Feb 5, 2013

Music Review: "Wrath of Caine" by Pusha-T

By Ian Cory

Sometimes it can be hard to keep up with the narrative of a hip-hop artist, especially if you’re used to the more clean album-by-album approach that makes the most sense when analyzing rock bands. In order to capture the full scope of a rapper’s development you sometimes have to keep up with mixtapes dropped between full length records, and a score of guest verses on a host of other songs by artist you might have no interest in hearing normally. Unlike rock music, which tends to follow a fairly linear progression, the story of hip-hop often spreads out like a lattice, not unlike the way comic books tie together their extended universes. All of this is to say that in the G.O.O.D. Music extended universe, Pusha-T’s Wrath Of Caine is both a tie in to their Cruel Summer compilation and a set up to his upcoming My Name Is My Name that holds up surprisingly well as a solitary experience.

This connection to Cruel Summer goes deeper than just the silver tinted artwork. Most of the beats on Wrath Of Caine live in the same icy airtight environment that Kanye constructed for his crew on that album. In particular, this tape seems to draw from that record’s most well known track, the summer dominating "Mercy". Perhaps as a result of that song’s massive popularity, or perhaps due to the continuing stranglehold dubstep has on the beat music world, reggae chord progressions and vocal samples show up all over the record. Not all of the beats are particularly interesting, and “Only You Can Tell It” is flat out sloppily constructed, but the consistent approach helps gloss over a good deal of these drops in quality. Wrath Of Caine, despite referencing Pusha-T’s forthcoming full-length album on nearly every track, doesn’t feel like a promotional tool or a collection of discarded songs, but instead a stand-alone product that also gives us context for his future work.

But even a homogenous backdrop is nothing without a star actor. Here again, Pusha-T turns to “Mercy” for a template. While T has never aimed for head spinning rhythms in his rhymes, his punches are telegraphed loudly on this tape. While recycling the flow from his biggest hit in years might seem like a smart move (ain’t broke, don’t fix it etc), it also means that your audience is going to know all of your tricks in advance. Even casual listeners will be bored of the “Woo! (Pause)” pattern by the midway point of Wrath. However it’s clear that Pusha-T is making the most out of a proven formula. Years in the game have given T a strong and singular voice, which allows him to tackle tired angles from a fresh perspective. He’ll brag about his wealth, but notes that he doesn’t sell many records, he’s humble enough to acknowledge Kanye West’s role in his revived career, and he delivers what is by far the most clever and chilling retort to illuminati theorists on wax. The crystal palace production style can make it hard to relate to his more human moments, but the oversized choirs combined with Pusha-T’s predilection for biblical imagery give his threats more weight and greater dramatic impact.

Wrath Of Caine won’t be essential to most of the audience waiting for 2013’s next “Big Rap Album”, much in the same way that you don’t need to read every single tie-in to enjoy the latest Batman trade collection. But it is part of a larger tapestry, and it is undeniably fun to trace the thread as it weaves its way from one end to the other.


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