Pusha T
Photo by Fabien Montique

Pusha T: “People can hear passion”

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Short Profile

Name: Terrence Thornton
DOB: May 13, 1977
Place of Birth: The Bronx, New York, USA
Occupation: Rapper

Push, in your opinion, what does the best rap music accomplish?

The best rap music inspires. The best rap music motivates, it teaches, it gives insight. It is a voice for a certain collective of people.

How do you go about achieving that?

As a writer, you’re always trying to say the best thing. You’re always thinking about what’s the best thing to say and what’s the hardest way to say it and what’s the best line? Sometimes the best line is the simplest line. Sometimes the best line is the line that evokes more feeling than actual wordsmithing. That’s been a hard lesson to learn for me. Sometimes you overlook the simplicity. I try to jump with my first instinct if it’s really strong.

Do those gut instincts also apply when choosing a beat for your tracks?

Yeah, that’s extremely important. That’s an underlying connection that you can have with your fans in one single moment. If a beat initially makes you feel some way, and it causes you to say a certain thing or express a certain emotion, that’s something that’s a bit more feeling-oriented. And your fans feel that. When you don’t overthink it, that’s probably the purest feeling that is going to come across on the track. And people can hear those types of sensibilities. People can hear passion like that.

Where did you learn how to write lyrics?

I guess it started with watching my brother, and then I started having my own opinion about my favorites. The craft was honed through The Neptunes and Pharrell. I was taught styles, basics, and essentials and then from there it was just about perfecting it.

“I had to decode Wu Tang Clan like all of us did! That’s what made me look at these guys as great.”

You once described writing intricate, convoluted lines as “sacrificing for the greater good,” because once people figured them out, they would call you a genius.

Yeah, man! You may not know what a certain reference is because you’re not into the world or into the life but I want you to Google, I want you to look it up, I want you to find it. That’s when you really appreciate it. That’s just part of it.

Is listening to music supposed to be challenging like that?

No, I don’t think it’s supposed to be challenging at all, but that was the greatest part of hip hop to me! I didn’t know all those beautiful vacation places that Jay Z spoke of. I might not have known the finest wine or the clothing brand that Kanye talked. I had to decode Wu Tang Clan like all of us did! But once you discovered it and drew those parallels and figured out what the line meant… That’s what made me look at these guys as great.

How long was it until you started to consider yourself one of the greats?

There have been moments, man. I think I made the best hip hop album of 2006 with Hell Hath No Fury. I feel like I was part of the best mixtape series ever. I feel like I’ve done cult classic type of records. I think My Name Is My Name and Darkest Before Dawn were two extremely strong solo efforts for artists of my genre, I don’t know if anybody rapped that well in 2015. (Laughs) And then with my new record, King Push, I feel like it’s going to be a supreme benchmark. There’s a couture level of language that comes along with it, and I think it’s going to showcase that, in my opinion, I’m actually the best in my lane. These records are standing the test of time.

Is that how you measure success in the music industry? Longevity?

Yeah, I measure success in longevity and in, you know, when you say you’re done with it, where do you really stand? Ups and downs, everything. I make a timeless music. I think I’ve made my mark as a lyricist and as an innovator and as a tastemaker… So in that sense, I think I’ve been extremely successful.

Is there a kind of pressure that comes along with trying to be an innovator, doing something truly unique?

Actually, see, I’ve never taken that as pressure! I look at it like it’s actually a non-pressure because you can’t very well be judged when people don’t know how to categorize you. I’ve grown accustomed to that, so I don’t look at it as pressure; I look at it just as a beautiful thing. I like that people always give me that opportunity to be constantly upping the bar for myself.

Is it important for you to push yourself to the limit with every track?

Yeah, for sure! Sometimes to a fault, man. For sure I could do things a whole hell of a lot faster but it wouldn’t be to my liking. And I’m sure people would even take it, you know? They’d be like, “Oh, this is just as good.” But you have to push yourself to the limits. And I feel like that’s been the basis of my career. That’s the thing about my music: it requires you to have something to say.

Why is that?

My music is airy, it’s spacious. It requires you to be able to rap and articulate your message over it. That’s what the beat demands of you. Not a lot of people try to rap over my beats because it’s a bit of a task. It’s competitive. The crafting of lyrics is really a task, and when it comes to street culture, I don’t feel like anyone else articulates it better than me.

“This is what the basis of rap has always been about: storytelling.”

You once said that music is the only entertainment field that has to be “responsible” for the actions of its listeners. Has that ever made you think twice about releasing something?

No, never. I try to be responsible in regards to my own personal feelings and my own messages. I don’t necessarily like how music and rap especially is the only genre that has to be responsible like that. They directly say that music is responsible for some of the ills that go on in society, and I’m not really with that.

How does responsibility come into play with “cocaine rap,” a genre that you’re often grouped into?

Well, you have to realize who called it “cocaine rap.” It wasn’t cocaine rap when we had the message back in the day and they were talking about white lines and what was going on outside. This isn’t what we called it. They categorized it as cocaine rap. This is just rap to us! This is reality — telling the perspective of what’s going on outside in your world, whether it be suburbia or inner city. This is what the basis of rap has always been about: storytelling.