Pusha T began talking up his solo studio debut album, My Name Is My Name, many months before its release by announcing widely he had recorded the official rap album of the year. When I interviewed the ex-Clipse man ahead of the project, he reiterated the claim with sincerity and also told me that it was inspired by accepted prior rap classics from Jay-Z (Reasonable Doubt), Raekwon (Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…), The Notorious B.I.G. (Ready To Die) and Ma$e's Harlem World. There's an obvious folly that such self-aggrandizement can back-fire — this was off the back of the hullabaloo about Kendrick Lamar's good kid m.A.A.d. city being anointed as an instant classic (and whether such a plaudit can even exist). But more than misguided confidence, what jars for me about Pusha's bow on Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music label is a lack of hard-headed artistic stubbornness. It's strangely lacking in the self-contained, blinkers-on vision that defines classics and it leaves My Name Is My Name falling frustratingly short of its architect's claims.
As early as Pusha's first verse on the opening song, the sonically menacing “King Push,” he distances himself from most of the major label rap world in terms familiar to anyone who's obsessed over the Clipse's discography: “I rap, nigga, 'bout trap niggas/ I don't sing hooks.” It's a defiant and invigorating stance and the sentiment carries through to “Numbers On The Board,” a song whose main motif is a vicious and ceaseless bass-tone ( the RZA/Raekwon chamber of the project). But then he gradually begins to back-track on his own sentiments and the album frays. “Sweet Serenade” contains — yep — a hook from R&B misanthrope Chris Brown that adds nothing to the song or overall ambit of the album. The otherwise affecting “40 Acres” is a rap confessional that then becomes something like a lost song from the Garden State soundtrack thanks to The-Dream's emo-crooning on the chorus; “No Regrets” employs Kevin Cossom to turn a team-up with Young Jeezy into an anthem for only a Jersey Shore club night. Early on, it leaves My Name Is My Name with an unsatisfactorily uneven tone: The visceral power of the stripped-down and Wu-Tang-esque “Numbers On The Board” is tempered by these saccharine hooks. It's like two worlds colliding uneasily.
It's as if every time Pusha comes close to writing the album as his own emotional personal classic, a lingering doubt creeps in and, oh, look, now Big Sean's on “Who I Am.” It's a song that again dallies with capsulizing Pusha's brilliant appeal as he spits, “Always knew I could rule the world/ Let's define what my world is/ Knee deep in this dope money/ Damn near where my world ends.” But it ends with Big Sean's (possibly contractually obligated) ramblings derailing the threat and power of the song. When Jay and Rae crafted their debut classics, they conjured up a considered tone with judicious use of guest artists: Reasonable Doubt called in Jigga's mentor Jaz-O and young cohort Memphis Bleek; Raekwon teamed up with his natural spar Ghostface. Those albums worked by giving the listener a secret peek inside their architects' guarded worlds. There were no outside guests present to burst the experience. Pusha may name those projects as inspirations behind My Name Is My Name, but he's strayed from following their endearingly closeted appeal.
Perhaps there's a huge financial pressure involved in recording for G.O.O.D. Music that accounts for some of the unsatisfying commercial looks here, but if Pusha could have taken one cue from his label boss it's to believe in nothing but his own vision. Kanye West's Yeezus may not appeal to all — and personally I would not willingly want to sit through any of it again — but it leaves you with the impression that it's the album Kanye wanted to make, whatever his motivation and motives are. But My Name Is My Name leaves me wanting to take a digital knife to it and scalp out the parts that sabotage its potential classic status — the parts that seem like they should be on the cliched major label rap album rather than the solo album of one of the world's most clinical and gifted rappers. Pusha came close to fulfilling his pre-release promise here, but unfortunately it seems he was scuppered by outside influence. Next time, nothing but the uncut please.