Pusha T

Wrath Of Caine mixtape

Back in 2002, having a major label debut produced entirely by The Neptunes was the sort of thing of which street dreams were made. Riding high on a steady stream of compounding successes, Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams used their power to take Clipse, another Virginia Beach duo, out of the shadows. Released on the fledging Star Trak imprint for Arista, Lord Willin‘ showcased thirteen of The Neptunes’ artfully spare beats, over which siblings Pusha T and Malice thrived, yielding unorthodox hits ‘Grindin’ and ‘When The Last Time’. Perhaps the most striking thing about the record at the time was its Mamet-like unwillingness to tone down or translate for the wider audience Clipse was poised to reach. Following in the tradition of embedded lyricists like Raekwon, their tricky knot of regional and even proprietary narco-slang awaited anyone looking past the album’s undeniable hooks.

The essentially unapologetic authenticity of that decade-old record’s subject matter is in no way diminished on Wrath Of Caine, Pusha T’s latest extended EP-as-mixtape meant to whet the appetite for his long-awaited and apparently imminent full-length debut My Name Is My Name. These eleven cuts come after an extraordinary few years under Kanye West’s ever curatorial administration. With as many appearances on the critically-acclaimed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as rap monoliths Jay-Z and Rick Ross, along with feature dominance on last year’s G.O.O.D. Music compilation Cruel Summer, Pusha T’s present-day exposure careens towards ubiquitousness.

As indicated by its brazen title, the masterful Wrath Of Caine offers plentiful mountains of uncompromising coke rap, larger-than-life boasts peppering these self-described "drug dealer Picassos." Even savvy listeners might reasonably find themselves consulting Rap Genius as one would academic footnotes amid Pusha T’s inside baseball contributions to the cocaine lexicon. (Fortunately for them, he’s an active verified user on that buzzed-about and somewhat controversial database.) His forthright and unfiltered approach carries considerable weight as more and more contemporary rappers seem to be taking drugs rather than selling them.

His indomitable New God flow fortifies the stark lyrical content from the almost breathless ‘Intro’ onward. ‘Millions’ reaffirms his hustler bonafides and challenges more commercially successful rappers whose wealth he purports to match. With an efficient guest verse from the aforementioned Ross, its numbingly simple and vaguely irritant chorus promises caches of weapons to protect his considerable caches of cash. On ‘Take My Life’, Pusha T vacillates between embittered and emboldened, a dichotomy that shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with his career.

A cold malevolence merges with the ever-present kingpin cocksureness on ‘Blocka’, carried by a typical Young Chop beat that demonstrates the malleability of this breakout producer’s airy yet inherently menacing work. Still, Wrath Of Caine is hardly a one-note crack game affair. On the compact ‘Revolution’, Wrath Of Caine‘s sole Neptunes production, he fittingly speaks about his former Clipse partner’s religious awakening without judgment. Even with such a presumptive, audacious title, ‘I Am Forgiven’ gushes with near-confessional regret over B!nk’s sullen yet soulful beat.

His selection of guests, however, leaves much to be desired, though to be fair there are hardly any major label rappers boxing in Pusha T’s weight class. Inexplicably still kicking around, Wale brings little to the table on the otherwise grimey early-00s throwback ‘Only If You Tell It’. French Montana, whose biggest single left him embarrassingly overshadowed by three other rappers and a Luke sample, is deservedly relegated to the negligible chorus of ‘Doesn’t Matter’. Autotune also-ran Kevin Gates’ hook on ‘Trust You’ might still turn the song into Wrath Of Caine‘s sleeper hit, but his subsequent verse drags and grates.

These minor misfires only slightly detract from what is a well-crafted and high quality effort from one of rap’s finest. Nothing here seems primed for mainstream rap radio, a medium that seems to be feasting on its own superficiality more so than usual of late. Unless the forthcoming My Name Is My Name contains a crossover hit or another multi-artist curveball like last year’s brilliant ‘Mercy’, 2013 may be Pusha T’s last shot at the proverbial big time. Well into his career’s unexpected second act, he nonetheless appears entirely comfortable in the hands of an encouraging curator like Kanye. After all, if the lyrics are to be believed, he’s got plenty to fall back on.

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