Review Summary: Adulation and recognition be damned.
Leave it to Pusha-T (or Lil Ugly Mane) to release one of 2015's tightest rap albums 13 days before the year ends. As a counterpoint to surprise release schedules that have seen Beyoncé and D'Angelo into the grey area of year-end recognition, Darkest Before Dawn
makes its lack of conceit its selling point; Pusha outlines as much on "More Famous than Rich", where, 'Street millionaires rub shoulders / And laugh at bitches fucking promoters / Hoping that they get noticed, still driving a Focus.
' His obligations are few and far between, and his continuing involvement with cocaine trafficking has ensured him the security needed to survive. Accordingly, he doesn't feel compelled to prove anything or pander to anybody with his rapping; utterly confident in his abilities, Pusha's ardent in ensuring that his raps are as lyrically precise as they are nimble in delivery.
Given such focus, Darkest Before Dawn
does its best to avoid any reliance on narrative, context, or existential desire- anything that might implicate it as more than the sum of its parts. When outsourced hooks do appear, such as on aforementioned "MFTR", they're a distraction, another obstacle between the meticulously strung-together quotables that define Pusha's lyrical precision. Few can make a line like 'I'm the L. Ron Hubbard of the cupboard
' sound convincing. Then again, fewer still can assemble that into a convincing rap about dealing coke and schooling peers. It's a narrowness reminiscent of 2015 efforts from Earl Sweatshirt or Vince Staples, where producers whose typical forte for bangers (Timbaland, Metro Boomin, Hudson Mohawke) are made to reassess their craft for the benefit of whoever's rhymes are upfront. For most rappers, their album would live and die by a track featuring Kanye West and A$AP Rocky; Pusha refuses to relent and push a made-for-radio hit, ensuring "Money, Pussy, Alcohol" remains sparing in both production and guest verses. It's because of such tenacity that Pusha's so confident releasing the most well-rounded rap album of the year at a point when the press won't care. It doesn't matter whether or not you think Darkest Before Dawn
is good enough because Push is already rapping like it is. Adulation and recognition be damned.