With a few missteps, ‘It’s Almost Dry’ is Pusha T’s musical victory lap
The album capitalizes on its renowned producers to combine powerful lyrics with versatile sound.
Among fans of hip-hop, Pusha T’s reputation precedes him. Since the early 2000s when he and his brother No Malice formed the legendary hip-hop duo Clipse, Pusha T has enjoyed consistent acclaim from fans and critics alike. The most recent subject of this acclaim was his album “Daytona” — released as part of a series of five albums produced by Kanye West which were released on consecutive weeks during the Spring of 2018. For many fans — myself included — the soulful instrumentals and uncompromising lyrics of “Daytona” seemed like hip-hop heaven, and it was hailed as one of the best albums of 2018 and the 2010s. Naturally, I was elated when Pusha T announced “It’s Almost Dry,” his first solo release since “Daytona.”
Impressively, “It’s Almost Dry” manages in large part to live up to the expectations of its predecessor. Much of this is attributable to the way this release follows a formula familiar to its artist that has proven itself successful before. For one thing, the production of “It’s Almost Dry” shares the quality and focus of “Daytona.” Every song on the album was produced by either Kanye West or Pharrell Williams, both legends in their own right in the field of production. Their instrumentals — widely diverse yet consistently intricate and immersive — give the album’s songs the same vibrancy and intrigue of its cover. “It’s Almost Dry” is a musical triumph as Pusha T remains true to his gritty lyricism’s roots but elevates with a new innovative sound, led with thoughtful production collaborations.
The beats behind the two promotional singles for the album, “Diet Coke” and “Neck and Wrist (feat. JAY-Z and & Pharrell Williams),” illustrate both the diversity and texture of the album’s instrumentals. In typical fashion for Kanye West, “Diet Coke” features a looped soul sample laid over a catchy piano riff as Pusha T talks triumphantly about his days in the drug trade. “Neck and Wrist,” meanwhile, features Pharrell Williams’ characteristically heavy drums, which backs a synth line that sounds as though it was imported from another planet.
“Brambleton,” the album’s opening track, features another electric Pharrell instrumental, with the same pounding drums now complemented by an electric piano that is both eerie and enticing. It is the perfect backing for the track, which features Pusha T’s threatening and emotional lyrical attack toward his former manager, Anthony Gonzales. By contrast, “I Pray for You (feat. Labrinth and MALICE),” a collaboration between Pusha T and No Malice which closes the album, has a Kanye West beat with all the grandeur of a religious ballad. The song’s organ riffs and ethereal vocals of a chorus make it sound like a track off of “JESUS IS KING,” West’s 2019 religion-inspired album. These beats — along with many others — speak to the album’s remarkable instrumental texture. Despite being produced by just two people, the versatile sound of “It’s Almost Dry” never once feels predictable.
Pusha T’s lyricism also adheres to his common formula, both in structure and theme. On each track, he retains his trademark slow and articulate delivery. I found myself hanging onto every word and syllable. This was an accomplishment in itself, as it means that the project fully and genuinely captured my attention.
Beyond his delivery, though, were the lyrics themselves, consistently gritty and intimidating. On many tracks, Pusha T feels like a larger-than-life figure: Whether it is the rap game or the cocaine trade, he makes it clear that he sees himself as a seasoned veteran, deserving of his audience’s utmost respect. A perfect example of this is the track “Just So You Remember.” Lyrics like, “brick by brick, we kept open dealerships / seein’ you rappers apply for the stimulus / mitch by mitch, we built up our villages/ livin’ a lie, but die for your images,” make it clear that Pusha has no reservations about delineating what he sees as real from fake — and he looks down upon those who are in the latter category.
The only places in which “It’s Almost Dry” falters are those where Pusha T deviates from this successful formula. I noticed this deviation most toward the album’s middle; here, it occasionally feels as though he is attempting to make concessions to contemporary trends in hip-hop. The most obvious example of this is “Scrape it Off,” his collaboration with famed trap crooners Lil Uzi Vert and Don Toliver. The sound of the track is unsurprisingly flavorful and catchy, and the two featured artists complement each other vocally. My problem, however, is that Pusha T does not complement them. Amidst a track that sounds tropical, bubbly and radio-friendly, Pusha’s gritty vocals sound noticeably out of place. No artist on the track performs poorly, but their dissonant styles are a critical hit to the album’s cohesion.
The track “Rock N Roll,” featuring Kanye West and Kid Cudi, encounters a similar problem. Cudi and Kanye’s notorious chemistry, as well as the fast and upbeat instrumental, make the song sound like a leftover from the two’s 2018 collaborative album “Kids See Ghosts” (another product of Kanye’s spring 2018 run). This is not to say that Pusha T fails to deliver on the song: Instead, his slow flow and blunt vocals make it feel like he is delivering to the wrong location. By stepping away from what makes him so successful, Pusha T loses the precision that I think makes his style so enthralling.
These small aberrations, however, do not outweigh the album’s triumphs. Even these tracks, just like the others, embody the musical and lyrical prowess that make Pusha T a beloved figure in hip-hop. Raw, passionate and concise, “It’s Almost Dry” displays a legendary rapper succeeding at what he does best, telling brutal tales of drugs and hip-hop with a confidence that would leave the most reticent listeners engaged. If “Daytona” was a reference to the famed auto race, “It’s Almost Dry” feels like Pusha T’s triumphant lap around the course.