Monday, July 16th, 2018

Pusha T – If You Know You Know

We know…


Thomas Inskeep: Daytona is one of the year’s tightest albums: Kanye producing like it’s 2005 again — hard beats and tough samples — and Pusha T not wasting a single word. He’s always been a great rapper but rarely has he been this concise in his coke raps par excellence — and opening track “If You Know You Know” sets that mood perfectly. (And how about that Air sample?!) As an old school hip-hop head, this hits every goddamn one of my pleasure centers.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: There’s a precision here, especially in the first verse’s endless variations on “boy,” that would read as too sterile in the hands of nearly any other rapper. But Pusha T has always turned technical perfection into something more than the words he sneers out: a protective armor of cool reserve. It’s that reserve that explains his longevity, especially compared to the other rappers of his generation that are still hanging around — Nas and Jay-Z, even when accompanied by younger collaborators sound tired, and even Pharrell has been growing increasingly threadbare in his old age. Unlike the rest, it’s clear that Pusha T is rapping only for himself, and not for any mass appeal. He uses the language of fraternity, of splitting the real and the fake, throughout “If You Know You Know,” and he’s matched by the sonics that Kanye West, in rare form compared to the rest of his late period output, lends him. It’s a gauntlet of buzzsaw guitars and ringing percussion that Pusha walks through unscathed — leisurely even. He doesn’t need to be rushed: his career and “If You Know You Know” itself show the fruits of his patience.

Andy Hutchins: Two-plus decades on — the leak-only Exclusive Audio Footage was recorded in the late ’90s, and the brothers Thornton were Clipse years before that, even — rap’s smirking underdog snow-thrower can still make selling drugs sound like the most fun thing in the world. Pusha is not as nimble with flow now as he was in his heyday, and he’s liable to grin when once he would sneer, but age has taught him: Every bar matters. And he has a festive Kanye flip of a song from a band that once worked with the guy who would go on to write the Miami Vice theme to do that over here, so making an inscrutable De La Soul reference and shouting out Rich Boy in the same verse makes for delicious incongrousness. “I been hidin’ right where you can see me,” Pusha says — and, testament to his rare talent, he sounds as good as ever on his umpteenth d-boy soliloquy.

Jonathan Bradley: Drake’s ill-fated “Duppy Freestyle” diss drew Pusha T as an aging competitor whose marginality has been made crueler in following a decline from a mere second-tier height. As he has grown older, Push hasn’t disavowed this unsympathetic representation of his career. With Malice, his brother and Clipse counterpart, he recreated street life as a dualistic site of alternate fatalism and biblical denouement; alone he has calcified into a worn veteran who has endured everything and grown more savage from the experience. The album was going to be called King Push and was named ultimately after a luxury brand of wristwatch, but Push has only ever really had the ear of the throne: Kanye, or as the lyric here clarifies: “the skybox next to RiRi’s.” Push has never thought he was Big Meech; he was hustling when that boss was partying. The verses of “If You Know You Know” are a marvel: dense punchlines that, if they don’t slice as sharply as they once did, still hit from the weight of experience behind them. “Ran off on that plug too like Trugoy” isn’t just a cute line; it roots Push in hip-hop history by drawing unexpected connections and contrasting that legacy with the jejune indulgence (a “new toy”) that opens the track. (Ensuing allusions to Pink Floyd, rude boys, Hit Boy, and Rich Boy’s “Throw Some Ds” continue the rhyme scheme and solidify the timeline.) But much like the Daytona album it opens, “If You Know You Know” is merely good, rather than the stunner it is designed to be. Kanye’s chops on the beat are inventive, but they don’t swing; and the stasis drags down Push, whose age has weakened his precision even while it has strengthened his mind. Something that hasn’t changed: his inability to write a hook. The repeated title breaks the momentum of the verses without hanging them on anything catchy to compensate.  

Alfred Soto: “Pusha is never less than proficient in a flash sort of way, like a student doing a team project who reminds you that he did the research and editing,” I wrote in May, and the swagger of “If You Know” impresses as much as it depresses. What he knows he will never stop explaining. 

Ryo Miyauchi: Pusha’s trying to convince you that he’s last of a dying breed who remembers some classic era of drug culture. But his effort doesn’t sound too compelling when it sounds pretty much like what he’s been doing since My Name is My Name: the austere, Kanye-produced noir sound remains the same, but also his zigzagging cadence is unchanged. It’s one thing to cry about negligence of a past generation, but if he’s hollering from the same place while his peers have moved on to different avenues, maybe it’s not the youth who needs to open their eyes.

Micha Cavaseno: If we look back on the overall history of Southern rappers or, even more specifically, Southern Rappers with a Heavy Emphasis on Cocaine Pushing, the Clipse were the De La Soul of their field. Mathematic, calculated, off-beat, and singular — and ultimately, a perfectly suitable cult act who got too insular past their initial breakout, and then looked downright embarrassing when they did try and go commercial. This said, I don’t remember living in a world where hip-hop heads would aggressively stare you down and talk about how Trugoy the Dove is a career ending monster on the low the way people have insistently flexed over as middling an album as Daytona. The production? Dull, aimless plodding. Pusha himself? Still just an inane punchline artist; only now demonstrating more and more that without Pharrell indicating he and his brother should obediently follow the Puffy and Mase routine, he’s useless and unimaginative. “If You Know You Know” is tin-foil brittle, absurdly hollow, insistent on a magnanimousness that Pusha with his lazy flows and ever deteriorating bars shouldn’t even entertain pretending to have.

Julian Axelrod: “If You Know You Know” is pure, uncut Push, a king at the height of his power reveling in his inscrutability. Every line sounds like it’s been written specifically for ten dudes from his block in Virginia — you think he gives a fuck if you understand his references to tennis balls and Big Meech tiger parties? So when the song imprints onto your brain and electrifies every cell in your body on first (and thousandth) listen, it almost seems like it’s against Push’s wishes. The beat is a live wire wonder, with a ticking time bomb intro that explodes into a fireworks display from hell. But Pusha more than holds his own on a beat that would eat other rappers alive, stringing together gorgeous ten-word tableaux at an unparalleled rate. In the weeks since its release, I’ve essentially memorized the entire song through sheer repetition and I’m still finding new pockets of genius. If this ain’t perfect rap music, I don’t know what is.

Reader average: [7.5] (4 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

Comments are closed.