If you love rap music, you already like the guy — but Pusha T is still fighting for his big moment.
“This is my time, this is my hour,” the rapper sneered at Echostage a few ticks before 1 a.m. Sunday. “This is my pain, this is my name, this is my power.”
That 20-word promulgation also kicks off “My Name Is My Name,” the Virginia rapper’s first proper solo album after the unfortunate evaporation of Clipse, a beloved rap duo that Pusha T formed with his brother Malice in the ’90s.
The brothers’ 2006 album, “Hell Hath No Fury,” stands as a 21st-century rap classic and a postcard from when hip-hop was first migrating from America’s streets to America’s blogs. Since the duo’s split, Pusha T has signed with Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label, making him a deputy to a pop superhero who has famously described himself as “the nucleus.”
But if we’re talking about rap music exclusively, Pusha T might be the nucleus. His 20-song performance at Echostage felt like a crowd-pleasing salvo delivered from the very center of hip-hop.
He was street and pop — recounting his years in the drug trade and more recent trips to Hawaii to collaborate with West. He was north and south — a streetwise enunciator whose scoff resembled a drawl. And at 36, he is both a veteran and an underdog whose audience spanned hip-hop’s fractious generations.
Above all, he was a physical performer, poised in his restlessness, assigning each syllable a fresh gesture with his fists or face. His eyebrows often signaled the punch lines he was about to land, and during “Millions,” a gloomy tune about the wayward paths to riches, his arms pantomimed the pistons that might get him there.
Pusha T has been exploring similar themes for years — the dangers of the crack trade, its parallels in the rap game and the angry God who’s been watching over him the entire time.
During “Pain,” his wordplay was boastful and fabulous — “Eighteen-wheeler gorillas / Black with gold chains / Pitch bird like Steelers / Hines Ward of the crime lords / Running through this money screaming, ‘Encore!’ ” — but quickly clotted into paranoia and shame, and concluded with a prayer: “I hope God gets the message.”
Throughout his time onstage, Pusha T remained reverential to higher powers and to West, performing their collaborations “Runaway,” “Mercy” and “So Appalled.” Clad in a black T-shirt and a backward ball cap, he didn’t have any of West’s high-fashion theatricality, but he had all his verbal tenacity.
“Numbers on the Boards” — a song co-produced by West and the finest track on “My Name Is My Name” — provided the set’s pre-encore finale and its highlight, with a monotone bass pulse serving as the song’s hypnotic through-line. Over it, Pusha T rapped with a cool confidence that comes with experience, sneakers firmly planted in rap’s bull’s-eye.