I had originally planned on running this review last week, but shit kept getting in the way. Wait, why am I explaining anything? There's no real rhyme or reason to the order these things run in. I guess the only thing I'm half-assedly apologizing for is for running another LL Cool J review, although there are still plenty of those to come (eventually), so you two have that to (not) look forward to.
Anyway, Pusha T, one half of Virginla coke rap enthusiasts the Clipse, dropped his solo mixtape debut, Fear Of God, last week, in an effort to capitalize off of his prominent placement on two of his new boss Kanye West's tracks off of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. His signing to G.O.O.D. Music last year came as a surprise to everybody who expected Pusha to stand by idly while his hometown friend, production team The Neptunes, turned their career back around, which is to say, it mainly surprised me, only because I prefer to hear him over Pharrell and Chad's stark beats.
Pusha T's solo venture was expedited by his brother Malice's decision to drop out of the limelight for a while, electing instead to write a book about his newfound spirituality. As he was still interested in rhyming (and, I don't know, earning money to pay for everyday supplies and shit), Pusha T spent his days and nights at the factory, dropping verses as casually as someone may drop some pennies into a fountain at the mall. Fear Of God is the culmination of his solo hustle, a free mixtape (sequenced like an album) intended to satiate his fans while he works on his actual solo debut, which, given the Clipse's rocky history with their various record labels, will probably see its release around the same time Sarah Palin signs a deal with Mark Ronson.
Fear Of God, compiled without the presence of an annoying deejay on the microphone, features cameo appearances from a handful of hip hop's more popular artists; surprisingly, aside from one obvious inclusion, none of them are members of his new G.O.O.D. Music family. About half of the album includes original tracks, but the other half feature freestyles over stolen instrumentals, which made it absolutely impossible for Pusha T to even think about asking for any money for this project. Fear Of God hits the Interweb with the high hope that it will somehow elevate Pusha T's solo career and stir up interest for whatever the man does next.
Show of hands if you were shocked to discover a Scarface sound bite on a mixtape from one of the premiere artists in coke rap. Nobody? Okay then. Moving on...
2. MY GOD
Odds are pretty good that, if you read this blog, then you probably also follow other sites, and as such, you've already heard “My God”. Producer Hitboy (who really hit it “big” (relatively speaking) with his work on Kanye West's “Christmas In Harlem”) is appropriately bombastic, allowing Pusha T to string punchlines together as though they somehow formed a coherent verse or two. As a song, “My God” is an interesting freestyle, comprising of two sections that manage to sound menacing and celebratory even though our host is talking about less than nothing. Pusha sounds great doing so, though, so this song gets a pass, although it pales when compared to his solo work alongside his boss, the aforementioned West (I'm thinking specifically of “So Appalled”). I did enjoy the “time bandit” joke, though.
3. I STILL WANNA (FEAT. RICK ROSS & AB-LIVA)
And just like that, Fear Of God takes a fucking nosedive. Surprisingly, though, the severe drop in quality has absolutely nothing to do with the guest appearance from Officer Richard Ross: in fact, the Inkredibles instrumental sounds like something he probably would have used himself under different circumstances, as he at least sounds comfortable. No, the failure of “I Still Wanna” falls squarely on Pusha T's shoulders: the beat alienates him, and our host overcompensates by barking his orders directly to the audience, with almost none of it coming across as remotely entertaining. Not even the pseudo-reunion between Re-Up Gang coworkers Pusha and Ab-Liva can salvage this shit. Sigh.
4. MONEY ON MY MIND FREESTYLE
This freestyle over Lil Wayne's “Money On My Mind” would have probably worked better for me had I been familiar with the source material. (As it is, I only listened to the original track after completing that last sentence, and you can imagine that I wasn't very happy afterward.) But then again, Pusha T tempts fate by dropping a Kate Gosselin reference within his first few bars: even though that shit is dated as hell, it's still, by all accounts, inexcusable. This track wasn't very memorable for me.
5. FEELING MYSELF (FEAT. KEVIN COSSUM)
After reading that song title, I had anticipated some sort of rebuttal or denial, so that Pusha T's fans didn't suddenly believe that this track was about masturbation. (Well, not about that kind of masturbation, anyway.) I just didn't expect it to come in the very first line from the guest star, Kevin Cossum, who actually sings the word “pause”, which has become the verbal equivalent of a Jim Halpert-esque deadpan stare-slash-smirk at the camera, except that it's only used whenever a rapper says something that could attract homophobic comments. Which is a long-winded way for me to say that the chorus on here was really fucking stupid: if you feel the need to defend yourself before you even write down your first bar, you've already lost the battle. Pusha's lyrics don't really help the cause, either. This shit was terrible.
6. BLOW (FUNK FLEX FREESTYLE)
Although this is labeled as a freestyle, Pusha's verse, set to the beat of an unknown producer whose name our host seems to have lost, sounds like a decent enough performance to make the final cut of someone else's solo album. Or maybe that's just me: I personally liked the fact that he mentioned his brother's musical hiatus, which ultimately resulted in me writing a review of a Pusha T solo mixtape that wouldn't have existed otherwise. (Circle of life, and all that.) Although our host sounded pretty good, though, the less said about the crappy instrumental, the better. (Maybe Pusha didn't lose the man's name: perhaps he went into hiding.)
7. COOK IT DOWN FREESTYLE
Pusha draws from Bun B's Drake-assisted “Put It Down” for inspiration, turning the track into yet another ode to cocaine (albeit an indirect one). However, it actually works (Pusha's Auto-Tuned singing on the hook notwithstanding), so it makes sense why our host felt it appropriate to shoot a music video for a mixtape freestyle...from a free compilation...that he couldn't collect money for anyway, due to all of the uncleared samples contained within. Shit, Pusha T may as well have written me a check directly for listening to this (catchy) song: at least the money would have gone to better use.
8. OPEN YOUR EYES
Producer Nottz utilizes a sped-up vocal sample from Queen's “Bohemian Rhapsody” for this low-key mission statement, on which Pusha T sets the stage for what we, the audience, is about to experience. Aside from the fact that this introductory salvo (that's what it feels like to me, anyway) takes place in the middle of the fucking album, this is a solid effort, one where the highly recognizable sample isn't quite as distracting as you would expect. Pusha delivers two mature verses that signal the possibility of a fruitful solo career. Now if only he would spend his money on some actual good beats.
9. CAN I LIVE FREESTYLE
Pusha reaches into his Wayback Machine and pulls out the instrumental for the early Jay-Z song “Can I Live” (complete with some of Hova's vocals) to (a) bring to us a solid verse that now has me convinced that he absolutely has to score a Jay-Z feature on his actual album (I'm sure 'Ye can help him with that), and (b) discredit hyper-successful rappers for keeping him down, apparently. Considering how much fucking critical acclaim the Clipse receive every time one of them takes a shit, I'm not altogether sure what he's complaining about. But this freestyle was still alright.
10. RAID (FEAT. 50 CENT & PHARRELL WILLIAMS)
Finally, a fucking Neptunes beat! It's not their best work or anything: hell, it isn't even really that decent. But Pusha T's chemistry with Pharrell and Chad (who probably had jack shit to do with “Raid”, now that I think about it) is undeniable, as he elevates this track with two bookends full of fire, leaving you to wish that Fear Of God was wall-to-wall Neptunes production. It won't surprise you two to discover that the track's momentum takes a dump in your ear canal once Curtis Jackson approaches the mic for his middle verse, but it's to our host's credit that you immediately forget about his guest appearance once he returns to the booth. For his part, Pharrell seems to have lost his fucking shit, as his chorus, just like the one on the Clipse's “Popular Demand (Popeye's)”, sounds like something Kool Keith would scribble down during a wet dream: I think the man needs a vacation.
11. TOUCH IT (FEAT. KANYE WEST)
My understanding is that this simple Kanye West beat was originally intended for Common to use during his Universal Mind Control pussy-obsessed days, but the collaboration wasn't meant to be, so Pusha T earns the distinction of reusing an instrumental that was never released in the first place. Weird. Anyway, he drafts a trio of verses revolving around tricking some girl into sucking his dick. Oddly, even with the wasted potential on here, this song didn't completely blow (no pun intended) (okay, maybe a little), as Pusha somehow finds new ways to describe fellatio that never become boring or awkward. Unlike 'Ye's own hook, which is just as creepy as his other sex raps have been. If any Republicans are on the lookout for a rapper to preach abstinence (because teaching teens to fucking use condoms seems to be out of the question in America), Kanye West's repulsive descriptions of sexual congress will definitely meet their needs. Oh well, at least his beat was effective enough.
12. SPEAKERS GOING HAMMER FREESTYLE
This freestyle, set to a Soulja Boy Tell 'Em song (of all things), goes off the rails as soon as Pusha ends his verse, as he spends the outro recounting a conversation he had where he, apparently, took a bit too much offense at someone not remembering exactly what type of vehicle he drives. Do you remember those old-school R&BN songs where the artist would take time away from singing to flat-out talk to the object of their affection (and, by proxy, the audience)? This was a poor example of that shit. And yes, I realize that wasn't the effect Pusha T was intending.
13. ALONE IN VEGAS (OUTRO)
The conclusion to Fear Of God swings for the fences and succeeds, which may be a weird metaphor to use for a song that alternates between mournful and positive, but there you go. Pusha T uses the Nottz beat to reflect on his past and discovers just how alone he feels, growing closer to existential with each passing bar. A bit of a downer, but “Alone In Vegas” still ends Fear Of God on a higher note than it deserves, especially with its outro, on which Pusha explains that, now that he's gotten this mixtape off of his chest, he's now ready to go to work with Kanye. Expect to see that project around Neveruary 31, 2012.
SHOULD YOU TRACK IT DOWN? Although it's free and not especially difficult to come by, Pusha T's Fear Of God is a mixed bag that isn't consistently entertaining. It has its high points, and it's nice that it sounds more like an album than an actual mixtape (thankfully, there are no insipid deejay drops within the tracks themselves), but it's ultimately a frustrating straight-through listen. Part of the reason that those Re-Up Gang mixtapes were so successful was that the input from the four players resulted in some inspired instrumental choices: when left to his own devices, Pusha T handpicks some relatively boring shit. The original beats Pusha has been supplied with are also a far cry from the glory days of the Clipse. I don't understand why Pusha T is running away from his past work with the Neptunes: his coke raps have always sounded their best when paired with the stark, empty minimalism of a blingy synth beat. (Indeed, a lot of Neptunes beats sound like the soundtrack to snorting cocaine anyway.) Lyrically, Pusha T sounds a bit lost without his brother's guidance, but he fakes it well enough to earn an audience on his own: it's just too bad that Fear Of God isn't as potent a product as it could have been. I expect to lose this project among the contents of my hard drive almost instantaneously. Oh well.