By the genre’s standards, Pusha T is practically ancient at 36, but the coke-rap veteran’s long-awaited official solo debut, My Name Is My Name, leaves his identity frustratingly undecided.
Pusha borrows the album’s title from the critically-acclaimed drama series “The Wire,” but rather than sympathizing with the flawed police force, the corrupt politicians or the renegade shotgun, Pusha sees himself more in the tradition of the show’s drug kingpins.
“In the kitchen with a cape on, apron/Tre-eight on, coulda been Trayvon/But instead I chose Avon,” he raps on the lead single, “Pain.”
Although Pusha isn’t the first rapper to compare himself to the fictional Avon Barksdale, that persona seems to be in a state of flux throughout My Name Is My Name.
“I sold more dope than I sold records,” Pusha brags on “Hold On” over an aimless auto-tuned hook that could only be an outtake from Kanye and Pusha’s Cruel Summer sessions. In fact, Kanye’s fingerprints are all over My Name Is My Name, but coke-rap doesn’t really mix with soaring production and hazy hooks from “The-Dream.” Too often, it seems like Pusha T is a round peg being squeezed into a Kanye-shaped hole, but he shines brightly when he’s paired with more suitably snaky, sparse beats (“Nosetalgia”) or a darker, more menacing ambiance (“Sweet Serenade”).
One curious aspect of My Name Is My Name is that Pusha seems to take on some of the characteristics from his guests from song to song. His hook and verse on “Who I Am” are inexcusably lazy, but that lack of effort begins to make a little sense after two more uninspired verses from 2 Chainz and Big Sean. “Hold On” finds Pusha adopting the blocky, confident flow and shiny subject matter of kindred spirit Rick Ross, who delivers a predictably solid verse himself.
Even given the generous amount of star power present, it’s Kendrick Lamar who brings out the best in Pusha T on album standout “Nosetalgia.” It’s a not-quite throwback to Pusha’s early days as half of Clipse, but Pusha and Kendrick trade verses about shared experiences growing up in a community fueled by cocaine. In the same spirit of tell-it-like-it-is realism that made Kendrick’s good kid, m.A.A.d city one of the best rap albums in recent memory, Pusha reminisces about being “Black Ferris Bueller, cutting school with his jewels on.” Of course, it helps that Kendrick donates his best verse since, well, “Control,” but the kind of electricity captured on “Nosestalgia” stays tantalizingly out of reach for the rest of the album.
It’s the lack of cohesion that hurts My Name Is My Name the most.
“I don’t sing hooks,” he proclaims on thesis statement “King Push,” but apparently he’s perfectly comfortable rapping with a cheesy Kelly Rowland hook on the hilariously out-of-place melodic number “Let Me Love You.” It feels strange talking about potential from a rapper who’s been on the scene for 20 years, but we know what kind of brilliance he’s capable of. Maybe next time a tighter focus will give us one for the ages.
Parker Evans is an economics senior and Mustang News music columnist.