By Joseph Gray //
“Thinking back on it, it really was all a set up. You were setting me up to be the solo artist I never saw myself as.”
This week, G.O.O.D. Music President and rapper Pusha T (born Terrence LeVarr Thornton) graciously reflected on his life of six years ago, when he was summoned to Hawaii for six months as part of label founder Kanye West’s brain trust of inspiration. The outcome of the famed recording sessions and basketball games became My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, West’s fifth studio album that brilliantly pits the Grammy winner’s defiant indestructibility against his haunting burdens as he returned from self-imposed deportation stemming from his infamous acceptance-speech interruption at the MTV Video Music Awards.
A powerful declaration set to wide-ranging and rich stadium sounds while not forgetting hip-hop’s basement essentials, West’s album also served as the perfect opportunity for the younger of the Thornton brothers — who together formed the rap duo Clipse — to share his brash, relentless talents with the world.
This opportunity and eventual partnership has not gone forgotten on Pusha T, who, prior to posting an open letter on Instagram to West (now reportedly in the hospital after cutting his latest tour short) on the six-year anniversary of MBDTF, took the stage at the Belasco Theater last Wednesday night as part of Red Bull Sound Select’s 30 Days in LA series with a similar graciousness as the headlining act he’d never imagined he would be.
“It’s always love when I come to LA. LA was always riding with me,” said Thornton, the veteran Virginia Beach-raised lyricist who unconventionally showed up earlier than we expected. Following Compton emcee Boogie’s warm hometown vibes, Pusha — with his signature braids, ad-libbing snarl, sweat pants and panther-embroidered jean jacket — proceeded to get comfortable and get to it.
There were no illuminated, floating stages to hover above a raucous mosh pit like West exhibited on his Saint Pablo tour. No maniacal dances or broads in Atlanta like rapper Desiigner frequently flaunts. No special guests like you’d often find at Big Sean’s shows. Unlike some of his labelmates, Pusha T opted to deliver us a PSA instead of a surprise, sending a reminder that this is what rappers are supposed to look like.
Not in the vein of the get-off-my-lawn emcees who shun everything that sounds different from their era, Pusha has embraced being a rapper’s rapper, refusing to deviate from the ease that he displays in combining vivid storytelling with a cloak of brazen confidence — an attribute new UFC two-division champion Conor McGregor would likely approve of. The performance proved to be a double-edged sword because while the Pusha T fan in me gladly recited witty rhyme after witty rhyme, the casual fan looking for big thrills may have been underwhelmed.
Fortunately, the larger percentage of concertgoers fell in line with the former, scrunching their faces in approval as President Pusha ran through “Crutches, Crosses, Caskets”, “M.P.A.” and more from his sophomore solo LP King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude. The show’s early highlights came during “Numbers on the Board” and “Nosetalgia”, the head-nodding, boom-bap standouts from his debut standalone album that showcase Pusha at his very best.
“20-plus years of selling Johnson & Johnson. I started out as a baby-face monster. No wonder there’s diaper rash on my conscience,” rapped Thornton, giving his LA fans the metaphorical opener they had been waiting for. This preceded the all-encompassing highlight when he took time for a brief Clipse homage with the classic “Grindin'” and the Future and Pharrell-assisted “Move That Dope” before turning his attention to the “toast for the douchebags” that changed his life.
While refusing to sing as the recognizable piano keys grew louder, the crowd happily obliged in assuming West’s echoing duties before Pusha joined the party, rapping the standout verse on “Runaway” that he acquired by being as greedy to work as he was thankful. Promising that new albums from him and the rest of label were on the way, Pusha, if anything, made it clear on this night that his appetite for more will not be diminishing anytime soon.