While Pusha's hard drive is in Kanye’s hands, what will ensue is a series of production tweaks and tinkering that the rapper says is a standard part of the GOOD Music process. He's not scared to give over control of his music as it enters its finishing stages before its fall release date. As he explains, "We've had plenty of conversations about it and there's plenty of reference points so we're all tuned into what the direction should be for the album." When I ask Pusha to detail those references, he throws up three '90s hip hop long-players: Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt and Ma$e's Harlem World. So it seems a natural step to get to talking about how they influenced My Name Is My Name.
You mentioned Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… as an influence on My Name Is My Name.
Totally. If you listen to [the first single] "Numbers on the Board," that is the closest I could probably get to RZA production-wise, you know, like ever. And I told RZA that. He came to my show in Canada and he was talking about "Numbers on the Board" and he was going on about it and I just had to stop him and say, "You do understand that was the closest RZA-inspired and RZA-influenced beat that I had to pick from and I picked that beat because I thought it was something I would hear RZA do?"
Can you remember the first time RZA gave you any feedback on your music?
"If you’re giving away this as a mixtape, then what the hell do you have for the album?"
Man, you know what, me and RZA have had so many run-ins that I cannot honestly remember the first time. I just know that he's always been very informative and he's well-versed when it comes to Clipse music. Even the other day he stopped me and was like, "Man, they were playing the Wrath Of Caine [mixtape] on one of the satellite radio stations and they went through six songs and I wanted to call you and tell you if you're giving away this as a mixtape, then what the hell do you have for the album?" Dude was like, "I wanted to tell you this so bad."
I take RZA's advice, it's such a big deal. He's one of the greats. All of the producers that I'm around, they put me in a very student-like mode 'cause they're super-producers of some time period or era, and I totally respect what they've done and their capabilities and insights. Unlike a writer, super-producers see the future. I don't know what it is, but they always see something. You always have to take what they say and always listen up 'cause they really give you gems.
Have you ever had one of those super-producers suggest a beat for you to rap on, but you didn't really understand their vision at the time?
Yeah, I wasn't ready for "Niggas in Paris." That was mine.
What was your reaction to hearing it?
It sounded like a video game and I was just getting with 'Ye and I was like, "Man, why do you want me rapping over this video game when you have these dark, beautiful, haunting, moving beats? And you're going to give me the video game? I don't want the video game!"
Do you regret turning it down?
No, not at all, because I wouldn't have said what Jay-Z said on it. It turned it into a whole other song.
What did you think when you first heard the Wu-Tang Clan?
The first time I heard the Wu-Tang Clan I was with Pharrell [Williams] and we were having this argument in a McDonald's parking lot 'cause I was trying to argue him down that the Wu-Tang Clan was the Leaders Of The New School. I thought Method Man was Busta Rhymes. He was like,"“No, man, I'm trying to tell you it's something called Wu-Tang Clan!" But I was like, "No, it's not. No. This is Leaders Of The New School!" I wanted Leaders back so bad that I turned them into Wu-Tang Clan.
Who was your favorite member of the Wu-Tang Clan in those days?
Raekwon for sure. I'd say that Raekwon and Ghostface have the most timeless flows in hip hop. I saw that a long time ago. [Raekwon's] album was so nice, it was perfect, a perfect album.
What were you doing with your life at the time of hearing it?
Haha, man, you know, I just remember that these guys was ruining my life! All these guys were just ruining my influential young mind. Yup!
What did you take from Reasonable Doubt while making My Name Is My Name?
Ah, man, just some of the… (pauses) I really like some of the lyrical aspects of it, like the lifestyle. I try to give people lifestyle bars. I felt like that's what Reasonable Doubt was – it was nothing more than a lifestyle and it was the lifestyle.
I'm guessing you related to Reasonable Doubt a lot when it was released?
Yeah, completely. I mean, he was portraying this whole idea and this ideal of what a certain period of his own life was – and could be – at the time. It was aspirational, but it was also rooted in the street level.
Are there any specific songs from Reasonable Doubt that influenced your writing on My Name Is My Name?
Hell, yeah. Man, definitely "Dead Presidents" and "Can I Live." I mean, that whole introduction to "Can I Live," like the small monologue he#s doing, that just sets up and outlines what he's all about on that record. It's so tight and it's also so natural.
You also mentioned Ma$e's Harlem World, which surprised me a little.
Yep, I mean who was better than Ma$e at that time? Ma$e was just the man. I remember it was cool to me: I looked at Ma$e and I was like, "Wow, this guy is Murda Mase on the mixtapes that I'm buying, that I'm going to the Norfolk State 7-11 to purchase…" I'd drive to Virginia Beach to go and pick up these mixtapes and this guy is Murda Mase and he's doing his thing a whole certain way. Then he gets with Diddy and he's Ma$e! There was a way that he styled on the track so that he had a pop appeal but I could appreciate the juxtapose. There was what he was doing on the mixtape side and what he was doing on the pop side, and I thought he was great at that.
Do you ever dream about having a huge Ma$e-level pop hit yourself?
Um, nah, I don't wish to have a pop hit – only if it's a natural record or a natural progression.
Have you ever had a producer attempt to get you to write something poppier?
No, not with us. That doesn't happen.
Is there anything on My Name Is My Name that you think is going to surprise people?
"I think that my album...makes people want to put that S on your chest and be a superhero."
Man, I don't know if people will be surprised. (pauses) I don't think people will be surprised 'cause I gave people what they know from Pusha T and that is street hip hop. I just feel like the body of work is so cohesive and it's such a strong body of work that people are gonna enjoy it. I'm not here to say that I invented the wheel musically, 'cause I don't think I did. At the end of the day my influences were different pieces and different time periods in music and people who I consider great. So I'm just trying to do my own rendition of the Purple Tape and Reasonable Doubt and Harlem World, you know? I don't think people are gonna be shocked – I just think they're gonna see my references for hip hop and my passion for hip hop. Hopefully they'll be able to put this album up with some of the ones I've just said. I made an honestly flawless album, I believe.
You've said you think it's already the hip hop album of the year. Why?
Because I feel like I'm the only one of my peers – and I'm talking about my rap peers – I feel like I'm the only one who is into car music and car music is that energy. A lot of people make good albums but I think that my album really harnesses the emotions and makes people want to put that 'S' on your chest and be a superhero. To be the man and ride past your neighborhood four times with all your windows down blasting the music. That's what I feel my music is, and I feel that energy is missing in hip hop and I'm thinking that I'm gonna bring it back with this album.