Anticipating His Solo Debut, Pusha T Praises Jeezy + Defends Feature-Heavy Tracklist

Pusha T recently promised to deliver the best hip hop album of the year. With over a decade’s worth of d-boy/rap experience on his resume, Kanye West as the battery in his back, and My Name Is My Name cued up for release, can the gritty lyricist prove he’s cooked up something to join the elite ranks of his more mainstream peers? October 8th cometh: all eyes are on King Push.

Kanye recently told Zane Lowe and a studio full of onlookers that “we forget about that Clipse album that meant everything.” In case you missed the bite buried under the paparazzi-hunted star’s erratic-but-inspiring BBC commentary, Kanye took a moment during the interview to acknowledge the impact that Clipse records from 10 years ago had on the music industry. “I have to remind Pusha T that he’s Pusha T!”

This, coming from rap’s biggest rock star.

In those few sentences from Yeezy, we can not only sense where some of Pusha’s current confidence might stem from, but are also reminded of hip hop’s disposable nature. As a lane of music constantly moving forward and embracing innovative trends, the pop-leaning genre is sometimes guilty of too-quickly aging-out its past victors when newcomers command the spotlight.

But Pusha T never left. After debut Clipse album Lord Willin’ met solid sales and critical acclaim, he and his brother Malice continued to cultivate consistent relationships with their loyal fan base: the We Got It 4 Cheap mixtape series and Re-Up Gang studio album kept appetites whet until 2009 when the duo released ’Til The Casket Drops. Despite suffering disappointing sales and getting dropped from Columbia Records shortly after that third project, early glory from their organic work with The Neptunes seemed to have birthed a sense of entitlement in Pusha that he, to this day, carries with him like a torch.

“I’m still just trying to beat people in the head that I’m a great rapper,” Pusha told VH1 Tuner during our sit-down last weekend, “and hopefully this album makes more people believe.”

Secure with his mic skills enough to make some very public wagers on My Name Is My Name, Pusha chose to recruit the game’s most noteworthy talent to touch gloves with. “Those three guys right there,” Pusha said of Rick Ross, Kendrick Lamar and Jeezy, “that’s who people debate.” Claiming that MNIMN will easily take down all the other hip hop releases of 2013 is just upping the ante.

Drake, by the way, just dropped an album that’s projected to scan almost 700,000 units. J. Cole, Wale, Jay Z, Big Sean and GOOD Music maestro Kanye West himself also released studio albums this year, so Pusha’s assertion is a bold one. Now more than ever – with factors like album sales, touring, cultural impact, sponsorships, and more impacting our album assessments – we clearly need a board.

Debating who’s the hottest MC (him vs. K-Dot) or biggest dope boy (him, Rozay or Jeezy?) aren’t the only things that have inspired Pusha Ton. During our interview on set at his Future-featured “Pain” video shoot, he spoke at length about his love for R&B — “I still have Teddy Riley’s catalog in my car!” — and the impact that its ’90s-era fusion with hip hop has had on the album. Catching early criticism from his fans for 10 of his 12 album tracks containing features, Pusha felt the need to directly address the listeners who might be upset to find Chris Brown, The-Dream, Kelly Rowland, Future, and Pharrell singing hooks alongside verses from him and the various rappers also featured.

Without pandering, “I really gave the people everything that I thought that they wanted,” confessed Pusha, standing firm in the fact that My Name Is My Name is a body of work comprised of everything he loves. If people can see past the teeming tracklist and d-boy themes he’s known for, they’d hear “verses and songs that have structure and have meaning and have a direction.” His work, he claims, is better and more personal than ever.

A visual for MNIMN’s intro track, feature-free “King Push,” was liberated by the video’s director Friday (9/27) afternoon, allowing fans and critics to hear the Joaquin Phoenix-produced song in its entirety for the first time. “I don’t sing hooks,” Pusha raps on his chorus, again making a point to differentiate himself from more sing-songy peers. With plans to shoot a video for every track on MNIMN but with no official singles selected or radio shipping strategy mapped out, Pusha’s got his unorthodox work cut out for him if he wants to publicly seize the rap-game thrown.

Aware of how his fans consume his output, this digitally-focused approach is a strategic one. That, and Pusha has learned first-hand that “being creative, closing your eyes, and making music” is more fulfilling than chasing charts.

In separate Tuner interviews, Pusha and No Malice told VH1 that they downgraded their art to seek radio play on ’Til The Casket Drops, and it wasn’t until a 2009 studio session with Rick Rubin that their awareness of doing so kicked in. As President of Columbia Records at the time, Rubin asked the Virginia duo if they actually liked the tracks they were making.

“It was a real awakening because up until that one moment,” Pusha recalls, “everybody from label to producers was trying find records that catered to certain demographics.” And the duo was falling in line.

Bow down no more. As Pusha made clear during our conversation, compromising his craft in that manner is no longer an option. For his debut, he instead stayed true to his creativity by trying to make My Name Is My Name emblematic of his favorite era in hip hop: 1994 through 1999. Albums like Life After Death, Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, and Harlem World were most inspiring for the youngest Thornton brother at the time, and he spoke specifically to songs like Jay Z’s “Money Cash Hoes” and The Notorious B.I.G.’s “My Downfall” as being major influences. If he had to compare MNIMN to anything from that time period, Pusha confesses that Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Links best fits the bill.

According the the GOOD Music artist, “more people are winning off of emotion than anything else” in rap these days. Cue Jay Jenkins (aka Jeezy) to join him on an album cut, something that beyond the Fear of God II mixtape, has never happened before. Watch Pusha discuss “No Regrets” in the clip below, nodding both at his respect for Jeezy’s talent — “one of the last classic albums was his first album” — and the song’s heartfelt subject matter.

“I don’t want them to ever think that I’m looking at them like ‘you’re caged,’” explained Pusha of incarcerated friends who, prior to their sentencing, were by his side throughout his career. Now that his debut solo album — the moment they’ve all been waiting for — is almost here, he won’t allow any of their journey together be in vain.