Having spent ten years as one-half of Clipse, a hard-as-nails Virginian duo whose tales of drug pushing and dope dealing earned them the first contract on The Neptunes’ record label, Pusha T was a curious addition to Kanye West’s GOOD record label when the pop superstar did serious remodelling work to his all-star crew last year. With stablemates like Common, John Legend and Mr. Hudson, Pusha’s lurid rhymes – which consistently coaxed the darkest reaches of The Neptunes sound – seemed of a different ilk than the rest of the gang, and unsurprisingly, his debut solo record, Fear of God II: Let Us Pray (an implied sequel to the Fear of God mixtape) is an unsteady and muddled first step.
As Clipse, Pusha and his brother Malice worked gorgeously in tandem. Regularly interchanging throughout their organized rhymes, the duo spit rhythmically, often without the safety net of a hook to bookend each verse. Working almost exclusively with The Neptunes, the brothers brought the best out of Chad Hugo, the less-famous half of the production team whose darker leanings counter-acted their incredible run of pop chart success. This exclusive producer/rapper alliance on the albums Lord Willin’ and Hell Hath No Fury was one of the most fruitful of its kind in the noughties. But in contrast, Fear of God II: Let us Pray is an expensively assembled set as Pusha works his way through various beatmakers. In the company of relative strangers, he struggles to establish himself. There’s little to thematically pull together this selection of better-than-average beats, with Pusha failing to add the necessary cohesion.
Instead of the gritty instrumentation of classics like “When the Last Time”, “Grindin’” and “Trill”, Pusha is exposed by a variety of beats better suited for the vast assortment of famous guest stars that clutter the album and not vice-versa. For example, Young Jeezy murders him on “Amen”, while Kanye’s verse appropriately references his own single “H.A.M.” as both tracks sport dramatic and grandiloquent grooves. It’s not style that best suits Pusha whose flow remains strangely lethargic throughout Fear of God II. Even on “Trouble on My Mind”, a Neptunes-produced Hell Hath No Fury throwback, his verse lacks the bite of Tyler, the Creator’s, who sounds far more comfortable with his surroundings.
“Trouble On My Mind” is still a highlight, though, and there are some solid tracks dotted throughout the album. But this is a Pusha T record and, from his perspective, most of the best tracks tend to leave him behind: For example, the Juicy J-propelled “Body Work” is a glorious retread of golden era Three 6 Mafia, while 50 Cent’s croaky drawl works well on the repetitive “Raid”.
Going back to a more tried and tested formula, “What Dreams Are Made Of” is a welcome cocaine slinging anthem, as is “I Still Wanna”, where Pusha takes over hook duties and holds his own in the presence of the always monstrous Rick Ross. But closer “Alone In Vegas” is by far the MC’s most impressive moment. A quietier effort, it could be the product of a late night recording session when Pusha’s all star back up had gone home and he was free to express himself with no boundaries. Though it demonstrates that Pusha T – still only 34 – is still an artist to be reckoned with, Fear of God II highlights none of his strengths.