May 2, 2022

My Gut Reaction: Pusha T - It's Almost Dry (April 22, 2022)

It’s rare when an artist who’s already been a part of the music industry for twenty-five years happens to be releasing your most anticipated album of 2022. That’s pretty much what’s happening here with It’s Almost Dry, the fourth solo full-length from Virginia coke rap maestro Terrance “Pusha T” Thornton, which follows several mixtapes, EPs (including a bunch released by his label, G.O.O.D. Music / Def Jam Recordings, that are merely compilations of his older work packaged to promote this very effort), projects from his former (and maybe current?) duo Clipse, and, of course, years and years of general inactivity (give or take a couple of singles and some guest appearances) as the man patiently waited, plotting his return like an egomaniacal supervillain..

It’s been a very long wait, folks, is what I'm saying, so this introduction will be light work so everyone can get to the actual music.

It’s Almost Dry comes four years after Push’s third effort, the EP-length Daytona that was still marketed as a full album. For many heads, Daytona represents the man’s peak. Produced exclusively by a pre-Jesus Is King Kanye West, Daytona was seven songs filled with vindictive threats, capricious boasts that could turn on a dime, and, given our host’s subject matter of choice, lots and lots of references to the assembly and sale of illicit substances. An uncharacteristically focused Kanye West honed his blade to a fine point, allowing just enough room for Terrance to thrive while chopping off any unrelated bullshit. It’s a formula that worked, so it’s little wonder that Push would want to revisit it, albeit with some fine tuning.

It’s Almost Dry has consistently been pushed in music media as a Verzuz production matchup in album form: a twelve-track project featuring half of its beats coming from Ye and the other half a product of the long-standing working relationship Pusha T has with producer Pharrell Williams (who he’s been working with pretty much his entire career, ever since the Clipse signed their first deal in 1997). (I’ll use this space to make it perfectly clear that we’re only talking about Pharrell “Happy” Williams and not The Neptunes – Chad Hugo had fuck-all to do with It’s Almost Dry, even though our host posted pictures onto his Instagram account showing that he was in the studio with both halves of the duo.) Twelve tracks may not seem like a lot in these streaming days, but King Push hasn’t ever really been one to run his mouth when he had nothing to say, so we take it on faith that these songs represent his clear, concise thoughts on, well, probably cocaine, but maybe there’s some other shit thrown into the mix. Here’s hoping, anyway, since the guest list is relatively sparse, which means we’re about to hear a lot of Terrance Thornton.

Which is fine, it’s how it should be. This is his album, a reflection of his thought process after getting married and having a child, although I don’t assume the kid will play a large role here, unless there’s a nursery rhyme here teaching his son how to cook up crack or something.

Interestingly enough, It’s Almost Dry doesn’t feature any of the singles Pusha T released between 2016 and 2019, specifically “Drug Dealers Anonymous”, his lauded collaboration with fellow drug dealer-turned-empresario Jay-Z. Perhaps a compilation of looseys would be an easy way for Def Jam to continue capitalizing on Push’s promotional efforts. It’s Almost Dry, however, does feature that specific album artwork, a far cry from the cover from the advance that leaked onto the Interweb in the week leading up to release, and a complete 180 from the picture of Lana Del Rey’s face covered in… um… powder that a lot of heads naturally assumed would be the artwork.

It’s Almost Dry kicks off with a familiar sound: the four-count leading into the instrumental that‘s become a hallmark of Pharrell Williams’s beats. “Brambleton” is calmer than most Neptunes beats tend to be, and it sounded a bit flat to me, although I admit it certainly grew on me as the track wore on. However, the somber tone Pusha T adopts for the song matches the drapes. Yes, “Brambleton” is coke rap, but our host presents it as three full verses of Michael Corleone being disappointed in his brother Fredo, even calling out a very specific classic scene at one point (you know the one), the Fredo in this case being his former manager, who spilled the tea on VladTV (which I have on good authority is an FBI sting operation) to our host’s utter bewilderment and disbelief. The first two verses are meant to show off the fun they had together during the days of coke and roses, which Push describes with generic rapper lavish lifestyle-type imagery, but the wordplay leads you down a more unique curriculum, at least at first. A huge letdown for listeners who were hoping that Push would go for the jugular and never relent throughout It’s Almost Dry. It isn’t a bad song necessarily, but I don’t really feel the need to listen to it again. Always a good sign.

A lot, and I do mean a lot, will be said elsewhere about our host referring to himself as “Cocaine’s Dr. Seuss” on “Let The Smokers Shine The Coupes”, but the line that caught my ear happens during the first verse, when Pusha T admits that, “The dope game destroyed my youth,” sounding just a tiny bit weary and embittered about the direction his life had previously taken, immediately snapping out of it and shifting back to coke rap braggadocio with his very next bar. Pharrell’s harrowing bounce comingling with disembodied shouts and some creepy laughter, all of which work to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, in no way resembles the blingy synth notes of Neptunes past, but this still sounded fucking flames, and the Push featured here is electric compared to whatever happened to him on “Brambleton”, although the rhymes here are simplified in order to fit them snugly into the instrumental’s pocket. (See also: Dr. Seuss.) “Let The Smokers Shine The Coupes” is just another way for our host to say, “If having money is evil, then I guess I’m evil, fuck it, we ballin’”, the majority of his bars touching on the opulent lifestyle he leads thanks to cocaine. Enjoyed the hell out of this one while it was playing, but even though I fucking liked it, I noticed just how hungry I felt after it ended.

Kanye West enters the narrative with his production work on “Dreamin of the Past”, but even though this was allegedly a track intended for Donda, the man himself doesn’t bother to pop in until the final minute of the song, wasting no time making some wild fucking claims about how his pending divorce will, bold italics underline will, fuck up his children. (Bro, your kids will be fucked up because they’re watching what you’ve been doing during all of this mess. Get some help and stay off of social media.) Why Ye decided to suck the life out of the party by bringing up personal shit on a Pusha T song about cocaine (another reason I don’t entirely buy that this was originally earmarked for Donda) isn’t that much of a mystery: he’s a classic narcissist. He’s admitted as much in the past. West’s beat is decent, mashing together s soulful Donny Hathaway vocal sample (from a John Lennon cover) with an early Wu-Tang-esque instrumental, and it grew on me as the song progressed in a way that Push’s performance (both rapped and lightly crooned) simply didn’t. I will admit that I didn’t hate our host’s singing, and the bar, “My weight keeping n----s on the bikes like Amblin” was pretty fucking funny, as was, “Award shows the only way you bitches could rob me.” Wouldn’t have fit on Donda (given its reliance on a soul sample, it plays much more like the old Kanye you may prefer, which is not what that particular project was reaching for), nor does it feel comfortable on It’s Almost Dry given the sound Pharrell had previously established, so it is a song without a country.

The first taste of what Skateboard P was bringing to the party came with “Neck & Wrist”, the third single released from It’s Almost Dry, and it was underwhelming as fuck the first time I listened to it. It’s since grown on me a little, but oddly, Pusha T is the worst part of his own song, his 50 Cent-esque sing-songy flow fitting him about as well as a child’s medium. Pharrell’s instrumental is roughly as opulent as the bars presented, so it kind of works, but it isn’t as immediately flashy as The Neptunes’ best bling, but then again the beats on the Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury didn’t immediately feel like the production team’s work either, so at least the guy is showing growth as an artist here. It helps that P’s part of the hook is catchy as hell. (Regarding Push’s portion of the same chorus, I always get stuck on his pronunciation of the word “charcoal” in order to fit the rhyme, as he makes it sound like “chuckle” for no real reason.) Guest rapper Shawn Carter steals the show without even bothering to try, delivering boasts-n-bullshit while giving away the fact that he spends a lot of time on social media by directly addressing the Twitter debate as of late regarding his place in a hypothetical version of our chosen genre had The Notorious B.I.G. not passed. Pharrell ends the instrumental the moment it begins to grow tiresome, showing a surprising amount of self-awareness here. It’s too bad about Terrance, though – you’d think he’d sound better over his old friend’s musical backing, right?


Readers familiar with the DJ Shadow song “Six Days” (which was released as a single, with its accompanying video clip directed by In The Mood For Love’s Wong Kar-wai, of all people) will instantly question Kanye West’s motives behind “Just So You Remember”. To be fair, this track appears to have been produced by committee, Ye’s name merely one amongst many, but the Colonel Bagshot song sample that plays throughout the audio track here is so recognizable to a select segment of hip hop heads that it made me wonder what his endgame was. Which certainly doesn’t help Pusha T at all: his collection of boasts and threats (of the “remember who it is you’re fucking with” variety) are rendered impotent by the music, which is too distracting for him to ever successfully get his foot into the door. Admittedly, many of Pusha T’s fans (or even Kanye’s) won’t necessarily be familiar with DJ Shadow’s work at all (or they may only know him as the guy who produced that Run the Jewels song that popped up in every third movie trailer a few years back), so they’ll be able to listen to “Just So You Remember” without paying any of the baggage fees. I don’t envy them, however, as this song was mostly forgettable piffle anyway. Terrance certainly could have used a better villain than Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker to latch himself onto. (Then again, you may recall that, for a brief Interweb moment, Phoenix was credited with producing “King Push” (from My Name Is My Name) before the actor clarified his (lack of) involvement, so it makes perfect sense that our host would be a fan of his work and want to return the favor, so to speak. Still, might I suggest The Master or You Were Never Really Here instead?)

The catchiest song on It’s Almost Dry, at least so far, was also its first single, utilizing a perfect choice of a Fat Joe vocal sample woven into an 88-Keys melody that is, weirdly, the hardest beat we’ve heard up to this point. The story goes that 88-Keys created this beat back in 2004, so Ye’s actual involvement, aside from obvious promo (see: the accompanying music video where he’s dancing like Puff Daddy from Craig Mack’s “Flava In Ya Ear (Remix)” clip), appears to be solely based on his selection of Large Joseph samples, including the song opener, lifted from a late-night drunken rant praising Jadakiss and his unquestionable win over all of Dip Set during a Verzuz matchup. Pusha T’s braggadocio, delivered in a Biggie-esque cadence, is enjoyable and witty (although the bar that gives the song its title is almost anti-comedy, an interesting choice), and he rides this beat well, although I wish there were more of a hard line between our host’s verses and his hook, as it all runs together like one lengthy stanza. The other prominent vocal sample within the instrumental, the one that gives this a GZA/Genius “Shadowboxin’”-type feel, was also a nice touch. I don’t like “Diet Coke” as much as some of Pusha’s earlier work, but I do like this song overall.

A lot has been said about It’s Almost Dry being the first album featuring production from Pharrell on one half and Kanye on the other, but that isn’t an entirely true statement. For starters, it’s debatable how much work Ye actually did, given his propensity for crediting absolutely anybody that did anything to any beat in the studio. But the real reason why that statement is a cheat is “Rock N Roll”, which is credited to both Skateboard P and Kanye West, which means Pharrell actually produced approximately fifty-eight percent of It’s Almost Dry, which anybody can tell you is “more than half”. So much for a Verzuz-type battle between two production greats, am I right? (I said what I said.)

“Rock N Roll” received early buzz upon the album’s leak for a different reason, though, as it features both halves of the duo Kids See Ghosts, said buzz causing guest Kid Cudi to clarify on Twitter that the song had been recorded well before his falling out with Ye, disappointing stans all over social media who, for whatever reason, simply assumed that Cudi and Yeezy had reconciled without personally knowing either party and with absolutely zero proof provided. Cue my eyeroll here. All of this backstory and history would have threatened to overshadow the song itself… you know, if it was any fucking good. The instrumental sounded pretty bland regardless of how many cooks were in this particular kitchen, and Pusha’s two verses consist of boasts-n-bullshit without adhering to any semblance of a theme (“cocaine” shouldn't be considered a theme on a project that is derived solely from coke raps). Cudi’s hook, his sole contribution, doesn’t do any better, either: “Every time we wild, that’s rock ‘n roll, baby,” doesn’t actually mean anything. Interestingly enough (or not, depending on personal preference), the only artist that manages to drum up anything decent here is Ye himself, although he does rap another verse about his pending divorce, sobering everybody up far too quickly and making us all question our life choices in the process. (It should be noted that Cudi and Ye’s breakup was mostly triggered by Cudi’s friendship with comedian Pete Davidson, who’s famously been dating Ye’s ex-wife for quite a while now.) West’s Auto-Tuned voice doesn’t exactly sound heartfelt because of the artificiality, but he displays his feelings much better here than on “Dreamin Of The Past”. Still no reason for you to give a shit, though. People divorce everyday, b.

It just occurred to me that “Rock N Roll” featured our host offering brief glimpses into his regular life, talking a tiny bit about his son (and I do mean “tiny”, unlike a certain Canadian former deadbeat dad on his last album) and his wife (honestly, how adorable is it that he married a woman named Virginia?). I bring all of that up because I don’t have a lot to say about “Call My Bluff”. It kind of sucks, really – who in the fuck wants to hear a slightly melodic Pusha Terrar over a lazy-as-shit synth crescendo barely cobbled together by Pharrell? To say nothing of the fact that the line, “1-800-CALL-MY-BLUFF” is very fucking corny. Our host’s threats and coke boasts fall on deaf ears thanks to the inefficient delivery system known as “Call My Bluff”, where even his goofy reading of the word “halos” isn’t enough for me to convince anybody to ever listen to this shit on purpose. (It was certainly no Malice saying “socialite” on the Clipse song “Keys Open Doors”, that’s for sure.)

Ha, I just noticed that I referred to Pharrell’s four-count intros as a signature of his production work, and then he immediately stopped doing it on It’s Almost Dry. At least he did until “Scrape It Off”, a low-key bop that I really enjoyed a great deal, thanks to Don Tolliver’s charming crooned chorus. No such love on my part is sent to guest Lil Uzi Vert, though: his verse was alright, but he’s clearly aping a Travis Scott cadence for the majority of his screentime, and while Pusha T himself is definitely using flows throughout the project inspired or influenced by his favorite artists, it’s weird that a guest would feel comfortable doing the same, especially when his “homage” to the self-appointed crowd control martyr amounts to adopting, and then barely changing, the lyrics to “Sicko Mode”. Our host’s gimmick here was to rhyme every bar with the phrase, “my boy”, which could grow annoying if it had run longer than it did, but Push showed quite a bit of restraint on “Scrape It Off”, a melodic vibe that I did not expect to like that much given the guest list. Let this be a lesson to you two: open your mind or heart or a book or something, I don’t know.

The second single, which also appeared on the recent Nigo project I Know Nigo!. (Nigo receives a feature credit on It’s Always Dry, but I’m still not entirely sure what, if anything, he actually did on here.) While “Diet Coke” is a much more complete package in comparison, I prefer “Hear Me Clearly” and its freestyle-esque rambling over a harrowing giallo-style loop (credited to Kanye and BoogzDaBeast), a much better beat than anything else on here by far, although I admit it won’t be for all tastes. Inspired by a couple of Jay-Z bars lifted from Rick Ross’s “Free Mason” that Pusha repeats as a hook, “Hear Me Clearly” finds our host in full-on sarcastic shit-talk mode, the music providing additional context as to why he shouldn’t be fucked with, whether it be on the microphone or otherwise. “Dope sell itself, got a trunk full of receipts”, the guy who has been rapping about coke since 1999 offers, and you’re still prone to believing every word because he is just that fucking good with his vivid descriptions of the life. Cocaine’s Dr. Seuss, indeed. The song does abruptly end, though, which is unsettling, but not out of character for It’s Almost Dry as a whole. As an aside, apparently Nas was originally meant to appear on the song, but never showed up to the studio. I’m not convinced he could make the track better, though, as he would have been buried underneath the beat in a way that Push resists.

Skateboard P’s final contribution to It’s Almost Dry is “Open Air”, yet another bit of boring blather spiced up with an unexpected melodic element that still isn’t strong enough to carry the track over the threshold. Pusha T has a hell of a time trying to perform on what played as a spiritual sequel to the also shitty “Call My Bluff”, bragging about selling coke in the “Open Air” while filling two verses with braggadocio focused too much on the material gains of his chosen lifestyle and not even a little bit about the risks inherent with the trade. People say that Pusha T shouldn’t still be rapping about cocaine this late into his career, and for the most part I disagree, since his growth behind the microphone had coincided with an explosion of character-specific detail that only he could pull off via rhyme, but after listening to “Open Air”, I kind of understand where the man’s detractors are coming from. This was lame as fuck. Pharrell, this is how you chose to take care of one of your most tenured collaborators?

The grand finale of It’s Almost Dry is the Clipse reunion “I Pray For You”, although the first verse one hears on the track belongs to the other guest star, producer-slash-vocalist Labrinth. (I’m willing to bet the instrumental provided here is more Labrinth’s work than Kanye West’s, to be honest.) The guest star’s crooning is pleasant over his lo-fi vibes, but once he’s finished, the organs kick in and the energy switches into boss mode, the listener having fought their way to the twelfth track on here in order to face off against Pusha T’s final form. Our host is appropriately all bluster during his last verse of the evening, and while his bars may not be the most memorable, they get the job done. A brief reprieve makes way for the actual final boss: his brother, the newly-rechristened Malice (per our host, his using that stage name instead of “No Malice” was intentional) unleashing what might just be the best performance of the entire goddamned album, easily dominating the instrumental with a fat-free, low-bullshit stanza that is guaranteed to make you dream of the possibility for a full-on album-length Clipse reunion in the near future. A nice way to wind things up, although not having either Skateboard P or the Neptunes proper producing the comeback Clipse track seems like a missed opportunity.

THE LAST WORD: It’s Almost Dry is a puzzler, because it manages to both entertain and disappoint, with both ends of the spectrum occurring concurrently. Perhaps there was no way it could ever live up to the hopes and dreams hip hop heads had when Pusha T first announced the parameters of the project, but aside from his toying with multiple different flows throughout, some more successfully than others, I never really had much of an issue with Terrance here (except for on “Call My Bluff” and “Open Air”, neither of which I cared for at all). Instead, my criticisms stem from my thoughts on the production. It’s Almost Dry is both brief and features zero wasted moments (read: no skits, intros, interludes, instrumental breaks, or references to Drake), and yet it still fails to play as a coherent body of work because the two main players behind the boards never manage to coordinate their efforts for the greater good.

Well, they do it on one single occasion, but “Rock N Roll” fucking sucks, so.

Between the two beatsmiths, Pusha T’s current BFF Kanye West bests his oldest buddy Pharrell by quite the margin, not necessarily because his instrumentals are actually better, but because he displays more of an understanding of what Terrance needs to get his point across. It’s been said in interviews leading up to this album’s release that Pharrell was actively trying to get Pusha T out of the “mixtape rapper” pigeonhole that he felt Ye’s offerings put him in, but Skateboard P’s beats hardly feel like complete compositions. Hell, P’s best instrumental here, for “Let The Smokers Shine The Coupes”, plays in the same sandbox as “Diet Coke” and “Hear Me Clearly”, two of It’s Almost Dry’s standouts. (A lot of you two may feel that “Brambleton” deserves that particular distinction, but trust me, you’re wrong. As far as I’m concerned, our host wasn’t the best choice for that instrumental, which makes me feel like Pharrell was merely clearing off his hard drive here.) I’m not one of those idiots on other media sites complaining about Push’s consistency in his subject matter: I, for one, don’t want to hear the man talk about his family or pretty much anything outside of the cocaine sphere. That’s what he’s fucking great at. I’m perfectly content with Mixtape Push. But Pharrell’s beats threaten to yank him out of his comfort zone, and I do not mean that as a compliment. (“Scrape It Off” is another Pharrell beat that works, but that hardly feels like a Pusha T song to begin with – it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that it was a leftover from a Lil Uzi Vert project, to be honest. It clicked with me despite the best efforts of everyone involved, if that makes any sense.)

Yeezy, on the other hand, may not have contributed all that much to his part of the album, given the many names that are included alongside his in the album credits, but at least “Diet Coke”, “Hear Me Clearly”, “I Pray For You”, and “Dreamin Of The Past” all sound like they could conceivably appear on the same project without it sounding disjointed. I’m not saying that Kanye West’s beats are all that great here – they pale in comparison to his best work, some of which Pusha was actively involved with – but at least they fit within the scope of the project: elevated coke rap as presented by A24.

Really hard for me to look past “Just So You Remember”, though.

It’s Almost Dry is destined to fade into the background amongst our chosen genre’s current trend of dropping approximately eight hundred new releases every goddamned week, which isn’t something I had ever believed of his previous albums (even though it’s likely a true statement – when was the last time you listened to My Name Is My Name all the way through?). You may have a handful of tracks here that you’ll happily place onto a playlist (I know I do – BEST TRACKS: “Let The Smokers Shine The Coupes”; “Hear Me Clearly”; “Scrape It Off”; “Diet Coke”; “I Pray For You” mostly for Malice’s verse), but you won’t feel even the hint of a need to re-listen to the project as a whole again, which I guess signifies a different type of growth for Pusha-Terrance, not the type he may have preferred, but here we are. This certainly wasn’t a weak album, as I just listed nearly half of the project’s songs as “Best Tracks”, but the lofty expectations placed upon it render its arrival anticlimactic, and the beat selection cannot possibly mirror what your mind conjured up when the gambit of It’s Almost Dry was first announced. (I do wonder if this project would have sounded different had we not already known who was behind the boards. Oh well.) Even the more entertaining songs on here manage to sound a little bit lacking, although I don’t fault our host, who does what he can to keep things moving at a brisk pace. Ultimately, Pusha T deserved better from his collaborators, and you two should be demanding more than just the bare minimum from your favorite artists.


Catch up on Pusha T, either as a solo artist or as a part of a group, by clicking these links.


  1. AnonymousMay 04, 2022

    I haven't read this yet; still looking for the perfect reading snack. Thanks Max!

  2. AnonymousMay 05, 2022

    This is unfortunately more or less what I was expecting, as I haven't been a fan of Ye's production much since TLOP (which I think has aged shockingly well), and Pharrell hasn't produced much for Push in decades. At least Push mostly sounded very good and a lot of the guests were solid.