You can't judge a book by it's title, but maybe you can judge 2013 rap albums by theirs. The three arguably biggest stars of hip-hop released bombastic, landmark albums this year with names to prove it: Kanye West spilled out his emotional guts on Yeezus, Jay-Z created the blueprint for corporate hip-hop with Magna Carta Holy Grail, and Drake, well, Drake got super introspective on Nothing Was the Same.
And then there's Pusha T, whose commercial debut, My Name is My Name, was released last week. Other rappers are busy trying to change the very nature of hip-hop; Pusha presents himself as a sublime lyricist, and little more. He's a classicist in an era of innovators. And while My Name is My Name isn't innovative, it's not too far from being the classic the aforementioned big-hitters promised .
On the surface, My Name is My Name has all the markings of a formulaic rap album. Pusha T displays plenty of bravado and makes his claims to the oft-invoked hip-hop throne. He shouts out his crew often and recruits a star-studded lineup that includes Kanye West, 2 Chainz, Rick Ross, and Young Jeezy. He takes subtle shots at his rivals (Drake), pays homage to his idols (Ma$e), and makes plenty of basketball references.
The common narrative across the album is Pusha's autobiography (fitting, given the album title). Pusha used to be a crack dealer, and he lets you know this fact early and often. His tales of life as a street dealer are the driving weight behind the album — and essentially, his career. "King Push, kingpin, overlord / Coast Guard come, a hundred going overboard," he raps on "Numbers on the Boards."
The drug dealing life isn't exactly a new topic in hip-hop. But Pusha raps about his experiences skillfully and poignantly, and he challenges the celebratory narrative made common by other former kingpins like Jay-Z. On "Nosetalgia," the best song on the album, Pusha presents two sides of the 80s crack trade: the rags-to-riches triumph, rapped by himself, and the devastation left behind, rapped by Kendrick Lamar. While Pusha glorifies his exploits ("Four lockers, four different bitches got their mule on / Black Ferris Bueller, cutting school with his jewels on"), Kendrick shows how his family was ripped apart ("Smokers repeatedly buying my Sega Genesis / Either that or my auntie was stealing it / Hit the pipe and start feeling it"). Through these contrasting verses, Pusha and Lamar show the lose-lose situation faced by many inner-city black Americans in the 1980s.
And of course, Pusha is an expert in wordplay: it would take you dozens of listens to catch all the references he throws out. "Presidential I came back / April showers I rains back / Jumped ahead like June something / Still I'm wheeling that Maybach / Tom Ford with my braids back," he spits on "No Regrets." Beyond current cultural references, he also cites Abraham Lincoln on "40 Acres," Arianism, and biblical verses.
My Name is My Name might sound plain compared to the rest of 2013 hip-hop, but there's no doubting Pusha T's talent and history. A feud with Jimmy Kimmel may not be on the docket, and that's okay: the album speaks for itself.