The mega hit “Grindin” may have put him on the map, but according to Pusha T., the street life and the tragedy it brought made him into the man he is today. After a stint with Pharrell and the Star Trak family in the early 2000s, a series of bad label situations a few years ago put his career in slow motion. Kanye West and his G.O.O.D. Music label are breathing new life into Pusha T. these days, and AllHipHop.com sat in with him recently to hear about life growing up with Timbaland and Pharrell, his new mixtape, and putting old habits behind.
AllHipHop.com: I know you’re originally from the Bronx – the birthplace of Hip-Hop – but you spent most of your formative years in Virginia Beach? How did those Northern and Southern influences combine to have an impact on your music?
Pusha T.: You know, I can say that being born in the Bronx and having my parents visit family there always keep me abreast of what was known as the lyrical side of Hip-Hop. It always keep me abreast on who was hot and who was not. Lyrics always used to be at the forefront of the argument. As far as growing up in Virginia Beach, it was really a melting pot of like some of everything. I think I got all of the influences. I got the Northern influence heavily of course, because we’re not considered like the Dirty, Dirty South.
We never got embraced by the Dirty South. So it was a lot of heavy influence from the North, as well as the area itself being a major military town. All of the people that came here from different areas brought their musical influences as well. So, I always knew about the new Master P. I always knew about the new thing going on in Houston. I always knew about the Hyphy movement, and the things on the West Coast. We just had a little bit of everything here.
AllHipHop.com: Yeah, Virginia, especially southeastern Virginia, is sort of in that weird spot where, like you said, it’s not Dirty South, but it’s also not the North either. And, I would even say it’s much different from D.C. and the whole Go-Go sound right up the road. Taking that into consideration, and thinking about how rappers acquire their lyrical styles early on, did you also read a lot as a kid, or watched too much TV, and that’s where the wordplay comes from?
Pusha T.: To be honest, I didn’t start rapping until I was in like my last years of high school. Maybe my last year of high school, and even then, it wasn’t a known thing. My influence has been like my brother. He’s been rapping forever. Being around my brother, and being around Pharrell, I knew there were certain rules that you had to abide by when it comes to lyrics and rapping. You know, the cleverness, the metaphors, the similes, the comparisons, and the not-too-obvious metaphors – those were all things that those two really instilled in me, basically. Those were the main two influences, I would say, ‘cause I started really, really late. I might have been out of high school when I started, honestly.
AllHipHop.com: So what prompted you at that late stage – comparatively speaking to most rappers who say they’ve been rapping since they were 9 or 13 – that late on, to start rapping?
Pusha T.: Because at the time when I was coming up in school, I used to ride my bike to Timbaland’s house. My brother would be there rapping with Timbaland. And he’d be so angry with me for coming there – my mom would like make me go, and make him watch me over there. [laughter]. I just stayed around there, and stayed around the music. Then, as I got a little older I met Pharrell, and me and him were just friends, and he found out who my brother was. He used to be like, ‘Yo, tell your brother to come rap with me…tell him to come get on my beats.
Tell him to come over Chad’s…’ When I finally linked them up, I used to sit over there all day long. Alllllll day long. As long as they was there, I was there. One day I was just like, man, I’ma write me a rap. And I wrote one, and everybody was like, ‘Damn that was good.’ [laughter] Pharrell and my brother was like, ‘Yo, we should just become a group. Let’s just do it.’ And that was it. From then on, I was just on.
AllHipHop.com: Well, music is therapeutic, and you just mentioned that you would sit there alllll day, around some pretty heavy hitters – or who turned out to be some pretty heavy hitters. So what vinyl, tape, CD, or download do you have from those days that you still have in your collection? Is there something from as long as you can remember?
Pusha T.: Yeah, Main Source, Breaking Atoms, that album with Large Professor. I recurringly buyLife After Death everyday. Reasonable Doubt, of course. [laughter] And Guy, the “Groove Me” album – I’ve bought that 20 times as well.
AllHipHop.com: Why Guy, out of that bunch you just named? I agree on their greatness. What was it about that album?
Pusha T.: Oh, because Ted Riley was THE best. He’s just the best…one of the best to ever do it. And, I don’t know…they had such an impact on Virginia Beach when they moved here. I didn’t know what was going on – from the cars to any and everything that was over the top. They was just doing it, and it was ruining my life bit by bit. [laughter]
AllHipHop.com: [laughter] Why do you say that??? You mean because all the flossing was really impactful on you?
Pusha T.: Yeah, man! [laughter] It really let me know that your dreams could be a reality. Or not even your dreams, because some people weren’t even dreaming of music, but you could just get it, whatever it was. It’s like wow. [laughter] Ferraris are now driving past in the street when there was nothing but Toyota Camrys before. I was like, wait a minute, this is obtainable.
AllHipHop.com: Yeah, I want to ask you about that obtaining by any means… but first I want to talk to you about the evolution of the mixtape. It used to be strictly a tool that underground MCs would use to push street music, and now even the major guys are using the mixtape as a marketing tool. It might be the only thing that’s selling right now is a mixtape, and most of them are free! Your latest was Fear Of God – I like the blend of freestyles with written stuff. What do you think about the importance of the mixtape today, and how it’s evolved over the years?
Pusha T.: I think the mixtape has always been important, like 100 percent always been important. I don’t even see where it died down, personally. The mixtape…I’m from the era of DJ Clue, even Ron G, the Bad Boy mixtapes, and when The Lox was at the tops the mixtape, and the first song onFive Beats, you know. I think the mixtape has always been important for like breaking records; it’s always been important for showcasing new talent. I mean, Fabolous, to me who is one of the greats, his whole thing started from the mixtape grind. And look at him – he’s here. Still. Everybody who was majorly heavy on the mixtape level is still really here, and is still really a force to be reckoned with.
AllHipHop.com: So you’re saying it’s a necessary foundation…
Pusha T.: Yeah, you know, I listen to people’s comments, like a lot of people will say, ‘Damn man, I wish he didn’t put those freestyles [on it].’ I see regular views where people say, ‘Damn, I wish you didn’t put freestyles on the mixtape…I wish it was all original,’ I don’t know if they know the essence of a real mixtape. Because, my mixtape, Jay-Z was rapping over the “Symphony” beat. Foxy Brown was rapping over Lox beats. You know what I’m saying? It was all about – back then – it was all about your favorite artist ripping over something else hot that was out, that was crazy. And when people say that, I begin to wonder like, damn, so you think these mixtapes that are just like 20 songs or 40 songs of original nasty, nasty music…you think that’s a real mixtape?
‘Cause that’s really not. It’s really not. It’s REALLY NOT, and people really need to stop that sh*t. Like, they really need to like put it together, because the way the DJs were putting it together back then, you could listen to them joints all the way through back then. And then you’d get to the end and hear the artist – the dude who might have paid to be on the mixtape. Whatever made the mixtape go, that’s what had to happen. But you know, I’ve been reading comments, and they’ve been like [sarcastically], ‘Yo, why’d you, like, rap over “Money on My Mind” – that’s like so old.’ I’m like, man, dawg, what are you talking? Like that was an incredible beat, and my whole basis for rapping over the beats that I chose to rap over was because I picked those songs, I picked the artists who I thought were at their best.
I thought Wayne was at his best on “Money on My Mind.” I thought Jay was at his best on “Can I Live.” You know what I’m saying? That was my whole thing. And I did “Speakers Going Hammer” because I want people to understand like, sometimes artists are a bit full of themselves. Like, they can’t see anything outside of lyrics. Like if you ain’t lyrical, you ain’t nothing. That’s a lie. It’s not true. If you say Soulja Boy isn’t a genius, you’re a liar. You’re lying. You are. And I felt like “Speaking Going Hammer” is an amazing record, and I watched the energy that it sparks in the club, because like that’s what I go off of. I’m an energy guy. I’m in the club and “Speakers Going Hammer” comes on, and 12 of the cutest girls in the world are going crazy. I’m happy, I’m done, I’m happy. I have to do that.
AllHipHop.com: You mentioned how you learned how to write a complete song from your brother, and you mentioned Soulja Boy being really brilliant at what he does. So how does a young rapper who doesn’t have that brother or isn’t a Soulja Boy learn how to complete a song or a project that will make the girls and the thugs move in the club?
Pusha T.: I mean, I just think it’s being observant. You’ve just gotta really be observant and really have an open mind to these artists. Like to your favorites, and even people who aren’t your favorites. There are people who I don’t get, but when I go to a certain city and see how it reacts, then you totally get the whole movement of it. I wouldn’t ordinarily say – OK, I live in Virginia – and I go to Oakland and I see the whole Hyphy movement…ordinarily, if I sat at my house and saw that on TV, I might not go for it.
But, when I go to the club in Oakland and I see these people doing this, going crazy, and I see how they react – like sometimes you have to be shown. My only thing is like, yo, not everybody can go everywhere, but you MUST keep an open mind to everything. And if there are a group of people who are liking it, there’s probably something in it that you just ain’t discovered yet. You probably should sort of wake up, or just take note. Don’t just be writing things off.
AllHipHop.com: OK, well I know the caliber of people you’ve worked with before, and that eclectic sounds probably helped you to earn your new position at G.O.O.D. Music. I want to transition and ask you – with all of your different schedules and different things that you’re doing, do the G.O.O.D. MCs ever physically get together? And what’s the creative atmosphere like?
Pusha T.: Well, at times, we have all been working together. It’s really dope because, the dope part about G.O.O.D. Music is that everybody has a lane. Like ever-y-body has a lane. I don’t rap like Common. Common don’t rap like Big Sean. Big Sean don’t rap like CyHi. You know what I’m saying? CyHi don’t rap like ‘Ye. Like everybody has their own lane. ‘Ye don’t rap like Mos Def, and Mos Def don’t sound like Cudi. Everybody has their own land, so when we attack a project, you know, there’s just a general idea that happens, and everybody just gives their own perspective.
AllHipHop.com: That’s a pretty monstrous team you just named.Everybody has their own lane, and has had their own career. So, do egos ever come into play?
Pusha T.: No, not that I’ve ever witnessed. I mean, I haven’t. I mean, I’m the newest one over there, so I come over there and it’s like I’m just in awe how everybody works together, and how it’s like everybody is just so passionate about the music. I can tell you, I’ve been over there, and me and Common have never had a rap coversation. We was really talking about our favorite actors and our favorite movies. And then he’ll get on a track and rap you out of house and home. [laughter]
It just happens. So you know, it’s like it’s never an ego thing. We got so much going on, man, that likewe just get together and pull it together. Like I just did a show with CyHi the other day for XXL, and me and Sean were the only ones in New York, and so me and Sean would be the only ones at that show with him. That’s just how it gonna go. That’s just really how we do it, man.