The most commonplace commendation for Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury—their instantaneous lightning rod of an album from 2006—was that it was the musical version of HBO’s hit crime drama The Wire. As creator David Simon has said in the past The Wire is “really about the American city, and about how we live together. It’s about how institutions have an effect on individuals, and how… whether you’re a cop, a longshoreman, a drug dealer, a politician, a judge, [or] a lawyer, you are ultimately compromised and must contend with whatever institution you’ve committed to.” “My name is my name” is a line uttered by the young, ruthless drug kingpin Marlo Stanfield from the show. The quote derives from Stanfield’s enragement when he learns that someone had been discrediting his street reputation and insists that when released he will reestablish his name. The quote speaks tremendously about the character’s demand for unconditional respect even while he’s locked behind bars. His reputation, his name, trumps all other concerns.
Barring a track or two spread across a total of twelve My Name Is My Name hath no plot nor implication that anything presented is taking place outside of Pusha T’s own mind or that he even acknowledges other people’s existences. As a matter of fact, the most accurate comparison for My Name Is My Name is not the aforementioned The Wire nor the character of Marlo Stanfield but the short-lived musical crime drama Cop Rock: pigging out on not-clever-enough-by-half quips/brags and slapdash references instead of developing an interesting narrative, characters, resonance or just about anything that might make a subsequent partaking more pleasurable than the last one. And mostly because it rose to prominence due to a vacuum (hot off the success of creator Steven Bocho’s previous show Hill Street Blues/what many called the best featured artist on Kanye West’s critically acclaimed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) rather than bringing anything fresh to the table. On the sheer scope and promise of its mission statement alone My Name Is My Name would receive generous plaudit here but then there’s the execution that greatly falters under the breadth of its lofty convictions. It’s quickly becoming evident—that after three mixtapes and one full length studio album—Pusha is incapable of holding his own as a solo artist.
All Pusha knows is moving product, whether its dope or music. He’s been doing it all of his life. And by having just a barcode on his debut full length, the message is clear: that’s all it is to him, just another sale. With that being a Pusha T specialty and dope being his milieu My Name Is My Name dubiously doesn’t cook it up very well. Pusha’s hallmark literary eye and strident street poetry that has made him such a commodity in the world of drug raps is flaccid at best on so many of the tracks and he doesn’t go a long way in giving the album some extra depth. With the abrasive one-two punch of “King Push” and “Numbers on the Boards” opening the album and being the unquestionable standouts the rest of the album is left to merely hold your interest for the remaining 40-minute runtime. A seemingly simple feat becoming greater in difficulty for rappers with each of their project’s passing. You can add Pusha T’s My Name Is My Name to that exhaustive list as the songs encapsulating those next 40-minutes are as brittle and half-baked as the drugs he tirelessly raps about. “I’m still a snow mover/ Blow harder than a tuba,” he raps on “Suicide”. Hearing that line and knowing Pusha’s background you’d figure that he’d be giving you some pure, unadulterated, grade-A stuff. But instead what he is peddling is a weak product. Less baking soda and more of that signature white, Pusha. Thanks.
And don’t think I’m letting Kanye West off the hook, either. Pusha T self-inflicts enough of his wounds but it’s the genuine lack of intuition and moxie from the album’s executive producer Mr. West that turns My Name Is My Name from aimless to downright infuriating. Despite the best production contributions on My Name Is My Name (“King Push”, “Numbers on the Board”, “Who I Am”, “Pain”) arriving via Kanye’s own direct input, he is still given the executive producer credit. Furthermore the album is under his GOOD Music imprint, which chiefly puts Kanye as a tastemaker of sorts on here. To generate some extra buzz, Kanye himself even went off on an impassioned (and obviously inebriated) speech about Pusha’s new record, concluding the harangue with “we make good music!” One particularly conspicuous error in My Name Is My Name—and this is even before you even hear a single note—is it’s clearly overstuffed with features. Not to my surprise, looking over the track listing again—with the aforementioned first two tracks being the standouts—they are also the only two here without a feature attaché. Take the utterly befuddled Kelly Rowland featured “Let Me Love You”, a noticeably cheap early 2000s R&B/hip-hop crossover love ballad; from the embarrassingly kitschy looped piano beat, to Rowland’s passionless hook, all the way up to Pusha’s laugh out loud, almost too on-the-money imitation of Ma$e. With Kanye as the executive producer you would think he would help Pusha avoid this kind of mistake.
In recent years Kanye’s GOOD Music has gone from being noted for its forward-thinking, genre-bending and consistent sound, and quality output to releasing less than stellar overall projects. Kanye, who once held a firm, almost obsessive grasp on reinventing and shaping artists close to him (see: Common’s 2005 comeback album Be) is potentially losing touch with his hands on approach when working with others. If he can’t be there physically, he should certainly be there in spirit. And there’s really no excuse as the two were working side-by-side in same Parisian recording studio on their respected albums (Kanye on Yeezus). Pre-Kanye Pusha T (and his brother who currently goes under the alias No Malice) had the market cornered on what was once considered “bangers” as it’s hard to imagine any rapper that wouldn’t have killed for the first crack at the beats from the Lord Willin’ “Intro”, “Ride Around Shining” or “Keys Open Doors”. We’ve been rooting for Pusha and company since the days when the “Grindin’” beat hit the tables in every public school cafeteria in unison across the country. But when it comes to picking producers for others Kanye is quick to showcase that he has short arms and deep pockets. Consequently, beats that merely pass by without distinction on My Name Is My Name become highlights for the blooper reel; “Hold On” sounds like it was defaced by a CD error, whereas “Sweet Serenade” is an endless, mind-numbing sample of a vocal choir you can find on the most elementary digital audio workstation. And did you hear “40 Acres” and think to yourself: “King Push was meant to destroy beats like this?” Your prayers are answered.
When My Name Is My Name hits, it hits lean, immediate and commanding while also restraining its musical ambitions. There’s nothing better in rap than hearing the lyrical marksman Pusha at his most cathartic; with his boisterous syntax, rhymes and attitude over chilling, foreboding beats. The way his wiry, sharp voice breathes life into resonant, unexpected images and themes is something that’ll leave rap wordplay purists in arrant wonderment (“Vultures to my culture/ Exploit the struggle, insult ya/ They namedropping ’bout caine copping/ But never been a foot soldier”). Fittingly “Numbers on the Boards” recalls a deconstructionist’s take on the Neptunes “Grindin’” beat in all its starkly monochromatic self that’s every bit as cold, mechanistic and disdainful. The metallic jitter of the drums must have clicked immediately in Pusha’s cerebral cortex because the second they start he delivers an icy and intoxicating bit of arrogance that perfectly compliments the bassless interzone—where the only sounds presented are a couple bucket-drums and a monotonous ringtone. Even when he’s unfocused, his characteristic way of building rhymes makes for an interesting listen. Pusha fits an even, metered cadence to his rumpled and half-unhinged street corner legend persona. Layering line on top of line— with sly, squinty-eyed menace—he usually pauses for a brief snicker and a few expletives before launching into another slick sequence. It’s truly a shame Pusha doesn’t always play up his strengths like this because had he done so more often then we wouldn’t be left with an album littered with subpar tracks like “No Regrets”.
Pusha T had all kinds of potential for inspiration on My Name Is My Name; a new label affiliation, actual promotion, press releases, first stab at a solo commercial album and the chance to fire back at those who thought Pusha was being trampled by the march of time. There was also the opportunity to finally fire shots against the top competitors he’s been contending with on a grand scale. Hip-hop is, after all, a culture built on flexing your verbal muscles, machismo and bravado so backing down, or losing a battle could be extremely detrimental to an artist’s career. One slip-up and you could find yourself with a one-way ticket to obscurity. He has called out top dogs Lil Wayne and Drake in the past, which could be described as an irresistible impulse killings after a career fraught with shelved albums, agonizing stints in label purgatory, and critically acclaimed commercial flops. Here Pusha T should be tactical—fully armed, strapped to the teeth with an arsenal—ready to attack with a complete disregard for anyone standing too close to the intended target(s). Pusha—who has always waxed nostalgia over the days of unfaltering greatness and the aspiration to get ahead in the game through hard work—sadly doesn’t do a convincing job showing us he cares about those ethos.
My Name Is My Name—with its bloated features list and polished, by-the-numbers production—largely feels like a safe move to promote a wider fanbase and ultimately sell some records. Whereas early Clipse projects felt like they possessed a living quality, Pusha T’s solo efforts feel like they’ve been sitting in lukewarm bathwater. Pusha’s road to My Name Is My Name should be the real life projection of Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver; doing endless pushups in his dingy apartment, peering out the window, biding his time and getting hungrier by day. If ever there was a time for Pusha to make good on all his underdog promise, this is it. Unfortunately now with his newfound recognition, chart successes and award nominations that had eluded him while in the Clipse, Pusha is evidently a whole lot easier to root for when he’s losing.