Rappers often project alter-egos and archetypes as a framing device for lyrics. It allows them to write about anything, from any perspective, and blur the line between fact and fiction. For example, Clipse member Pusha T presents himself as a coke-slinging rapper even though he’s out of the drug game. “I sold more dope than I sold records,” he raps on his solo debut, My Name Is My Name. With his clever use of the first-person past tense, Pusha’s mafioso rhymes read like a testimonial from the underworld, enhancing their effect. He creates dissonance between his actual self and his stage persona in order to become a character in his own stories.
This distinction wasn’t always so clear-cut with Pusha, however. Several years ago, there was a legitimate question as to whether he and his brother/Clipse cohort No Malice were, in fact, selling bricks. Their lyrics were just so specific, with language and anecdotes — tales of bad deals, deadly deals, prison stints, and massive amounts of money — that they seemingly had to have been written by someone who’d seen it firsthand. Then, in 2010, Clipse manager Tony Gonzales was arrested for his involvement in a $10 million drug ring. Members of the Re-Up Gang went down as well. It was revealed that the gritty saga Hell Hath No Fury drew heavily from Clipse’s pre-major label days, when they were peddling and pushing.
With My Name is My Name, Pusha T confronts this past over and over again. It’s really all he raps about. It’s his muse. To the unwitting ear, his braggadocio and apparent lack of remorse might make it seem like he’s glorifying the kingpin lifestyle on opener “King Push”, or when he’s off-handedly ordering a hitman on “Suicide”. But this is his way of conveying the message: He’s a hip-hop method actor drawing from his own experiences. And, he’s best when he’s loose and raw, like on the aforementioned lead track.
Originally thought to have been produced by Joaquin Phoenix, “King Push” is actually the work of Lars Ulrich’s son Sebastian (Kanye West made some minor tweaks to it). To a violent barrage of machine-gun snares and deep bass, Pusha makes a strong entrance, emphasizing that this is his album and his alone (“If it’s my reign, then it’s my shower”) and immediately calling out the posers: “Vultures to my culture/ Exploit the struggle, insult ya/ They name-dropping ’bout caine copping/ But never been a foot soldier.”
Pusha looks back on his drug days with scarred pride. On one hand, he survived and was successful in a deadly game, comparing his rapper-dealer life to a “double-edged sword” on “Numbers on the Board”. But then, on the same song, he hints that his current profession is a means of coping with the things that he’s seen: “A must that I flaunt it/ The legend grows legs when it comes back to haunt us.” The sinister Kendrick Lamar collaboration “Nosetalgia” best depicts this juxtaposition of realities and regrets, with Pusha playing the dealer and Kendrick the helpless child watching his family succumb to crack addiction. Produced by Nottz, it’s the closest thing on the album to a Clipse track.
The absence of No Malice on My Name Is My Name is disconcerting. You’d think he’d at least drop in for a verse or two, but no. Instead, Pusha T aligns himself with a questionable set of G.O.O.D.-approved guest appearances that bring down the middle portion of the record. Pusha has a wordy flow and is incessantly referential; he’s the kind of rapper who’s best when bouncing rhymes off a like-minded emcee, a la Kendrick or his brother, not 2 Chainz (“Who I Am”) or Rick Ross (“Hold On”). My Name Is My Name is then overtaken by R&B crooners (Chris Brown, The-Dream, and Kelly Rowland), who handle the choruses in a trio of songs. Rowland’s “Let Me Love You” is a fun break from the gangsta content, but these somber tracks come in rapid succession right after the album’s excellent, fiery intro.
Pusha T is consistent with his lyrical message throughout My Name is My Name, not so much harping on his drug-dealing past as he is sociologically exploring its every angle. He gets his conceit across. A few poor production choices and uneven sequencing do slow the album, but it shows flashes of real brilliance. The best tracks here are produced by Kanye and Pharrell, and they’re concentrated at the beginning and end. The smattering in the middle of the tracklist is handled by host of collaborators, not all of them effectively complimenting Pusha’s rawness. While not the defining statement it could’ve been, My Name Is My Name shows different sides of Pusha T as he becomes a more multidimensional rapper.
Essential Tracks: “King Push”, “Numbers on the Board”, and “Nosetalgia”