[2 May 2011]
Despite the powerful group dynamic of the Clipse, some solo efforts were inevitable from the Thornton brothers ever since the Re-Up Gang project with Ab-Liva and Sandman didn’t work out. Since that point, Malice has gone all Geto Boys and embraced his religion more wholeheartedly, while Pusha T has continued to do feature verses that had the masses screaming for more. After his signing to Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music, Fear of God was announced and Push a Ton fans were finally going to get what they wanted. All Pusha, all the time.
Unfortunately, Fear of God isn’t exactly the epic release we came to expect, and doesn’t hold a candle to the free releases from rappers that grew up breaking themselves on the internet. Fear of God has an about even mix of freestyles and original production. While it’s not necessarily a surprise, it is disappointing that the freestyle beats work so much better with Pusha T than the original work.
The problems with Fear of God are about the same as with the Clipse’s last official tapes, We Got It for Cheap, Vol. 3 and Road to Til the Casket Drops. A lot of the surprise in the Clipse is out the window at this point, so often just them rapping doesn’t feel like enough. This was why I responded so positively to Til the Casket Drops. They still talked coke but the beats tried out some different directions. Both rappers seemed to be even more aware of their personal lives running adjacent to their studio lives. Fear of God follows a little bit of that, but honestly, it doesn’t feel authentic.
A lot of times Pusha actually sounds like Kanye: his “Money on My Mind” freestyle and verse on “I Still Wanna Rock”. The latter is surprising, as Rick Ross utterly outshines two much better rappers. I might go so far as to say that verse is in the top three of his whole career. Pusha T also eschews his signature adlibs most of the time, for a “Yes!” that sounds a lot like Wooh da Kid’s main adlib and doesn’t sound very natural coming from Push. Speaking of awkward, Pharrell is rapping about AKs on the “Raid” chorus. It’s easier to ignore with the hot piano-based beat and 50 Cent opening his verse with a great Rick Ross impression.
The real strange thing is I’m just not responding to the raps much on this tape. I’m not sure Fear of God has given me any reason to rethink my stance that Pusha T is one of the five best rappers out there these days, but it’s certainly not worthy of the hype listeners might have allowed themselves. The sound fidelity isn’t always the best, and there are some duds. “Feeling Myself” is a song I’m fine with, I suppose, but I can see the beat and Kevin Cossom hook throwing many for a loop. The song is definitely generic pop rap, but it’s one of Cossom’s few hooks that’s more hook than annoying pandering.
“Touch It”, featuring raps and production from Kanye West, is the surprising lame duck of the set. The two essentially try to remake Cam’ron’s “Touch It or Not” with an extremely laidback jazz beat that goes nowhere and feels insubstantial as hell, meanwhile Kanye just sounds like a fool. After their “Runaway” collaboration and the G.O.O.D. Friday drops, it’s a super-disappointing track. There’s no reason to skip Fear of God, not with stuff like “Cook It Down”, “I Still Wanna Rock”, “Can I Live” and “Alone in Vegas”, but there’s definitely not a lot of incentive to keep it in rotation for the weeks and months ahead.