It’s sometime during Pusha T’s last verse on “Millions”, the second track of his second solo mixtape, that you’ll probably make an important decision. Important in relation to this .zip file, anyway. Are you the sort that demands an artist grow with the times, or more so within themselves? Because if you’re the former, then Wrath of Caine is an easy sell. Unlike the somewhat tepid Fear of God tape released two years ago when Pusha T first signed with Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music, this right here is some free music that proves there’s life for Terrence Thornton outside the confines of his Virginia duo, Clipse, and the prideful guidance of Pharrell Williams. The verse that he delivers there is so full of that vintage Pusha Ton fire that you’ll be immediately swept up in the idea of 37 minutes of new Pusha T music.
But if you’re the other guy, you might have a problem. “It’s basically an ode to dope boys and stash spots; it’s just an ode to that energy,” is the way Pusha T would sell this tape to you, and that’s not just salesmanship. His boundaries have expanded ever so subtly since flipping from Pharrell to Kanye, but at Pusha T’s artistic core there will always be cocaine. Just look at that cover art, that title. He’s never been one to shy away from the underbelly of his subjects, but without Malice to push him those moments mostly come in glimpses and casual asides. More the sprinkles you notice a few listens in rather than a defining characteristic. If you’re just fine with that prospect then you’re going to find some pretty interesting things going on here.
The most striking thing about Wrath of Caine is probably how proudly it wears the influences of Max B and Future on its sleeve. “Trust You” says it’s performed by Kevin Gates, but try to tell any blind listener that’s not Future. The same goes for “Blocka”, an album highlight produced by Young Chop that has St. Thomas dancehall deejay Popcaan getting chopped and screwed into a very Future/Young Scooter type of melodic haze. On paper, it looks like Pusha’s just trying to fit in with the people he paved the way for. Even accepting that premise, Wrath of Caine proves over and over that Pusha T is back to having more fun with basic gangster bragging than everybody else doing what Wrath of Caine does. Like the mixtape Pusha of old, he tends to be an exceptional bully whenever he decides to play along with his peers.
Still, the middle of this thing definitely gives it a defiantly mixtape vibe, where momentum’s thrown out the window in favor of assessing public opinion. “Road Runner” is a typically iconic Harry Fraud production with Troy Ave. mimicking his favorite Max B tapes as best he can and some really solid verses; unfortunately, it really throws off the momentum. “Revolution” is even more jarring, a Neptunes jam that takes me back to their obsession with loud brass in the early 2000s but feels limp and helpless between Fraud’s nostalgia-drenched trap and “Only You Can Tell It”, this track you just know the Roc-a-Fella or Dipset crews would have murdered in 2002 that gets murdered by a lot of talking and Wale delivering spoken word bars.
But given their own time, the positives of those tracks can get weeded out, and the four song blocks that surround them are really something to get your ears on. The album ends with “I Am Forgiven”, a cut that easily could have squeezed in among Til the Casket Drops‘ other eulogies for the Clipse as a group. Plus you get Ab-Liva delivering a solo verse that instantly gives the tape just a little hint of what many forget made the We Got It for Cheap series so entertaining. It’s definitely going to be interesting to see how this “appetizer” compares to the real thing (that oft-repeated Marlo Stanfield sample, My Name Is My Name), but if this is the stuff they weren’t confident in selling then I’ve got to say hopes are beyond high. The absence of (No) Malice might always be a burden for some who don’t appreciate Pusha T’s more Rick Ross-like persona, but the presence of Pusha T’s wordplay and delivery should be more than enough to overcome for most.