Pusha T’s music — a depiction of life as a former drug dealer — has been political in nature for decades. But the rapper says he’s ready to take his activism and outspokenness to a more formal platform.
Speaking to Business Insider recently at the Trump hotel in SoHo, New York, Pusha T (real name: Terrence Thornton) ruminated on the progression of his career, from his beginning as a quoteable upstart rapper, to his current role as hip-hop elder statesman who has become increasingly comfortable with speaking his mind about hot-button political issues.
In his music, the 37-year-old has long eschewed more traditional pop beats and melodies for darker, more minimalist sonics, a fitting backdrop for his lyrical description of his past life.
But recent high-profile police shootings, coupled with his increasing awareness of issues like prison overcrowding and sentencing reform, have motivated Pusha T to reexamine his life and his own past.
“I remember being young and being desensitised to so much. I was so desensitised to things that were happening within street culture — whether it was jail, whether it was death, things like that. And I feel like you know, there have been things that happen in my life, and with age, I’ve become re-sensitised to it,” Pusha told Business Insider.
As the Obama presidency winds to a close and the 2016 general election campaign heats up, Pusha, the president of Kanye West’s label GOOD Music, has also been motivated to use his artistic platform as a mouthpiece for his political activism.
The rapper lit up social media twice this summer, first when he tweeted to his 1.3 million followers an image of himself video-chatting with Hillary Clinton, and later when he announced the sale of pro-Clinton “Delete Your Account” t-shirts, a reference to Clinton’s infamous social-media diss directed at Donald Trump.
The rapper joked that although the Democratic presidential nominee probably isn’t a fan of his music, she was excited by his support for her campaign, and emphasised his importance in driving voter turnout in his native Virginia.
“I’m sure she was hip and briefed,” Pusha said of their video chat. “But [the conversation] was simply about engaging, and being engaged, and making sure that I engage people to vote, and get my demographic to vote. Get people out to the polls, that was her main thing.”
Clinton wasn’t the only major figure to ask for Pusha’s support at the ballot box.
In April, the rapper joined other hip-hop stars like Nicki Minaj, Ludacris, and Common at the White House for a meeting with President Barack Obama to discuss My Brother’s Keeper, the president’s mentorship program aimed at helping young African-American boys and men through school and out of trouble.
During the meeting with Obama, Pusha said he volunteered to help with voter outreach and registration efforts, particularly in low-turnout local and midterm elections. The rapper told Business Insider that Clinton reiterated the importance to him, and noted the significance of Virginia, typically a battleground state, in the election.
“I know locally, I’m going to be speaking and going into the neighbourhoods. Saying you know, you guys gotta get out here. We’ve gotta organise it a lot better,” Pusha said of his efforts this election.
Figures like Pusha T, who can speak to young voters and black voters in Virginia, are important to Democrats in the state. Though polls show Clinton with an overwhelming lead in Virginia, past elections have turned on whether the young and minority voters Pusha is seeking to connect with showed up. In 2013, it was largely high black turnout that helped current Gov. Terry McAuliffe win his gubernatorial bid, while high voter turnout among young voters helped Obama win the state in 2008 and 2012.
While Pusha has always seen himself as a “street journalist,” as he’s matured, he says he’s trying to make better use of his platform outside of his art to further causes that affect him. He plans on being a part of a White House publicity push to raise awareness about the bipartisan criminal justice and sentencing reform efforts that the Obama administration hopes to push through Congress before the president leaves office.
“I volunteered to speak at the prisons. Anything I can do in regards to rehabilitation,” Pusha said. “Because it’s beyond just lessening the sentences. It’s about when people get home, having an opportunity and a shot, a real shot, just whatever I can do.”
His music has become more steeped in politics, too. Pusha T’s output has always had a political bent — early songs like “Virginia” and “Re-up Gang Intro” detail the deleterious effects that the drug trade can have on communities. But his recent work has been dotted with references to political discussions like police violence and sentencing, and political figures like Trump. In his 2015 song “Untouchable,” the rapper dissed the Republican presidential nominee’s plan to build a wall between the US and Mexico.
Pusha emphasised that his new album “King Push,” to be released later this year, focuses specifically on “restoring order in communities,” which the rapper said acknowledges the cycle of crime and police tension that traps many underprivileged communities.
“You hear a record like ‘Sunshine’ that speaks about police brutality, but I also have on this record about like why the black youth are so violent, just about how they were raised, how they were brought up, the mentality, and so on and so fourth,” Pusha said. “I want my community to be a bit more self-governing in regards to — when we see something wrong within us, we’ve gotta stop it. Let’s stop it, let’s speak on it, let’s be accountable. And let’s let the youth know that you’ve got somebody watching over you. Peers, mentors, whatever the case may be.”
But for now, Pusha has a more immediate goal: stopping Donald Trump from getting elected. Creating the “Delete Your Account” t-shirts, he felt that it was necessary to take on the Republican presidential nominee on his home turf: Twitter.
“He’s pretty vocal on Twitter,” Pusha said of Trump. “So I thought, ‘Let’s say something that will sort of galvanize our demographic, and speak directly to him.'”
Pusha emphasised that Trump’s controversial rhetoric makes him far less qualified than at least one potential future presidential candidate.
“Kanye would be much, much, much, 1,000% more of a rational candidate than Donald Trump,” he said. “He would be for progress and progression. He would be for you know, unity. He would not want to build walls. He would want to take in everybody and let everybody come together and be great together. So yes, Kanye could definitely run for president.”
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