My Name is My Name
The beats on Pusha T’s My Name Is My Name make you want to install and then blow a set of very expensive speakers as you drive your hooptie anywhere but to work. Pusha’s flows come at you like the deadly waves that pummel his hometown of Virginia Beach every few years during hurricane season. And his lyrics? King Push is a very, very clever man with the pen, a wordsmith of such high caliber that if I were an aspiring rapper I would probably just hang up the mic and try my hand at something slightly less competitive, like knitting. Pusha T has made good on his oft-repeated boast to deliver the hip-hop album of the year: My Name Is My Name hasn’t left repeat on my truck stereo ever since I got it. It’s freakin’ awesome.
So why do I wince every time I hear it?
Because, taken literally, the lyrics are reprehensible to me. It’s the narcissistic, materialistic, chauvinistic, (and if it is indeed realistic) murderously ballistic psalm of a self-serving, allegedly coke-dealing thug in love with his puerile self and his depressingly shallow, pointless lifestyle. If this were another MC, I could write it off as standard-issue rap braggadocio. But with a member of the exceptionally talented Clipse spitting, the usual question — “How much of this is reality and how much of it is just a cautionary ‘hood tale” — gets very, very sticky. Because whenever the way-overused phrase “keeping it real” enters the official lexicon, they should put a picture of Clipse beside it. Clipse kept it fucking real, all right.
In 2007, back when I was still an active alcoholic (read: inhumanly and insanely drunk virtually 24/7) who enjoyed enhancing his buzz with illicit pharmaceuticals of all sorts, lamb of god played Hove Fest outside picturesque Arendal, Norway. My guitarist Mark and I were very excited to learn that Clipse was scheduled to play the festival the night before us, and we hoped to arrive in time to catch their set. We didn’t, but got wind of an after party just a block from our hotel, so we cruised over to say hello to our fellow Virginians. As we walked over to the Thornton brothers, I prepared to introduce myself, but Mark just whipped out his driver’s license and threw it on the table in front of them — they immediately knew we had come to represent the home team. Pusha and Malice were super-nice guys, and seemed honestly happy to see some people from home in this odd Nordic setting.
At some point in the evening, after a few beers, I vaguely remember jokily asking them, “What’s up with the wamp-wamp?” (Translation: “Where’s the cocaine?”)
Clipse might well have known the answer. A lot of rappers rhyme about being drug dealers, doing time, their homies on lock in the pen, and how damn gangsta they are, even though many of them have never seen the inside of a cell, moved any kind of weight, or busted cap one at a single, solitary ass. But Clipse rapped scarily specific stuff about being involved with cocaine kingpins. After their first two records, I began to wonder if they were completely insane. I guess they were, because in 2010 their manager Anthony Gonzales got an 82-count drug-trafficking indictment and is currently serving 32 years in prison, having admitted to distributing a half-ton of cocaine and almost a ton of marijuana throughout Virginia during the five years prior to his arrest. Several other members of their crew have gone away to the big house as well. Malice literally went crazy (you can read all about it in his book Wretched, Pitiful, Poor, Blind, and Naked) until he had a moment of spiritual clarity and not only changed his name (to No Malice) but his whole life.
After carefully listening to My Name Is My Name over and over, I can only deduce that if he’s not just making it all up, apparently Pusha T either a) still misses the old days, b) is about to recreate them any second now, or c) never left them. As he raps about the aftermath of his manager’s arrest on “40 Acres”: “You thought Tony in that cell would’ve made us timid/We found his old cell, bitch, we searchin’ through the digits/anything Spanish got me speaking Spanglish/Money is universal, that’s the only language.” Man, some people never learn. In the final lyric of the song (named, of course, after the land that freed slaves were entitled to yet never received at the end of the Civil War), he demands “I need all mine/Reparations/We growin’ poppy seeds on my 40 acres.” The new Malcolm X he certainly is not.
But, as I said before, this is in many ways an awesome album, and it sets itself apart right out of the gate with “King Push.” The beat, by a virtually unknown young producer named Sebastian Sartor, is dark, off-time, and pulses beneath Pusha’s rhymes like a stiff rake being dragged over an oddly placed garden of synth trigger pads. The arrangement is extremely compelling, not exactly radio-friendly, and right from the get-go Pusha lets the listener know he’s not compromising any of his vision for commercial appeal: “Yes, I’m King Push/I rap, nigga, ’bout trap niggas/I don’t sing hooks.” He name-drops Rage Against the Machine and calls himself the “black Zack de la Rocha,” but Zack de la Rocha is an activist musician who writes songs that address social injustice. My Name Is My Name, no matter how brilliantly presented, is about how rad it is being an (ex?) coke dealer who raps. That’s pretty much it. And if Pusha doesn’t stretch the boundaries of his subject matter pretty soon, he will be (oh God, it’s too good, so pardon the pun) trapped with the “coke rap” image.
Which might be a sore subject for Mr. Thornton, who recently groused to Rolling Stone on the eve of this album’s release, “You know, they give you this label of ‘coke rap.’ Once they do that, they take away every ounce of creativity that you put into the verse. It’s a metaphor for the streets. Every artist has a base which they revert to. Mine just happens to be cocaine.” Yes, it’s true; most of us who write lyrics have a particular bed we like to lie in, a subject that fits us oh so well — like your favorite worn-out pair of old shorts, it’s very easy and comfortable to slip into. But eventually the bottom wears out, becomes threadbare, and you start to show your hairy ass. It might be a well toned ass, but no one but your girl/boyfriend wants to see that thing, and even they will get sick of looking at it after a while. And while Pusha’s lyrics are undeniably well written, no matter how metaphorical they are, they’re still primarily about… dealing cocaine. Out of the album’s 12 tracks, 11 talk up the dope game, with the exception of the token love song entitled “Let Me Love You,” which should really be called “Just Shut Up and Fuck Me Because I’m Rich.”
Pusha T “My Name Is My Name” Is Available Everywhere Now!
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