Two Saturdays ago, Pusha T hosted a party at the Adidas Originals store in New York for the release of his new signature sneaker, the Pusha T x adidas EQT Running Guidance ’93 “King Push,” which goes on sale today. When the rapper came out to perform his latest Kanye West-produced street single “Lunch Money,” a massive protest against police violence was still on the streets.
“If I’d have known that this was going to be happening on this particular night, I wouldn’t have done it,” he said from the stage. The conflict between his work obligations and his very real sense of social responsibility clearly came through as hesitation crept into his normally confident voice. “But we here.”
Minutes before, EW had gone backstage to talk to the Virginia-born rapper about his upcoming project, King Push, and what it’s been like to have a career that’s part chart-topping pop star and part cult hero.
EW: What inspired you to first start rapping?
Pusha T: Basically my brother. My brother’s five years older than me. As he got older and started high school, he started rapping with Timbaland. All of them went to high school together. He’d go over there [to Timbaland’s house] and my mom would make him take me. If he couldn’t take me, he couldn’t go. So he’d beat me up all the way to Timbaland’s house. They’d be rapping, making beats, whatver. I’d be upstairs dancing and Timbaland’s dad would be yelling at me for making too much noise. Fast forward, Tim got recruited by Jodeci and moved to Jersey. I had a mutual friend, a female friend, and Pharrell wanted to date her, so he was like “Yo, what’s up?”
What is it about Virginia Beach that’s produced so many major people in hip-hop?
Virginia Beach is a melting pot. It’s a military area, so for example in the early ’80s and ’90s we had a heavy New York influence, but we also were like first on the Houston movement. I knew about the thizz movement in the Bay. Right up the street, three hours from my house, is D.C. That’s like go-go. Baltimore club music is 35 minutes past that. We have colleges. All of those schools brought in all these different people. The military brought in all these different people. We just had an influx of impressions and energy in the area.
Like a lot of people, I heard you first on “Grindin’.” It was crazy at the time how stripped-down and minimal it was–just drums and vocals. Now that minimalism’s kind of the thing, ten or so years later, how does it feel to have predicted something like that?
Man, I love it. I look at the minimalism in music, I look at the street culture being rapped about in such a way, like trap, like we’ve been doing this for a very long time. It’s good, man. I like to watch it evolve. I like to compete with the evolution, and I think I’m doing a damn good job of that.
You have a reputation as a trendsetter. What has you excited right now?
Musically, I like a lot of these guys’ energy. I like the Rae Sremmurd kids. I like the Migos guys. That energy is what keeps the game growing.
You have your own shoe now, which is kind of a big deal. What was the most meaningful accomplishment in your career so far?
I would say that working with my brother was a highlight, especially on Hell Hath No Fury. Hell Hath No Fury is one of the best rap albums ever made. That’s my opinion.
I remember back when you were dropping the We Got It For Cheap mixtapes, which was about the time that white hipsters started getting into mixtapes. Music critics were writing about it. Then you did the Pitchfork Music Festival with Clipse and by yourself. I know it was controversial at the time, and it still is in some quarters, to embrace that kind of audience. What’s your experience been with it?
I’ve had a damn good experience with it, simply because I’m not a radio-driven artist. I like to say that the Clipse were one of the first Internet darlings. It’s always been a plus, the journalists and bloggers, when we weren’t getting radio support. They always kept us afloat.
So it took you awhile to finally release your solo debut, but you already have the next record lined up. What can you tell me about it?
It’s called King Push, and it’s executive produced by Kanye West. I want to say that the music sound bed for it is shaping up to be better than My Name Is My Name. Lyrically, it’s a monster. I’m never cutting corners on that. I feel like the more albums I hear, I know mine’s going to be better. I’ma hear a couple more albums before I say it’s going to be the best one of the year. Because I told y’all it was going to be the best one of the year last year and all the year-end lists said, you know, Yeezus, My Name Is My Name. We was like the only two. This one, I’m gonna give it a little more time before I say that. To be fair. But it’s like, it’s incredible.