Pusha T, newly known as “Cocaine’s Doctor Seuss,” is a Virginia-born rapper known as one of the greatest cocaine-dealing rappers of all time. He gained notoriety in 2018 for his masterful album Daytona and subsequent diss track war with Drake (which Pusha definitively won). King Pusha’s new album It’s Almost Dry hints at his gargantuan ego, the title of the record comparing it to a newly completed oil painting of a master artist.
One unique aspect of this album is the story behind the production. According to Pusha, the project began when he sent his new Ye-produced song, “Hear Me Clearly,” to Pharrell Williams, who responded: “This is good, but I don’t want you to be a mixtape rapper forever.”
This snowballed into It’s Almost Dry, a 12-track album with six tracks produced by Pharrell, and six by Ye, two names well-deserving of a spot on the “Mount Rushmore” of hip-hop production. Pusha’s encouragement of competition between the two provides listeners a fun paradigm: the album is a battle of two greats. Considering their release of two extra versions of the album, with tracklists putting the Ye songs first and then the Pharrell songs first, Pusha and his team are clearly aware of how fun this comparison game is. Let’s play it:
The first aspect in which the two differ are, of course, the beats. The Ye-produced “Just So You Remember” embodies King Pusha’s quintessential aspects, the minimal hand-drums and bass-line underlining Pusha’s dark, intense lyrics and tone. The chorus, sampled from the 1971 military-themed, slow-burning rock song “Six Day War” complements Pusha’s “cocaine soldier” identity and fits with the song’s aesthetic perfectly.
Like much of Daytona, the production of It’s Almost Dry along with Pusha’s vocal sound and lyrics evoke feelings of waiting in a dark, scary room for something terrible to happen. In his own performance, the rapper pushes himself to new levels of intensity and grit with his recurring phrase “just so you remember who you dealin’ with,” and to new levels of braggadocio with hilariously over-the-top lines like, “Flew your b*tch to Cuba for the thrill of it / but I ain’t go to show you what you shoulda did.”
In this project, Pharrell and Ye could be seen as the archetypal and competing love interests of Pusha T; there is Ye, who loves Pusha T for who he is, and Pharrell, who sees potential in the rapper and wants to push him to greater heights. The beats of the ever-meticulous Pharrell consistently fit closely with the structure of Pusha’s rhyme schemes as well as each song’s overarching structure, giving him an accessible, full, and mainstream sound.
Pharrell’s production extends beyond beats; he had a lead creative role in Pusha’s style of rapping as well. Pusha’s rigidly consistent, but unique flow on the killer track “Let the Smokers Shine the Coupes” demonstrates the strength of Pharrell’s visionary approach and brings memorability to the project. On “Neck & Wrist,” Pusha T sounds like he is stepping on a LEGO brick before the end of each bar, but he makes it work amazingly, not to mention the powerful Jay-Z feature verse that tops off the song perfectly. Plus, this Pharrell-produced track gave us Pusha’s brilliant identity proclamation as “Cocaine’s Doctor Seuss.”
While some of the great tracks are owed to Pharrell, Ye’s beats are unbeatable. Few producers could make sentence-long, passionately-belted soul samples sound amazing under a rap verse like Ye does on “Dreaming of the Past,” which also has a great feature verse from Ye himself. “Diet Coke,” uses a classic Ye-style pitched-up vocal sample, over a different sample of Fat Joe saying “like crack,” scratched in repeatedly in varying patterns, all over beautiful piano arpeggios and a cool, drum beat. Everything comes together beautifully, and both “Dreaming of the Past” and “Diet Coke” have some of Pusha’s strongest verses.
The same is true of the aggressive, fast-paced “Hear Me Clearly” and the dramatic “I Pray For You.” The latter song features Pusha T’s brother and former collaborator Malice (who changed his name to “No Malice” and decided to devote his rapping to serving Jesus ten years ago), who returns to his aggressive, coke-rapping past to spit one last ice-cold verse for the ages.
Pharrell’s half of the project (while mostly great) contains more flaws. Pusha’s usually immaculate voice gets unusually breathy and grainy on the otherwise-strong “Call My Bluff.” While “Brambleton” has a great beat and some of Pusha’s best storytelling, the over-engineered flow sounds awkward and leaves Pusha sometimes stressing the wrong syllables, which hurts the track. Neither Pusha’s nor Lil Uzi’s verses on “Scrape It Off,” are anything to write home about, even though the beat is solid.
While Ye takes the cake in the producer battle, the album would be incomplete and less meaningful without Pharrell. Some of the cuts are top-tier Push, and the few half-misses do not stop the record from being one of Pusha T’s most memorable projects.