O+ Audio: Pusha T - "Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude"

Ahead of his forth coming album, supposedly releasing next month, we take a quick look and see how this man is surviving.

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The number of rappers who've been able to maintain a critical and commercial buzz beyond one hyped album is surprisingly minimal. In October 2013, Complex put together a list of MCs who'd managed objectively successful five-year runs within the 40-year-old genre, and came up with just 20 names, nearly all of which were big: Tupac (1992-1996), The Notorious B.I.G. (1993-1997), Kanye West (2007-2011) and Drake (2009-2013). It's a cut-throat game, one in which being outshone by a guest-spot on your own track is enough to get you demoted from blazingly hot to shamefully not.

Which makes 38-year-old Virginia native Terrence Thornton a.k.a Pusha T something of an outlier. First catching hip-hop's collective ear as one half of Clipse on the 2002 hit 'Grindin'', Pusha T has hardly put a foot wrong since, staying relevant by ignoring prevailing trends, never succumbing to nostalgia, and continually honing that world-class flow: calm yet vicious, minimal yet intricate.

The clunkily titled 'Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude' was perhaps intended as a stop-gap, before 'King Push' – the 'official' follow-up to 2013's acclaimed 'My Name is My Name' – is released in next month in April 2016. It collects together tracks Pusha considered too out-there for the more commercially-minded 'King Push', and features the best in the game producers such as Kanye, Timbaland and Diddy going deeper, bleaker and weirder than they might usually. 'Darkest Before Dawn' is by no means a cynical exercise in squeezing a few dollars out of B-list studio off-cuts, however – it's as cohesive, bracing and head-swimmingly thrilling as any hip-hop release of 2015.

Opening track 'Untouchable' sets the tone: over a chilling, broken beat, Pusha lays out his position as a nothing-to-prove veteran capable of out-thinking artists half his age:

Yeeugh, I drops every blue moon, To separate myself from you kings of YouTube”.

The hook is derived from a sample of Notorious B.I.G.'s verse on New York rapper Pudgee's 1995 single 'Think Big'. Going verse-to-chorus with The Greatest Rapper Of All Time takes serious belief in your own abilities, but over a succinct 10 tracks (clocking in at just 33 minutes) Pusha proves himself worthy of the implied comparison – not a syllable goes wasted, no flex feels undercooked, and when a beat needs space to breathe, Pusha allows it just that. Belying its also rant-billing, 'Darkest Before Dawn' is a minor masterpiece of dark, smart, modern hip-hop.

Let's also talk about Pusha's artwork. Photographed in 6 different countries by Fabien Montique under the careful direction of Kanye West and his elusive creative agency DONDA, a short zine comprised of 60 images was also released accompanying the album. More info can be found here.

Here are DONDA's alternate album covers created for Push.

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Words by Joe Khalifa.

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