pusha t returns with new sounds and new sneakers
As he prepares to drop his second adidas Originals collaboration and sophomore solo album, we catch up with hip-hop’s lord of darkness about all things street, sound, and style.
Photography Eric Chakeen
There are over 500 listings of Pusha T's adidas Originals collaborative sneakers on eBay right now. The first few are ziplock bag-sealed, pristine pairs of the Virginia-born rapper's chalk white inaugural effort, released last year. But scroll down and you'll find a sleek black model kitted out with cracked Italian leather, reflective triple stripes, and a translucent sole. This midnight update is the King Push x EQT Running Guidance '93. One ambitious seller has posted a pair for $1,100 (that's $900 over adidas' retail price). Oh, I forgot to mention: the King Push won't be released for another week -- on Black Friday.
I suspect that Push himself takes a bit of dastardly delight in this eBay futures trading, as the shoe itself was inspired by his own hustling past. Born Terrence Thornton in the Bronx, Push and his family later relocated to Virginia Beach. When he wasn't making music with his older brother, No Malice, as the lyrically venomous duo Clipse, Push was, well, pushing. Never one to shy away from this slanging past on his bars: "I sold more dope than I sold records," he spit on his explosive solo debut, 2013's My Name is My Name.
"The Running Guidance is definitely an ode to hustling 90s, which I've spoken a lot about in my music," Push tells me over the phone. "Black Market is synonymous with a raw, underground aesthetic -- something that seems a bit shady, a bit underhanded." He debuted the sneaker at a party in an unmarked warehouse space in Chinatown last week. In a promotional video, he prys open a plywood crate containing the coveted kicks with a crowbar.
Though today's deals are often done digitally, hustling has long been a fixture of hip-hop style. Speaking about the early influences on his own wardrobe, Push points to the 'Lo Lifes -- a storied 80s gang completely outfitted in rare Ralph Lauren apparel that was often shoplifted from the brand's NYC outposts. Push also mentions Dapper Dan, the Harlem legends whose "knockups" lifted popular logos and applied them to custom leather creations. "The major fashion houses weren't making clothes with our demographic in mind. But Dapper Dan did," Push says. "Now, you look at European labels and they're so rap-influenced, so rap-inspired. It's like they have a hood fashion manual in their design studio," he laughs.
Although this ambition has played a key role in hip-hop fashion, street style's evolution hasn't been entirely contingent upon it. In fact, RUN DMC made history in 1986 as the first rap group to land a million dollar endorsement deal with adidas. A story which Jon Wexler, the brand's Global Director of Entertainment and Influencer Marketing, says started in the street. "The story goes that there was a local community leader in Queens who began to label people wearing Levis and adidas Superstars as 'felons.' RUN DMC made a very clear decision to dress the way they did in response to that," says Wexler. "They decided to flip that entire mentality and move style from an extension of the glam or disco vibe to the types of clothes they were actually wearing and reposition them as signs of positivity." The three-piece immortalized that point of view in the celebratory style anthem "My Adidas." After sending the track to adidas's German headquarters, the group invited execs to their Madison Square Garden performance. "They told the audience to raise their adidas in the air and 22,000 strong raised their sneakers above their head," says Wexler. "From that moment on, Superstars were forever woven into hip-hop's mythology."
Throughout hip-hop's history, the brand has established itself as a long-standing collaborative platform for the genre's strongest points of view. Think of Missy Elliott's triple striped tracksuits and sky-high lace up shell toes. Pharrell Williams -- one of Push's earliest collaborators -- has put his own rainbow twists on the brand's most iconic silhouettes. And, of course, Mr. West is presently breaking the internet with not only his boots and Boosts, but his logoless designs. "Adidas has been very trusting and very open to ideas," says Push. "They've really embraced the culture and looked deeper than sales or numbers. They allow tastemakers the opportunity to express themselves and set their ideas off."
Time seems a key component of this creative equation, and Push has never done deadlines -- especially when it comes to his music. "I drops every blue moon/ To separate myself from you kings of the YouTube," he spits on the opening verse of "Untouchable," the Notorious B.I.G-sampling single he released last week, before dropping its music video last night. The positively serpentine track is the first taste of his two-part sophomore solo album, King Push: Darkest Before Dawn. The second chapter won't be released until March or early April, but Push assures his prelude will arrive before the end of the year.
"This album is 100% for my fans. I created a whole body of work from this dark, evil, very eerie sound bed and I want to give it to my fans because I know it's what they love from me," he says. And rap's lord of darkness has enlisted an unrivaled roster to help bring this fanged fantasy to life. A$AP Rocky, Kehlani, Beanie Sigel, and Jill Scott join him with vocal verses, while Kanye West, Q-Tip, Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, and Hudson Mohawke leant their most beastly beats.
"It's an eclectic bunch, but they all got it, they all understand. These guys have a vast reach and have a vast musical discography that they can pull from in working with me, but I feel like they all dug into the deepest part of their souls, the darkest part of their souls, to give me these records," he says. Perhaps the most notable among Pusha's sinister collaborators is his high school friend and "Untouchable"'s sonic architect, the legendary Timbaland. Though the super producer's credits span from Ashlee Simpson to Aaliyah, Push is right when he says "Untouchable"'s cold-blooded, throwback beat is "Timbaland like you've never heard him before."
But Timbo's uncharacteristic darkness isn't the only exciting change. Last week, it was announced that Push would assume a new title: G.O.O.D. Music's new president. Unsurprisingly, his agenda for the dynamic label follows the wide-spanning creative ambitions that have shaped his own career. "At the end of the day, it's just about carrying on the tradition and putting out high quality product. G.O.O.D. has always kept fans engaged; not just on a music level, but on a cultural level," says Push. "For me, it's about finding new ways to execute that." No matter how he engineers raw sounds or styles straight from the underground, King Push will always remain 'untouchable, uncrushable.'
Text Emily Manning
Photography Eric Chakeen