An unfortunate malady that seems to strike a lot of rappers these days is that they don’t really know exactly what they’re good at. We shouldn’t blame them for this necessarily. After all, artists make art, they aren’t always required to think all that much about it. Even Biggie was only as focused and goal directed as he was because he had Puff at his side. Talent doesn’t always know what’s best for itself.
Kanye, however, is not Diddy and Pusha T is not as versatile as he wants to be. A huge factor in the success of Clipse and the Re-up Gang was that their music was confined to such a small sound. After four fantastic full length releases, we knew little more about the brothers Thornton than that they dealt a lot of drugs and they were spontaneously violent. As far as listeners are concerned, this is what Pusha T is good at: sounding calculated, yet unpredictable.
Since the release of Hell Hath No Fury, however, rap music has not followed the path of Clipse. It became relaxed, thoughtful, and indulgent in direct opposition to the lean and nasty sounds of Clipse and the Neptunes. Pusha T’s last two Fear of God releases dealt with Pusha as if he fit well into the mould of the popular gangsta rapper of the day: Rick Ross. The beats were big and the stakes were high, but the songs rolled slowly and predictably. Unlike Ross, Pusha T doesn’t necessarily have a lot of gravitas. The whole formula just made the man sound out of his element, trying to connect with more recent audiences with very little imagination.
I have to give Wrath of Caine some credit, because it sees Pusha attempting to add a definite taste to his previously flavorless solo material. The mixtape has sort of a dancehall reggae theme, an attempt, I would posit, at capturing some of Clipse’s lost mystery through new, parallel sounds. Combined with Pusha’s now patented vaguely old testament religious imagery, he definitely succeeds at sounding more dangerous. In the end, however, the faults of his previous solo releases still haunt him here: he lacks a versatile flow that would allow him to fit into the thick saturated beats of today’s most popular producers. Pusha’s flow is about his calculated agility, while producers like Harry Fraud and Young Chop make beats for rappers with far heavier styles. Thus a mixtape that was made to increase street furvor in the lead-up to the release of Pusha’s album just proves once again that he still hasn’t found that creative sweet spot that would allow that album to be truly successful.