Forming an appropriately nuanced opinion for My Name is My Name has been very tough. I’ve been trying to digest this album for weeks. It would have been easy to dismiss it as a collection of boring drug-rap songs along with some desperate reaches for radio play, but I knew that it had to be more than that. Or more accurately, that was my hope. See, I like Clipse a lot. And with Malice going all born-again, Pusha is my best hope for continuing their lyricist drug dealer shtick. But my worry was that without Malice’s wittier wordplay, Pusha’s materialistic tendencies might get monotonous. So is MNIMN more than boring drug-rap? Yes. Read on to see how much more.
First off, MNIMN is definitely, only, about the drug-dealer lifestyle. Well…mostly. Like almost every other mainstream album that I write about, it suffers from an identity crisis. But at least the crisis here only lasts for one song: “Let Me Love You” featuring Kelly Rowland. Surely we can all appreciate Kelly’s voice. As usual, she sounds wonderful, even when singing these empty lyrics. Rather than centering on Kelly, the burning questions of this song all revolve around Pusha: Why did you put a girl-song in the middle of this drug-dealer album? Why are your lyrics so bad?! And why the fuck did you JACK Ma$e’s ENTIRE STEEZ on this song?! By entire, I mean ev-er-y-thing: voice, flow, style of beat, cute R&B chick on the so-so hook, cassanova-yet-I’m-still-a-dog style, everything! This song should not exist, especially not on this album.
Now, with that rant over, let’s forget about the-song-that-shan’t-be-named. I was saying that MNIMN is all about drugs. Pusha literally talks about nothing else. But why should he? His hook has always been that he (supposedly) really does/did sell dope, and that that’s what separates him from all his peers who have the exact same topical focus. (For the sake of readability, this writing will now assume that this claim of Pusha’s is true.)
But this focus on drug-selling reality isn’t what makes MNIMN interesting. It’s the attention to detail. For example, you can’t help but get the idea that Pusha couldn’t care less about mainstream morality after hearing the album. That point is driven home in “Noseltagia”:
We don’t drink away the pain, when a nigga die
We add a link to the chain, inscribe a nigga name in your flesh
We playing on a higher game of chess
Once you delegate his bills who gon’ fuck his bitch the best?
What a masterfully stark and emotionless illustration of where loyalty begins and ends in Pusha’s reality. Pusha neither indicts nor celebrates this mentality. He just simply describes it as the way this “chess game” is played.
Another good song, “S.N.I.T.C.H.,” is an outstanding piece of storytelling. Pusha’s former partner has been arrested and decides to help the authorities to decrease his own punishment. Pusha, still on the street, realizes this during their calls because certain things don’t make sense, such as the friend’s reluctance to hang up (because he hasn’t yet gotten any incriminating info out of Pusha), and his calm speech pattern (if he didn’t already have a way out jail planned, he would likely be more audibly angry.)
These songs prove Pusha to be a better writer than most of his peers. I’m not convinced that reality is what makes him superior, but who cares?! Good music is good music!
Unfortunately, those songs are the outliers on MNIMN. The other songs aren’t nearly as focused on what makes Pusha worth listening to. Talk of private jets and brand names infect nearly every other song, along with cliches that fail to pass for insight. Glimpses at depth are thrown away, e.g. on “Hold On”:
they tipping the scale for these crackers to win,
no reading, no writing, made us savage of men
they praying for jail but I mastered the pen
descended from kings, we at it again
just hand me the crown, I’m active again
The idea of “The Man” holding Black people down is overused, but I’d be semi-interested in hearing Pusha explain how racism influenced his life choices. Instead, he offers no such explanation. What could have been an interesting topic is left dangling.
Besides the lack of lyrical focus, MNIMN just isn’t very entertaining. Pusha’s wordplay did not impress me nearly as much as it has in the past. None of the album’s featured rappers did anything special, not even Kendrick Lamar. His delivery on “Noseltagia” is nice but I’m completely over the lyrics-as-drugs metaphor. Another thing that ruins MNIMN‘s sound is the number of sung hooks, most of them terrible. Future (aka “Struggle Falsetto” on 2DopeBoyz.com) is grating as usual, as is Kanye’s overlong autotune gibberish. But The Dream’s whiny falsetto takes the cake for hardest feature to live through. On top of that, I found most of the beats to be very boring with their slow tempos and dark tones, “Suicide” being the only worthy exception. That bass-heavy beat carries the merely ok lyrics and creates the only genuinely fun song on the album.
Marlo Stanfield (of HBO’s The Wire) used the phrase “my name is my name” to say that his credibility on the street must be maintained in order for his drug selling business to succeed. By using the phrase, Pusha is noting the same relationship between his street credibility and his business, hip-hop. But he fails to make an adequate case for this claim. In fact, Pusha’s decisions actively undermine this reality theme. He claims a criminal life but features Rick Ross, a confirmed former Correctional Officer, on “Hold On.” He admits that he grew up with both parents but doesn’t explain how, despite that better than many upbringing, he still fell into crime. He glosses over his feelings about Malice’s new religious direction. Real life is rarely examined in detail, nor does it seem to be a musical priority.
So, because the case isn’t made, I have to presume that I should accept the idea because the music is good. But it isn’t, it’s actually pretty monotonous. A few songs better than a collection of boring drug-rap. So if My Name Is My Name is the epitome of reality as Pusha claims, then I’ll gladly take more music made by liars.