Review Summary: Clip 'Em Baby
Fuelled by a classic hip-hop sense of purity that keeps his artistic vision grounded, edgy and exciting, Pusha T's status is comfortably set on the modern hip-hop scene. The dissolve of Clipse, itself a successful foray into traditionalist hip-hop influences (albeit shot through with a decidedly modern hue), encouraged a white-hot creative surge from the rapper, who has been going from strength to strength in the years since. His output seems to sequentially point to attempts to whittle down his sound to a purer core; efforts to distil the strongest and most impressive foundation of his sound down to a hip-hop isolate. From the expressive personality to the cleaner production and instances of more pronounced introspection, there is a clear throughline that becomes more distinct as his albums progress; a clarity of gangsta sensibility and streetwise eloquence. Daytona's bravado, viciously expressed through aggressive flexes and due in no small part to Kanye's production choices, was one of the hardest-hitting and most memorable hip-hop releases of 2018- a feat, considering its brevity. Yet, it made its points clearly; venomously, with no filler content buffing out the corners. It's Almost Dry in many ways represents an expansion pack to Daytona; an extension of the ideas delivered with more flesh to the meat of the album's content. The thematic preoccupations are much the same, of course, and the- dare I say it- more sublime effect exhibited by Daytona is neutered by the album's lengthened running time, but the storytelling here is able to get more than a leg-up this time around. It is able to ascend; to impress by its ability to scramble up the greasy ladder of infamous topics, and leer down every step of the way.
Kanye's fingerprints are all over this project once again, creating a uniformity between itself and Daytona that serves as both a production continuation and a thematic rafter. The pitched-up and warped vocal motifs that serve as melodic accompaniments to the beats, a Kanye production staple, are seen throughout the record. The nostalgia-tinged 'Dreamin Of The Past', the sleazy 'Neck & Wrist', the minimalistic 'Just So You Remember', the single offering 'Diet Coke' and beyond; it's a consistent trend and always well-utilised. The muted sense of amelody on the beats is always engrossing and intriguing, loaded with dynamism and smart bar breaks that Push both ignores and conforms to with his flow as the occasion demands. The subdued radiator-tapping melody of 'Just So You Remember' is reminiscent of 'Numbers On The Boards', but with a starker, less emphasised rhythm. Similarly, 'Hear Me Clearly' features such an effect with the addition of simple, synthy melody complementing the rolling rhythm. These stripped-back stylistics are the perfect foil for Pusha T's snarling bars, adding an air of menace to a basic but nuanced backdrop. Similarly, 'Call My Bluff', with its threatening, sinister lyricism and considered pace is perfectly offset by a nasty, thudding beat that is occasionally broken up by whining interludes as Push expounds the chorus with slowly escalating bile. 'Rock N Roll' and 'Scrape It Off' feel more assuredly modernist, owing to the autotuned hook on the latter and the shrill, pitched-up vocal motif on the former. Nonetheless, both still have this distinctly boiled-down sense of clarity, with their melodies compounded by catchy yet simple beats that suit the flows exceptionally well. Kanye's feature on 'Rock N Roll' is also well-judged and slick, demonstrating a neat adaptability to the sound whilst simultaneously staking his own personal ground within the track.
At its core, Pusha T's rhyming style is a simple one, opting for a clean, enunciated display of street rap. His bars concern hustling, dealing, enforcing, fraternal bonds, legality, and other topics that fall under the gangland umbrella. He has demonstrated time and time again that he is able to write about such topics, and yet lend them depth thanks to his own unique perspective and experience. Considering that the majority of this record and his backcatalogue at large are first-person narratives, there is a complicity in his technique that allows the experience to feel genuine and hard-hitting. 'Call My Bluff', a troubling and ominous threat of reprisal is a wonderful display of controlled psychopathy, feeling morbid and extreme but never crossing boundaries into transgressive or even outright. He opines,
'Callin' my bluff, gon' answer "Hello?"
service with a smile when I hand out halos.
Shot clock shooters; when I point 'em, they go.
Now everybody askin' what happened.
It's bombast with a silencer fitted, calculated and cold yet with an affectless eloquence. Conversely, the frantic rush of 'Let The Smokers Shine The Coupes', with its tirade of braggadocio and vindictive bars has a sense of amused carelessness just beneath the kinetic surface, as Push muses on street successes and lack of concern for anyone foolish enough to stand in his way. His style is able to flip from detailed and expository to vehement and hostile between bars, with his delivery frequently mirroring this shift with appropriate modulation. The vulgar, slinky beat of opener 'Brambleton' exemplifies this, with the stuttering flow often changing expressive tactics within the same line. It's riveting and a perfect showcase for why Pusha T's subject matter is but a small facet of his hip-hop brand. The release throughout is a glowing representation of ability, allowing ideas to be explored through form and content by way of broad, developed sweeps, rather than fleeting, trimmed-down diversions a la Daytona.
Pusha T's credibility in the hip-hop scene is well-established by this point and he is something of a darling when it comes to noteworthy rappers. It's heartening to see him, then, still grinding and perfecting his craft whilst improving upon his own groundwork every step of the way. It's Almost Dry is fully formed and another exciting foray into the rapper's notorious world, with a forward-thinking production style and carefully penned lyrics. Push himself is en pointe as always, flirting with new flow techniques here and there but still giving listeners the forthright and uncompromising ground-level wisdom he has become so adept at. According to Push, It's Almost Dry as a title is an allusion to both a painting on a canvas that is nearing completion and to the production of illicit goods for street sale; a nice little double-entendre that serves the albums themes and its importance on the scene admirably. Yet, it is also appropriate to consider the title a reference to Pusha T's style itself being 'almost dry'. A 'drying out' period for the rapper could easily refer to his initial solo efforts; whilst impressive and entertaining to be sure, they lacked that 'artist's voice' that goes beyond mere distinctive vocals, flows or beats. In partnering with Kanye on Daytona, Push was clearly able to pursue and identify what that voice was, and craft a release more indicative of a personal, signature sound. If Daytona was that gestation process (an idea supported by its short length), then It's Almost Dry is its distillation and refinement into pure, solid matter. The first thing we do when selecting an album to listen to is consider the title. In Pusha T's case, the album the title refers to is so nearly dry that by the time the music starts flowing, the drying process is entirely complete. It's ready to experience, much like the dichotomy of that finished masterpiece or dried-out crack rocks. It's been drying for awhile, but now here it is; a cumulation of the rapper's blooming career and sharpening abilities. It's Almost Dry, but it'll be ready when you are.