When Pusha T goes off at his most throaty and aggressive, you’d never know he’s actually 35 years old — on most of the tracks from his new mixtape Wrath of Caine (intended to tide fans over until the release of his debut album My Name Is My Name later this year) he sounds like a young and very angry Kanye or like Kendrick Lamar with the addition of strep throat and a shot of horse tranquilizer. The essence of the 11 tracks on Wrath, too, seems to be the product of someone far younger, and, unfortunately, less mature than a 35-year-old. Pusha T has had a few albums’ worth of experience as part of the rap duo Clipse, but on Wrath, his first solo release to catch the public eye, he sounds extremely green.
Wrath goes off in one’s face like buckshot. There are loads of spoken-word introductions and interludes from a hysterical Jamaican woman and a growling man who repeats “My name is my name!” at random points. There are prominent features on almost every song, though it turns out to be the less famous guests who shine: Rick Ross’s verse on lead single “Millions” is raucous and repetitive (as is the song itself), and Chief Keef only holds the Young-Chop-produced “Blocka”, which is the most ignorant (and probably the most fun) track on the mixtape. By contrast, Kevin Gates (whoever that is) shines on “Trust Me” with both a stellar verse and a stellar hook. Wale and French Montana also make appearances; the latter’s hook on “Doesn’t Matter” is hysterical, though too profane to quote here.
In short, these songs are all over the place, sometimes too similar to each other to stand out (see “Take My Life” and “Only You Can Tell It”), other times too experimental and undeveloped to sound like anything more than a prolonged advertisement for MNIMN. This comes out most notably in “Revolution” and the strangest (and strangest-named) song I think I’ve heard in 2013, “Liva-Re-Up Gang Motivation”, which doesn’t seem to feature Pusha T whatsoever.
Come to think of it, there are only a few songs that stand up to “Pain” (the lead single from MNIMN) and past Pusha T feature verses: those are “Road Runner” and “I Am Forgiven”. On both of these songs Pusha develops a religious theme (“Lord Father, I don’t mean to be a bother / I’m just prayin you’ll protect me on this road / while I get this dough”) that meshes strongly with the Revelation-type anger of his flow. On all the other songs he gets religious, too, but often digresses quickly into drugs, disses, and spittle-laden pronunciations of the n-word.
When he branches off into these oft-covered topics, his flow still stays spry, and it’s still recognizably Pusha T, but songs like “Doesn’t Matter” don’t have any gravity, or, indeed, anything but a brief novelty. I know Pusha T can do better, and I suspect he wasn’t giving his all on Wrath of Caine. In fact, this strange fireball of hits and misses hasn’t even made me worried about MNIMN (we could call this the Gran Turismo 5: Prologue of Pusha T’s career). So there you have it. You can’t win ’em all. Score: 6/10.
Jake Bittle / A&E Editor