REVIEW: Pusha T deals rhymes, respect at show

Virginia rapper and G.O.O.D. Music affiliate Pusha T made his way to Belasco Theater for the L.A. stop of his “Daytona Tour.” (Matthew Philips | Daily Trojan)

Swaths of hip-hop fans swarmed the streets of downtown Los Angeles Saturday night for a show from one of the genre’s most successful artists this year, Pusha T. The respected emcee and music executive was fresh off a scorching hot summer that saw two pivotal events in his 25-plus year career: the release of his critically acclaimed album “Daytona” and his public feud with Drake that peaked with Pusha’s “The Story of Adidon.” Both events have given Pusha a late-career surge that few aging industry veterans are able to replicate, and he’s ridden the wave with little adversity since.

The historic Belasco Theater served as the venue for the Virginia rapper’s L.A. stop of his “Daytona Tour.” Minimalist-themed merchandise with memorable lines from his latest album littered the front, but the age-diverse crowd quickly shuffled past into the front, where the opening act took to the stage at around 8:15 p.m.

G.O.O.D. Music labelmate Valee provided for a disappointing opener. Even with a packed room and eager faces, the Chicago rapper failed to galvanize the crowd with his sleepy stage presence and staggering apathy. Rushing through songs from his “1988” mixtape and “GOOD Job, You Found Me” EP, he displayed little concern for the lack of audience engagement. Unsurprisingly, Valee and his not-so-hype hypeman left the stage after only half an hour.

Ten minutes later, as plumes of white smoke clouded the stage and fluorescent lights penetrated the dark, a noticeable change in temperature took over the room, and stifled cheers rang throughout. Seconds later, a confident voice yelled out, and Pusha T began to recite the opening bars to “Daytona’s” fiery intro “If You Know You Know.” Then, at the song’s first instrumental switch-up, the 41-year-old rapper emerged from the foggy stage in a black jumpsuit, and commanded the audience with the youth and vigor of someone half his age.

The set’s first few songs came from his latest project, the Kanye West-produced album that was recorded in Utah and West’s vacation home in Jackson, Wyo. The album’s Western influence could be heard in the production, especially in tracks like “The Games We Play” and “Come Back Baby,” and Pusha T’s charismatic drug dealer-inspired raps provided for a healthy marriage with West’s instrumental edge.

Pusha then reached back into his last several years under the G.O.O.D. Music label, performing “My Name Is My Name” singles “Nosetalgia” and “Numbers on the Boards.” He also performed his verses from hit songs, like West’s ballad “Runaway” and the Ghostface Killah-sampled “New God Flow.” He even turned back the clock to his days as a member of Clipse, playing the Neptunes-produced 2000s hit “Grindin’” to the crowd’s excitement.  

To everyone’s surprise, Pusha T invited a young fan with him onstage to perform hits such as “Santeria” and “What Would Meek Do?” Pusha said that the child caught his attention after rapping along to every word from atop his father’s shoulders at the previous night’s show in Santa Ana. The fan looked as excited as anyone would taking the stage with one of their favorite artists, and he held his own as Pusha T’s temporary hypeman.

The set soon came to a close as Pusha T saved his best tricks for last. In a surprise turn of events, Kid Cudi’s tortured vocals on “Feel The Love” blared, and the Pusha T began to rap along to the Kids See Ghosts hit song to an audience eager for more. He ended the set with verses from his features on three mega-hit tracks: G.O.O.D. Music posse cut “Mercy;” Future’s coke-slinging street anthem “Move That Dope;” and the label’s remix of Chief Keef’s club banger “Don’t Like.”

The audience members rose up and thrashed with one another for the club-tearing trio of songs before settling down when Pusha stopped to speak. Here, the aged hip-hop kingpin took a moment to thank the crowd for coming out and proclaim his love for Los Angeles, which patrons quickly reciprocated with cheers and requests for an encore. Pusha T was done, however, and he had more than earned a break after his charged performance.