Album Review: Pusha T, King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude

darkest before dawn

Pusha T

King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude (released December 18, 2015)

Pusha T’s biggest competition has always been himself.

After the release of his head-turning debut, My Name is My Name, he proclaimed that the goal of his next album, King Push, is to eclipse its competition.

He told XXL: “I really feel that King Push has to live up to that same hip-hop expectation (of his debut) … My goal is always to have ‘hip-hop Album Of the Year’.

Push is not really concerned with his peers — he practically dares them to snatch the crown from his head. His goals are loftier and much more personal; he wants to prove to himself that he has the right to occupy rap’s throne.

The harder he pushes, the greater the results.

On the road to claiming the rap kingdom as his own, Pusha drops off Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude, a stopgap before we reach the King Push album. And he’s forcing not only  himself, but also his collaborators, to raise their collective games.

When the brooding “Untouchable” dropped a month or so ago, it was hard to believe that Timbaland was behind the boards. That’s not a shot a Timbo, whom I still proudly proclaim is the most versatile producer in music history. But in recent years, Tim’s work has been heavily pop. Under Pusha’s watch, Tim ventures to the dark side of the voice, delivering a menacing soundscape for Push to paint his drug-dealer Picassos.

My breakdown game bought me 8 Mile fame
Selling Eminem to him and ‘em
White to the Blacks I’m a villain in
The Rolls Royce, playing peek-a-boo with the emblem
Let’s talk about it gentlemen
My barcode is Netflix Narcos
Part on the side of my ‘fro like I’m Pablo
No hablo, I sell blow

Bar for bar, no one else flips metaphors with that ease.

Timbaland’s production is a definite highlight — “Got ’em Covered” bubbles like Mumm-Ra’s cauldron while “Retribution” sounds like it was pulled from a Castlevania game — but Darkest Before Dawn‘s brightest spot is its lyricism.

On the album “Intro,” Push shows loves to the pioneers, as well as his own heralded past, as he races to the top…:

I’m on a crash course
Where talent meets timing
Christopher Wallace, think BIG, keep climbing
Reasonable Doubt, drug era, keep climbing
I’m my brother’s keeper, Lord Willin’, keep grindin’

…Before sending his opposition crashing back to Earth on “Crutches, Crosses, Caskets”:

My skin is triple black, I’m the Omen

You can’t kill a God like the Romans

Ever the wordsmith, Pusha declares himself the “Kim Jong of the crack song” and “Gil Scott-Heron to the black poem” on the sinister “MFTR.” The-Dream handles the hook and while his contribution isn’t bad, it’s not a seamless fit. His contribution to “MPA” is much stronger, even though the Kanye West/A$AP Rocky-assisted hook falls a bit short. Pusha sounds much more at home going toe-to-toe with (a nearly unrecognizable) Beanie Sigel on “Keep Dealing.” Pusha keeps it greasy:

My sophomore jinx is more minks
But only for my mother she’ll use ‘em as couch covers
You n****s cheapening my All-Star Weekends
If y’all can’t swim in the deep end then watch n****

While Beans bullies his way onto the beat:

COD, n****s never had to front me jawns
I’m weighing bricks on the scale they put the lunch meat on
I’m Nino Brown in the projects
Yes, Curtis Jackson in his pyrex
Get Rich or Die Tryin’ is my mindset

Each track features a dizzying array of punchlines and metaphors, yet it’s “Sunshine” that lands with the most impact. Critics often lump Pusha with other “trap” rappers but that designation sells him short. His introspective raps are often his most moving, and on “Sunshine” he sheds light on America’s evils:

I don’t got no march in me, I can’t turn the other cheek
While they testing your patience, they just testing my reach
Funeral flowers, every 28 hours
Being laid over ours
Sworn to protect and serve, but who really got the power?
Looking over their allowances
Building prisons where the mountains is
Laptops is for the county kids
Metal detectors is where ours is

His frustration is visceral and his pain is palatable.

Think of Darkest Before Dawn as Nas’ The Lost Tapes for a new generation of fans. It’s a tight, abbreviated set that’s short on radio hits but brimming with concepts that will take multiple listens to unpack. It’s a lyric junkie’s dream album.

Darkest Before Dawn’s short running time (just over a half-hour) might seem like a slight, but that’s by design. This is merely an appetizer. Just imagine what the full course will be like.

It will be a meal fit for a king.

Best tracks: “Untouchable,” “Sunshine,” “Keep Dealing”

4 stars out of 5


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