When Terrence ‘Pusha T’ Thornton’s main vehicle Clipse were ramping up anticipation for 2009 album Til the Casket Drops, the irony was that its preceding promotional mixtape proved more essential than the main event.
Back on the pre-LP grind ahead of forthcoming debut solo studio set My Name Is My Name, Thornton posts a similarly high benchmark with Wrath of Caine.
It’s much more than a mere stopgap release.
Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint is on co-releasing duties here, while the label boss and long-time collaborators The Neptunes – notably responsible for soundtracking Clipse’s 2006 watermark Hell Hath No Fury – oblige with suitably major-league production cameos.
Thornton has widened his game from the magma-hot flows of Clipse’s crack rap (chief concerns: slinging narcotics and subsequent high-rolling financial gains).
Tangible venom and disdain that made him a genuinely menacing MC are diluted a touch and, in moments like soul-searching prayer Road Runner, a seldom-seen softer side bleeds through.
The general vibe is, often as not, introspective. Revolution, lent a downcast strings-and-horns Neptunes backdrop, traces the tale of Thornton’s career to date.
He goes an autobiographical step further on Only You Can Tell It, semi-ad-libbing: “I wish my imagination was this good / I can’t make this s*** up / This is really my life.”
Elsewhere, Kanye’s influence dominates Trust You, as close as Wrath of Caine offers to a love song. Kevin Gates’ standout soulful refrain could almost hail from 808s & Heartbreak, albeit informing ladies that if they’re really lucky, they might be privy to Pusha’s twin true loves: his drugs and dosh.
In the push for career advancement, though, Thornton hasn’t forgotten where he comes from, throwing the mic to crewmate and fellow Virginia rhymer Ab-Liva for his own contribution, Re-Up Gang Motivation. Its grimy Wu-Tang edge represents the mixtape’s most breathless two minutes.
Economy is crucial throughout. At 11 tracks, including intro, Wrath of Caine is leaner than a prize-fighter, profitably banking on the notion that you’ll be slavering for more long before My Name Is My Name comes calling later in 2013.
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