It could be argued that 2018 belonged to Pusha T.
The 41-year-old Virginia rapper and president of Kanye West's GOOD Music label unleashed Daytona — an impenetrable lesson in focus and flow. The West-produced opus earned Pusha T a seat at many a best-of table, as well as a Grammy nomination, and Complex hailed him as rapper of the year. He provided several peak pop culture moments when West swapped Daytona's cover art days before its release with a disturbing $85,000 photo of the late Whitney Houston's bathroom, littered in drug paraphernalia, and when he ignited a feud with Drake.
"How could you ever right these wrongs/ When you don't even write your songs?" Pusha says on "Infrared" — Daytona's closer and the lyrical assassination of the "Hotline Bling" rapper, addressing the rumors that Drake shops his songwriting to ghostwriter Quentin Miller. The two emcees would swap savage diss tracks that kept both of their names trending on Twitter well past the release date of their respective albums.
But Pusha is putting Daytona in the rearview ... as well as Drake. And pretty much everything that happened last year. Looking ahead, he wants to talk less, do more. And he's focusing on the music and not just his own, but collaboration and mentorship, which is why he's aligned himself with premium 1800 Tequila and the first iteration of the 1800 Seconds project.
The project found Pusha T curating a selection of 10 up-and-coming emcees from across the country — and two Detroit artists, including Metro Times' artist to watch Sam Austins and rising star Monalyse. Over the course of a seven-day recording session at Westlake Studios (Michael Jackson, Aaliyah, and Frank Ocean), Pusha T coached each of the artists, all of whom came ready to work with an arsenal of their own material. The result? A 30-minute compilation showcasing the efforts of the collaboration, as well as a short film documenting the process.
When we catch up with Pusha T before his daily studio time, it is a week before he is set to host an 1800 Seconds showcase at the Garden Theater in Detroit, where he will perform with some of the album's featured emcees.
Metro Times: How did you get involved with the 1800 Seconds project?
Pusha T: It was just the perfect match for everything that I have going on — something that I believe in, and me having that A&R energy and that executive type of energy going into the second chapter of my career; it just made sense.
MT: Having a mentor like you had to blow their minds. But you probably learned something from them, too.
Pusha T: You have to realize that I'm a student and an artist that came into the game in the late '90s, early 2000s. My whole energy was trying to get into the record business. Leave from Virginia and go to New York every week and you know, have label meetings, trying to get signed. These kids that 1800 and myself handpicked, they're so self-sufficient. They've come into this with amazing music. They've come with videos, and video concepts. They come with their own producers and their own production houses and their own image. For me, that's just inspiring just to see, because it's something that I didn't necessarily do. So I'm learning what to even look for in new artists. These kids are so self-contained and so driven, they really putting the pressure on other artists that come across.
MT: What would an opportunity like this mean to you when you were coming up?
Pusha T: I was lucky enough to have friends who were just that musically skilled — you know, the Neptunes. I was lucky enough to have my brother who was a writer for as long as I can remember, just having an older brother who is just that good. A project like this, you know, I guess you could say we sort of had them in the forms of mixtapes and that's how people would get discovered. But at the same time, during that time, it was a very New York-driven industry and being from Virginia, I couldn't necessarily get on those mixtapes. It didn't happen that often for us. So we had to take a longer route, but if we had a project like this, man, we definitely would have been heard.
Listen, the fact that ... you know, we put on these showcases in New York, now we're about to do Detroit. It's a lot, man. I was basically telling everybody who was involved, like please be ready for the next wave because you're going to be heard. And I think it's good enough that people are going to want more. Don't let them down.
MT: Did you teach them how to write a diss track?
Pusha T: No, I didn't, but listen, I actually came into the studio and everybody had had music they were working on. They had a finished product, they had music they were working on, and then they even took the time and got together as a collective and created more music together. Nobody wasted a moment in the studio. And it was awesome. It was awesome to see.
MT: This time last year, you were gearing up to release Daytona, and then everything exploded. What's this year shaping up like?
Pusha T: It's all about the music for me, and just me putting out more music and getting ready to take the world over again. There's nothing scary about it.
MT: How much higher can you go from Daytona? There must be some pressure.
Pusha T: There's no pressure. It's just about being great and great at what I do, and I know that my fanbase or my family is out there and they want to hear it and they're going to get it. We can always go higher. I mean the stakes is high. You know, a lot of people are asking that question. A lot of people don't think you can go higher. We've been cooking and we're here to prove to everybody that, you know, a Pusha T, Kanye West production is ... we basically got the Limitless pill.
MT: What's most surprising about you is how open you are and how willing you are to talk about last year's Drake feud and GOOD music. Is that something you are consciously aware of in terms of your public image?
Pusha T: I said that this year I wanted to talk less, actually. I wanted to talk less, and I just wanted to execute. I felt like the one thing that we did at GOOD music was when we dropped those five albums week after week, we let people into our process. And it probably was a great experience for them to be able to see the chaos and the hectic-ness of everything, but never again would I do it.
MT: Why is that?
Pusha T: You've seen it and we've done it and at the end of the day, people don't deserve your process all the time. They don't deserve it. Just enjoy it, just enjoy it when it comes then. I've been trying to take that approach with my 2019, like I want to talk less if we're going to talk about the creativity and the 1800 experience and things like that that are just like, you know, pushing the culture forward and pushing creativity forward. But honestly, as far as the album then and when and where and how it's coming and who's doing it, I think people just need to wait and see, man. I think mystique is missing in the game, and I want to bring it back. I don't ask David Blaine to see, you know, how he does his tricks.
Pusha T will present the 1800 Seconds showcase at the Garden Theater on Thursday, March 28 at 7 p.m.; 3929 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-0888. Tickets are free, but guests must request an invite for entry at 1800seconds.splashthat.com.
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