The other day, my friends and I were flipping through the channels aimlessly. After passing the fourth version of The Real Housewives, we settled on 50 Cent’s Get Rich, Or Die Tryin’—my 17th viewing of Curtis’ biopic. This movie privies fans to 50’s tough upbringing on New York’s ominous streets that shaped his successful rap career and subsequent business ventures. Although it’s unbelievable at times, due to his horrendous acting and the fact that he’s a large 30-year-old playing a high school student, Get Rich, Or Die Tryin’ is an interesting, insightful autobiography.
Despite numerous viewings, I can still be found precariously perched on the edge of my seat during the film’s waning minutes watching the final showdown between 50 and Majestic. Still can’t believe it was Terrance Howard who pulled the trigger. Watching this so many times leaves me ambivalent, though: it has great replayability, but it reminds me that there’s a lacking in Hip Hop biopics. The recent announcement of Tupac’s highly anticipated film, All Eyez On Me, scheduled to release on June 16th, 2017, offers hope, but I feel like a lot of us know his story in relative detail. All the Hip Hop biopics I’ve seen have primarily focused on the Mount Rushmore rappers (rightfully so), but they leave this gaping void of untold enticing stories from some of Hip Hop’s most prolific players. Personally, one person’s story warrants a biopic more than most rappers.
“I’m from Virginia, where ain’t shit to do but cook / Pack it up, sell it triple-price fuck the books.” That’s right, the coke dealing, “yugh” snarling, braid having, lyrical gymnast, Terrance LeVarr Thornton, aka Pusha T. Not only have limited individuals enjoyed Push’s longevity, few artists’ careers have been reincarnated the way King Push’s has.
Come on, you know a Pusha T biopic would be incredibly dope. His story lends itself well to multiple chapters, as he and his situation have drastically changed since his 1992 music arrival. Yes, Push has been musically active since the early ‘90s. He’s burdened a dynamic journey, anchored by various hardships and vindicated by multiple shots at redemption. Today, he’s celebrated as GOOD Music’s president, one of the label’s—and industry’s—most prominent artists, an Adidas ambassador, and the guy who can recycle cocaine lyrics without ever sounding redundant. His injection of artistry into coke raps is akin to none. But that’s just today—the tip of the iceberg. Push’s legacy long predates his 2010 GOOD Music signing.
I think it’s fair to say that most of today’s rappers talk about a lifestyle they never lived, or discuss an exaggerated version. It makes sense why they do—violence and drug content sell the best. But knowing that most of them are fugazes looking to increase their bottomline cheapens legitimate hustler’s stories who use the microphone cathartically. Push has been cooking up and selling coke since his early teen years, and has been speaking about it musically since he’s 15. 15?! Can you imagine doing what you did at 15 as your profession? If that were me, I’d be a professional masturbator/weed smoker. (Damn, that sounds pretty dope actually…) This part in of itself would make for gripping biopic content. Imagine perceiving the tough streets of Push’s hometown Virginia Beach through a 15-year-old’s vantage point; a kid hustling in a grown man’s business whose hardened exterior allows him to channel his perception into lyrically chilling cocaine content. But Push wasn’t out there flipping or making these raps alone.
One of the most fascinating chapters of his life is his time with Clipse: the duo of himself and his brother Malice (now known as No Malice), five years Push’s senior. This dynamic duo are the antiheroes we want to watch win. Sure, providing their hometown with mountains of powder is illegal and unethical, but Malice and Pusha T are lovable characters that almost justify hustling—they have us rooting for their criminal victories. It’s reminiscent of championing Walter White in Breaking Bad. To me, that is so powerful. Despite knowing that the protagonist(s) is engaging in illicit business that will corrupt its consumers, we the viewers not only approve this behavior, we cheer for it. Watching Malice and Push chef up crack and peddle it on the streets would bring to life a plethora of their rhymes that dominated the early-mid 2000s. But our love for the Clipse extends passed the hustling, and lies deeply within their music.
The coke-wielding Virginian boys didn’t establish a successful music career right off the bat. After an early ’96 deal, architected by frequent Clipse collaborator Pharrell Williams (half of The Neptunes), with Elektra dissolved as a result of lacking commercial response to their first project, Exclusive Audio Footage, Clipse melted back into Virginia’s scorching hustling streets. It was unclear if their musical dream could only prosper through cocaine funding. However, five-years later, Push (and Malice) got one of his first redemption shots.
Again, Hip Hop’s vampire (AKA Pharrell) facilitated their exposure by signing them to Arista records, which lead to their commercial debut album, Lord Willin’. The rest is history. This album opened at number-one on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip Hop chart, and number-four on Billboard’s Hot 200 list, verifying the brothers’ cocaine lyrical allure. Songs like "Grindin'" proved that they had commercial appeal in spades. Can you imagine what that’s like going from that dude flipping on the corner to that dude everyone’s bumping on the corner? To have that street hustler heart, manifested in dealing, clash with legitimate business practices? There’s only so much that we can infer… We need the visual counterpart to illuminate the complexity of this transition.
Part of the reason Malice and Push worked so well together was because they encompassed a true Yin-Yang approach by providing different energies. They were a mix of sweet and sour—Malice would provide softer, more introspective lines that were balanced by Push’s grittier, metaphor-ridden bars. Their duality is one of the main forces behind their success. Clipse went on to release another timeless album, Hell Hath No Fury, in 2006, which was marketed by singles “Mr. Me Too” and “Wamp Wamp (What It Do).” But with the release of one of their most iconic albums, came the beginning of their end. They dropped another project in 2009, Til The Casket Drops, but it doesn’t compare to their two classics. After dealing with health complications and having a major epiphany, Malice went on to pursue a purer life by channeling his lyrical prowess into Christian rap. He released his debut solo album, Hear Ye Him, in 2013.
We haven’t even broached Push’s solo career, and already this story would yield an enticing Hip Hop biopic. The meteoric rise of the tag-team hustling brothers converted rap superstars, cornering the market through their chilling, genuine portrayal of their dark environment. And just when their ascension surpassed its pinnacle, individual differences lead to the group’s dismantlement, ironically positioning one for more success and exposure than the group could’ve ever provided.
“My better half chose the better path, applaud him / Younger brother me a spoiled child, I fought him,” Pusha T recites on “40 Acres” off his debut solo album, My Name is My Name. In 2009, Push’s musical direction wasn’t clear. I think he wanted to go solo, but after Clipse’s break-up, I’m sure he struggled with defining a sense of purpose, and questioned his future. Being committed to a duo for that many years robs the individual’s sense of self, eroding their identity. These low moments of reflection deepen Push’s complex story, which adds more layers for the viewer to peel back and sink their teeth into, making Push a prime biopic protagonist. Despite his own uncertainty, one man was able to see clear into Push’s future: Mr. Kanye West. In September 2010, Kanye signed Push to GOOD Music, and featured him on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (on “Runaway” and “So Appalled”). Kanye breathed new life into Push, and unleashed his potential—Push’s second shot at redemption.
Let’s recap real quick: so far, this biopic would feature Pusha T, Malice, (Clipse obviously), Pharrell and The Neptunes, Kanye West—Push’s career has been helped by multiple industry icons, evidencing his undeniable talent and allure. After Kanye signed him, Push released mixtapes, Fear of God, Fear of God II: Let Us Pray, and Wrath of Caine, which confirmed what Kanye saw in King Push: greatness.
It’s rare to make it in the music industry. Despite talent, there are endless roadblocks inhibiting artists from reaching the promised land. Whether it be botched deals, getting screwed over by someone, not being commercially viable enough, etc., the latitude artists have to screw up or reinvent themselves is miniscule. Once someone gets a shot, that’s typically their only one. Aside from Push, the only other person I can think of who followed a similar trajectory is Killer Mike, who experienced the inverse situation to Push: he had a strong solo career, and then erupted into commerciality through the duo, Run The Jewels. Once Push’s debut album, My Name is My Name, dropped in October 2013, he shed his Clipse image and stepped into his role as a bonafide superstar.
After My Name is My Name hit number-two on the US rap chart, Push’s name exploded. Of his 27 features on singles spanning 1999 to the present, 13 have occurred since 2013, signifying his mushrooming appeal and influence. His sophomore studio album, King Push—Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude, peaked at number-one on the US rap chart. Prior to releasing this project, the man who gave him his second shot at redemption, Kanye, appointed Push as GOOD Music’s president, demonstrating supreme confidence in Push to leverage his hustler mentality for music business excellence. Push’s brand and musical notoriety are so strong that he’s becoming integral in Adidas’ ongoing marketshare fight against Nike. People love Pusha T. People would love a Pusha T biopic.
King Push is 39-years-old, and his career is only growing. He’s lead a hard, interesting life that would have crippled most, but has shaped his persona and fueled his rise and power. Push’s roller coaster career, fastened by longevity, uncertainty, and redemption, is one of the industry’s more appealing stories, due to his multi-faceted prominence. He’s a captivating figure, a natural leader, and a resilient fighter. Some might’ve viewed the Clipse break-up as his demise. But situations are always the darkest before the dawn. We now look back on Clipse’s dismantlement knowing one absolute truth: that was just the prelude. Pusha T is the king, and his story would be the Hip Hop biopic crown jewel.