well, for example “No Regrets.”

To my ear there’s too much going on in that beat and the sing-song hook doesn’t do much for me, but even this isn’t a bad song, per se. It just might be one I would be inclined to skip, as I almost always will the song with the horrid Chris Brown (rappers, please: stop using Chris Brown for your R&B hooks. He can’t sing and he’s a human piece of garbage).

The song that gives me the most trouble from a critical standpoint is “Hold On,” produced by Kanye West and featuring Rapper Replacement Program Replacee Rick Ross.

I like Kanye’s piano-driven beat with the autotune warbling, but I think it’s a bit of a mismatch for Pusha’s style. Plus Ross’s verse starts with “I was pissin’ my shorts/havin’ rich nigga thoughts,” which I guess means he was a kid, dreaming of being rich? Kind of an awkward way to say that, RAWSE.

The album isn’t wall-to-wall fantastic, but it is a solid entry in the Pusha T rap canon and without any new Clipse albums in the immediate future (though rumor has it they are working on something together), it’s a welcome dose of that spiritually burdened drug dealer persona that Pusha and Malice perfected. “Numbers On The Boards” and “Nosetalgia” are likely to provide me with many absentminded rap moments in the years to come, even if I have to delete the Chris Brown feature track from my computer so I never have to worry about ever hearing his watery, weak “singing” voice coming out of my speakers.

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