How Pusha T Secured The Lauryn Hill Feature on “Coming Home” - Rolling Stone
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How Pusha T Secured the First Lauryn Hill Feature in Years

Rapper discusses his new track “Coming Home,” his new criminal justice reform initiative, and teaching Kanye West what “charcuterie” means

Ben Perry/Shutterstock; Grant Pollard/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

1511 days, 36,264 hours, 2,175,840 minutes, and 130,550,400 seconds passed from the last time Ms. Lauryn Hill released recorded music, until the release of “Coming Home” on Wednesday. Pusha T still seems in disbelief that the elusive Hill said “yes” to giving him a feature. Sonically, “Coming Home” is the antithesis of the sinister and nihilistic coke raps that the Daytona rapper has spent the past two decades turning into high art. Built on a cacophony of bright whistles and a pitched-up vocal sample, the Kanye West, Mike Dean, and Charlie Heat-produced song is by far the most uplifting song in his decade-spanning discography. Hearing Hill sing, “When love is real, you can do anything” after Pusha T spent the bulk of 2018 becoming hip-hop’s greatest anti-hero seems almost too outlandish to be true.

But from the minute Pusha heard the instrumental, he knew “Coming Home” deserved something he’s not used to giving. “I remember having the beat and was like, ‘Man, I think this is bigger than what Pusha T really does. What he’s known to do,'” he says over the phone. “I felt like the track itself had a feel good music. It had that feeling to it. I was like ‘This needs to have a bit of a message to it.’” Over three verses, Pusha T maps the effects of mass incarceration on the black community while striving to uplift the people still behind bars. The song’s release coincides with the announcement of the “Third Strike Coming Home Campaign,” an initiative “to free people serving life in prison today under yesterday’s outdated 3 Strikes Drug Law,” according to a press release. In partnership with Brittany K. Barnett’s Buried Alive Project and MiAngel Cody’s The Decarceration Collective, Pusha T is looking to help prisoners serving life sentences for federal drug crimes.

How long were you sitting on this beat for and tinkering with this idea?
I might’ve had the beat for a year and a half. Then getting Ms. Hill to do it, you know everybody has their process. It was something I had that was special, and then we had Ms. Hill get on it. Even then, we never really attached it to a project. We just want to get it right. We just want to get the song right. With that being the case, it may have been longer than a year and a half.

How do you manage to secure a Lauryn Hill feature in 2019?
It was actually just a request. We don’t have any people in common, really. I just made the request, and she expressed that she liked what I do musically. Basically, she was like, “Let me take a crack at it.” By the time she said, “Let me take a crack at it,” I was already floored. I was just like, “Ok? You’re working on it.” Then she came back with something like “Hey, this is what I’m working on, but I don’t know if I really like these two parts.” I’m like, “What?! Are you actually going through your process with me? What do you mean?” I’m just fully taken aback. She was actually going through the process. I can tell you of at least nine different renditions. I have so many different takes and pieces, things that she just really honed in on the song.

Just her doing it, we never got to even attach it to a project, because it was always just a work in progress. She was like “Oh, you know what, I’m going on tour for such and such, or I’m going overseas and I’ll probably get back to it.” I was like, “Cool.” Then she’d get back to it and it’d be like a surprise call, a surprise email, a surprise text of an mp3. She took charge and took over executing the track.

What was the genesis of the “Third Strike Coming Home Campaign” and tying it to the song?
That happened because we always felt like the song was super strong. There’s a line in the record that when I was writing it, it really made it make all the sense to me. It was “Or Tony Lewis out in D.C. / The 80’s kingpins, gotta free them / All those faces we ain’t believe in / If no child’s left, then how can we leave them?” Those lines meant a lot to me in regards to the song. With those lines in the track, it referenced Tony Lewis Sr., a father, a grandfather who’d been in the prison system for 30 years now for a drug charge. He actually was locked into the conspiracy of the Rayful Edmonds case.

I happened just by chance and by music I met his son, who is Tony Lewis Jr. who does a lot of heavy, heavy community work in the D.C. area. He expressed to me that he was a fan of my music, and from there we sort of established this relationship. With that relationship moving forward and moving on, I was recruited by the My Brother’s Keeper program with President Obama. I want to believe that was around ‘15. So matter of fact this record was more than two years old.

When I got recruited by President Obama, I would go to The White House. We would talk about things that were super important to us as he was coming out of office. Prison reform was a thing that I was always speaking to. When I couldn’t come to some of the events, they let Tony Lewis Jr. come and speak. He would speak from so many angles and aspects, from re-entry to how we could get the laws changed. He became a part of My Brother’s Keeper program with me. We were active up until Obama got out of office. From that point, the campaign it sort of quieted down.

So I got with my publicist, and I was like ‘I heard about the Buried Alive project and I heard about the Incarceration Collective. Can we reach out to these two women and see if there is something we can do to kickstart something or help the situation? At this point, I didn’t know another way to get back into that mix. We found Brittany Barnett and MiAngel Cody, and we told them our interests. I even said “I have a record that we can attach to it. Just however I can help.” Then they were like, “We should fundraise.” So I was like “Ok cool, let me donate 25 grand to what we’re doing, the ‘Third Strike Coming Home'” campaign and of course, they came up with the name. The biggest thing was hiring more lawyers to take on more of the cases. In 90 days, they want freedom for 17 prisoners who are set to die in prison. Those two lawyers themselves have freed 40 men and women who basically survived over 800 years in prison. I was like “Man, we need more lawyers. They say we need more lawyers. We need more lawyers.” I was like, man, we should try to do a campaign to definitely raise this money and get those lawyers.

How has it been working with Barnett and Cody on this?
It’s been fairly simple. Everybody has put their money where their mouth is, honestly. It started from a conversation and then it was like “Ok, cool. Here’s the donation. What else do we need to do?” Let’s connect it and reach out to all of our sources and see what resources we can pull in. From there it’s just been simple honestly.

What was the impetus for the charcuteries skit in the middle of “Sociopath?”
We basically record everything when we’re in the studio. That was one of those amazing quirky Kanye West moments. I’ve spoken to the fact that a lot of times when I’m rapping, and when I’m rapping on his production I’ll say things that he won’t necessarily know the angle from which I’m coming from or understand what I’m talking about. And this one particular time he just asked. He’s just like “Hey man, what’s charcuteries?” We happened to catch it on tape. He was like “Oh man, you know what? That has to go in the song. They have to know what happens in the studio.” He edited it and just put it right in the song. That’s why it sounds a little airy. It sounds like speakerphone audio, because we took it directly from the sound of the actual taping of the sessions.

On Twitter, you were really candid about how much the Yandhi and G.O.O.D Music leaks “ruin” the plans you guys have in place. As the President of G.O.O.D. how do you move forward from that?
That’s something that comes along with the fanatic-ness of what we built as a brand in G.O.O.D. Music. People are super eager. Sometimes it’s eager fans, sometimes it’s people who just are unethical. I don’t know exactly know what it is, but I do know that ultimately G.O.O.D. Music doesn’t play by the rules. We never conform to anything, and the only people that that honestly caters to is our fanbase and just the industry as a whole. Everything that we do is sort of outside of the box. I feel like we bring excitement and we bring a new energy with any new project we’re dropping.

So when things like leaks happen, I feel like the only person that’s honestly getting cheated is the fan. These songs go through iterations. There’s so many different iterations, from lyricism to production. Ye could wake up tomorrow and say ‘Oh man, those need harder drums.’ Even some of the songs that you heard, those are just references without drums. You don’t even get the full scope of the song. Being that “Coming Home” and “Sociopath” came out within those leaks as well, I would never do or cheat a record that I’m working on with Ms. Hill. I wouldn’t treat it as like a throwout. I wouldn’t do that. Even Kash Doll, she took her time to come in and execute what I needed done. I wanted to treat that record. I wanted to give it the proper rollout, and due to those leaks, those are two of the records that didn’t get that. It’s unfortunate. I think at the end of the day the music is awesome and the music is good. I feel like everybody’s going to enjoy it. I feel like we’re at a place where the talent pool is beyond measure. We’ll cook up again, and we’ll roll it out properly next time, and it’ll be fine.

To learn more about the “Third Strike Coming Home Campaign” and how you can help go to their website, here.

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