It should be Pusha T’s moment. In May, the 41-year-old released the flawless, sculpted “Daytona,” the best of Kanye West’s “Wyoming Sessions” productions and the pinnacle of the rapper’s solo career. Then why did his Friday-night concert at Echostage feel less like a celebration and more like a retrospective?
Let’s run it back. While “Daytona” is a master class in Pusha’s exquisitely detailed drug rap, it will perhaps be remembered for its Marvel-sized stinger, the hookless, shots-firing “Infrared,” a song that rope-a-doped Drake into reigniting the ashes of the pair’s dormant feud. After an uninspired volley from the Canadian superstar, Push returned fire, digging up a photo of Drake in blackface and dropping a truth bomb: “You are hiding a child.” Drake didn’t respond again, and Push scored a TKO, or maybe a DQ.
Then Drake waited a month, let the Internet cycle spin and released the overwrought, 90-minute slog “Scorpion,” going platinum in a day and sucking up all the oxygen in the room. Pusha T had won the battle but lost the war.
On Friday, Pusha still looked ready for war, in all-black tactical gear with his braids tied back, but he was fighting an uphill battle. Like “Scorpion,” Echostage has the ability to engulf: Even with a thousand-plus crowd, the venue can feel sparse, its energy dispersed.
Pusha has been turning lyrical Pyrex stirs into Cavalli furs for years, and he knows how to perform live, which isn’t always a given in a hip-hop scene overrun with pink-haired teens. Still, his electricity and an economy of movement weren’t always enough to charge up a crowd full of his head-nodding peers. He may be the self-described “Kim Jong of the crack song,” but as Friday turned into Saturday, his subjects started to flag.
That didn’t stop Pusha from running through his catalogue with precision, playing the entirety of “Daytona” along with past singles, such as the lopsided boom bap of “Numbers on the Board,” and the trio of Kanye West collaborations that helped launch his solo career, “So Appalled,” “Runaway” and “New God Flow.” The lone nod to his time in brotherly duo Clipse was “Grindin’,” the 2002 classic with the iconic table-pounding beat.
Toward the end of the night, Pusha performed “Infrared” as red lights scanned the crowd. It passed without incident or crowd work; Pusha had no more shots for Drake. He returned for a brief, perfunctory encore, ticking off his contributions to Future’s “Move That Dope” and “Cruel Summer” singles “Mercy” and “Don’t Like.” On the last one, Pusha came for frauds and fakes, boasting, “My pen’s better, you don’t write, trendsetter, you clone-like.” No one can knock Pusha T’s bona fides, but whether going up against Drake or too-big venues, sometimes there are only pyrrhic victories.