"I tell people all the time, if I'm able to write another Hell Hath No Fury again, then I'll probably be in jail the following year." —Pusha-T
Let's be real. For the most part, being a hip-hop journalist is a very unglamorous job. Day in and day out, it's less hanging out in the studio with famous rappers and more shackled to a laptop at 2 AM, realizing that you just stress ate an entire jumbo bag of peanut butter M&Ms. But every so often, the job really does become everything you hoped it would be. Every so often you get invited to a Bacardi Mango Fusion party in L.A., and you're waiting in a back room convincing yourself they won't mind if you "borrow" a couple bottled waters, and then Pusha-T walks in.
Like so many others, you grew up banging out the Grindin beat on lunch tables, and then fast forward a decade and King Push is walking towards you. He looks supremely relaxed and friendly, but somehow also exactly like a guy who might actually have millions stashed in the ceiling, like one of the few people on Earth with the cojones to yell at Kanye West about black t-shirts and drugs.
As welcoming as Pusha is, you're also very aware that for him, you're just another stranger in another back room of the party that's going to ask him the same questions about what it's like to work with Yeezy and whether the Clipse are doing another album anytime soon (they aren't). And sure, some quote about if he's invited to Kanye's wedding might bring in a bunch of page views, but is that really how you're going to spend the only 15 minutes you might ever get with a man whose albums you've memorized?
So instead, you become that lunch table fan again. Someone who's not quite sure how talking to a Thornton brother became a job description, but as long as you're here, you're going to try to talk to him about the things you've been wondering since you bought Lord Willin at a Sam Goody twelve years ago. And it works because, more than anything, Pusha is fearlessly honest. While most rappers claim they love all their verses equally, he tells you that "Keys Open Doors" is the best verse he's ever written, by far.
Here's what it looks like when you talk to Pusha-T and kind of lose your shit when you hear him say his signature "yeech!" ad-lib in conversation.
On His Lyricism (aka No Cheat Codes)
"I want people to hear and digest my lyrics, and hear them and love them like I love them when I write them. It's not really melody driven, it's not really [about] repeat lines, it's hip-hop lyricism. Bars. And I hope people get caught within the metaphors and similes and the parallels that I've drawn, versus it being more melodic and easy to repeat. That's the hip-hop I came up on, that's the hip-hop I was taught by.
"That's always been the case for me, but nowadays, I think there are a couple more cheat codes. I'm still working with the rules of lyricism. And now, infused in hip-hop there's more song melodies, R&B structures and so on that can make it easier to repeat lines and call out points on a record."
On His Signature Ad-Libs (aka "Whoooo!!!")
"It ["Yeeck!] comes from, when you say something really dope and you get disgusted by what you just said. That was so ill it's just like, yeeeck. [The first time] might have happened with "What Happened to That Boy." Those happen when I'm feeling it, I don't timestamp them. It's not a conscious thing. Whatever the line was, I had that much space after and I was just like, yeeech. It's never planned. When you got the line, when you got that punch, the ad lib just comes naturally.
"That ["Whoo!!!!] just came from the line, 'That's rare, Ric Flair.' That's another thing though, the lyricism. Extras tucked inside other lines. It's not enough for it to just be the Ric Flair, you gotta put the whoo!"
On Hell Hath No Fury (aka His Best Album)
"Hell Hath No Fury was a tough time, and I think that was reflected. Not being able to put out an album, label drama, turmoil, holding down what we thought was right for the sake of Pharrell and The Neptunes and what they wanted to do, trying to remain a family. And then egos get caught up in it, you're like, 'man, f*ck this, we don't really need to put out an album, we gonna be alright anyway.'
"And that's what spiraled into a lot of the content for Hell Hath No Fury, and a lot of the shortcomings that came soon after with our families, and our crews, and everyone who's in jail now. Tough times made for great music, and I tell people all the time, if I'm able to write another 'Hell Hath No Fury' again, then I'll probably be in jail the following year. I want to be able to do it, I try my best, I try and try and try."
On His Relationship With Media (aka What's a List?)
"I really respect the journalists. You can tell when someone's stupid, and then you can tell when someone knows what's what. I feel respected, and certain publications, I look at them like, you guys really get it, and I look for them to get it.
"Sometimes [on lists] I don't got to be number one, but sometimes I am number one. Maybe I'm number five. But with a well-versed writer...as long as they can appreciate me as someone who put out a stripped down, lyrical, hip-hop record, then they get it. I'm never going to trip out on 'I should have been here on a list.' It just might not be their thing, because all rap isn't my thing. I know how to appreciate all types of rap. It doesn't have to hardcore, all about drugs. I'm from Kool G Rap and Tribe Called Quest, I know how to like it both."
On What He's Listening to Now (aka Strictly R&B)
"I ain't listening to rap right now, I'm listening to Jhene Aiko. If not that R&B, then it's '90s R&B, like Teddy Riley. I don't listen to rap. I'm trying to write my own raps right now, and when I'm listening to beats...I want to hear those beats with fresh ears.
"I still check for the good verses though. That new Slaughterhouse ["Say Dat Then"], oh my god. They blacked the f*ck out. That producer [Nottz] is right in my backyard, I was totally choking myself for not getting that beat. But shout out to them, shout out to Nottz."