The Best 21 Minutes Of Rap You’ll Hear In 2018?

PUSHA T generally raps about two things: His previous life as a cocaine dealer and dead-eyed ruminations on excess.

As the president of G.O.O.D Music and an associate of Kanye West the latter is something he’s assumedly surrounded by quite a bit.

There’s a cold confidence to his voice on record that separates him from the contending pack. If not quite “top five” (as he refers to himself on ‘What Would Meek Do?’), at least one of modern hip-hop’s most malleable and consistently great rappers

As it stands, third album Daytona is the antithesis of most hip-hop records in 2018. It’s stripped of the streaming-royalty led bloat that has consumed almost every major release of the last three years and bereft of the variety of voices and features those albums also have.

The edict on brevity is one shared by Kanye West’s recently released Ye. Both albums feature seven tracks and clock in at an EP-length 21 minutes (Daytona) and 23 minutes (Ye).

There’s three voices heard on Daytona: Pusha, a resplendent Rick Ross feature on ‘Hard Piano’, and a Kanye verse on ‘What Would Meek Do?’ that verges on self-parody. (“Will MAGA hats let me slide through the drive-thru?” is a bad, bad line).

It’s a successful move, and one that contributes to Daytona’s innate listenability, keeping the focus on Pusha’s cadence and virtuosic elocution. There’s lines here that most rappers would kill for. When he spits, “I’m too rare amongst all this pink hair” on ‘Hard Piano’, it does more to rebuke Soundcloud rappers than anything J. Cole said on ‘1985’ in one scathing line.

He also comes across on Daytona as insanely petty, unafraid to take shots at Drake, Weezy and Birdman on ‘Infrared’. His rap beef with Drake is mostly reliant on both sides sending invoices back and forth and some surprisingly good diss tracks from both parties. (For the record, ‘The Story of Adidon’ beats Drake’s ‘Dupy Freestyle’ by a long shot.)

There’s a consistency in Daytona’s production, helmed in full by Kanye West and featuring the chopped soul samples that he’s mastered for several years now.

As controversial as Kanye’s 2018 has been, it’s pleasant hearing him take a back step for once and (mostly) let Pusha be the star of Daytona. He seems content to focus on finding clever samples (his use of The Mighty Hannibal’s ‘The Truth Shall Let You Free’ on ‘Come Back Baby’ is brilliant) and let his natural chemistry with Pusha T’s voice do the talking.

It’s tempting to contrast the chopped production on his own Ye to Daytona. While the albums undeniably share DNA, Ye’s cacophony of sounds and styles (often in the same song) and constant guests are the polar opposite to Daytona’s laser-guided stylistic focus.

Part of Daytona’s conciseness is a product of Kanye’s intuitive sense of tasteful production, and as the first taste of his many upcoming production jobs – including the just released Kid Cudi collab ‘Kids See Ghosts’ – it passes the test with flying colours.

There’s a consistency in Daytona’s production, helmed in full by Kanye West and featuring the chopped soul samples that he’s mastered for several years now.

All of which places Pusha T in a strange place contextually within rap music”: too interesting and modernistic to be a legacy rapper; too forward-thinking to be an ‘old head’; and yet old enough, at 41, to be a parent of the current generation of Soundcloud rappers.

His recent attempts to crossover to the pop landscape by working with EDM producers Major Lazer and Tiga have been met with limited success and ambivalence, and Daytona sounds like a sonic reset for him as a rapper, with a renewed sense of focus and a more finite palette (plus less drops).

There’s nothing on Daytona likely to impact the charts, or become a cultural phenomenon like his new nemesis Drake’s recent stream of singles. But the album’s exploration of Pusha’s on-record persona is both rewarding for listeners since the Clipse days as well as a solid entry point for new fans.

Daytona also works as a monument to succinctness. The album’s 21 minutes immerse you in a murky, 808-filled world that’s as claustrophobic as it is unrepentantly bleak. It’s unclear how true-to-life the drug stories and kingpin fantasies on Daytona truly are, but there’s zero nostalgia present in these retellings: only an auteur’s eye for detail and an unsparing outlook on how to survive in modern America.

While Daytona is by no means a subtle collection of songs, its compact nature (more rap albums under half-an-hour please!) and the lack of listener fatigue present is arguably its greatest strength.

On Daytona, Pusha T (and Kanye West) have made a solo record with as much weight, gravitas and artistry as they’ve always threatened to. And as the first act of G.O.O.D Music’s stacked summer of releases, it couldn’t be a better introduction.

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