Def Jam
May 25, 2018 at 12:25 PM EDT

Kanye West had fans frothing at the mouth when he announced release dates for projects he produced, including albums from Nas, Teyana Taylor, and a collaboration with Kid Cudi. But the most-anticipated release on the list was crime rap emeritus and G.O.O.D. Music president Pusha-T’s.

This project was initially thought to be King Push, the once-slated sophomore follow-up to 2013’s My Name Is My Name. Anticipation intensified when a studio photo of Push working with the Neptunes — the production duo behind classics Lord Willin’ and Hell Hath No Fury, which Push made with his brother No Malice as Clipse — was posted at the top of 2014. But just a few days before its release, the public learned it wouldn’t be getting King Push but Daytona. It would be seven tracks long, just under the runtime of a Martin episode, and produced entirely by Kanye West.

The unorthodox format isn’t that aggressive of a change-up, though. Pusha-T has built his career off his unforced charisma, with painterly verses that welcome eccentric production styles (Kanye West and Pusha have struck gold before, on 2010’s “Runaway” and 2013’s “Numbers on the Boards”). So naturally, Pusha-T was unbothered and ready as Daytona’s release date approached. “Seven songs is the easiest thing,” he tells EW. “I may never make another album over seven songs again in my life.”

Hours before Daytona dropped, Pusha-T spoke with EW about molding the project, the Kanye comments that tempered the original April announcement, and the album’s provocative album cover of Whitney Houston’s bathroom.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Right after the album was announced, a Twitter user said, “Pusha T is still gon be rapping about moving kilos,” to which you responded, “Indeed i am.” Have you been facing pressure to switch your topical focus?
Pusha-T: There’s not any pressure to move away from it. Why would I do that? When I came out, it was all of the drug culture: coke rap. They were giving me these titles, they were shooting at me over it — so on and so forth. And now, I feel like rap lives in the trap today. They even developed a whole new sound of rap called trap music. No, I don’t feel any pressure. I feel like this is great. I love it.

The King Push hype started with that photo of you in the studio with the Neptunes. At what point did this project switch from King Push produced by the Neptunes to Daytona produced by Kanye West?
What happened was I made a host of records with a lot of different producers, the Neptunes being one of them. I played those records for ‘Ye…. After I laid the vocals, we’d all come back together and listen to them, and ultimately, he got up one morning and said, “Hey man, I was thinking: I think I can produce all of these records better if I just do them myself. I think we can get the sound more in sync and in unison. Not just 12 or 14 hot records. An album that sounds like one full movie. Let’s go to Utah and do that.”

After Kanye’s hospitalization and on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s sixth anniversary, you said on Instagram, “I think it’s time we all head back to Hawaii.” [MBDTF was produced during a creative retreat on the island.] Did the Wyoming sessions have any glimmer of those Hawaii sessions?
Totally. We were allowed to use our phones, though; in Hawaii we couldn’t use our phones. In Wyoming, we’ve all been on our phones feverishly.

We had a really, really good time. When [Kanye] speaks about it, he’s like, ‘Man, this is like therapy for me.’ And within that therapy, he found my album. He found Teyana [Taylor’s] album. He found the sound that he has going for his album and Cudi’s album.

Is it that sense of isolation that helps develop the sound?
Yeah, the focus is so laser. We’re laser focused when we’re away like that. I honestly don’t think it could happen in California. There’s so many things pulling at you when you’re in California.

You’ve put an emphasis on production during the lead-up to the album. What qualifies as a good beat to you?
In the process for Daytona, ‘Ye went to the record store and got thousands of dollars worth of old records. We then in turn took them to Wyoming and we each made lists of 25 to 50 records that we just loved. Then we listened to all of our lists and when we found records that had a particular feeling, we would point it out and make another list. And once we got enough records over on that list, we say, “This is the sound that we’re chasing.” And he would go chop sample after sample after sample going for that sound.

The sample for Lil’ Kim’s “Drugs,” which you rapped over on We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 2, pops up here again (“Santeria”). Was that a part of your list?
Totally. The funny part is it wasn’t on my list. It was on [Kanye’s] list.

On the album’s final track, you rap, “Remember Will Smith won the first Grammy?/They ain’t even recognize Hov until Annie /That’s why I don’t tap dance for them crackers and sing mammy.” [1998’s Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, which featured the Annie-sampling “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” won Jay-Z his first Grammy.] Could you explain the sentiment?
As artists, we tend to label things by chart position, how many records are sold, and things like that. Remember the year Will Smith won a Grammy? Who in the hell was up for the Grammys? All the great artists. [Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It” took 1999’s Best Rap Solo Performance Grammy over Lauryn Hill, Busta Rhymes, Wyclef Jean, and Jay-Z.] Hov made an amazing album, Reasonable Doubt, but the Grammys didn’t recognize him until the Annie sample. He’d been recognized in rap well before then. It was me telling people that none of that means nothing.

Was there any worry that Kanye West’s TMZ Live comments on slavery were going to overshadow the G.O.O.D. Music slate of releases?
I definitely did think that that statement would overshadow it. Also, at the same time, I have faith in the music. I knew that the music would do its part and sorta cleanse the palate of whatever he was talking about at the time.

Under your presidency, G.O.O.D. Music has brought on Valee and Desiigner. Are you learning from them when you’re trying to figure them out as artists?
I just admire them as artists. I just admire their energy and admire them in regards to flow, and I just try to bring whatever I can bring to the table to balance that out and make the best of the songs. Or maybe bringing nothing: Those guys are so self-sufficient, I like the fact that they’re doing their own thing and I can recognize it. They can understand that I do something totally different and still recognize the greatness in that.

Pharrell was at the New York listening party for the album. What were the conversations like as the album played?
Pharrell was definitely there, and Swizz [Beatz] was there. They loved the album. Swizz and Pharrell were thoroughly impressed and are always supportive. At this point, I’m just surrounding myself with my friends. People who support what I got going on, I appreciate it, but it’s not always about music with any of these guys. I can talk to them about anything. It just so happens that we’re all in the city together, so of course they do what friends do. They came through and support. They’re genuine with their critiques and they’re genuine with everything.

What led to Whitney Houston’s bathroom being Daytona’s cover?
I had a full album cover that we had basically agreed on. At 1 a.m. Kanye calls me and says, ‘Hey, I think we need to change the album cover. I don’t think it’s strong enough. I was like, “OK. Do you have something in mind?” It was something that was extremely expensive and I told him I didn’t want to pay for it. I told him I was extremely happy with what we have, and he didn’t feel like the album cover that we had matched the tone of the music. He said, “Well listen, I’ll pay for it. Let me get on that.”

Production is something I don’t bother him with. And he’s done my album artwork for every album that came out on G.O.O.D. Music. That was something else that I was like, ‘Alright, do your thing.’” I posted the album artwork today but it’s really been the talk. And I think that it definitely does match the energy of my album.

In what way does the new cover illustrate the production?
I feel like the cover represents an organized chaos. The energy of the album is a bit chaotic, but it’s all in place. And looking at that cover, I’m sure whoever frequents that bathroom or that area knew exactly whatever they wanted to find and knew where it was.

What was the original artwork?
Ah, it was just a picture of myself. There was a photographer that we found that we were super impressed by. He was great.

Besides the length, what would you say sets Daytona apart from the rest of your discography?
To me, it’s in the top two of my projects. One being a Clipse album called Hell Hath No Fury. The other being Daytona. I’m going through that battle right now in my head. I don’t know what’s No. 1 and 2, but that’s what I’m toying with.

With a set release date and just seven songs, is it easier or harder to figure out what’s the best material to include?
I just go by the feeling, man. Seven songs is the easiest thing. I may never make another album over seven songs again in my life.

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