Pusha T Details Grindin’ A Clipse Breakup Into Putting G.O.O.D. Numbers On The Board (Video)
Today, Pusha T is president of one of Hip-Hop’s most recognized labels of the last dozen years. He’s launched enduring fashion brands, committed himself to causes and charities, all in the path of a career built on elite Rap lyricism. In the latest episode of The Blueprint, King Push’ sits down with Complex Editor-in-Chief Noah Callahan-Bever for a deep conversation about his creative and business acumen, and turning points in a roller-coaster of a career.
Pusha says that he Timbaland was working with his brother and onetime partner Malice (nka No Malice) in high school. Tim’, Mal’, and Pharrell Williams are all of a similar age. “They would all go down to the oceanfront and just rhyme in a circle.” He says that an exuberant Skateboard P sought out Malice, wishing to collaborate on something greater than outdoor cyphers. “Timbaland leaving [by] going to work with Jodeci and all that is what made room for my brother and Pharrell to connect.” At that time, Pusha was not rapping. A lifelong fan of the music, he began to exercise his MC talents by mid-high school. In those days, Push’ would skip school to link with The Neptunes at Chad Hugo’s mother’s home. Once a spectator, he stepped in, only to discover he possessed talent. Watching Push write quickly, while Malice was a slower songwriter led the Star Trak Records founder to suggest a “Cain & Abel”-inspired pairing.
Push’ says The Clipse would eventually be signed exclusively based on The Neptunes’ success for other artists, including Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Elektra, O.D.B.’s label, accommodated a hit-making producer who helped them. After their debut was left shelved, Push’ says at Arista Records, The Clipse cherry-picked Pharrell and Chad’s best beats for 2002’s Lord Willin’. He also says that thanks to fans and a plethora of $1,500 spot dates, that “Grindin'” took off before Arista ever marketed it. Based on grassroots success, label CEO/president L.A. Reid reportedly threatened to fire staff if they could not take the Clipse breakthrough to a charting level. The record entered the Top 30 on the pop charts and #10 on the Rap bracket. Follow-up single, “When The Last Time” did even better in both rankings.
Later in the conversation, Pusha says that his understanding of labels eventually led him to be banned from the Jive Records building, after one executive urged the rebounding duo to pass on a 106 & Park appearance. “I blacked out…I was angry,” he remembers of the period. “I called up there, giving terroristic threats—I mean, that’s what it read,” he says with a laugh.
It is here that Pusha T opens up about transitions for The Clipse. He admits that chasing multiple audiences for 2009’s Til The Casket Drops was a challenging move. In the 2000s, a new crop of fans online appreciated the group, whom he calls “Clipsters.” Part of the third album strategically marketed to them, and an audience Push’ and Mal’ particularly wanted. “That was 2009. And at the time, everybody that I came into the music business with was indicted on a federal drug charge. Every friend, every person in a video, it was like nine of them [were part of the indictment]. They were all day-one with me and my brother, just part of what is the makeup of The Clipse. Period,” he details. “I feel like my brother attributed a lot of what went wrong in the music business to how things turned out for them. At the time, we were all making money together; we were in all in the music business. When you stop for four years in the music business, you gotta go back to gettin’ money the best way you know how. And those guys were experts.” He continues, “It hit everybody hard. But I think it hit [my brother] a little bit harder because families are involved, children are involved. I don’t have children; he has children. He has children that play with their children. It’s different for him; they go to Bible study together. He sees it a lil’ different. I feel like he was over it.” Pusha recalls his brother giving him a hand-written book of his text, Wretched, Pitiful, Poor, Blind and Naked, while they were in a hotel room, moments before a show. With it, he encouraged Pusha T to pursue solo interests.
N.C.B. asks if Pusha challenged the decision affecting one of Hip-Hop’s most beloved 2000s groups on albums and mixtapes. “I don’t question my brother about anything. He’s my older brother,” he adds with a chuckle. “I don’t think I’ve ever questioned him, one time, about that.” Pusha T says that The Clipse declined recent six-figure offers to perform Hell Hath No Fury surrounding its tenth anniversary. “I just recently got the nerve to ask him, ‘Yo, do you want to do it?…we’re talkin’ about [$800,000] right now. That’s worth stoppin’; we ain’t even sold no merch’ yet or nothing, but you know where it can go?’ And then he says, ‘Nah, I don’t want to do it.’ [Pauses] And I’m like, ‘Okay.'”
While Til The Casket Drops may live in the shadow of its two predecessors, that album contained a key that opened doors. “After that murky record Til The Casket Drops, soon after that…I think Kanye [West] or [manager] Don C., somebody loved my ‘Freedom’ verse…they reached out for me to come to Hawaii [for] My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy time, ‘G.O.O.D. Friday’ time.” He said previous to that, he’d known West as a “decent” and “likable” person, following meetings and a Clipse collabo’. However, it was creatively that the two men bonded. “I’ve never had someone open up an album to me that was theirs. He was like, ‘Hey, this is my album. I like how you rap. You can write to anything on this album. If it’s great, it’s great. If it’s not, it’s not. But you can have it. Here, take it.’ So ‘Gorgeous,’ all these great records, I’m just writing verses for. Now mind you, we’re in Hawaii. The day starts off early. We play basketball every morning; we eat breakfast together every day. It got to the point…once I realized that he was really letting me do what I want, like really write to his whole album—to everything I thought was great, I skipped basketball everyday. I stopped eating breakfast with everybody. I didn’t [partake]. That turned into seven verses. [Those] got trimmed down to two: ‘Runaway’ and ‘So Appalled,’ which is fine. [Laughs] I was good; two out of seven is great.”
Pusha says that during that experience, ‘Ye invited him to the label, and eventually appointed him as the label president. Since 2010, Push’ released two albums and two mixtapes while with G.O.O.D. 2013’s My Name Is My Name debuted at #4, matching a pinnacle achieved with Lord Willin’. Notably, when asked later in the discussion about his proudest success story since his 2015 tenure began, the Virginia native points to Desiigner.