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Lessons Learnt

Rap’s Last Superhero: Focus, Timing & Branding Lessons from Pusha T

Over the past 20 years, Pusha T has had the most focused rap career out of any of his peers, building up a brand and audience with pinpoint precision and consistency.

Yuugh, I drops every blue moon
To separate myself from you kings of the YouTube

Pusha t – untouchable (King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude, 2015)

On top of being one of my favourite rappers of the past decade, Pusha T has been a beacon of light when it comes to learning about building and maintaining a strong brand, focusing on what you do best, and staying connected to the culture.

Lessons Learnt is a series by Balance the Grind profiling individuals, brands or companies that inspire us. For more profiles, check them out here.

Lesson 1: Understand your brand and serve your core audience

More than anything else, Pusha’s vision of his brand and understanding of his core audience is the number one reason for his longevity and sustained success. In his own words: Pusha’s music and brand is high taste level luxury aesthetics combined with drug and street raps.

No-one in the world is better than him when it comes to delivering coke metaphors mixed in with Milan fashion senses.

Pusha also understands that his success today is because of his core audience. New fans may have discovered him when he collaborated with Tyler, the Creator, or partnered up with Kanye, but it was his core audience who kept the Pusha T brand alive when the Clipse were going through label hell and had to put out mixtapes to survive. It was his core audience who showed up at clubs like the Knitting Factory rapping along to every drug-drenched line.

While his music has certainly evolved over the past 20 years – from rapping on top of Neptunes bouncy street funk to now dropping bars over Kanye’s twisted soul samples – the core essence of Pusha as a rapper and writer has remained consistent.

I really make music directed at my core. And I believe that my core is a core based around lyricism and quality. There’s a certain level that they look to achieve when they hear my music.

Pusha t – Untouchable lyrics | Genius

Lesson 2: Stay on top of the trends and connected to to the culture

Many artists of Pusha’s generation have failed to sustain the same level of success for the past two decades because they didn’t stay up to date with the culture.

Even though Pusha understands and caters to his core audience, he also realised that he can’t be stuck in the mid-2000s; trying to crank out hits with The Neptunes for 20 years just ain’t going to cut it, no matter how dope of an artist you are.

By keeping on top of trends in music and technology, and connected with the culture, Pusha has managed to stay competing with the younger generation. Case in point: when his cold war with Drake finally escalated to a public war of words, it was the 40-year old street rap veteran who gained the upper hand, not the 31-year old pop star who was known for his grip on youth culture.

Everything about Pusha’s response “The Story of Adidon” was cold, calculated and surgical: the four-day waiting time, the photo of Drake in blackface as the artwork, the scathing disses, the use of OVO’s signature “6” tag, the revelation that Drake had fathered a son with former pornstar Sophie Brussaux.

The song spread like wildfire, and isn’t long before lines like “You are hiding a child” were all over the internet and remain etched in hip hop meme culture. It got so bad that Drake had to tap out of the conflict. Not bad for a rapper who started his career in 1992.

Rap is about coming on the block with the newest shoe, outfit, sweater on, and being like, ‘Look, you all know what this is, you don’t got this. I got it first.’ That’s what rap is to me. And I feel like you have to speak about things in a certain way. Sometimes it’s killing off brands, sometimes it’s all of that energy, it’s competitive. It’s a super-competitive energy.

Pusha-T Is Definitely Enjoying This | Vanity Fair

Lesson 3: You’re not on anyone’s timeline, but your own

Since his solo debut in 2010, Pusha T has dropped: three albums, one EP, two mixtapes, and one group album (2012’s Cruel Summer with GOOD Music). Seven projects over 10 years. Some rappers drop seven projects over one year (what up Curren$y?).

In a music landscape where artists are dropping albums, mixtapes, singles, videos, guest appearances non-stop, ultimately over-saturating their brand, Pusha plays the ultimate quality vs. quantity game.

Pusha pours hours of his life into every single line of his lyrics and it absolutely shows. While his latest album, 2018’s Daytona, wasn’t a big seller or chart topper by any measurement, the project was one of the most culturally important and impactful releases of the year.

Complex magazine named Daytona the best album of 2018 (and Pusha the best rapper of the year) while other publications like Esquire, Billboard, Rolling Stone, NPR, NME and The Ringer all had the project placed highly on their end-of year lists.

Daytona represents the fact that I have the luxury of time. That luxury only comes when u have a skill set that your confident in.

Pusha-T Details New Kanye-Produced Album DAYTONA | Pitchfork

This has been the most important lesson for me to digest over the past few years. When it comes to my career, life milestones, even building up Balance the Grind, I’ve come to realise that I’m not on anybody’s timeline but my own.

I’ve stopped caring about what other people are doing and focusing on myself, and most important, stopped comparing my behind-the-scenes with someone else’s highlight reel on Instagram.

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About Author

Balance The Grind gives me a platform to talk to these people about how they're achieving their ideal lifestyle. I'm inspired by the passion, the work ethic, the hustle; and these conversations motivate me to live life the way I want to live it.