2018 Highlights: "Daytona"

By Sean Lee

Somehow Pusha T did it. He threw away an already completed album with production by The Neptunes, moved to Wyoming, partnered with a MAGA-repping Kanye West, paid $85,000 for album artwork, and produced a Grammy nominated album that was only seven songs. Oh, and he also became the first rapper to beat Drake in a rap beef.

Daytona, Pusha T’s third studio album, could easily be overshadowed by its own controversy, but the album shines as an independent piece of artwork that is free from artistic intention or the cult of celebrity. Instead, the Bronx born rapper presents a tightly calculated album succinct in its presentation of the underbelly of opulence , drug dealing, and the industry’s inner workings with seven songs that say just what is needed to be said: nothing more, nothing less.

The album’s conception came at the beginning of G.O.O.D Music founder Kanye West’s creative stream which eventually evolved into an “album-a-week” model for the month of June. Pusha T revealed on the Joe Budden podcast that Daytona was already complete prior to him presenting it to West for a final review. West, after a few days of listening, called the former Clipse rapper, stating that he believed he could offer better production. He proposed scrapping the entire project as it currently was. This phone call lead to a move to the mountains of Wyoming where West and Push spent weeks going through crates of records to find the samples that would eventually evolve into Daytona.

The first song off the album, “If You Know You Know,” is the best encapsulation of this record digging. Rapping with more allusions and references than he’s ever done before, Pusha T spits insider knowledge over Kanye West’s flip of “Twelve O’Clock Satanial” an obscure 2014 electronic song by the French duo Air. Lyrical references and flips like “Where were you when Big Meech brought the tigers in?/ 'Cause I was busy earning stripes like a tiger's skin” simultaneously reveal the rapper’s insider status in the upper echelons of the rap game as well his ability to flip insider knowledge into something that can be screamed by frat boys at a music festival.

Rap certainly has changed since Pusha first entered the game. In the 2000’s it seemed a rapper like Pusha T could simultaneously be involved with hard hitters like his rap duo Clipse while working with more radio friendly artists like Pharrell and The Neptunes. But Pusha remains unapologetic to the demands of mainstream hip-hop today.

Even his featured artists rhyme differently, as if rapping on a Pusha T song requires a different standard of rhyming. Rick Ross forgoes his usual tropes of superficial luxury and maybe gives his coldest verse of this year with lyrics like “So I debate my case vs. a Nancy Grace/ It’s flesh and blood til I’m fresh as fuck/ Still hands on, sucker, press your luck,” both presenting a level of lyricism and allusions that is rare for the Maybach mogul.

Then there’s the Kanye West’s verse on “What Would Meek Do,” where he utilizes his guest spot as an opportunity to address his recent political controversy simply stating “Everything Ye say cause a new debate/ You see he been out of touch, he cannot relate,” both acknowledging his recent backlash in the public eye but choosing to stay in Pusha’s lane of not giving a fuck.

And then there’s “Infrared,” the perfect bait that one Aubrey Graham unknowingly bit. Interestingly, the only real allusion to Drizzy in the song is Pusha’s offhand mentioning of Quentin Miller, the ghostwriter whom Meek Mill revealed to have written most of Drake’s songs on his 2015 mixtape If You’re Reading this It’s Too Late. But Pusha has been taunting Drake for a long time throughout his discography with sideways jabs.This time Drake couldn’t help but respond. Drizzy’s diss track, “Duppy Freestyle,” seems like a long awaited response, like a cashier who just couldn’t take the passiveness of angry customers anymore and shoots the entire store up. But in Drake’s case it’s more of a cashier who couldn’t take it anymore and simply complains to Human Resources.

When “Duppy Freestyle” came out there were instant comparisons made to the rapper’s previous diss track, “Back To Back.” The song was catchy with just enough allusions and puns to make Lil Wayne happy. For a rapper like Pusha T, who simply flirts with the mainstream, it seemed like his career was at an end. However, Pusha responded with the scathing “The Story of Adidon” in which he tarnishes Drake’s innocent reputation by revealing that Drake fathered an illegitimate child with porn star Sophie Brussaux.

The diss track was a calculated move much like Daytona -- simple, precise, and released at the perfect moment. “The Story of Adidon” became Pusha T’s most streamed song on SoundCloud as well as earning him several early spots for various music blog’s verse of the year. This victory over Drake similarly boosted Daytona’s album sales, which entered the Billboard top 5 the week of its release, earning one of the largest physical copy sales of an album this year. The line “You are fathering a child/ Let that boy come home” utilized Drake’s own formula against him -- make it simple enough to meme and recite.

For me, Daytona was perhaps one of the most engaging hip-hop albums I’ve listened to of all time,definitely this year. At a little over 21 minutes, the album never has a boring moment very drop, bar, and sample is carefully calculated and crafted to give the listener a specific feeling at a specific moment. The verses are sinister and clever, the samples are obscure and heavy, and the controversy keeps the whole thing interesting. There may be critics that say the album is too short or too lacking of a radio-friendly sound, that it couldn’t make an impact in hip-hop culture. But to the ones who truly understand the album’s impact I simply say this: if you know, you know.

This piece is by Sean Lee. Follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leee.

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