We have Kanye West to thank for this. After close to 15 years spent as the more interesting half of Clipse, Pusha T has refashioned himself as a solo artist, asking you to take interest in what amounts to mediocre Clipse songs with only one rapper. Kanye signed Pusha to his G.O.O.D. music label after his star turn on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (more on this later), and since his brother Malice is content to spend his time atoning—via biographies heavy on religion—for his sins, we have this, Fear of God II: Let Us Pray.
Unlike most Hollywood sequels, Fear of God II isn’t coming out because the first was so awesome: In fact, the first Fear of God met the collective meh of the rap cognoscenti, which sent Pusha back to the drawing board. He carries over the five “best” tracks from the first version, and bolsters them with seven new cuts that have been focus grouped via 2 Dope Boyz comment sections, with only slightly better results. Pusha is still—intermittently—the best coke rapper with the Neptunes on speed dial, but it finds Pusha in the laidback, smiling rapper he was in 2009 when Till the Casket Drops flopped.
The masterful Hell Hath No Fury always gets bandied about in relation to Clipse (it’s the album they’ll never top), but that’s because Clipse aren’t the same anymore. The anger at their label circa 2006 made their verses as sharp as Ginsus, and without the label pushback and the vitriol, Pusha is just a solid rapper with an ability to shoehorn a coke reference into any verse. On Fear of God II, where he used to bring trouble, Pusha only has “Trouble on My Mind.” Where he used to consider the transition from Cavalli furs from Pyrex stirs, he tries to convince everyone “I Still Wanna” sell Kilos. Where he used to share space along also-rans like Slim Thug, now he’s spending time alongside also-rans like French Montana, who appears twice here (actually, that last one is a wash).
Mostly though, Pusha seems lost. He’s out on his own, apart from his group, and out from under the watchful eye of the Neptunes, who had more than a fair share in Clipse’s successes. So it’s not surprising that the best stuff here—“Trouble on My Mind,” with some highly bloggable verses from Tyler the Creator and “Raid”—are Neptunes productions. The best of the rest—“So Obvious,” produced by Bangladesh, and “Alone in Vegas,” a Nottz production—hew closely to the Neptunes’ premade style for Clipse: the airplane hanger drums, and needling, vaporous synths. There must be something that happens chemically, because when Pusha gets into those empty spaces, he’s as good as he gets.
But then there’s Kanye West. Thanks to his appearances on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Pusha was given a second career as Kanye’s running buddy. But throughout the weaker moments of Fear of God 2, you can’t shake the feeling that Kanye maybe buried Pusha by using him the way he did. Pusha served as Kanye’s wailing, unhinged id, articulating the darker side of Kanye’s impulses: “24/7, 365, pussy stays on my mind,” etc. Kanye gave Pusha a new context, but also destroyed any chance of a career relaunch. After all, what can you possibly do when someone employs you solely to be the antithesis to his overly self-reflective ego?