Album Review: Pusha T – It’s Almost Dry

[G.O.O.D. Music / Def Jam; 2022]

“They praying I never go solo” – in actuality, when he snarled these words on Clipse’s “We Got It for Cheap”, Pusha T never intended to act on them. Yet, things went the way they did, with the group becoming the center of a federal investigation that landed their manager in jail, leading his brother Malice to find God and become Christian rapper No Malice, leaving Push stranded, essentially, without a paddle. It didn’t take him long to find one. Ever since his arguable proper arrival on Kanye West’s “Runaway” (and, should the rumors be true, ghostwriting some of the album it came from), Pusha T has been cutting a swath through hip hop. 

Forget trouncing the biggest star in the industry (honestly, how did it take so long for someone to score a real knick in the guy from Degrassi’s armor?), the Virginia Beach native has been establishing a proper legacy for himself: he’s yet to drop a project that isn’t good to stellar, he’s served as G.O.O.D. Music’s President, and he’s established Heir Wave Music Group to support artists from his city, such as Shaolinn. Nonetheless, despite the indisputable quality of releases from My Name is My Name to King Push, it was 2018’s DAYTONA that finally had a meteoric impact. Sliced down to its purest possible form during Kanye’s run of albums at the time, it stood tall as clearly the strongest of the bunch (with respect to the enjoyable experimentalism of Kids See Ghosts). It was, plain and simple, an instant classic. The excitement that came along with putting Drake in his sniper sites with “Infrared” didn’t hurt, but the album didn’t need it. Every beat snapped, every bar sizzled (aside from Kanye’s regrettable MAGA-ing, the album’s one and only flaw).

Ever since, Push has clearly felt an undue amount of pressure to equal the project, if not outright surpass it. To say the least, it was a tall order, and not one he genuinely needed to concern himself with. Few, if anyone, loves DAMN. any less for not being To Pimp a Butterfly‘s equal. So, to the inevitable point: Pusha T’s new album, It’s Almost Dry, might not be DAYTONA, but it never needed to be.

What’s interesting, however, is how the lessons of his last effort’s success stuck with him. Despite being almost twice the length, It’s Almost Dry very much adheres to the wisdom of its predecessor: there isn’t an ounce of fat on the lean, mean machine that is the album, with every second aimed with a precise, sinister purpose.

Its creation was also healthily organic, as Push turned down any beats that were simply sent to him – even from the likes of Madlib. He was determined to craft the project directly alongside his collaborators. To that end, he enlisted longtime allies, naturally calling on Kanye (alright, alright, Ye) once more, as well as Pharrell, his stalwart companion from the very earliest days of his career with Clipse. Given that the production is split nearly down the middle between the two greats, fans have already begun a debate as to who brought the most heat, but the truth is every moment does precisely what it needs to.

If you’re forcing this writer to pick a side, I’d say Pharrell’s welcome return to the lethally wiped down, smoothly thundering sound of the Clipse era have the edge. From the booming dominance of “Let the Smokers Shine the Coupes” to the ominously stripped back “Call My Bluff”, Pharrell is in a form he hasn’t chosen to be in for some time; worlds away from the sounds that have made him a chart-topper, plunging him right back into the icy white of Push’s world.

Lest you think Ye entirely let Pharrell get the best of him, he delivers one of the album’s finest moments with closer “I Pray for You”, which also happens to boast one of It’s Almost Dry’s key verses: and it doesn’t come from Pusha. His brother appears, and much like on Nigo’s recent album, he’s not in No Malice mode, he’s back to pure Malice, albeit more weathered and measured, somewhere between his two worlds, and his bars are all the more powerful for it. With each and every word, from “Vietnam flashbacks, I get triggered by a sniff” to “I greet you with the love of God, that don’t make us friends / I might whisper in his ear, ‘Bury all of them’” the verse is so visceral it nearly feels he’s in the room with you. He brings a prideful yet weary perspective to their long-held subject matter that feels entirely fresh, which brings us to a rather tired and empty criticism of Push’s music in general.

Those lobbing insults at the rapper for sticking to his subject matter are missing the point on several levels.

One: if they’re listening to It’s Almost Dry and think Push’s treatment of his dealing days haven’t changed… they’re either not listening closely or simply never heard Lord Willin’. The boastful sense of pride isn’t going anywhere – nor should it – but it’s been wizened, grounded, by age, loss, and the growth of his own family. He’s nearly astonished by his past, marveling at his survival and success (“Shit, we really used to roll around / Coppin’ quarter pounds”) along with the rest of us. It’s now far more Carlito’s Way than Layer Cake: he’s made it far enough to allow for that very wisdom.

Two: There never has been – nor ever will be – anything wrong with an artist who elects to paint in a particular shade. Such gripes echo those bellyaching over Wes Anderson having a particular style.

Three: Give the people what they want. At this stage in his career, Push knows exactly what he does best. While his son does receive mention on It’s Almost Dry, an entire album about, say, the joys and pitfalls of fatherhood from the King of Coke, while certainly not doomed to outright failure, would undoubtedly have an odd ring to it.

Moreover, the idea that It’s Almost Dry is Push essentially treading water is an exaggerated one. Looking past the fact that Pusha T could still outrap 95% of the figures in hip hop without an ounce of forward motion, it’s the increasingly ever-present cracks in his worldview that ultimately guide the album. The title It’s Almost Dry is no mistake: Push is tired, and if he’s growing fatigued, lord help the rest of us. The album finds a man torn between realities: weighted down by his past and a seemingly never ending pandemic, crushed by the loss of his parents within months of each other, yet lifted up the simple, pure grace of his child. However confident It’s Almost Dry feels, make no mistake, this is the battle for a man’s soul.