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The precipitous rise and fall of ‘Pushin P’

Gunna, Future and Young Thug made the first great song of 2022. Then it went bad.

Gunna arrives at the “RtA x Gunna Super Bowl Store Event” last month in West Hollywood, Calif., as his song “Pushin P” was high on the charts. (Ari Perilstein/Getty Images for RtA)

Hit singles don’t come stamped with expiration dates, but it’s hard to remember a greater song with a shorter shelf life than “Pushin P,” a highly perishable little masterpiece from Georgia rappers Gunna, Future and Young Thug that went extra-viral almost instantly upon its release, Jan. 7, A.D. 2022. The hype came fast thanks to a social media campaign involving the letter-P emoji, plus some low-stakes intrigue surrounding the unknowable meaning of P itself — and from that magic swirl of linguistic mystery and pictographic fun, Gunna’s latest album, “DS4Ever,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. But two months after the song first appeared, we might as well be talking about a Spartan general who died at Thermopylae.

“Pushin P” went too viral. Once those little blue P tiles started self-replicating all over social media, the corporate accounts couldn’t resist poking their fingers into the ambiguous new slang. “We had an internal meeting, and without getting into details, we’re pushin 🅿️ all year,” Nike tweeted, math-teacherishly. “We’re always pushing 🅿️ancakes,” tweeted IHOP. Deep in January, a Fox Weather meteorologist referenced “Pushin P” while forecasting a cold front in Texas. You could feel the song becoming uncool on your skin. On and on it went, until Feb. 24, when Gunna himself tweeted in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: “We Pushin 🅿️eace.”

So P stood for peace now? Sure. For Gunna, the success of “Pushin P” requires that the true meaning of P remain imprecise. “Being Loyal is definitely P,” he tweeted the day before the song’s release, framing P as a state of being, that, when you try to square it with the lyrics, seems to involve an espousal of integrity and the ownership of multiple German sports cars. But whatever P means, there’s always going to be plenty of room for interpretation, which makes for the kind of fun that feels big and broad enough for anyone to join in. That’s probably why so many listeners got over “Pushin P” as quickly as they got into it. Nobody wants to share their favorite new song with pancake people and the weatherman.

All that said, “Pushin P” doesn’t deserve to go down in history as some case study in hype-cycle shrinkage or the half-life of cool. Over a Wheezy beat that seesaws between digital comet dust and ghosts playing cello, Gunna coaxes his forebears into an alliterative gymnastics routine for the ages. Future uses a wet palate and a dry throat to propose a new form of pansexuality by minting the word “pesbian.” Young Thug nearly crosses Sesame Street — “Three Ps, pop, pourin’, Porsches” — but ultimately finds the way back to his native Twilight Zone. And here are some other p-words that appear within two enchanted minutes, many of which have never been handled more delicately in a rap song: Peace, piece, pint, pills, pointers, Portuguese, presidents, private, paranoid.

What if P means P? If words are containers for meaning, rappers have spent 40-plus years expanding those containers, changing the shapes in their minds and mouths, making them more capacious and complex, occasionally swapping out the contents altogether — a tradition going all the way back to “Not 'bad’ meaning ‘bad,’ but ‘bad’ meaning ‘good’!” and even further. Here, Gunna, Future and Young Thug continue that beautiful work, steering a parade of meanings into a single letter: P, meaning good, but more than that, too.