A conversation with Pusha T about super producers, Donald Trump, Barack Obama and not making break-up records.

Pusha T is playing Berlin’s Kesselhaus on April 25th. He’s also got a new record coming up; it’s called King Push and will be out in June, apparently. (Obviously, with Push and every other big name rapper, you never really know.)

Earlier this year, though, Pusha T released another album. That one’s called Darkest Before Dawn and labelled »the prelude« to King Push. Why not! Back in January when this was happening, SPEX caught up with Pusha T right after a very satisfactory gym session.

Pusha T, you worked with Kanye West, Timbaland, Diddy, Q-Tip and other big name producers on Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude. And you told all those guys to go to their darkest side. How did that go down with them?
I don’t think I forced anyone to tap into an energy they hadn’t dealt with before. All these producers have great bodies of work that are all over the place. And you know, what we did for Darkest Before Dawn, it’s a fun energy to tap into. Especially for these guys. Every time they come out with a record, it has to be a hit. I wasn’t interested in that. I asked them to go back to a dark space they don’t usually get to re-visit, to making no-holds-barred, unadulterated hip-hop.

So you told them not to make hits?
I just didn’t want that to be the focus. If a hit happens organically, it happens organically. It’s just I went in there with a different template of energy and a different point of view. And the producers got married to that point of view.

When you work with these producers who are probably also your friends, do you think there’s a struggle for control over the project going on? Like, is that struggle and some friction and tension important for the outcome?
It’s not a struggle over control. I mean, look at these guys. They’re super producers. I have my wants and my direction, but at the end of the day, I’m their student when it comes to the art of producing a record. My ego isn’t that big. It doesn’t get in the way of this at all.

Up to this point, you weren’t necessarily the guy to expect opinions from when it comes to everyday politics in America. Darkest Before Dawn is different, though. There’s a song about the ongoing problems with police brutality in the US, and early on, you take a jab at Donald Trump.
Well, he’s the worst presidential candidate. Not just for this election, but in history. He’s obviously a racist, a blatant bigot. It’s just disgusting that he’s even in this.

I think Trump is fascinating from a hip-hop point of view because in some ways he comes across like this really misguided rapper. The boastfulness; the over-the-top stupidity of almost everything he says; his fake-clever punch lines and the way he attacks the other candidates – it’s like someone who tries to use the hip-hop playbook but doesn’t know how to read it. I mean, look at these Republican debates: They’re like these incredibly white, uptight rap battles.
(thinks) I don’t really like that point of view. I don’t even want to call Trump a rapper. He’s an obnoxious reality TV star. That’s the level of annoying he’s on. It’s not even rap annoying. And like people do with reality TV, they get locked in on him because he’s so stupid.

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I can’t expect Obama to be the president and act like a Black Militia member at the same time.

It’s obvious that rap has arrived at the center of society now. It’s part of mainstream American culture and it can be found on the biggest political stages. I mean, Obama was weighing in on whether Drake or Kendrick is better. Killer Mike is basically Bernie Sanders’ campaign manager. How do you feel about rap arriving in those circles?
Hip-hop culture hasn’t just arrived in these circles. It runs the world, bro. Hip-hop runs everything. It’s the energy that dictates everything.

Do you think hip-hop is in danger of losing its original appeal as an underground culture and a voice for outsiders if it becomes so much a part of mainstream culture?
To me, it’s a beautiful thing. It’s not dangerous. The hip-hop artists that are making noise right now are really great at what they do. They are spearheading and leading the culture. They’re a responsible group that balances entertainment and message really well.

Now that it’s coming to an end, how do you evaluate Obama’s presidency?
I’m extremely happy with him.

You don’t think he looked alarmingly powerless at times – or unwilling, rather, to make use of his power? I mentioned police brutality earlier, and I just think there should have been a stronger message from him on that subject. Among many others.
I felt like he was hurting with us in regards to the police brutality. He was totally with the people and shared the consensus of the people that were affected.

But that’s not enough!
Well, he’s the president. There is a level of being unbiased he has to portray. I can’t expect Obama to be the president and act like a Black Militia member at the same time (laughs). I can’t expect him to be both.

When you mention Obama hurting with the people and trying to give them solace, it kind of leads me back to Darkest Before Dawn because it’s so far removed from any hurt and solace. The record is being celebrated for its self-confidence and for being cold-blooded. I think that’s all justified, but could it be appealing to you to show another side of yourself in the future? Talk more about your doubts and vulnerability?
I think I’m already doing that. I touched on doubts, on vulnerability. I touched on family on My Name Is My Name. I try to just deal with my feelings at the time I experience them because that’s going to make for the most powerful message I can give you guys. What you receive from me will always be something that is of the moment. I can’t really make up vulnerability if I don’t feel vulnerable.

So if you went through a bad break-up, if you felt lovesick, you’d make an album about that?
Yeah! I could speak on that. But the way I would is probably not what you’re used to. I’d give you the realistic perspective of a man. I’d give you my position on how I receive and deal with heartbreak. And that may not be all that easy to digest. I wouldn’t sing and talk about how much I miss someone. I’m not going to cry, not on record. (laughs)

Pusha T live
25.04. Berlin – Kesselhaus

A feature based on this interview is included in SPEX N° 367. It’s available here.