Not even a week has elapsed between the release of Pusha T’s highly anticipated DAYTONA and the writing of this review. And yet so much has taken place: criticism of the album’s art featuring a picture of Whitney Houston’s bathroom, a very quickly released diss track from Drake titled “Duppy Freestyle”, and an answering right hook from Pusha called “The Story of Adidon”, in which Pusha calls Drake out for being a deadbeat dad and hiding a son, and reveals a picture of the Toronto rapper in blackface. But before all the jabs and controversies of the week, there was an album (if we’re calling seven tracks and 21 minutes an album now). While commentary on all these events may be necessary, it would be unfair to the album to bog down its analysis with the events occurring post-release.
On DAYTONA, Pusha fully realizes his role in the rap game. It’s not the conscious rapper dropping knowledge on the younger generation like Kendrick Lamar or J. Cole, both of whom he respects on “Infrared”. It’s not the sing-songy trap rapper climbing to the top of the charts like Drake, who receives zero respect on the same track. Pusha said in an interview recently, “I know what I’m good at. I know my skill set. I’m very comfortable in understanding that y’all want the street shit from me.” And although he’s dabbled outside that lane elsewhere (“Sunshine”, his offering on Gorillaz’ “Let Me Out”), DAYTONA is Pusha in top gang boss form.
In fact, he confirms this on “The Games We Play” as he delivers, “This ain’t for the conscious / This is for the mud-made monsters who group up on legends from outer Yonkers / Influenced by niggas straight outta Compton / The scale never lies / I’m two-point-two incentivized.” Over just a few lines, Pusha references his cocaine-dealing past (2.2 pounds in a kilo), his hard-hitting street realism, and his influences from Ruff Ryders to N.W.A., all over a guitar and horn riff Kanye West slowed down to a swaggering stomp. Push reaches peak confidence levels throughout the tracklist, throwing out braggadocious lines like “Rich flair before they was Ric Flair’s / Cocaine concierge, longest running trapper of the year” and “The only rapper sold more dope than me was Eazy-E”.
Despite the hardcore gangsta rap nature of the album, the hooks are surprisingly unapologetic in their hookiness. Oft-Yeezy collaborator the World Famous Tony Williams especially delivers on “Hard Piano”, while “Come Back Baby” relies on the soulful voice of ’60s singer George Jackson to bring the melodic heartbreak. Push is also able to step away from his white powder throne long enough to express his own heartache on “Santeria”, in which he discusses the murder of his tour manager De’Von Picket: “You listening, De’von? / As I’m talking to your spirit, for God’s sakes / I’m dealing with heartbreak / Checking my ego, I’m livin’ with lost faith.” It’s a welcome change-up, even in the 21-minute burst of energy, that brings sympathy to Push’s personal life, even through the hard, villainous character he portrays.
But what a villain Pusha set himself up to be. With a laundry list of high profile releases set to come out over the coming months, Pusha T’s antagonistic opening comments set the bar incredibly high, especially for Drake whom he embarrassed on “Infrared”, calling him out for hiring ghostwriters. It may not be the most uplifting album of the year. It may not be the most woke album of the year. But nothing is going to touch the “YUGH” factor of DAYTONA this year.