Pusha T was supposed to call some time before noon in New York, but he's in Hawaii, where the weather is perfect and the water is clear and the sun is probably beautiful, but it hasn't risen yet. It's 5 o'clock there, an ungodly hour. His publicist emails, "They had a late night in the studio," which seems about right.
Having just (finally) finished Cruel Summer with the rest of the G.O.O.D. Music camp, its release delayed due to knob-twisting and fine-tuning, Pusha is now plugging away on his debut solo album in Kanye's walled-up Wonka factory; it's an all-hours sweatshop of sorts (only populated by millionaires that call their own shots and have health insurance). But still, there's few opportunities to relax; not much sleep on the schedule. Pusha calls at 9:34 a.m., his time, sounding nothing short of energized.
You're in Hawaii right now. You said Kanye described your album as "Hell." Does it feel weird to make such a dark album in such a beautiful place? To conjure "Hell," I feel like you should've recorded in the bathroom of a Dunkin' Donuts.
Right. That's the irony of it all, I believe. I feel like the beauty of it is just all skin-deep. The album, sonically, has these beautiful fucking sound beds. Sonically, it has this level of upper echelon of musicality. And then when you delve deep into the lyrics, it's like the darkness is just overpowering. It's like sweet and sour.
But is it hard to see all of these beautiful waterfalls and nature and Hawaii around you, and to carry around all of these dark emotions?
No, it's really not, because I feel like the darkness in it is just my reality. Even in the more celebrational tracks on the album, even in the records that may speak of relationships, the truth in it is so true. And I think that's what Kanye's really saying. He's like, man, if you died and heard this album, you're probably in Hell, because it's just the reality of it. I mean, the reality of life itself . . . it's just not nice.
It used to be that people boxed you in as just a coke rapper – you could only rap about coke. But now you're everywhere. Slaughterhouse just told Peter Rosenberg and Cipha Sounds that you're the rapper they most want to work with, and they don't give out a lot of compliments. Do you still feel like you're overlooked?
I never really took the whole "underrated, overlooked" thing, because I feel like this is the first time in my life that I've honestly felt like a rapper. Like, this is the honest-to-God first time that I have been fully participating in rap shit. I'm like, doing features, I'm like . . . hobnobbing with other rappers [laughs]. I'm like, going in the studio with rappers and producers that I've never met, and really just vibing and doing this shit. I've never really had to do shit like that! I've always just been in the studio with my friends! And we never worked with other people. C'mon, in all honesty, Pusha T hasn't done features – like, this many features – at any one point in his career. Even with Lord Willin' being probably my biggest-selling album, I never did features, because I was in Virginia. People wasn't trying to check in. We [Clipse] was just the novelty act – people wasn't trying to feature us on their project. They were just like, damn, this is some hot shit. But I wasn't on mixtapes like that – I couldn't get on mixtapes! Like, I never did the rapper shit that I'm doing right now. I have emails upon emails upon emails, and I'm gonna take a day while Ye's not out here and just knock out all of these verses for everybody.
You've become one of the stars of G.O.O.D. Music, but not every idea can be genius. How often would you say ideas don't work and you make not-good music?
I don't think that that happens too often, because everybody on G.O.O.D. Music is appreciated for what they do. I wasn't signed to G.O.O.D. Music to expand my horizons as a rapper and now make pop records and shit like that. Not at all. I'm not here to do anything else. I'm only here to be myself . . . This is what I'm being taught on G.O.O.D. Music: I'm being taught to hone in and really focus on a certain part of the beat that I love, and just to give that portion my everything without having all of the other elements, because Ye is gonna come on the back end of the record and add all of those elements. I just have to have faith. I'm learning how to see the vision five miles away, and that's been the toughest part.
You performed the Made In America concert earlier this month. The second night, after you'd already done it, Drake says, "Now, that's how you bring out 2 Chainz!" Some saw it as a shot. I was just wondering what everyone else is wondering, which is, what is the appropriate way to bring out 2 Chainz?
At the end of the day – I guess just speaking on our behalf – we don't give a fuck what Drake says. Like, we don't care. In regards to us, that shit doesn't matter. Like, if you want to talk about the G.O.O.D. Music today and 2 Chainz, we had a mishap, because we have a record that is performed by four different people every night of the week and everybody has different edits of it. Ye's verse – where the beat switches up and it's really chant-y – gets edited out of a lot of people's sets. Just to keep the momentum of the song going and just keeping the show clean and concise. None of us was told, but Chainz wasn't told that Ye wasn't doing his portion of the record [at Made in America]. It was a mishap, man! I mean, fuck! People have mishaps. But I mean, Chainz is so fuckin' charismatic, he just walks out. I personally would've just rapped his fuckin' verse, because I heard it, but I didn't want to overstep my boundaries because fans didn't know he was there. So, you know, whatever. We talked about it in the back. Chainz wasn't bitter about it. He was just like, "I could've knocked it out. It could've been crazier had I been on time with it or had I known we were doing that edit." All of this shit is off the cuff, and all of us is all over the country, and we're just coming together to do the Made in America festival. It was a thing of paying homage to this new festival. It was a great experience, it was a great look, being a part of something that Ye obviously wanted us to be a part of. It wasn't a big production thing where we practiced this shit. Even I came out off-cue! I should've laid back a little bit, but we were rocking to it. That's what the fuck we do – we don't give a fuck. So, if that was the way you should've brought 2 Chainz out [laughs], then I'm glad Drake got to do it, and I'm glad that Chainz got the look, and I'm sure people were happy. Other than the shot thing, we don't give a fuck. We definitely ain't thinking about no shots.
You know, this reminds me of how things work in politics. Barack Obama never gets his hands dirty. It's Joe Biden's job to be the attack dog. Is that what you feel your relationship is with Kanye?
No, it's not that. It's just that we're different people. I'm not really one to just sit back and take a lot of stones being thrown in our direction. And I feel like people have been doing that a lot. It's because Ye is on the platform he's on. G.O.O.D. Music has always been about G.O.O.D. Music, so it ain't never been about another person or another individual, ever. When you hear these things, it's only right . . . if it leads to a great song or a great verse? Then, yeah, I'm gonna respond to it. I don't even talk about these things with anybody else. I don't talk about these things with Ye. I don't talk about my verses with Ye. I don't. And he doesn't do that with me. He ain't never ask, "What's this mean?" or "What's that mean?"
That leads perfectly into my next question. How much do rap fans really know what's going on behind-the-scenes? Does that make reading things online frustrating or fascinating for you?
It doesn't frustrate me at all, but I know fans don't be knowing the real. The fans don't know the real all the time, and they don't know the meaning behind some of the lines of myself or other rappers. They don't know the behind-the-scenes shit that goes on. It's not frustrating, but just know that, like, this shit doesn't "just happen." Things aren't just said just because – and I speak for myself – it's not like I'm running around here kicking dirt on people. I don't do that. I play the game like everybody else.
The G.O.O.D. Music basketball games during the recording sessions in Hawaii are the stuff of legend. Who gets picked first in basketball? Who last?
Oh, we just shoot for it. We totally shoot for it. [Laughs] I hate to fuck up your story with that.
So it's not like Common's the most like his movie character, so . . . ?
Oh, hell no. It's not like that at all. It's literally shooting for it, and teams are teams. It's always a good game. Ye's actually fucking up this process right now because he sprained his ankle last week. He's fucking up the flow. [Laughs] Otherwise, it's really like a good, intense workout. Everybody's trying to work out in some capacity, and basketball's of course like, "I've gotta get in! I've gotta get in!"
Last year, you put together a list of your favorite Top 25 albums for Complex. I'm sure you've respected and enjoyed his albums to different extents, but Kanye wasn't on there. What about his albums hasn't connected with you?
I'm just a fan of a certain type of music. It's like a guy who just likes to watch horror films. I just like that controversial level of hip-hop – street hip-hop, controversial, that type of aggressive hip-hop. It's not that I didn't fuck with Ye's albums – I fuck with his albums, but I dealt with them in a certain capacity and a certain lane. I kick the record and I have it in my crib, but it's not what I'm putting on when I'm going to the club . . . until I get to my favorite song that's ever been made, and that's "Can't Tell Me Nothin'."
I didn't want that to come off as a 'gotcha question'.
Hell no – that's legit. But he knows, definitely, that that's my favorite record. That's my favorite song. Ever. It's not that I'm not into his shit, but like I said: I listen differently.
You're a huge tennis fan. What's more stringent: Wimbledon whites or the G.O.O.D. Music dress code?
Oh man! Fucking definitely the G.O.O.D. Music dress code. And that shit changes! It can change right before you get onstage. They'll be like, "Oh, we're wearing all black." You come there in the all-black dress code, and you get there and there'll be a whole white ensemble of shit for you to pick from. You'll be prepared for a whole certain aesthetic and end up on some whole other-other shit.