Pusha T With Ali Shaheed Muhammad And Frannie Kelley
G L Askew II for NPR
Pusha T in Los Angeles in December.
G L Askew II for NPR
Pusha T in Los Angeles in December.
G L Askew II for NPR
The Virginia Beach denizen spoke to Microphone Check about the reverse troll he laid on Def Jam with Darkest Before Dawn, what it's like to go back and forth with Puffy, the fallacies of textbooks, the perils of ignoring the youth and where he's going with King Push.
ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: Pusha T. Back in the cribbo.
PUSHA T: Believe that.
MUHAMMAD: You know, when we get — it's only been like — no. Two — no. You're the third person who's come back. So —
PUSHA T: Really?
MUHAMMAD: — that's when you —
FRANNIE KELLEY: Wait. Who's the second?
MUHAMMAD: Well —
KELLEY: There's Cole and who else?
MUHAMMAD: I mean Earl really didn't come back but —
KELLEY: Oh, that's true. That's true.
MUHAMMAD: — it was kind of like we went to him. But —
KELLEY: He kind of came back.
MUHAMMAD: But I feel like we're growing up when we —
KELLEY: Get repeat offenders?
MUHAMMAD: — are able to see the artist again. It's like, "Ah, man. This is real. This really happening."
PUSHA T: Believe that. It definitely is. I mean, last time I was here, it was like — I tell everybody about the interview. It was dope. Super dope.
MUHAMMAD: Cool. Thanks for coming back, man. What you been up to?
PUSHA T: Ah, man, you know. First and foremost, I've been working on music, Darkest Before Dawn, which is dropping December 18th. Man.
MUHAMMAD: How long it take you to record this album?
PUSHA T: I would say, on-and-off, two years.
KELLEY: Oh, wow.
PUSHA T: On-and-off, two years. I mean, people don't understand, for me, like, I don't get a lot of the radio and things like that. So after I drop an album like My Name Is My Name, and I have, like, records with Chris Brown, singles, and, you know, stuff that doesn't get that type of acclaim, I literally have to tour, constantly. So my pattern, my recording pattern, is broken up through that whole touring cycle.
MUHAMMAD: Right. How many days within a year you're on the road?
PUSHA T: Within a year? 200.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. I wanted people to get that perspective, cause —
PUSHA T: 200, I think.
PUSHA T: I think that's fair.
MUHAMMAD: That's a lot of time.
PUSHA T: Yeah.
MUHAMMAD: And that doesn't leave a lot of time to record.
PUSHA T: Right. Right. For sure.
MUHAMMAD: So people don't understand that — I mean —
PUSHA T: I take days off.
KELLEY: You should.
PUSHA T: Like, I do — you know, I gotta like — certain things I just have to deal with.
PUSHA T: So —
MUHAMMAD: Like, what do you do? Go to movies? What do you do on your day off?
PUSHA T: Oh, man. I have like — it's home time.
KELLEY: CJ time?
PUSHA T: Yeah. Home. My dog. You know, girlfriend. I got two stores, two streetwear stores, at home. Have to tend to those. Play Cloths. Have to tend to that business. But all these things are in Virginia. So — and then, my mom.
MUHAMMAD: Right on.
PUSHA T: Just, must.
MUHAMMAD: Right on.
PUSHA T: Yeah.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. So you find time within 200 days of — that's a lot of grinding time. I don't know if people can really understand the commitment it takes to spend that amount of time away from home and going from different cities and sharing yourself with people.
PUSHA T: And how tedious the travel of it is. Like, it's airports every day. It doesn't sound like it's — it doesn't sound like a hard thing.
KELLEY: People think it's exciting.
PUSHA T: Yeah. But it is, man. You'll never understand how much you dislike, you know, TSA. You'll never understand that until you have to do it every day.
KELLEY: Did you get that thing, the pre-TSA or whatever?
PUSHA T: Yeah. TSA Pre-Check.
PUSHA T: TSA Pre-Check.
KELLEY: I need to get that.
PUSHA T: I — but it hasn't been — I haven't been getting it as of late. I don't know what it is.
KELLEY: I know. It's not consistent. It's weird.
PUSHA T: Yeah. So I've been talking about that and trying to make sure that I'm like — I get that handled or whatever the case may be but —
KELLEY: Do you have a routine to keep yourself together when you're traveling? Like, if you had to wake up super early or if you have to fly a airline you don't like?
PUSHA T: I wake up super early all the time. Every day.
PUSHA T: I just start my day really early. Everything happens in the morning time. Writing. Just everything. I can't — I don't know how to work late.
MUHAMMAD: Is it the calmest before dawn?
PUSHA T: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. But you know, it's just — man, this is just what — I don't have a ritual, but I don't do some of the things I used to do, in regards to just obnoxiously out all night drinking. Sort of off that.
MUHAMMAD: So within that you found the time to put a well-made album together.
PUSHA T: Yes.
MUHAMMAD: I only had a moment with it, so I feel — I can't really speak from from a deeper level. It was just like a quick one-through listen, but it was definitely dope.
PUSHA T: Thank you.
MUHAMMAD: Hardcore, dark but — I mean it's just you, really.
PUSHA T: Yeah.
MUHAMMAD: But well-made. And the spirit of hip-hop, you connect things. You mention Dilla. You always let people know, like, you from the roots.
PUSHA T: Right, right.
KELLEY: Souls Of Mischief.
MUHAMMAD: But just from the street level of it, it's so pure, man. It's really good.
PUSHA T: Yeah. You know, I made this album thinking — I had a — I got to a point to — it was time to put together the album. I had been recording. So you know, you get to the point where you're like, trying to put this song next to that song and so on and so forth. And the politics of, like, just singles and all of that was getting — that comes into play and that gets to become a topic of discussion.
MUHAMMAD: Can you sidebar for a moment —
PUSHA T: OK.
MUHAMMAD: — and give us a little peak into your world? Like what that is like, in terms of — is it you and record company heads like —
PUSHA T: Yeah. It's me and record company heads. And it's about — see, it starts with me. It starts with me just making my records. Right? And then I'm excited. I'm happy. I'm good. And then it comes a time where you have to present this music that you love to the label. And you have to — I've learned that you need label excitement to get what you want.
MUHAMMAD: I like the way you put that. Yeah.
PUSHA T: Like, you want the label to be excited. You want to engage them. You want everybody to feel like they can play a part, and they want to play a part. So with that being the case, you get into talks of singles and radio department and, you know, different departments and things like that.
And that's when people's agendas start to get in the way. Because you may hear a record — you may have a record that explains the body of your work the best way that you want to put it, the message you trying to get across. Might not be the most commercial record. The radio department may want a commercial record, which makes their job easier, to chart, to get the accolade of a Top 5, 10, whatever, 15 record. And you can — that record could come out, and you could have a fire album, but that impression left on the public may not be one that you want to roll out your album with.
So I got to the point where I had made all these records. I take a while to record. I need all the time. And I was like, "Man, I don't like divvying up my album like that." So Darkest Before Dawn was ten of the darker side of the records that I felt like, "Man, these records are what I want my fans to hear. These records are how my fans like to hear me. These are the records that — this is what I like to make. Before we go anywhere else, I got enough of it. Let me package this up, and present it to my people."
KELLEY: So like without having the radio conversations, without —
PUSHA T: Without having it. Without having it. I didn't want — there wasn't — and now the funny part about the radio conversation is the producers on the album. Because you working with Puff on one end; you working with Timbaland. You working with Boi-1da. You working with Q-Tip. You working with Mano. I got Jill Scott featured on the album. Kehlani.
MUHAMMAD: So you're really painting with what is known to be radio-driven resources.
PUSHA T: Right. Right.
MUHAMMAD: So it should be easy for those who feel they need you to take care of their end of helping you present the package. You feel that you've given then an answer and a story with a nice line-up of radio-friendly —
PUSHA T: Right. It's what you call a reverse troll, I believe. Cause what I did was — they see — I worked with all these people. And they look at it, and at face-value just on paper it feels like, "Damn. It's bout to — what is this?" You know, whatever commercial success you want to name.
But, truthfully, I went into those sessions and I asked them for all of the darkest records that they ever made that I liked. I didn't want — and we made a lot of records, but I don't even know how to begin to work with you until you give me a variation of myself. I need a variation, a greater variation of something — these guys are like, in my eyes, super producers. So it's like, "Man, you gotta — you a super producer; you have to like really — you know what I do. Do me better."
MUHAMMAD: So basically, that conversation pretty much went your way.
PUSHA T: Right.
MUHAMMAD: In terms of the end of the day — in terms of — so it was a friendly understanding between you and the label.
PUSHA T: Right.
MUHAMMAD: Who — of all those producers, who made — who surprised you the most, in terms of what they delivered, and just the chemistry in the recording process?
PUSHA T: Puff.
MUHAMMAD: In what way?
PUSHA T: Puff surprised me the most. Truthfully, I been in the game since '97. Getting on, losing deals, all this stuff. You would always hear these rumors of, "Puff don't produce for real. He ain't the producer for real." My records wouldn't have happened without Puff in the studio with me. The way I want to hear my records weren't going to be what they were without him in the studio with me. I ain't had nobody push me like him.
KELLEY: Which track did he make?
PUSHA T: "Crutches, Crosses, Caskets."
PUSHA T: The intro.
MUHAMMAD: So —
PUSHA T: Hold on. There's another one. "Keep Dealing," with Beanie Sigel.
KELLEY: Oh, OK.
PUSHA T: Listen. Those three right there, that ain't even the wheelhouse in which we would even think that he's — you know what I'm saying? —
PUSHA T: — he going to. He's not easily impressed. He's not. Not easily impressed.
MUHAMMAD: Is that intimidating? Or maybe —
PUSHA T: Yeah. It is. Yeah. It is. Because I pride myself on verses, and then you got a guy like him. He comes in and he says, "If I know what you about to say, then that's the wrong bar, bro." You know?
MUHAMMAD: That's heavy.
PUSHA T: And it's like, "What ain't you heard? You probably — you might should know what I'm about to say. Almost." And — but it gave me insight into why Big rhymed the way he did. Like, we would — I would sit back, coming up listening to those bars, those songs that Big did, and wonder why he could talk about a robbery, T'yanna — his daughter — and, you know, a sex scene with some girl at All-Star Weekend in a four-bar thing. And I was like, "Man, is that why" — like, the questions — I would have questions like, "Damn. I wonder why Big, why he just veer off?"
PUSHA T: And I was like, "Damn. Is that why?" Because I mean, if he's coaching the same way, that was the thing. He was like, "I don't want to be able to see it coming. Please." That was the thing. "I don't want to see it coming. I don't. I just don't." And that's how we made bars. It was frustrating at times. The, "I don't like back and forth with Puff about rap s***?" That bar. That's straight frustration. Like just — I'm in there and I'm like, "Man. I know what I want to say."
MUHAMMAD: Well, it's — no one can ever say that in your lyrics there's some falsehoods, it's falsehood in the storyline. Like, everything, it comes across so authentic. Obviously, it is. But back to other truths, though. What I get from this record is — you still go back to that preacher sort of spirit within you. And I think we talked about this once before with you. And it seems very inescapable, but considering what has sort of been the backdrop of a lot of our lives. And when I say "our" I mean young black men.
PUSHA T: Yes.
MUHAMMAD: The things that hit the headlines often these days are not new to us, but it is definitely forefront and repeated heavily. So it seems like what you're talking about in this record is relevant, but it's needed, and you talking — you talking to a certain group of people how they need to be talked to. Is that intentional?
PUSHA T: Yeah. Cause — see, I think — man. On this album, and me making — the spirit in which some of these records right here were made, it was — man, I had a hell of a last — since My Name Is My Name, it was like a really good time. Like I had a really successful 2013, '14, '15. Touring, just doing my thing. Super — I mean, can't complain about nothing.
And my road manager got killed. And it ruined everything. Now, I tell people — I don't know if this is a word. But I tell people that that re-sensitized me. Because I'm used to people dying, actually. I'm used to people dying. I'm used to my peers dying. I'm used to loss. But that one particular one bothered me.
MUHAMMAD: Can you tell people and explain why that bothered you?
PUSHA T: Because DayDay wasn't that kid. He wasn't the kid who I can accept that from. It's sort of like — he's a church kid, number one. That's how I know him. I know him from — during tour, he was a roadie, and I made him my tour manager. And he would get me band members from his church, and from his — just from what he was about.
And it was crazy because — I mean, he was just a good guy. And I find myself like getting mad at him when like the church people couldn't come play drums for me. And I'm like, "What? What are you talking about?" Cause they had things to do.
But that was his real thing. That was his world. That what's he was about. He brought that energy on my tour. And you don't get that from young black kids in the music industry who have, now — who've — coming up from a roadie to a road manager, you know, he could have easily been the guy who, "Go get the girls." That wasn't it. He just brought a different energy.
And that ruined my whole thing. Whatever was good. Ruined it. Totally. So I had like — I was going through, you know, just issues of, like — anger. Just anger. It's that — it's that stuff you deal with when you hear about the kid getting killed. The 6-year-old. The 9-year-old. No apparent reason type of situation. I'd been on the road with him. We dealt with each other in a way that like — he was my road manager because he thought bright.
You know, we on the road, man. We in some of the — I make a certain type of music. That brings out a certain type of element. You mix that with drugs and alcohol, that evening can turn into something different. And I watched my road manager be like — somebody being belligerent, he'd say, "You know what, boss? You got it. I'm out of here. We don't want no problems." So for him to end up on the wrong end of that situation, I been a little bit out of my mind.
MUHAMMAD: So it was life-changing? Can you say?
PUSHA T: I can't say. I mean, I can't say life-changing. I can just say that, like, patience ain't really there. My — I don't know, man. I can't say — I'm not going to say life-changing. I'm just going to say that it's an awakening, that the level of ignorance — it sort of woke me up to, you know, I guess some of the ignorance that's like — they're just different levels of it, to me. You know what I'm saying?
Man, I grew up well. We got into things. We did. We did things. All of us. But we — to me, it was a bit more — I mean, I just feel like we had principles about things. And everybody that I know — and I don't care if they alive, dead, jail for the next 30 years — still, there were principles.
MUHAMMAD: They lived by that.
PUSHA T: Yeah.
PUSHA T: I don't — for him, for example — and I don't want to keep it on him — but the situation that happened with him let me know that, like, those principles are long gone with people. And I don't know how I feel about that.
KELLEY: Do you make a song like "Sunshine" before that happens?
PUSHA T: No. I made that after that happened. And I made that — I made "Sunshine" in the spirit of — I don't like how young blacks address the issues of society, police brutality; it's a bit too passive for me. I'm not used to passive, young black males, when they're being wronged. I'm not used to that. And that was just — now that could be — cause at this point — I ain't really taking too much from nobody at this point.
So that was just — I don't know how like — the people who speak, who even speak from a conscious type of standpoint in hip-hop to me, it's too passive for me. Like, I am from Virginia Beach. I am from Greekfest Riots. I am from — we ain't had it since. I am — we haven't had that energy since. What year is that?
MUHAMMAD: I don't know. '80 —
PUSHA T: — nine.
PUSHA T: You know? Everything. So like, I don't — Public Enemy was my — if I wanted to hear — I listen to G Rap, and I could listen to that.
PUSHA T: And the guys who I looked up to, who liked and was looking like G Rap, and living like G Rap, was listening to that. So it was just — they just had a different — even in all the wrong in that, it still was like a level of — I don't know.
MUHAMMAD: Do you — well, it comes across in the record, your sentiment. And I think you — it's so true to, I think, the way that you have been in all of your music. But I don't know; for this record, there was something — there was something peaceful about the strength in the mastery. The tone that's like of a master. You mastered your craft, but the tone that you place it, it's like — going back to martial arts, some of the oldest masters — I'm talking the 60, 70 years old — they can just touch you lightly and drop you, you know? And it's not — it's gentle but strong and firm. And I felt that that — you were kind of like — it's not necessarily throwing jabs. It's just like — you just like — you were laying it out there like, "I'm not going to —"
PUSHA T: Play.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. "I'm not beating around the bush about it."
PUSHA T: I'm not gon' play. I'm not going to nickname it. And I notice that if you don't say it — see, to me, this is the third layer of something that's been talked about. Everything that's going on in music right now, man, I been said this, man. Like, I said this for a long time and ain't nobody going to acknowledge that. You know what I'm saying? Nobody's going to acknowledge it. So now I just have to just stand on it.
And I feel like at the same time it ain't even about jabs. It's about the reality.
PUSHA T: It's about the reality, and I wish — I want kids, and I want people, to know the reality of this game. I feel like people always want to be in this game. I got nephews and nieces who want to be in this. I got friends who want to be in it. But they don't want to be in it, if you ask me. They just — they think they do.
And so if you sort of tear down some of the facades that helps me live a bit more peacefully amongst the people that are tugging at my coattail like, "Yo I'm trying to do this." Man, it ain't all that.
PUSHA T: It's not.
KELLEY: Can you be specific about which game you're talking about?
PUSHA T: What do you mean — I'm talking about the music game.
PUSHA T: Yeah. I'm talking about the music game. Totally. I feel like that's where some of the — a lot of my focus was on. I mean, even in "Untouchable," for example, when I'm talking to my friend — my friend Mu literally just came home from the feds. Amazing — was amazing rapper and songwriter before he went in. Lived in Richmond. Worked out of the Trey Songz camp for years. We known each other for years. Stayed that far away from each other, but always knew each other.
Came home. He did tell me like, "Yo. You ain't making them records that's like them bounce joints, man. What you doing? You missing out on all this club money." And it's like, that's a way of looking at it. But — and I know he's coming from an incarcerated place. His best friend is pop R&B dude, tours. They do they thing.
But it's just — it's different. And that's all I was trying to tell him in the song. Was like, "Man, it's different." And it's different ways to like — it's different ways to conquer this game, and man, I'm of the culture. Like, I'm of this culture. Like, I feel like I am hip-hop culture. Win, lose or draw. I feel like, man, I've been in this mix. I have been deeply entrenched in the mix of hip-hop culture.
MUHAMMAD: Do you feel that you get overlooked or do you feel comfortable where you are? Like you not really — you don't need it.
PUSHA T: Yeah. I don't need — I don't mind. I don't mind it. People tell me, "You overlooked." Every day I read, "Man, you underrated. You —" and I don't think so. I feel like, if you're a listener and you're into what this is, and you can relate to this subject matter and you can relate to time periods, eras, whatever, if you're into the things I'm into, you gon' get it. You going to love it.
KELLEY: OK. So how come you're not on the radio then? And what does that tell us about the game of the industry?
PUSHA T: I'm not on the radio because I feel like the radio is — I feel like music — I don't make the music of — I guess I don't make the music of what's popular right now.
PUSHA T: Yeah. So e. You know, it's like boutique shopping. It's like sneaker culture. It's a little niche. But they're a loud bunch. They're a loud bunch. Not everybody goes and gets the Jordan when it drops. Not everybody can get it. Everybody know when it drop though. And they know it because that culture is so loud. So what I lack in radio and I guess that visibility, there's a cool-kid underground factor that is loud, and I feel like everybody wants to be a part of that. Everybody wants to be a part or know what's going on down here.
PUSHA T: Always.
KELLEY: We talking about your hipster appeal?
PUSHA T: Yeah. I feel like hipster — yeah. I feel like it's a hipster appeal. But, man, I feel like the Clipse were the first Internet darlings. For real. I really do. I feel like — man, I was calling them "Clipseters." I wasn't even calling them hipsters. We were calling them Clipseters. That four-year hiatus — what do you call that thing? Four-year hiatus. We Got It For Cheap mixtape series. To Hell Hath No Fury. Yeah. That's what kept us alive. I mean, the Internet — and I wasn't hip. I didn't know. Like, I don't know what a computer — I mean, I knew what a computer was, but I didn't know like —
MUHAMMAD: The level of connection.
PUSHA T: The level of what was happening. So —
KELLEY: That was also cause of your shows though.
PUSHA T: Yeah.
KELLEY: Like, I remember that.
PUSHA T: Knitting Factory. Yeah.
KELLEY: Yup. That's the one.
PUSHA T: Yeah, yeah.
KELLEY: That s—- was Top 3? Easy. Easy. That was legendary.
PUSHA T: Yeah. Knitting Factory was something else. I mean, I made so many revelations in that — listen. I knew that things that were different. I knew — that's when I got the revelation that like, "Wait a minute. Something is happening. You know, and it ain't about the radio. It ain't about that no more."
I was like, "Man. I'm taking for granted like I'm getting Bape at my front door everyday. I'm dressing in this stuff every single day." Not knowing that like there's a world of kids who know, scramble, scratch, try to find — I don't even know that, man. I don't know that. I had no clue of this. Like, whatsoever. Until I did that show. And kids just like, "Man, he got on the Bape. One of one. General" — what? What are you talking about?
KELLEY: Yeah. I had a friend who wore this Billionaire Boy's Club hoodie, the zip-up all the way, for like years after that.
PUSHA T: Yeah. I don't know any — I didn't know any of that. But I found it out that day. I found it out that day.
KELLEY: Yeah. You said something on — I think it was on "Sunshine" that I looked up after about the black Statue Of Liberty?
PUSHA T: Yeah.
KELLEY: I didn't know about that, that it was a rumor that the original model for the Statue Of Liberty was a black woman. And that they think it actually was, that the guy who, the sculptor —
PUSHA T: And they sent it back.
KELLEY: Well, yeah. That part seems like the National Park Service doesn't want to come down on either side of that issue. But for sure for sure, the sculptor had made it — it was going to go up in Egypt, and so it was an Egyptian — it was a black Egyptian woman, and that that maybe they were like, "You need to tone it down." But I had no idea.
PUSHA T: Yeah. Man, you know, I have a good friend who's — we used to rap together and stuff. She's a teacher, history teacher. And the conversation — you know, man, all these raps come from conversations — it went into just how the school system and curriculum is skewing and doing away with history. Yo. They're like —
MUHAMMAD: I didn't know that.
PUSHA T: It's skewed in such a way.
PUSHA T: And it's just — it's weird, man.
KELLEY: Right. So like with the Statue Of Liberty, there's this whole series of things going on. So the guy whose idea it was was a very serious abolitionist and may have come up with the idea the night that Lincoln was assassinated and like it all comes together six years later or whatever. But that also it really, really was about slavery and the end of slavery. It wasn't about immigration, not even until the '30s. Like, "Give me your huddled masses." That's not about —
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, stuff we know.
MUHAMMAD: Sorry. Nah, I'm not — I didn't mean it that — hope it didn't come off in any sort of slappy, negative way. What I meant by that is just that you learn about aspects of your history, and you celebrate it. And it becomes something that only you know, you know? And it's because it's a truth that others are not ready for. And so then it becomes hidden. And that's just through the history of mankind, right?
And so we know — so when I say that's something we know. That's like one of those things that you know. If you black, you know. You learn about that. And it's frustrating, because you're like, "But y'all sitting here promoting all this other stuff." And it's just like, "OK. We going to take that one like we take all the other stuff." Which I think it goes kind of back maybe to the feeling that you're saying from your record, like you don't know passive. And so you don't have — you say you don't have patience.
And I don't know what will be the trigger to really rip the lid off of all the oppressive trickery that's been happening. In our country. I can't speak of other nations, but specifically in America, which only does no good. It doesn't do any good for us.
PUSHA T: And, like, I was mentioning my schoolteacher friend because — I don't know — I guess cause I'm older now. Man. I didn't — these are things that I didn't think about. I didn't think about any of it, like, take everything at face value. And now I'm like watching, you know —
Damn, I wish I could just give you an example. Like, she'd be like, "Yo, do you know?" I mean, just the way that even slavery is talked about. It's not even — man, it's getting tucked. It's getting tucked in these books. And I have to — I'll bring this back to you. I'll bring this back to you just so you can see and understand what I'm talking about.
But this was like — on one end, just in regards to "Sunshine" and thinking about it, you feel a way at the act. Then on the other end, me personally, man, it makes me feel a little dumb. Like just, "Damn, man. Hell you been doing all these years? What you been thinking about?" And "Sunshine" is a strong record. I love the record. I love it. But I wanted to make a record that I couldn't really write that well, in regards to just black-on-black crime. Same way.
Like, I don't know. I don't know what I feel more strongly about. I don't know. Cause, truthfully, I expect people to be racist, or there are bad cops. There're good cops. Never would I say that there — there are some. But I don't know if that pains me more than just the black killings, me hearing about what's going on in Chicago.
PUSHA T: Like, I don't — matter of fact, it doesn't pain me more. That pains me more, I believe. It does. That's just the first record that could come out. That was the easier one to write. I couldn't get this one. Couldn't. I will get it though.
MUHAMMAD: I was about to say, "There's time."
PUSHA T: I will. Yeah.
KELLEY: That's funny. I wrote down — these're some of my questions. It's like, "What's the worst thing happening?" And then, "What's easy?" Like, what's easy for you to do right now?
PUSHA T: Musically, you mean?
KELLEY: However you feel you'd like to take that.
PUSHA T: What's easy for me to do is — I think it's easy for me just to adapt and accept what's going on out here in the — just be open to the creativity of what people are doing these days, musically. I got a real issue with how — it's funny, man. My fans are like — yo, they like, "You killing it. You bringing that real back." And so on and so forth.
And if that's what it is, that's what it is. I mean, if that's how they view it. But you know, a lot of my favorites and the greats didn't last, in my opinion, because they didn't accept the new energy that's going on out here. And I'm not saying you accept it — I've never done with a record with Auto-Tune or — I don't know how to do that. But I'm not saying that you have to do it, and you have to jump out the window and try all these things. But I don't think that they accepted it.
Forefathers, I mean — yeah. All the greats. All my greats.
KELLEY: Like who?
PUSHA T: They didn't. I don't believe that like — I don't believe that KRS and Rakim — I can't say that they accepted the changing of the times. I can't say that they did. How old — I mean, how long was their prime?
PUSHA T: It was super short. Like, how is that?
PUSHA T: How is that? Why is that? That has to be because — that's how I, not quantify it, but that's how I —
KELLEY: Like, judge.
MUHAMMAD: Measure it.
PUSHA T: That's how I measure it. Yeah. How is that? There's absolutely no way — I mean, talking about these are people, I'm reciting this now. I'm reciting — I'm referencing, reciting, going back to all of what they've done. But their span was so short, and I don't get it. And I feel like as time has went on, we've seen people being more accepting of what's going on. And you just see how the life span of their career and just what they mean to the culture.
MUHAMMAD: Well, the culture I think has — the hip-hop culture has spread out through the world. And so, you know, people who are closest to the origin of things try to — they're so close to it that it's hard to look at anything that's different than the origin and the root of it and be easy and go with it. I'll use the example of Christmas and getting a Christmas tree.
KELLEY: Ali hates Christmas.
MUHAMMAD: No, it's just —
KELLEY: Ali won't let me give him Christmas presents.
MUHAMMAD: And I ask people, I'm like, "OK. Do you know why you chop down a tree?" Most people don't know. And it's like, when you go into it, what the origin of what you believe or what you thought is not exactly that. And so the people who are closest to that, they know that. And so like me for example, I know the origin of it, so when people come to me and my family and home space and want to do that I'm not that open to it.
PUSHA T: Right.
MUHAMMAD: But — so the point is, I think, with regards to hip-hop spreading out, it's no longer — I'll use the word "owned," and that's probably not the proper word — but it's no longer owned by — it's out there in the world. And so the person over in Palestine is going to embrace hip-hop in their way, how they received it, but then they are adding their own spirit to it. The person in the Philippines is going to do the same thing. The person in Nigeria is going to do the same thing. So it may be different. Even if it comes from Newport News or if it comes from Miami or in Cleveland, it's a little bit different.
And so when you got these different people coming from these different places feeling it, but then adding their interpretation and their feel on it, some of those people who are close to the original they — I don't know if it's the right thing by kind of like having more of a discerning sort of a viewpoint, but it definitely creates obstacles of growth. And that's in any aspect of life. If you allow yourself to be closed, especially to a younger generation, then that's death. That's instant death.
PUSHA T: But that's what it feels like to me. That's what I feel like, and when you — when I ask you like, "Man, how was long was their run?" And you tell me, "Super short?" For who I would — I don't know of a greater time period and guys who were that great. I feel like that's exactly what happened. They were — they closed it — they — instant death, man. Like, yo, they closed it to a younger — and what's so weird, when I think about it — when you think about rap on the East Coast, Northeast Coast, ran from what? '90 — I mean, from '80 — from the start.
MUHAMMAD: '73 was it? Yeah, OK.
PUSHA T: OK. From the start to —
MUHAMMAD: '96. Yeah.
PUSHA T: '96. Right. Perfect. Right? OK. So now what I'm saying is why couldn't my greats be great — listen — even amongst their own coast, peer, region. They couldn't even be great among — and now you look at us, and we gotta be great when the music isn't even — the shift is down there now. Down South. Everything that's —
MUHAMMAD: Can I play angel's advocate for a moment?
PUSHA T: Yeah. Yeah. Let's see this one. Cause that was a great — damn. '73 to '96. Dammit. What do you mean?
MUHAMMAD: OK. I'ma play angel's advocate for a moment to say during, I want to say maybe from the peak of — the beginning of '94, cause I got to go back a couple steps behind '96.
PUSHA T: OK.
MUHAMMAD: It became apparently clear to the puppeteers how profitable hip-hop could be. And so the control of the creators of the content had other hands, powerful hands, to shift the paradigm towards something that was way different than the root of it. So when you got the masters, who, still some of them can't even be touched to this day, you know, looking at it — and that's why I use the word: they discern; they look at it — and they go, "This s*** is funky. This is not — how can we embrace that, because we recognize the other hands that's meddling, that's pushing a different agenda."
And so now you step it down — up to '95, '96, '97. Those puppeteers have put together a perfect plan that now the newer are coming in, and they stacking and they building on and they profiting. Like, everything is beautiful. But it separates you from the root of it so much that now it's taken on a life of its own. It's still tied in to the root and the family tree of hip-hop, but it's almost like a hybrid.
And so that hybrid has a life and obviously it needs to be respected, because that's life. That's mankind. Like, yo, we're going to be wiped away. We're gonna be dust. Our buildings are gonna be covered, and there's going to be another layer of society to build on top of that. So what does that say? But to kind of play angel's advocate off of what you said, you look at that and you go — at the puppeteers — and go, "That's the demise of what's true." But —
PUSHA T: Mm.
KELLEY: Yeah, but —
MUHAMMAD: But — go ahead.
KELLEY: So mad. But we've talked to so many people who heard everything coming out of New York then, like Bun in Texas and like 8Ball in Memphis, and they loved exactly what you loved. They heard exactly what you heard, despite it being more difficult to get, and then they made their own thing. And New York still didn't want to f*** with it. New York still looked down on it.
MUHAMMAD: Well, that's a mistake. And so as much as I want to play angel's advocate —
KELLEY: But that might have more —
MUHAMMAD: — you know, I was trying to offer a different side of to the possibilities of why it's not just only in being closed. But I think anytime you're closed to what's new and what's coming, again I say it's instant death. You can't disconnect yourself from the younger generation. You may look at it and go, "I don't know about that." But the moment that you, as I think you said, you don't relate and you don't embrace what's next then —
PUSHA T: Yeah.
MUHAMMAD: — that's —
PUSHA T: And I'm not saying you gotta try. I'm not saying you gotta do it. I'm just saying you should know. Cause I feel like when you don't know, that comes off onto you. You can't hide that.
PUSHA T: You can't hide being washed. Like, that's a terrible thing.
MUHAMMAD: Man, you younger guys are so brutal, man.
PUSHA T: What do you mean?
MUHAMMAD: Nah, I'm just joking.
PUSHA T: We the same age.
MUHAMMAD: I know. You a little bit younger than me. But it's — you right. You right. You right. You know? I don't — but what's beautiful though is when you have guys like yourself who — you study, so you're able to use what comes before you to a greater benefit. And if you don't get embraced, you don't get embraced. You gotta do what you gotta do. But there are those who don't embrace or even acknowledge certain aspects of the origin. And that can be frustrating. But me personally, I keep an open mind. I keep an open bridge cause it's all human communication.
PUSHA T: It was — on working on this album, it was dope to get in with Tip actually. And him have conversations with me about — first of all, his archive of music is just dumb. I mean, we talking about recreating things. We talking about just — that's just number one. But being able to have that conversation, talk about energies that aren't being tampered with in music that were once — just on a production tip.
And then still being able to have conversations in regards to Rich Homie Quan or just things that — he was just trying to find out what I like. And I can tell him why and he's like, "Yo." And he gets it. You can't have that conversation with many people, man. A lot of people, like, they don't — they're not open. They're not open to it. And they'll down-talk it; they'll belittle it, and I mean, you gotta — even if you're not with it, you have to know.
I like the fact that he knows about it so much that we can make records even competing with it. You know what I'm saying? Do, "OK. That's what's going on? Let's do this." It was just — that was just a good thing for us.
MUHAMMAD: So then are you saying that you're completely open to every of the newer stuff that's out there?
PUSHA T: I like it a lot. I love what's going on in rap, actually. I —
KELLEY: Did you mention Young Dolph in "Got Em Covered?"
PUSHA T: Yes. I love Young Dolph.
KELLEY: I do too.
PUSHA T: But that also comes from — I am still outside.
PUSHA T: It's the same — it is the exact same thing as when I was in Virginia, loving life. New York totally invaded my state. I could listen to nothing but Wu-Tang to whatever, whatever, whatever. Rakim, Mobb Deep, whatever. And I finally get to go to the Bay. Things that I would turn — I would click, would cut my whole TV off. And finally get there, go to the club, and realize like, "Oh, this is a real thing." You can love anything that you are in the mix of.
PUSHA T: You can. Like, when you see it, and when you see it authentically and you see people, how people are in their element, you can appreciate it. And I feel like, man, I'm still outside. I love all of that stuff. And I love it for just what it is, though. Like, don't — it's not about, you know — you never gon' hear me say — call on people for a mean 16 of what I need, of what I'm trying to hear.
Man, listen, I went and got — for "Keep Dealing," I went and got Sigel. And — wildest story in the world — I didn't know Sigel was hurt. Did you know that?
PUSHA T: OK. No, but did you know he was — I knew he got hurt. I thought he was through that. I had no clue.
I had been — I had a record, and I had been like trying to find somebody to get on it. And I was like, "Man, I'ma get Sigel on the record." I called him; it's mid-day. And I been calling. I'm like, "Man, why I gotta keep calling you trying to find a record?" I'm like, "What? You just waking up or something?" And he's like, "Nah, Push. I'm good. What up?" And I'm like, "Look. I got this record. I'ma send it to you." Boom, boom.
Sent him the record. He hits me back enthusiastic, still talking like he was. And I was like, "Ahhh." Your lung, you know — then he was like, "But I needed this because I needed to hear this."
The literature was so right on it I couldn't take him off. I wouldn't dare. He wrote it — he did everything I needed. Everything. And I couldn't get it from anywhere else, to be honest. And you know I could've put anybody.
MUHAMMAD: No doubt.
PUSHA T: But, man, when you need that, when you just need that level of pen and when you need that level of gospel, you can only go certain places for it. And it don't — it didn't bother me a bit that to me Sigel doesn't sound like the Sigel we — but I can live with that, cause I know the verb is right. The verb is so right.
KELLEY: Well, is there anything you want to make sure we understand about the album or that we get across?
PUSHA T: I don't know, man. I think I made an amazing, fan-oriented album.
KELLEY: I mean, let's be honest. A lot of people are going to think this is a fourth-quarter — like, you owed something. And it's a delaying before we get to King Push. But it doesn't feel like that. It doesn't sound like that.
PUSHA T: Nah. I don't — I don't know. I mean, I don't even know how that works. Nah.
In all honesty, King Push is, I feel like — I have records on King Push that, to me, need — it's a different thing. I wouldn't — I couldn't just push or throw something out there with, I feel like, the people that are on it — I got features on it. I think I always work with good producers, but artistically there are people on that record that are — people haven't heard in some time. And it was nothing — you just couldn't mix the two in my opinion.
I don't owe anybody anything. I never owe anybody anything. I'm not one of those releases. And my album'll be better than all of those releases. Facts!
MUHAMMAD: Just want to ask you about the line, about the G.O.O.D. Music — what did you say?
KELLEY: He's the president.
MUHAMMAD: He the president? Can you enlighten us on it?
PUSHA T: Oh, no. One day I got a phone call from Kanye asking me what do I think about being the president of G.O.O.D. Music. And I was like, "Sure. What we trying to achieve here?" And he was just like, "Man, I feel like as far as the artists go, the artists on G.O.O.D. Music respect you. I feel like you got a good rapport with all of them." He was like, "You're pretty spot on in regards to acts and things that we may have wanted to sign, we didn't get to sign."
Or just things bubbling up, whether we talking about Keef, Chief Keef and the "Don't Like" remix, or plenty of things on the net that we just — I'm always like, "Yo, man, you checking this out?" Future. People weren't really rocking — people shot me for having Future on My Name Is My Name. I put that out in 2012. "Pain." And now Future is — I mean, Future to me was hot then. But he was like, "Man, you pretty spot on about these things, and you care. I know you care. What could we do?"
And, you know, in regards to Ye — I'm a team player when it come to G.O.O.D. Music. I feel like it's a pretty easy task, cause carrying on with tradition, high quality music, high quality art — I think we could bring a little bit more business to the situation, just in regards to the fans. My mood board says that there should be a G.O.O.D. Music festival. Why not? Like we haven't — I don't think — and I think all of the G.O.O.D. Music artists and affiliates are doing so many different things that we never get to Voltron up. So that would be a thing of mine.
KELLEY: Where would you do it?
PUSHA T: I don't want to say. I just don't want to say just because I don't want to — cause it's in the —
KELLEY: But you know?
PUSHA T: Yeah. I mean, no, this is like —
PUSHA T: I'm trying —
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, you don't have to reveal that.
PUSHA T: And keeping with fan engagement. I feel like, man, we really started something when we were on that G.O.O.D Friday type kick.
KELLEY: I was just about to say it. That was the best.
PUSHA T: But that's the — it's a hard thing. People want that. But that probably was the hardest time of my life in G.O.O.D. Music. I mean, just everybody had to be focused.
KELLEY: Just keeping up with it and having the artwork and like everything?
PUSHA T: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
PUSHA T: Keeping up with it. I think the putting out of the music and the art, those are things that really made the whole thing a thing.
KELLEY: Got me through a breakup.
PUSHA T: Yeah. And everybody just has to be on the same page. It can't happen like that. And we can't — I don't feel like we should do it half-ass.
MUHAMMAD: Mm-hmm. No doubt.
PUSHA T: That's not cool. Like, you got —
PUSHA T: Ye in here. You got Cole coming through.
MUHAMMAD: You got greatness.
PUSHA T: You know, Cudi.
MUHAMMAD: You got greatness.
PUSHA T: We all are just working. Mos. Raekwon might've stopped — like, it was just a thing, man. And it was — everybody was just on.
KELLEY: That Pete Rock joint.
PUSHA T: Pete Rock. I mean, this was Dark Twisted time, correct?
KELLEY: Yeah. 2010.
PUSHA T: Yeah. Dark Twisted time. A lot had to do with the creation of that album, you know, and just the powers that be that were around. And I don't think that you can just get that. You can't just recreate that high volume or quality.
KELLEY: You can't just make everybody go to Hawaii again.
PUSHA T: You can't just do that. And I would love it.
KELLEY: Yeah. We all would.
PUSHA T: That's the thing. Listen. Let me tell you something. If that happens, I'm about to look like a genius. Like, if that could happen? Cause that's part of probably why the presidency — cause I got to huddle and lasso everybody up. Like, it's a lot of legwork, footwork, that's going to come up along with this.
KELLEY: You're like, "We're going to Switzerland. Get on the plane."
MUHAMMAD: We believe in you.
PUSHA T: Yo, I'm going for it, man. Thank you.
KELLEY: Yeah. Thank you so much for talking to us about everything.
PUSHA T: Nah. All good. Thank you.
KELLEY: Greatest respects. And we just want more music all time.
PUSHA T: You got it. You got it.
MUHAMMAD: We do?
PUSHA T: Yes.
MUHAMMAD: But I'm not gon' push you.
KELLEY: I will.
MUHAMMAD: Cause I respect a person's, an artist's process, you know. And I hear it all the time like, "When are you? When are you? When are you?" I'm like, "Yeah, I know." So — but thank you so much.