As Walter White would surely tell you, slinging drugs is a dirty job. But if you're going to do it, own up and do it right. On his new album, "My Name Is My Name," rapper Pusha T does just that, boasting that he "sold more dope than I sold records" with the pride of Heisenberg, and using musical sounds as glistening and well-crafted as his underground lab.
The debut solo record from half of the duo the Clipse and member of Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music collective is hard and minimal, filled with state-of-the-art beats that pop with bravado. A masterful rapper, Pusha's flow contains multitudes: He hints at Mase on "Let Me Love You" by moving through lines with a similar rhythm, and does the same with fellow Virginia rapper Missy Elliott's flow elsewhere. He does this not as mimicry but as verbal nods to the big history behind him, one he's pushing forward with an ear for just-weird-enough beats that can soothe one minute and shock the next.
Pusha T's barbed style is best known for his verse on the hit with the G.O.O.D. crew "Mercy," and such slithering delivery is replicated within the best tracks on "My Name." He's a self-proclaimed "cocaine cowboy" who's "punished by karma" on "40 Acres," rapping about a generation "born to mothers who couldn't deal with us, left by fathers who wouldn't build with us."
That track was produced by the-dream, and rumbles with his trademark velvet hammer rhythms. The menacing beat that simmers through "Numbers on the Boards" suggests clicks-and-cuts minimalism; midway through, it twists into a four-bar knot, shifting keys for a quick second before reverting back to normalcy.
An artist who has thrived when rhyming on other artists' work, Pusha is equally generous with his time. "My Name Is My Name" features appearances by Kendrick Lamar, Kelly Rowland (on the radio-ready jam "Let Me Love You"), 2 Chainz, Pharrell, Chris Brown and others. "Hold On" thrives on a high-pitched snare, sibilant high-hats and a relatively gentle piano melody serving as anchor. Featuring Rick Ross requesting that his people "bury me inside a glass casket/Windex wipe me down for the life after," the track was produced by West and his regular collaborator Hudson Mohawke.
The album's haunting highlight -- and one of the best hip-hop tracks of the year -- is the last one. Called "S.N.I.T.C.H.," it thrives on understated tension as Pusha and guest vocalist Pharrell recount an interaction with an old friend who had decided to become a police informant. It's the perfect conclusion to a consistently surprising hip-hop album.
"My Name Is My Name"
Three stars out of four