It’s hard to talk about Pusha T in 2018 without mentioning Drake. In fact, it’s hard to talk about hip hop in 2018 without mentioning either of these heavyweights. In a year when hip hop became THE genre in music, Pusha T and Drake reminded us that a good old fashioned rap beef—one in which accusations of Drake’s inauthenticity and Pusha T’s “hollow” claims of greatness culminated in everyone learning about Drake’s secret child—can still grab the attention of people whose only inclination to listen to hip hop is whenever Post Malone appropriates it for a made-for-tv single.
And that’s tough because seeing Pusha T at Fillmore Silver Spring reminds of you two important realities: (1) Drake is selling out stadiums and Pusha T isn’t selling out the Fillmore the day before Thanksgiving, and (2) Pusha T is a rap great with a career-defining album (2018’s Kanye West-produced Daytona). It was hard to shake the feelings of pity for Pusha T, especially when he was wearing a rent payment masquerading as an outfit.
Prior to Pusha T, the audience was treated to joyous performance by Phony Ppl, a five-person musical outfit based out of Brooklyn, NY. Led by the spacey demeanor of lead singer Elbee Thrie, Phony Ppl surprised a lot of people in the audience with a performance that never took itself too seriously and delivered on sonic vibes that teetered between The Internet, Bob Marley, and Thundercat. This is the type of music you imagine is on a playlist for someone who has to take the C and A trains from Manhattan to Brooklyn during rush hour. Phony Ppl communicated something many bands real suck at doing: the joy of making music. Each member of Phony Ppl looked in bliss sharing the mastery of their respective instrument with the audience.
After a short wait, Pusha T walked out onto the stage in much the same way a king walks out for coronation (the irony of Pusha T having the nickname “King Push” isn’t lost on me). And while many will point to the fact that Pusha T raps about the same few topics on each song (cocaine, selling cocaine, money, money gained from cocaine, etc.), the way in which he does it is unmatched. Pusha T’s performance, bolstered by a Fillmore soundsystem tailored for a hip hop soundscape, drove the point home that, starting with his career as ½ of The Clipse, this dude raps over some of the best production in hip hop.
Pusha T’s credentials for rap greatness exists in the fact that he is one of the few artists living within an internal monologue of, “I can take any beat, any production, and make it mine.” And when you hear him over Kanye West production that reminds you why you still like Kanye or when you hear him over disjointed masterpieces that sound like Pharrell experiments, you begin to understand pity is the last feeling you should direct at Pusha T; this man operates on a higher plane of creativity and musical output.