Virginia coke-rap enthusiast Terrence "Pusha T" Thornton, one-half of the critically-acclaimed duo the Clipse, released his first solo effort, the free mixtape Fear Of God, earlier this year after setting up a solo deal with Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music imprint and scoring two brilliant cameos on his new boss's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy ("Runaway" and "So Appalled", which is still my shit). While it's difficult for any rapper to meet the high expectations that their fans hold them to, Fear Of God was especially disappointing, as it was very inconsistent, with its legitimately good songs hampered by the inclusion of weaker freestyles, boring production, and too much dependency on guest stars.
Pusha T aimed to make up for this by releasing a sequel, the EP Fear Of God II: Let Us Pray. Although five of the tracks included were his personal favorites from the original project, he recorded seven new songs in order to justify the fact that Fear Of God II: Let Us Pray was intended to actually be sold. In stores. As such, this project has become the man's official debut solo release.
A quick glance at the tracklisting implies that Pusha didn't really learn from his mistakes from the first volume, as the guest list has somehow become even more crowded (and now includes such random names as Diddy and Tyler, the Creator). But I won't let that deter me from finding out if this EP is worth my time. Hell, at least I only have to write about seven songs: those of you looking for my thoughts on the back end of Fear Of God II: Let Us Pray can click on this link to read my review of the original mixtape.
1. CHANGING OF THE GUARDS (FEAT. DIDDY)
Don't be alarmed by the guest list: the "artist" forever known to me as Puff Daddy only chimes in with some occasional ad-libs that aren't entirely necessary, but still weren't terrible. Fear Of God II: Let Us Pray kicks off with what is essentially a rap album intro, one which features Pusha spitting a one-verse wonder that somehow simultaneously sounds pretty decent and makes you wish that he never discovered production outside of the Neptunes. Still, not bad.
2. AMEN (FEAT. KANYE WEST & YOUNG JEEZY)
While the extended intro to "Amen" played out, I wondered why this shit wasn't used as the first track on Fear Of God II: Let Us Pray: hell, the monologue even directly ties in to the album's title. Oh, also, it actually sounds entertaining, and I extend that praise through to Young Jeezy's guest verse, even though it sounds out of place. (Which is strange, as "Amen" was originally a Jeezy solo track, as is my understanding.) Pusha T and his boss Kanyeezy walk away with this Shawty Redd beat (which isn't the sort of thing I gravitate toward, but I still thought it sounded pretty good), as both men deliver hot verses that don't sound as ominous as the instrumental demands, but are catchy nonetheless. 'Ye's asshole tendencies, which tend to expose themselves more often on songs not produced by him, sound especially good when limited to a cameo on a subordinate's song.
3. TROUBLE ON MY MIND (FEAT. TYLER, THE CREATOR)
Features the finest Neptunes instrumental of all of 2011, and not just because it sounds far removed from the blingy synths the production duo is known for: it's actually just good. The song itself is also pretty decent, but it can't help but sound dated as shit, since it was originally recorded way back when people actually gave a damn about Odd Future frontman Tyler, the Creator (he even cribs a line from his breakout track, "Yonkers", on here). "Trouble On My Mind" probably would have sounded much better had Fear Of God II: Let Us Pray been released on time. Anyway, Pusha and Tyler don't sound terrible together, and our host has always excelled over Pharrell and Chad beats (at least, it's rumored that Chad Hugo actually worked on this beat, unlike some of the other Neptunes product over the years), but you can't help but think that the collaboration isn't what you would refer to as "natural".
4. WHAT DREAMS ARE MADE OF
Pusha's conversational boasts (he really sounds like he's having a discussion with the listener, one that just so happens to rhyme every few words or so) are bookended by Ric Flair sound bites that don't add much to the proceedings, but fit the overall mood anyway. Over a VIPs instrumental that has to grow on you, our host unleashes a steady stream of braggadocio that is essentially what you expected to hear from the one-half of the Clipse who (a) still raps, and (b) ended up finding his solo career being guided by one of the biggest names in music today. This wasn't bad.
5. BODY WORK (FEAT. JUICY J, MEEK MILL, & FRENCH MONTANA)
I dreaded listening to this collaboration the moment I first read about it, since I was afraid that it would sound like a generic nonsensical Southern posse cut. Which it does, and it is, but the Rico Beats instrumental is actually pretty good, even though it isn't the sort of thing I would immediately gravitate to. Three 6 Mafia's Juicy J (who apparently traded in his Academy Award for a shot with the Hot Topic crowd by aligning himself with Wiz Khalifa's camp? What the fuck?) kicks things off with a brief verse and a goofy chorus, followed by our host, Rick Ross weed carrier Meek Mill (whose rap name is too close to that of Mac Miller for me to take him seriously), and French Montana, the newest member of Puff Daddy's Bad Boy conglomerate. None of the verses are especially impressive: in fact, they're all lazy as shit (specifically those of Pusha T and Meek, who feel the need to end every bar with the word "n---a"). But taken as a whole, "Body Work" somehow transcends its shitty blueprint to sound decent enough. Weird.
6. EVERYTHING THAT GLITTERS (FEAT. FRENCH MONTANA)
French Montana, making his second appearance on Fear Of God II: Let Us Pray, lends "Everything That Glitters" a horrific chorus that would be funny if it weren't so motherfucking terrible, thanks to his piss-poor delivery and his unexplained need to break out into song only during certain words. Pusha sounds okay over the A-Traxx instrumental on his own, though: the subject matter (rappers revealing that living the high life isn;t all it's cracked up to be) is far from original, but our host makes the most of it throughout the track's running time. But that chorus should be convicted of first degree murder for brutally slaughtering the momentum of the track. It's that fucking inept. I would write that the hook is so bad that you two just need to hear it for yourselves, but that would defeat the purpose of a negative critique, now, wouldn't it?
7. SO OBVIOUS (FEAT. BANGLADESH)
The final new song on Fear Of God II: Let Us Pray is nearly ruined by the obtrusive ad-libs from producer Bangladesh that fuck up the flow (although his beat, which apes the general style of his work for Lil' Wayne, does a good enough job of interrupting the program all by itself), but Pusha T remains focused, delivering three verses without any regard for his surroundings. He sounds as consistent as Bangladesh sounds bothered. I'm not sure if I will ever get over my feelings for our host rhyming over non-Neptunes beats, but "So Obvious" doesn't help matters any. Also, the chorus is fucking retarded. There, I said it.
As mentioned above, the rest of the tracks on Fear Of God II: Let Us Pray were already reviewed during my write-up on the original Fear Of God mixtape. They appear in much the same form on here.
8. FEELING MYSELF (FEAT. KEVIN COSSOM)
9. RAID (FEAT. 50 CENT & PHARRELL)
10. MY GOD
11. I STILL WANNA (FEAT. RICK ROSS & AB-LIVA)
12. ALONE IN VEGAS
THE LAST WORD: Pusha T's EP Fear Of God II: Let Us Pray is ultimately an entertaining diversion that won't save the world (or hip hop, for that matter), but it will get you by until another artist grabs your attention. Although it was nice of our host to record some newer material for this sequel, the fact that he seems to believe that his fans should now pay for the last five tracks on here, all of which appeared in the exact same form on the original Fear Of God mixtape (except maybe "Alone In Vegas", which I seem to remember being a bit longer, but oh well), is a bit disconcerting. Still, the project as a whole flows much more consistently than the mixtape version ever did. Pusha T's experimentation with other producers still doesn't produce the overly winning results he's been hoping for (seriously, where's the Kanye beat?), but he proves himself to be more malleable than you may have believed, as he adapts comfortably to whatever is playing in his background. Fear Of God II: Let Us Pray isn't a perfect EP, but it works well enough to sap you of your time for about forty-five minutes. Still, this doesn't fully sell me on the idea of a full-length Pusha T solo album.