In the last two weeks we’ve been given two hip hop albums that show the divide in the genre. From the production to the lyrics, and even the confidence in ones work, there is a gap. Though technically his first solo record was the 2011 mixtape Fear Of God, it was in 2013 that Pusha T released his true solo debut My Name Is My Name. It was easily in my top five hip hop albums of the year, my only grievance being the constant features (it’s your first solo record, take control!). The point I want to make has less to do with the excellence of the record as much as it has to do with Pusha’s confidence in it. He came out and said that he released the best hip hop album of 2013 and even though I disagree (Run The Jewels!), HE meant it. I love that attitude. He followed by saying, “My goal is to always have ‘hip hop Album Of The Year’”, which is basically saying that he will do what it takes to take himself to that next level. Then we have Kid Ink. Do you think he even considers himself talented when compared to his peers? Let alone someone who is capable of album of the year? It’s possible he’s contented with making hip hop music for people who don’t actually listen to hip hop (Flo-Rida I see you!) and that’s ok…maybe…ok no, it’s not ok. If you truly have respect for your craft and your music, shouldn’t you be hungry to be great? To achieve? To make an impact? Sure you have listens, you have popularity, but what about respect? The respect of my peers and the people that I look up to would be my only goal. In that regard Pusha is surely rich, while Kid Ink is reduced to a beggar on the street.
As for the albums themselves, we’ll start with Pusha’s The Darkest Before The Dawn: The Prelude. Unfortunately it dropped a few days after I compiled my Top 50 Albums Of The Year but know that it belongs in the Top 20. No question. Pusha comes at you with no fluff, reliving his days of dealing and all the consequences that world had to offer, both good and bad. Right off the bat you know his vibe and where it will take you. The album is dark, moody, and hits hard. He’s got something to prove. With production from some of the industries heaviest hitters (Kanye, Timbaland, and Sean Combs), you’d think this album being good was about as sure as a sure thing can be. But, as we’re proven time and time again, a good beat isn’t enough to make your music a success. A perfect example of that would be the 2014 A$AP Ferg single “Doe-Active”. This track might have had my favorite beat of 2014 then Ferg had to step in and absolutely butcher it. Every time I hear it I can’t help but wonder what that song could have been in the hands of someone capable. Regardless, props to Stelios Phili on the production, that drop is ON POINT.
This is what makes Pusha’s album so good, he doesn’t just embrace this music, he inhabits it. While some rappers rely on a great beat, Pusha relies on his verse and makes that great beat better. It’s a beautiful thing, hearing an artist fuse seamlessly with his production. On the opening track he spits, “The only great I ain’t made better was J. Dilla” and based off this album I can’t help but agree. My favorite producer/ artist collab here has to come from Combs, who delivers a badass intro for Pusha to deliver his thesis and then come through later with my favorite track on the album, “Keep Dealing”, which sounds like something out of Dan the Automator’s book of beats when he made Deltron 3030. There’s so much to love here but you know what the absolute best part is? This thing is only a prelude to his main event, 2016’s upcoming King Push. Brace yourselves.
Now, let’s talk Kid Ink. Essentially I said all I need to say above. It’s obvious that I neither enjoy nor respect him as an artist so let’s just get on with it. Now, this isn’t the worst hip hop album of the year…actually I can’t honestly say that for sure. He also released the monumentally average Full Speed in January. I’ll get back to you. I will give him this, the album isn’t ALL bad. The transition of “That’s On You” into the closer “Time Out” had me running it back again. Smooth as anything I’ve heard lately. Still, on the whole the album is run of the mill. With pop music, the most important question I ask myself is, “Could this song be performed by anyone else or did the artist truly put their stamp on it?”. I need to know that there is a uniqueness to your work. From the heart of your lyrics to the sound that defines you to your vocal ability. With that approach in mind, my conclusion is that Kid Ink is simply uninteresting, yet somehow he retains a broader fan base that of Pusha, and quite a few other rappers that are worth your time as well. Am I surprised? Not at all. Am I disappointed? You bet. Though he’s been hard at work this year, I have to wonder how much “work” went into this. I actually am kidding. Releasing two full lengths in a year is no small feat and I respect the devotion to his music. I also realize that I’ve been a bit of a asshole in regards to my word choice but as a fan of rap, and he must be, how can he not want more from his music? Respect your craft.