February 20, 2018

The Brothers Thornton: Pusha T - King Push - Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude (December 18, 2015) + My Gut Reaction: No Malice - Let The Dead Bury The Dead (August 18, 2017)

Terrence “Pusha T” Thornton has been threatening to release an album entitled King Push ever since his debut solo full-length, My Name Is My Name, hit store and digital shelves in 2013. The first song on My Name Is My Name is even called “King Push”. Clearly this is a title he’s been in love with for a long time. But it seems that title may not like him back, since I’m writing these words five years later and there still hasn’t been any movement on the Pusha front. One would think that being named president of G.O.O.D. Music would give him the confidence he needs to push his own project to the forefront, but allegedly King Push is supposed to be produced in its entirety by label founder Kanye West, and between the two of them, every song on King Push has been scrapped in favor of something “better”, so I wouldn’t expect something from the man anytime soon.

Which is just as well: Pusha T has a bunch of EDM and dubstep club joints to guest-rap on.

King Push - Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude was marketed as a holdover for Pusha T’s fans, a prequel of sorts to the official project that was supposed to drop the following year. Hence the subtitle “The Prelude”, although that “Darkest Before Dawn” shit confuses the matter even more. That, and the fact that this has somehow officially become Push’s second full-length album, which an alleged appetizer should not be. Terrence sensed that his audience was growing restless and wanted to give his fans something to prove that he had been hard at work, which is how we ended up with a ten-track equivalent of a coming attractions reel.

King Push - Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude is the coke-rap answer to a Kanye West project (understandable, given the pedigree), with nearly every song having the input of at least two different producers and multiple guest stars throughout: there were a lot of cooks in this kitchen.  As did its predecessor, King Push - Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude was met with widespread critical acclaim, with many praising the man’s lyricism (which has never been a problem) while others appreciated the mostly-bleak production, a slight upgrade from the many bones thrown to mainstream radio airwaves on My Name Is My Name. Terrence promoted the project as if it were the actual King Push, which I’m sure he’s regretting now, since he could have easily just called this shit King Push, we never would have known the difference, and he could have moved on instead of spinning his wheels, which he’s obviously been doing for the past five years.

Here you go.

King Push - Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude is only ten tracks long. Is a rap album intro really necessary? I suppose an argument can be made when there’s an actual verse present. Push runs wild over an unconventional instrumental credited to four different entities: J Gramm, G Koop, Metro Boomin, and motherfucking Puff Daddy. The very beginning is a self-aggrandizing mess, but I enjoyed the beat quite a bit. Our host’s casual boasts-n-bullshit sound exactly as they did the moment he separated from No Malice, most of the references to drug sales swapped out with Kanye-esque braggadocio, and that formula still works today, homey.

Over a very un-Timbaland Timbaland instrumental, Terrence gives the listener two verses filled with shit-talking and a sly shot aimed at Lil Wayne that our host would later deny was a dis, even though that denial makes no sense. Timmy, producing alongside Milli Beatz, gives Pusha T an unsettling beat that gives him plenty of nooks and crannies to perch within, and a “hook” built around vocal samples from the late Notorious B.I.G. (taken from his cameo on Pudgee tha Phat Bastard’s “Think Big”, which also featured Lord Tariq) that can’t help but connect Push to that classic era when lyrics mattered more. Enjoyable, even when he’s sucking himself off talking about how his checks as the new president of G.O.O.D. Music won’t bounce. Side note: am I the only person who hears Biggie’s disembodied vocals saying, “Untouchable, uncrustable?” I know that’s not what he’s saying, but now you two will only hear that, so you’re welcome.

3. M.F.T.R.
Upon King Push - Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude’s release, I listened to “M.F.T.R.” exactly once, and haven’t revisited it until now. However, The-Dream, who is one of four listed producers (along with Boi-1da, Frank Dukes, and Hudson Mohawke), performs a hook (the very first thing you hear on the track) that immediately got stuck in my head: two years and two months later I still think of, “Walk up in that bitch and wave at everything,” so kudos, Terius, you did a great job there. The instrumental is a pure radio play, one that wasn’t very successful, which just means that nobody gave it a fair shot, as this song should have been a hit. Maybe the title being an anagram (for “More Famous Than Rich”) was an obstacle too difficult for deejays to overcome? Maybe The-Dream’s hook was considered too violent for mass consumption? Whatever, Push spits his coke boasts with typical swagger, and at least now I realize I was wrong to not include “M.F.T.R.” on my Clipse playlist.

The third single released from the project (after “Untouchable” and “M.F.T.R.”) is an engaging-as-fuck mission statement from Terrence, who rides another unorthodox Puff Daddy instrumental (crafted with Mario Winans, Sean C & LV, Honorable C.N.O.T.E., and Yung Dev) confidently, dropping vague boasts and punchlines with ease while also bragging about taking care of his mother. The video features Pusha T and a carousel at one point, which fits “Crutches, Crosses, Caskets” like a glove, as that is exactly what the beat sounds like: deranged carnival music. This was still pretty good today, if a bit short.

5. M.P.A.
The second part of an unofficial acronym trilogy given away for free with purchase of King Push - Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude, “M.P.A.” (which, cleverly, stands for “Money, Pussy, Alcohol”, three subjects that haven’t ever been broached in the history of our chosen genre) is the first low point of the project, as the instrumental (provided by Kanye West, Che Vicious (also the former president of G.O.O.D. Music, which, awkward), and fucking J. Cole, of all people)is a downbeat sludge that is more likely to lull you to sleep and then steal your kidneys than it is to encourage listeners to chase after any or all of the three vices present in the title. A$AP Rocky is limited to the hook, a weird choice considering how often his catalog touches on said vices, and The-Dream’s crooning only appears during the intro. At least Push lets ‘Ye have a verse (he probably had to, it may have been a part of his new contract), but that doesn’t matter, because nobody impresses on here. Skip this shit with the passion of Donald Trump hating someone who isn’t white and/or rich.

Pusha T brings out his Re-Up Gang cohort Ab-Liva for “Got Em Covered”, A Timbaland and Milli Beatz production that mimics what Pharrell Williams could probably do without fellow Neptune Chad Hugo’s melodic input. It’s not a great impersonation, though, and why the fuck would Timbo chase another act’s trends? Our host comes equipped with his coke raps, but the music is too distracting to give much of a shit about his performance. Guest Ab-Liva is also outclassed by the instrumental, his flow untethered as he never truly connects with the groove. Meh.

My favorite track of the entire album, and the one I gravitated to first for one lone reason: Beanie fucking Sigel. Or, more accurately, my initial reaction: “Wait, Sigel’s still rapping? The hell?” The brilliance that is “Keep Dealing” starts with its cinematic instrumental, provided by Puff Daddy, Donald Davidson, and Nashiem motherfucking Myrick, creator of some of the best beats from Puffy’s Hitmen collective. Our host unleashed his calculated vitriol over two verses, but the star here is Beans, whose matter-of-fact, dead calm vocals resembles a pack of Newports behind the mic, easily claiming the best verse of the whole project. Sigel’s performance should have led to more cameos at the very least. It’s confusing to me why he seemed to vanish again after this one-off, but at least this song is fucking great.

Whereas this one is not. Timbo’s instrumental isn’t bad: of the three he gave Pusha for this project, “Retribution” sounds the most like something he might have thought of recording at his peak. Our host’s flow never changes regardless of the musical backing, but he still has a tendency to mesh well with most beats, so he isn’t the problem here, and nor is guest crooner Kehlani, whose hook is perfectly serviceable. My guess is that anything placed after “Keep Dealing” would seem weaker by comparison. Perhaps “Keep Dealing” should have been the finale?

9. F.I.F.A.
The final acronym of the evening stands for “Fédération Internationale de Football Association”, which makes for a strange chorus, so it’s a good thing those words are never said on here. “F.I.F.A.” is one of the few solo shots on King Push - Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude, and it also doesn’t rely on any name-brand vocal samples: the beat, a simple and very fucking effective one, is provided by Q-Tip, who is apparently still a part of G.O.O.D. Music’s production arm (who knew?), and our host gives listeners an extension of the boasts-n-bullshit territory he explored on “Crutches, Crosses, Caskets”, “F.I.F.A.”’s closest analog. I’ve always dug this track, and nothing has changed today.

I take back what I wrote about “Keep Dealing” being a better finale: “Sunshine” is the only song on King Push - Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude where it makes perfect sense for it to take the last slot, as Pusha T pivots from coke boasts to social consciousness, discussing police brutality and racial inequality in the United States. (He also threatens CNN anchor Don Lemon, which dates “Sunshine” quite a bit, as I’m sure he wouldn’t have the same opinion of him today, as Lemon has shifted his on-air demeanor significantly after that orange trash bag took office.) The backing music (provided by Baauer, Mano, and Yeezy) is kind of lacking, and guest star Jill Scott’s crooning isn’t as effective as everyone involved believes it to be, but King Push still sounds as convincing as ever, even when he’s obviously concerned with the state of our nation, so much so that he later very publicly campaigned for Hillary Clinton in 2016, which, as we all know, didn’t work out for any of us.

FINAL THOUGHTS: King Push - Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude isn’t long enough for it to qualify as a proper album: it may run for ten tracks, but Pusha T only gives one, maybe two verses to each track, so this shit flies by, and before you realize it, Spotify has moved on to My Name Is My Name and you’ll just be confused. And yet, it’s not a mixtape, because our host is charging money for it. To his credit, there are some great goddamn songs on this project, those tracks showing much more promise than the two singles he’s officially released for King Push that will end up vanishing, “Drug Dealers Anonymous” and “Circles”. Why King Push - Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude wasn’t just released as a mixtape is beyond me, but I have to assume it to be a contractual thing: by releasing this as a proper album, it puts Terrence one project closer to the end of his G.O.O.D. Music contract, in case his working relationship with Kanye West goes south.

BUY OR BURN? The songs listed below are absolutely worth throwing money at, and Pusha definitely deserves it and more, but at nine really short tracks, this doesn’t really feel like an album you should buy, so maybe stream this instead, and mail Push a five-dollar bill or something. I’m sure you can reach him at the office.

BEST TRACKS: “Keep Dealing”; “Crutches, Crosses, Caskets”; “F.I.F.A.”; “M.F.T.R.”

In 2010, the Clipse were officially no more. Pusha T and Gene “Malice” Thornton found themselves without a label home after their third album, Till The Casket Drops, underperformed, and Malice was increasingly underwhelmed by the flashy hip hop lifestyle. After a chance discussion outside of a storefront (one detailed in far more detail in his documentary, The Death of Malice, which is worth the forty-five minutes or so it takes for you to watch it), Gene dropped the “Malice” moniker and claimed he was now “No Malice”, becoming a born-again Christian and abandoning the vices his previous lifestyle had afforded him. Unfortunately, this means he also left his brother Terrence behind, for the most part: while Pusha T rode the coke-rap wave to success and a deal with Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label, No Malice took another path, penning his autobiography, filming the aforementioned documentary, and releasing his own debut solo album, Hear Ye Him (complete with a single Pusha T cameo), in 2013.

Let The Dead Bury The Dead is No Malice’s sophomore effort, delivered late 2017 as counter-programming to the garbage that currently occupies the airwaves. Curiously, it also clocks in at exactly ten tracks, and also flies by, since he doesn’t spit more than two verses per track. However, this couldn't be further from Pusha T's project: production-wise, No Malice relies mostly on the team Profound Sounds and Lee Major, acts that have also worked for his brother in the past. Gene has consistently shown love for what Pusha T has done with his career and has wished him continued success, but he remains skeptical about the music industry as a whole, choosing to operate outside of the system and writing music at his own pace, which is why there were four years between projects:  Let The Dead Bury The Dead was actually released exactly four years after Hear Ye Him, funnily enough.

Let The Dead Bury The Dead finds No Malice compartmentalizing his past actions while reconciling them with his present-day mindstate: he knows he’s no angel and he isn’t perfect, but he seems to genuinely feel that he’s now on the right path. Time will tell if that is truly the case, but it does seem like that rumored Clipse reunion will never actually happen, or at the very least it’ll be released the same day as King Push.

Pretty standard rap album intro, as our host delivers a single verse announcing his return to the album game, I suppose, as he wasn’t away long enough for this to be a comeback. No Malice has some kind words for his former Re-Up Gang, which was nice of him, and he’s still on good terms with Ab-Live and his brother Terrence, who both appeared on Hear Ye Him (apparently Sandman, who ditched the crew on bad terms, died on the way back to his home planet?), but one aspect of this intro that may confuse listeners is how No Malice still talks about selling cocaine, and not always in the vein of a cautionary tale. He’s only human, after all, and that lifestyle isn’t one you can easily walk away from at the drop of a hat. Our host’s higher-pitched-than-usual vocals don’t quite have the same punch as his cold, calculated Clipse prose, but he delivers his boasts with just as much swagger as his baby bro.

I’m inclined to hate this song just because of that title, a phrase that I’m sure infuriates all of you just as it does me, although possibly for different reasons. (If I haven’t already made this clear: if you voted for Trump and still support his racist administration, kindly get the fuck off of my blog.) If you push through, though, you’re presented with No Malice attacking the fake thugs, pimps, and drug dealers within our chosen genre while defending his own metamorphosis (the beginning of the second verse addresses this directly). The hook is corny, and the Profound Sounds instrumental doesn’t leave a mark, but our host sounds more like his old self, so much so that you’re left hoping King Push will somehow make a retroactive cameo.

3. LU. 4:5
Kicking off a rap song with a bible verse won’t help most listeners shake the “church rap” classification, Gene. Not that No Malice is looking to do that: I don’t think he gives a fuck, he’s just speaking his truth, and there’s a reason why that reunion with his brother keeps looking more and more like a pipe dream. “Lu. 4:5” is kind of great, though: the instrumental grows on you, and our host utilizes it to talk shit about the fame and fortune he amassed as one-half of the Clipse before describing how empty all of it made him feel, but this is no warning to the next generation of artists, he’s just telling it like it is: our host even admits to still wanting a Wraith, so he hasn’t quite shaken all of his material possessions just yet. I appreciate the realistic conversion we’re all witness to here: it wouldn’t have made sense had No Malice suddenly abandoned every single vice. Anyway, this was pretty damn good.

For a dude who supposedly doesn’t curse on his records anymore, No Malice sure uses the word “whore” a lot on thie project. Also, the “n-word”: it’s a part of the chorus on “Jesus Christ” and also appears in the second bar, but to be fair, it’s used just before our host complains about backsliding. Again, changing one’s self overnight is impossible, so I like that he left it in here when he could have just as easily pretended to be holier than thou and re-recorded the track (even though I hate the word, and yes, I know, why the fuck do I listen to hip hop then? To which I respond: Fuck you, that’s why). Lee Major and Ray Baker’s beat tries to be both melodic and militant and fumbles at both, but our host’s verses were at least interesting.

No Malice pontificates on racial injustice in the United States, which he probably would have still written about even of the Clipse were still together. I’d like to think he wouldn’t have used the song title “So Work”, though: that’s cheesy as fuck. Hearing our host trash both Trump and Clinton is intriguing, since we’re all aware of Pusha T’s campaigning for Hillary in 2016, but his sentiment mirrors that of many who felt they both sucked. The music underneath No Malice’s wokeness (provided by Profound Sounds) is kind of catchy, definitely the type of beat  his brother Terrence would purchase if he weren’t signed to a major and/or the current president of G.O.O.D. Music, and it suits our host well. The hook is dumb as shit, but the track still works overall.

Profound Sounds’ work on “Why Cry”, however, could easily find itself on a King Push mixtape today if need be, so it makes perfect sense that our host sounds pretty goddamn good over it, checking for his own cursing and delivering his boasts and threats very matter-of-factly. (My favorite line on here, “I’m Obama, they effin’ up my legacy,” is spoken with the same combination of snark and confidence as when he called himself a socialite during the best verse on the Clipse’s “Keys Open Doors”.) The hook is a little too wordy – our host has a strong suit, and it isn’t writing a catchy chorus. But “Why Cry” could have its lyrics combined with those of his younger brother and people would think the duo had reunited. In fact, why hasn’t some dumbass mixtape deejay done this already?

The title is stupid as hell, and the instrumental (from Profound Sounds again) isn’t very effective. No Malice also sounds uninspired, at least until the second verse, where he opens up, albeit briefly, about missing his brother and the money, before turning a bit preachy and telling Kid Cudi that the cure for his depression can be found in the Lord. That is an actual thing our host says during “Sky Crack”. That line comes across as so pushy that it turned me off from the track as a whole, which is no real loss, since, as I wrote above, the title is stupid as hell, and the instrumental isn’t very effective. And so.

The title is frustrating for me, since I’m a grammar nerd and the phrase is “said and done”, and after listening to the song and hearing the hook, where the titular phrase is delivered is uttered and could have easily been corrected at any point in the process, it’s almost obnoxiously annoying. But anyway. No Malice’s two verses sound decent, and the hook isn’t as wordy as some of his past endeavors. The instrumental goes the experimental dog-whistle-high=pitched route, but weirdly, it fits the track overall.

One of the more thought-provoking aspects of following our host’s metamorphosis from Malice into No Malice is hearing how his rhymes have survived the change. For the most part, he’s been successful: if he can write good coke raps, a subject matter that one would think should be limited in scope but apparently has a wider range than expected, then he should theoretically be able to write about anything else if the talent is present, which it is. So to hear him revisit his Clipse roots through the magic of hindsight causes me to see these lyrics in a whole new light, as written by a man who was constantly at war with himself, but wasn’t yet ready to sacrifice it all for better understanding. I get it. I mean, “Shame On Me” is merely eh as a song, but our host is all-in on his new lifestyle, which is refreshing.

I was kind of hoping “Let’s Die” would be a goofy take on David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”, having forgotten ever so briefly that Bowie passed away in 2016. Sigh. At least now that’s all you’ll hear when reading this song title. Anyway, “Let’s Die” isn’t funny in the least: No Malice helpfully explains to the listener that death is inevitable, and one should be doing what they can in order to secure a place in Heaven. (You know, if you believe in that shit.) Curiously enough, the ending of the first verse can, and probably was when it was revealed to the Interweb, be seen as a warning shot toward his baby brother: “Never mind a snitch ‘cause here where the problem is / All you drug dealers think you anonymous.” A possible commentary on Pusha T’s “Drug Dealers Anonymous”? Perhaps, but that would mean our host was also going after Jay-Z, who guests on the Push track: is No Malice bold enough to go after The Throne? I’ll suppose we’ll have to wait and see.

THE LAST WORD: Let The Dead Bury The Dead is a proper continuation of the new direction No Malice found himself hurtling toward after Hear Ye Him: he may be born-again, but that doesn’t erase the man’s past nor his memories of said past, and the temptations of his previous life still exist in his mind. I wish No Malice was able to afford either better beats or more producers to collaborate behind the boards like his brother apparently can: some of the instrumentals on Let The Dead Bury The Dead sound pretty goddamn good, but the rest seem like half-thoughts where Gene’s impatience got the best of him. If you enjoyed Hear Ye Him, you’ll probably find a lot to like on the follow-up. If you avoided Hear Ye Him because of an aversion to “church rap”, I urge you to use Let The Dead Bury The Dead as a stepping stone: if you liked No Malice as a boisterous drug dealer, you’ll still find him as impressive with his pen as ever, he just talks about religion more often. And he curses quite a bit on Let The Dead Bury The Dead: how many “church rap” albums have you ever seen with a Parental Advisory sticker?  Now if someone could please get to mashing Let The Dead Bury The Dead together with King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude, that would be much appreciated, please and thank you.


There are plenty of Clipse write-ups on the site: you can read those, or you can focus solely on Pusha T or No Malice as you wish.


  1. Push looked better without cornrows. Pretty surprised that you think No Malice is the better album crafter, so far. Not saying I know ANYTHING about these two’s music.

  2. I've been waiting for you to review King Push DBD for years haha. Glad to see it finally up. CCC and Keep Dealing are easily the two best songs on the album IMO, and the ones I've returned to the most over the years, but I can play the whole album and enjoy it (outside of MPA).

    I really should check out No Malice's project. I liked Hear Ye Him, but the lack of a Push feature (or even Ab-Liva) is a bit disappointing.

    1. If it helps, he also doesn't have features from anyone else, so it really is just his vision. I'd give it a shot.

  3. just curious Max, were you not impressed by Drug Dealers Anonymous? whilst Push didn't really register on it, Jay SNAPPED on that beat

    1. Jay killed that shit, but otherwise I thought the song was only okay. It may have sounded better within the context of a proper album, but we'll never know now.

  4. Got Em Covered is probably my favorite Timbaland beat of all time, so I was surprised to see you didn't like that track because of that beat.

    Great reviews as always - I need to go find the No Malice albums sometime.

  5. it's a gangster album cover at the very least

    1. Pusha or No Malice? If you're talking Push, I would agree.

    2. Oh Push for sure. Malice’s is the opposite lol. But Push’s dove reminds me straight up of some John Woo shit. I might be reading far too much into it, but in Woo’s films doves always appear before a shootout, so I take it on this as the dove symbolises the prelude album. Only trouble being, of course, the shootouts actually happen in Woo films... gah damn King Push where are you