Pusha T, the newly appointed president of Kanye brand GOOD Music, had a good year back in 2013 with his My Name is My Name LP so the pressure was consequently placed on him to deliver well again. The Clipse rapper and Def Jam artist told us some time back about King Push, the followup, but the official final product won’t be a 2015 release. Instead, for now, the ‘extra/surplus material’ has been cleaned up and packaged into a thirty minute album called Darkest Before Dawn (Dec. 18), which underwent two title changes, first into Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude and then into King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude. Let’s forget about record company labels for a minute. If one were so inclined as to call this project an LP (which is wrong because it’s too short), it would technically be Pusha T’s third as a solo act, his first being 2011’s Fear of God II: Let Us Pray (forty-five minutes long), not My Name is My Name (album number two).
For the album-visuals and its title obviously, Push has taken the shady path here, going along with the “dark” theme seen in other albums this year like Big Sean’s Dark Sky Paradise and G-Eazy’s When It’s Dark Out, and yes the contents do get dark in spots too, just not remarkably so. Shock, self-flattery and self-ingratiation are pushed by Pusha in the “Intro,” and the rest is a mélange of highly lyrical trap raps, gangsta raps and coke raps predominantly. Hopefully with the aim of reviling instead of glorifying drug-dealing, Pusha T is tough, remorseless and callous, achieving cinematic levels of hood-rich documentation in “Crutches, Crosses, Caskets,” where he describes some haunting scenes of death and don-life. In the gentle, piano-driven “MPA,” where Kanye West and A$AP Rocky do not sound live at all, Pusha becomes scornful about money-raking from drug sales and impresses on us the value of good women, so the finished song-product is appreciable if a little blasé.
Darkest ends with Push denouncing police brutality and television propaganda in “Sunshine.” It is a good worthy close that probably deserves more than its three minutes and some seconds. The problems with this album are that it’s too short for its hype and media description, a lot of its time is spent on unimaginative gangsta rap, and some of the productions run gaunt in patches. When it does perform well though, it excels. “FIFA” is an excellent little song with a fire Q-Tip beat and truly brutal raps from Pusha T, and the more connective messages are sincere and heartfelt and sure to be well received critically, but the superficial majority makes the intellectual minority on the album seem like requirements to fill some quota for conscious hip-hop. Overall, there are more unforgettable moments on Darkest Before Dawn than forgettable ones, and Pusha T has kept all his idiosyncratic artistic qualities to stand out, and he has brought out some intelligence for a safe and stable, yet shakily advertised EP.