Pusha T has the entire Kentish Town Forum in the palm of his hand. He’s just welcomed us to “the ‘Daytona’ experience” – named in honour of his critically-acclaimed third studio album – and the cheers, no, the roars are deafening.
The 41-year-old Virginia Beach rapper should be more than familiar with this kind of reception, especially after the year he’s just had. The compact excellence of ‘Daytona’ – which he recorded with Kanye West as part of the latter’s Wyoming album sessions earlier this year – has been rightly hailed as his best work to date, earning Pusha his first ever solo Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album. The former Clipse member has also spent the past 12 months engaging in an entertaining tête-à-tête with Drake (a bout he definitely won with the knock-out ‘The Story of Adidon’), overseeing the slew of Wyoming album releases in his executive role as the President of G.O.O.D. Music, and finishing up the year with a victory lap of major tour dates to toast his numerous successes.
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Pusha may still not be a household name over on these shores, but a long-sold out crowd of his “core” fans – the people who Pusha recently told Genius he was speaking to on ‘Daytona’: “It’s just a testament to me speaking to my core fan base, and I talk in cryptic code… Some people, it goes right over their heads” – are all eager to witness an artist who is indisputably at the top of his game. In truth, Pusha probably could’ve sold out a bigger venue than the Forum, but the relative intimacy of the theatre plays to the rapper’s advantage as he strolls on to the stage to start the show by delivering a ferocious a Capella version of ‘If You Know You Know’’s first verse: welcome to ‘Daytona’, everybody.
Much of ‘Daytona’’s modest 21-minute run time is aired during a packed setlist, from the gruff majesty of ‘Hard Piano’ to the celebratory swing of ‘Come Back Baby’. “When I say ‘Daytona’, I’m talking the rap album of the motherfucking year,” a defiant Pusha exclaims at one point about his latest record as the DJ drops an explosion sound effect to emphasise his argument – well, we all know who he’d be voting for if he were on the Grammys’ judging panel.
The attention Pusha has received this year hasn’t solely attracted well-wishers – naturally, when you pick a fight with an artist as big as Drake, there’s bound to be some people who won’t buy into the King Push hype. This was proven last month when Pusha’s Toronto show – Drake’s hometown, of course – was interrupted by stage invasions, arrests and serious injuries. The impact of that chaotic gig appears to have had a lasting impact on Pusha, who has employed not one, not two, but three glaring bodyguards to watch over him during the performance – with one of his personal security team shadowing his every move at the back of the stage.
And while there’s no obvious revival of his distaste for Drake’s talents – bar the vicious and ominous ‘Infrared’, which of course kicked off the whole saga back in May with allegations of ghostwriting – there’s no hint of insurrection at all from a loyal crowd, who buy into the rapper’s self-proclaimed “Pusha T movement” throughout the show. Career highlights such as the punchy ‘Numbers On The Boards’, ‘M.F.T.R.’ and the Clipse classic ‘Grindin’’ all get heads bopping, while a swift tour through some of Pusha’s renowned guest verses – we’re talking ‘Runaway’, ‘New God Flow’, ‘Mercy’ – sparks pandemonium in the standing section.
Pusha closes his main set with another reminder of just how good “the ‘Daytona’ experience” is, most notably in the brash back-and-forth of ‘What Would Meek Do?’ (shout-out to the DJ who didn’t cut the song before Kanye’s “Poop, scoop! / Whoop! Whoopty-whoop!”). But, as he triumphantly saunters off stage with all three bodyguards closely in tow, it soon becomes clear that only a mere 35 minutes has elapsed since he first came on stage. Sure, he returns for a quick encore – including a frenzied ‘I Don’t Like’ and belligerent set closer ‘Drug Dealers Anonymous’ – but the evening is declared to be done and dusted after just 45 minutes: much like ‘Daytona’, it seems like the Pusha T live experience won’t take up too much of your time.
But while there is a pervading sense of deflation over the short run time of tonight’s performance, it doesn’t detract too much from the immense satisfaction gained from spending time – even if it wasn’t especially lengthy – with one of the best rappers operating in the world right now. Long live King Push.