Pusha-T Talks Making ‘Daytona’ in Kanye West’s Secluded Wyoming Sessions
“Just to be all the way clear with you. There’s no artwork, there is absolutely no single, I have not shot one video. Def Jam will be so angry with me” says Pusha-T, just two days before the Friday streaming release of his third solo album. Produced entirely by Kanye West, Daytona is a lean, seven-song, 21-minute record and the first album project to emerge from the rapper’s mysterious recording sessions out in Wyoming.
“This right here is for connoisseurs of fine wine,” says Pusha-T. “It’s a body of work and I want you to love it as such. … I guess we could have put 18 [songs] up there and played with streaming numbers and shit like that. We don’t cater to radio, we’re not catering to those platforms. We’re only catering to the fans.”
Daytona, named after the rapper’s favorite Rolex, dropped early this morning after a wellspring of anticipation. Firstly, the esteemed spitter of esoteric bars and bugged-out drug puns has been a reliable source of clever, ice-veined raps for nearly 20 years. But Daytona is also the first dispatch from Kanye West’s secretive Wyoming sessions, one of a promised five albums that West claims he is “hand producing.” As president of the West-founded G.O.O.D. Music label, Pusha is tasked with helping to manage a unique summer album cycle: a batch of music from the 21st Century’s most acclaimed beatmaker, and one coming in a fog of tabloid controversy thanks to West’s recent comments about President Trump and American slavery.
Rolling Stone caught up with the MC to talk about Daytona, Wyoming and “the Kanye West train.”
I am wondering about when you wrote and recorded these verses because a lot of it is really up to date. Like references to Matt Lauer and Harvey Weinstein, and obviously Kanye’s verse is very of the moment.
So we’re in Calabasas, we listen to [music from an early version of the album]. … I’m happy, extremely happy. Everybody’s like, “Yo this is rockin’.” And then the next day, we hang out all day, go eat and [West] was like, “Hey, yo, come back tomorrow.” So tomorrow I come back to Calabasas, he said, “Man, I lived with the record all night last night and I honestly feel like I could do the production a thousand times better. I could do this better.” “Hold up, what do you mean? You mean like enhance whatever’s here?” And he’s like, “Nah, I just think I could do it all better. Man, I think we should just go to Utah.” It was like “timeline, scratch” [makes record scratching noise].
But, you know at that same time there was a lot going on with him too. Him even getting into that mode of saying, “Hey man I want to sit over the MPC [sampler] and really go in.” Who the hell was I to say no? Or to rush that? I was like, “Well, let’s go. … Let’s go, let’s go to Utah.” And I’ll be damned if we weren’t in Utah. And Utah turned into Wyoming.
Old beats got totally nixed, things we loved got nixed. I probably lost numerous relationships with other producers. Things got nixed and there were new discoveries. Then we’d go to Wyoming. Super expensive, we’re staying at some resort, Aman Resorts. Now, mind you, we have to split this cost, right? And it’s cool cause we get out there, we kick it for a day or two. We’re just getting in the vibe, we’re making playlists of just music we love. By this time … I know what I want to say but the sonics we’re trying to get like, Where do we want this album to really sound like? And one day turns into 10 days of just him listening to samples. On one hand you’re like, “Damn … he’s really dialed in” and the other hand I’m like, [whispers] “Fuck! This shit is like seven grand a day!”
And then on day ten comes [second track] “The Games We Play” and it’s like … we know. That’s it. This right here, put verses to that. Right now, please. When I see that in him then I’m feverishly trying to put together the most inspiring shit I can say because I need to keep him going like that. And that’s how it turned out.
So the original version of the album that you scrapped, how many different producers were on it?
I would say about probably six different producers. With [West] included, him touching everything.
How many tracks was it?
I’m up to like, 14 or so.
And how many of those were from outside producers, roughly?
Pssht. Yeah, um, 11.
Have you called any of these guys?
Had to. Yeah, I had to, but they all understood and they know that it was nothing personal. … I have to call somebody and be like, “Yo, I know I told you this was probably going to be my first single or close to it somewhere,” or, “I was gonna throw it out as a street record, it’s not really coming out right now, cause he wants to do that.” Everybody understood, man. And I’m super meticulous with music. This is business.
Have you heard any rappers on those beats in the time since?
No. They haven’t given them away. And I haven’t leaked them. It’s fair to the situation. Most guys would put out, “Alright, well it took too long so I’mma give you some throwaways.” I’m not doing that. It’s not happening. It’s like, man, alright, you don’t understand what I’m saying in these seven? I’m not giving you my heart in these seven? This is the luxury of time, we have the luxury of time to create this masterpiece, this [is] concise and we’re respecting your time by not making you sit through filler so we can stream longer or more.
You were born in ’77, so we grew up in the era when rap albums were Run-D.M.C., ten songs, no skits. Do you see your records as harkening back to the era of rap albums?
Always. … I’m an album guy. And I feel like with my fan base it has helped me because they know what they’re getting from me. They know to look for the body of work. Pusha and singles? It doesn’t really work. You hear the album, you’re like, “Oh shit, I get his whole scope.”
If you had to pick one rap album as the gold standard for how an album should feel from front to back.
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx [by Raekwon]. That’s the holy grail of rap albums to me. Even on this album I say it, “This is my purple tape/ Save it for rainy dayz.”
What was Wyoming like for you?
I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew we were going to work and we were going to get all the work done. Absolutely, positively nothing but focus in a place like that. Totally not a outdoors person, I’m not into it. I’m not into wildlife. I’m not into moose. I’m not into mountain lions. I’m not into foxes, coyotes. I’m not into birds with long wingspans, snakes, hate it all. Hate it all.
Hate it. Not my thing.
How many times have you been camping in your lifetime?
Never. Never camping, never going. What you do is you camp out in these amazing mountain mansions. Eight, 10 bedroom mansions, six of those rooms may be studio set-ups. Whatever the layout is. One room’s your room – or you can sleep in the studio if you like. I knew that it was an environment of focus and work. That’s really all that it was. Your chef, your trainer, you have those things. That is your hour out of solitary confinement.
When I think about the album, when I think about the process. We’ve talked about it a lot and I felt like it was therapy for both of us just at the time. He likens it to therapy. So many things were discovered in this album, in the creation of my album. I feel like we found the sound. I feel like through this whole month of June you’re going to rediscover the Kanye West sound of production. I think we’re gonna be able to see a difference between the releases, musically, and be able to see his range. I feel like every album was found and, just to be honest with you, it’s like, man, I remember doing my album and finding Teyana Taylor’s whole album, we found that. Nas has been with me every time I’ve been to Wyoming, thus far. And I’m hearing a whole 2028 Nas, you know what I’m saying?
So, Kanye’s working on all these albums simultaneously?
So when you were in Wyoming. You’re up there, Nas is up there …
Teyana’s up there.
How much hanging out is there between you all?
I mean it’s hanging out. “Hey, come check this out. What you think about this?” “You think I should rock with this beat? I don’t know.” “Yeah, you should do it.” Opinion giving, but it’s absolutely, positively no “hanging out.” We eat together and roam from room to room. “Man, I’m just stuck, I just need to get away, I got cabin fever.”
But there’s no, like, everyone gets together at eight o’clock and watches Mr. Robot.
I mean if the game’s on, [it will] be like, “Hey, what’d he do? Did you see that? Ahhh!” And [then] everybody goes back to their room, goes back to their little cave, their hut, with their engineer.
You mentioned Kanye getting in his zone, listening to records. What is the sound you guys wanted for Daytona? How would you describe it?
It evokes feeling upon the strike of any chord. The first note sound of any of those records, I feel like you get the feeling and the groove immediately. And that’s what we were looking for. We were looking for feeling. “That’s the feeling right there. If it don’t feel like that then it’s not going on it.” [West] literally said, “Hey, make me a list, I need like 25 [songs]. Give me 25.” Yeah, I’m like, “D’Angelo, ‘Devil’s Pie.'” And he’s like, “Damn, OK that’s Premo.” “‘Glaciers Of Ice'” [by Raekwon]. “Alright, 25, we good. Let’s just listen.” “Alright, take that one off.” “Alright, this right here, this is the energy we’re trying to capture.”
So it’s like a mood board of music.
A sonic mood board, exactly.
Where would you write? Would you write in your room? Would you look out at the mountains?
Nah, man. I’m writing in my room. Some of it was written at home as well. My thing is I’m racing with him, you know what I’m saying? I have interruptions, I got shows, I got things I have to do, places I gotta go. So I’ll leave Wyoming. When I come back, when I see him face to face my goal is to have something new and invigorating every time.
You seem to have this traditional sense of what an MC does. Rap has changed a lot, but it seems like that’s still something that means a lot to you.
I feel like my content affords me the opportunity to be able to really sit back and perfect the craft. … I liken it to a person who loves horror films. If you like horror films that’s just what you’re into, that’s your preference. If you’re into mob films, that’s what you’re into, you want those layered principles of a mob film. Me, I am into high-taste-level, luxury drug rap. It’s sophisticated in a sense. I feel like it speaks to everyday culture. It speaks to what’s going on right now. For me and the way I learned hip-hop, I only know hip-hop to talk about what’s going on outside. I don’t know anything else first. You are 100% a reporter. That’s what I know it to be. So, I take that and I’m gonna take that to the fullest, I’mma take that to the house. And I feel like I’m just reporting on what’s happening outside, I’m reporting on the principles and the mindset of guys who are in the street because that’s the energy that moves me.
After maybe E-40, Eightball & MJG and Raekwon, Clipse were like were the second wave of what you call “luxury drug raps.” And that’s still moving culture.
Well, it’s still outside. If it’s still outside I don’t see why the content even has to change. Now, to me, where it gets monotonous is if I wasn’t playing with metaphors, similes, comparisons, those levels of double entendres – that’s when I gotta bow out. … The drug content is the common thread and then you just weave everything around that, and you camouflage it and you show the acrobatics around that.
The line that I loved on the record was “Pop a wheelie, tell the judge to Akinyele.”
The name of that song is actually “What Would Meek Do?” And it’s only named that because I wanted Meek on that record. I wanted him on the record when he was in jail. ‘Cause he was in jail when that record was going on. … ‘Cause Meek Mill, and I say it all the time, is my spirit animal to be young in hip-hop. That time was sort of taken from me. You know, you’re good to go out with all of your friends from the neighborhood and you get to run around like that. That time was taken from me in ’09. Everybody who I came into the game with, everybody was federal indictment, gone, 10, 20, 30 years. That’s it. Some of which are just coming home now. We’ve lost so much just in how we interact. There they got other agendas. They’re focused trying to run back to get to their families and make time for their daughters and so on. It’s not about me at all. I lost all of that. I look at Meek and I’m like, “Man, bro, I know the fun that you’re having. You gotta love it, man.” And I love seeing it. I actually wanted him on that record ’cause I like the energy of it. We didn’t get to do it.
All these Kanye-produced records coming out, are they all G.O.O.D. Music?
As far as I know, except for Nas. I don’t know the business front on that.
As the president, how are you navigating your ability to sell G.O.O.D. Music with Kanye doing what could be called a “bad publicity tour”?
Yeah. It’s tough.
Because no matter what, this is overshadowing the music right now.
Yeah, it’s very loud. Very loud. … I wasn’t gonna talk at all. Didn’t wanna talk. I didn’t even wanna get into that. I’m not in agreeance. So first of all, me and him don’t agree on that. Politically, everybody knew my stance. [Laughs.]
You were vocal about your support for Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine.
And I have a specific agenda that is very near and dear to my heart in regards to prison reform that I know will not happen under a Trump regime. So, of course me and him are total polar opposites on that. Not even to be discussed, ’cause we don’t discuss it. I’m just like, ‘You know I’m not with that.’ He knows. And we understand, and it is what it is. But, as far as it being loud in regards to the music, that’s the gift and the curse of the Kanye West train.
It’s an interesting time we’re living in. The world of social media versus what people say on record are becoming interchangeable as far as how things are received. I imagine that has to be especially challenging right now because you want everyone to just focus on music.
That’s it. That’s definitely been my stance and that was the way that I could combat it. The only way I knew how to combat it with just, “We don’t agree,” silence, you gotta speak about it when you have to speak about it, but I never wanted to speak about it through the whole process and put it next to my music so much.
So there was no phone call where you were like, “Dude, what the fuck are you doing right now?”
No, I actually went there after. [West] was like, “Man, did you see this? What’d you think?” And then just telling me his perspective and I’m like, “Bro that’s, like, messaged so wrong.” Just speaking about the whole messaging of it and giving him my opinion on it, which is why I’m even the president of G.O.O.D. Music. I’m only the president of G.O.O.D. Music because I share my opinion, freely. … That’s the only reason I feel like he picked me to do that.
I think a lot of people are looking to ask that question in particular as if it’s like tumultuous or some type of turmoil, but it’s really not. In my position, it’s never been a yes-man type of thing. It couldn’t be ’cause we wouldn’t be able to have the success or pull off those special moments, whether it’s a fuckin’ Chief Keef verse, who he knew nothing of at the time, or a Desiigner. We wouldn’t be able to pull those things off if it wasn’t, especially for me, having my own opinion and expressing that … openly.
So you and Kanye are friends who disagree, business partners who disagree.
We disagree all the time! All the time. We disagree about music, artists, what you should be doing, what you shouldn’t be doing. We disagree all the time. All the time. We disagree about seven songs! That was our last one. I thought we should do more, he was like. “I don’t think so.” And he was right this time.
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