Not many artists could start their show with the riotous “Don’t Like” and keep up the intensity throughout, but Pusha T has made a career out of breathing fire over vicious instrumentals. He had his work cut out for him after local MC Benny Banks created a vacuum of energy and joy with his thankfully brief warm up set, though the veteran rapper didn’t seem to have any problem waking up the crowd at The Garage in Islington.
His lyrical proficiency has allowed him to rap almost exclusively about the manufacturing and distribution of cocaine without getting boring for over a decade, but it’s his ferocious delivery that really makes him stand out and he spat his most venomous bars as if his worst enemy was standing right there in the room. He went acapella for “Your Favourite Rapper” – a vivid reminder of his triumphs and a withering put down to any young pretenders – before going straight into “Exodus 23:1”, his alleged Drake diss track. The loud cries of “fuck Drake!” made it clear how the audience felt about the matter.
The 35-year-old (!) briefly took it back to the beginning and rattled through some verses from the Clipse catalogue, but this was really a showcase of his material since signing for Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music two years ago. It was slightly disappointing, as he’s never quite scaled the heights of his Clipse work since, despite several moments of greatness. One of those moments, “New God Flow” (a song that manages to live up to that brilliant title), got the loudest reaction of the night as the entire audience seemed to rap along with every word. One of Cruel Summer’s other highlights, “Mercy”, closed the set and received another wild response, even if it is a little odd to hear it without 2 Chainz’ career-making verse. If a G.O.O.D. music tour ever happens then it’s going to be a serious problem. Just know that.
As impressive as the Virginia native’s performance was, a few irritations took some of the gloss off. Between songs he spouted rap cliches about hustling and being from the streets, which quickly wore thin for this Journalism graduate who is definitely not about that life. Just in case you weren’t familiar with any of Pusha’s material, his DJ helpfully played a “STRAIGHT FIRE” sound effect straight after each song so you knew exactly what to think. He was also very liberal with his use of Flex-bombs, which took all of four seconds to become incredibly annoying.
The gig clocked in at around an hour, before a half-assed encore. The DJ played the wrong song, Pusha forgot his own lyrics, sections of the crowd had started to make their exit. It was a mess, but it didn’t overshadow what had come before.