No other artist at the Rolling Loud festival was as seasoned or experienced a performer as Pusha T. With more than two decades under his belt, the rapper’s moniker is no longer just in reference to his alleged days as a drug dealer. Instead, Pusha T is pushing his music through a rapidly morphing genre and generation.
As he enters an era of young talent, Soundcloud rappers and the increasingly truncated length of the rap song, Pusha T might not be able to satisfy a crowd with an insatiable appetite for quick, energetic bangers, memorable one-liners or infectious instrumentals. But what he lacks in song structure he makes up for in the substance of his lyrics and his near-flawless delivery of them.
“Zhivago tried to fight the urge like Ivan Drago, if he dies, he dies / Like Doughboy to Tre, if he rides, he rides / Throwing punches in the room, if he cries, he cries,” Pusha T rapped, his voice a whimper on the last line. Throughout each song, cameras panned onto the Virginia Beach-based rapper’s face, revealing the exaggerated expressions he would make to further animate his performance.
With verses and choruses that are often a mouthful, a large part of the audience was understandably quieted by Pusha T’s setlist. Songs such as “If You Know You Know,” “Nosetalgia” or even his verse in “So Appalled” from Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy are hard to follow along to.
But to criticize Pusha T for his lack of party anthems or headbangers may be to misunderstand his goal. Perhaps Pusha T would rather have his listeners be convinced by his lyrics and the stories he tells in his songs, rather than simply enjoy the sounds of the words he says.
And in the end, the rapper did not completely alienate his audience. Occasionally, Pusha T would revitalize the crowd with “Mercy” and “Move That Dope,” and people would enthusiastically (and problematically) rap along — “Young n***a move that dope.”
It looks like the new generation will find room for Pusha T, after all.