While everyone else seems to be debating the merits of Ye or have already moved on to the Kanye-Cudi collaboration, I’m spinning Daytona for the umpteenth time. When Pusha T calls it “Album of the motherfucking year” at the end of “The Story of Adidon”, it’s not an empty boast – it might very well be. The common complaints seems to boil down to:
1. The length. At 7 tracks and running only 21 minutes, there are people who would rather classify this as an EP, never mind that Minutemen’s debut album was shorter than that or that Autechre had released an EP longer than some of their actual albums (EP7). The distinction between the album and EP has been meaningless for decades, and while we’re at it, so too is the distinction between the album and mixtape.
2. Kanye West’s guest verse. While Kanye West had a major role behind the boards on My Name is My Name and a minor role on King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude, he also (perhaps wisely) refrained from rapping on either album. On “What Would Meek Do?” he introduces Pusha T with “Niggas talking shit, Push, how do you respond?” prompting Pusha T to hand in another great verse. Then, Push introduces Kanye West similarly: “Niggas talking shit, ‘Ye, how do you respond?” And how does Kanye West respond?
More on Kanye West’s verse later, but look, if that’s all y’all have – an album too short in a genre plagued by unnecessarily long run times and one guest verse – then I think we can cement Daytona’s classic status now. Congrats Pusha, it only took you just under a decade to come up with a classic under your own name. His first few releases – Fear of God II: Let Us Pray and Wrath of Caine – seemed like an artist trying to adjust to their new environment. It wasn’t until Kanye West brought the hyper-realized dark minimalism of Yeezus to Pusha T where he felt natural – and unique. Which made sense since Clipse was Pharrell’s outlet for weirder beats, so too could Pusha T be Kanye West’s. Real talk: the cutting off of all the elements of “Numbers of the Boards” before they’re allowed to decay, and the concussive guitar grenade of “Nosetalgia” are some of the greatest beats by anyone ever. But My Name is My Name was plagued by inconsistency: between those two minimalistic highlights was pop-rap maximalism; a declaration of “I don’t sing hooks” invalidated almost immediately by a Chris Brown feature minutes later.
Some people felt like Darkest Before Dawn was a better album. More consistent, sure, both in quality and in sound, which meant it was easier to play through in one sitting. But it felt slight; an appetizer for a main course that never came, and for each great beat (“Intro”; “Untouchable”) was another that left me wanting (“Crutches, Crosses, Caskets”; “M.P.A.”). And two features from The-Dream, including a catchy chorus on “M.F.T.R.”, seemed to highlight an unwillingness to go full-blown darkness.
That’s all the reason why Daytona succeeds: it’s My Name is My Name if it dropped the pop-rap tracks; it’s King Push – Darkest Before Dawn if all the beats were “fire,” as they say. There’s no time for weak choruses, so the tracks get in, do their thing and get out. Excepting the first song where Pusha T supplies a hook that’ll rattle in your head for days and a few non-credited non-rap features (that play like samples anyway), it’s up to Kanye to come up with a few memorable soundbytes, and he does: the bluesy guitar line of “The Games We Play” (later bolstered by horns); the piano on the aptly titled third track; the George Jackson sample on “Come Back Baby.” (Actually, “Come Back Baby” might be the weakest of the bunch, with only drums and bass in the verses, before cutting to that sample and switching back again. Before you even let the track play out, you kind of already know how it’s going to end and behold: the same sample, but slightly jerked.)
On the other hand, Pusha T raps his ass off, and he’s on the shortlist of the greatest voices in hip-hop: pure menace in such a way that he doesn’t need to do anything fancy. Lyrically, he continues to rap about the one thing that he’s always rapped about: selling dope. He does it well, and I never tire of hearing new takes on the old subject (“This ain't really for you, this is for the Goya Montoya / Who said I couldn't stop, then afforded me all the lawyers”). He just keeps throwing out one-two punches over and over, before the uppercut: targeting Drake with a few lines leftover for Lil Wayne and Birdman in a single, unbroken verse in closer “Infrared.” By now, anyone who’s had their pulse on hip-hop already knows the lines “The game's fucked up / Niggas’ beats is bangin', nigga, ya hooks did it / The lyric pennin' equal the Trumps winnin’ / The bigger question is how the Russians did it / It was written like Nas, but it came from Quentin” or “How could you ever right these wrongs / When you don't even write your songs?” since they’ve culminated in one of the greatest diss tracks ever written (“The Story of Adidon,” in case anyone’s confused), so I won’t dwell on them. Instead, not nearly enough has been made on Kanye West’s outro, a perfect drum shuffle for the album to ride out on.
But Pusha T’s also funny, in an immensely quotable way: “You all get a bird, this nigga Oprah” (“If You Know You Know”), “If you ain’t energized like the bunny for drug money” (“The Games We Play”), “Wrist for wrist—let's have a glow-off / Fuck it, brick for brick—let's have a blow-off” (“Come Back Baby”) and the most obvious one: “Never trust a bitch who finds love in a camera / She will fuck you, then turn around and fuck a janitor” (“Hard Piano”). That one’s always stuck out to me, not just because of the absurd camera/janitor rhyme, but because the way the beat comes in afterwards made me think of Kanye West’s intro to “30 Hours”: “My ex says she gave me the best years of her life / I saw a recent picture of her, I guess she was right.” I bring these examples up because whenever I read that someone thinks the Kanye West feature is misplaced, I’m at a loss: they’re kindred spirits, from their love of luxury (this extends to Rick Ross too) and their quotable approach to rap. Sure, Kanye West starts his verse on “What Would Meek Do?” with a snippet of his infamous scatting on “Lift Yourself,” but he immediately follows it up with “Am I too complex for ComplexCon? / Everything Ye say cause a new debate”, and it’s so self-aware that it makes me forgive the rather lame “I be thinking, ‘What would 2Pac do’ / You be thinking what New Kids on the Block do” or “Will MAGA hats let me slide like a drive-thru.”
What more is there to say about this one? Another rare instance of an artist coming up with a classic a decade after what seemed like the peak of his career (Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury), and the only thing that could’ve made it better was if he pre-released “Infrared” so that Drake could’ve responded and we could’ve had an album with “The Story of Adidon” on it.