The Virginia rapper talks music, family and why he hates being in the studio, as he shuts down London’s 180 House
Wednesday 24 August 2022 By Sagal Mohammed
‘I hate the studio. I try to be in and out of there as fast as I can,’ admits Pusha T. It’s a change in tune for the hip-hop heavyweight, who has spent most of his life dedicated to the hustle – be it on the streets of his hometown in Virginia, as a teenage drug dealer, or the president of GOOD Music, the record label founded by his friend and long-time collaborator, Ye (previously known as Kanye West).
Since becoming a family man – with the birth of his first son, Nigel Brixx, in 2020 – Pusha’s time has become more precious than ever. Gone are the days of late-night recording sessions and hours spent on the set of video shoots. Instead, he’s only interested in a work-life balance that favours his family and makes his time on the clock more intentional. ‘I’m no longer here to play,’ he tells me, minutes before hitting the stage at 180 House in London for an intimate live performance. ‘My time is very important right now – my wife and son have made me focus more on music when it’s music time, so I can get back to them as soon as possible.’
Focus isn’t something the rapper, born Terrence LeVarr Thornton, has ever lacked – a quick glance at his career over the past three decades is proof: four studio albums, three Grammy nominations and a slew of regular collaborations with the likes of Jay-Z, Pharrell Williams and Ye are just a few of his achievements – not to mention the acclaim of Clipse, the late 1990s rap duo he formed with his brother Gene Thornton (aka No Malice). Earlier this year, Pusha’s latest album, It’s Almost Dry, earnt him his first number one on the Billboard 200 chart, cementing him once again as a connoisseur of the genre. But where did his relationship with music begin?
Here, he reflects on moments that made him the artist he is today…
Can you plot the exact moment when you first discovered your love for music?
‘It started when I was really young, maybe four years old. My sister used to work at a record store and I really loved her. At the time, she lived in New York, and my brother and I were the only siblings in my family who moved from New York to Virginia back then, so my sister would send me records. We used to break dance to these records – she sent me UTFO’s “Roxanne Roxanne”, and I thought it was the greatest thing ever. From there, my love of music grew and my passion developed from watching my brother who was a writer, even at a young age. The love for it just grew and it has never stopped since; I just love everything from grooving and dancing to rapping.’
What was the first album you ever bought?
‘I can’t say there was the first album I ever bought, but there’s an album that I have stolen repeatedly – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx by Raekwon. I stole it from people’s cars, stores, everywhere and anywhere I saw it, I took it.’ [laughs]
Do you still listen to it?
What’s your comfort track?
‘Records like “Groove Me” or “I Like” by Guy are comfort tracks for me.’
Do you ever listen back to your own music?
‘No, I don’t. I don’t even listen to my features – I’m always on to the next. As soon as I finish it, I play it for three or four days and that’s it. I’m done with it.’
Who are your key musical influences?
‘The Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z, 1000%. Slick Rick, just the East Coast energy and the East Coast swag, that’s what I gravitate towards. It’s just classic and timeless.’
If you could play one instrument that you don’t currently play, what would it be?
‘The drums. Drummers are like the coolest people in the world, everybody loves drummers. I wish I was one.’
If you had to pick a soundtrack to your life, what would it be?
‘You’d have to do a medley of all my albums, because all of them have parts of my life in them. But if I had to pick one song, it would be “The Games We Play” from Daytona [his 2018 album].’
Name the artist you’re most excited about right now and why.
‘There’s a kid by the name of Red Veil. He’s really good, he’s from Maryland and he raps. He’s new but fresh. He’s a real artist.’
What’s your pre-performance ritual?
‘Prayer. I always pray before I go on stage, always. That’s my only ritual. ’