This week, It’s Almost Dry gave Pusha the first number one album of his career. Outdoing 2018’s acclaimed Daytona, an album with “so much heat” around it, as Pusha puts it–from the rollout of five Kanye-produced albums in five consecutive weeks to Pusha’s electric beef with Drake, of which more later– meant submitting to becoming a student again and “being produced,” as he puts it, rather than just spitting hot 16s over a good beat. “Those were all very organic things, Pusha recalls of Daytona. “It was a springboard of energy. [Going into this new album] I was like, ‘What do I do now?”
So he reconnected with Pharrell, who, along with Chad Hugo as The Neptunes, produced Pusha’s legendary Clipse albums with his older brother Malice. Pusha flew to Pharrell’s compound in Miami and played him what would become “Hear Me Clearly.” “He wasn’t that impressed,” Pusha admits; “it’s cool but I don’t want you to be a mixtape rapper for the rest of your life” was the feedback. Pharrell established a set of “criteria” upfront, saying “I just want everything to be super sticky. I want hooks, b-hooks, refrains, choruses,cadences. And I want you to be in character the whole time. And I want you to stick and stay in that character. We got to check off everything on the whiteboard. And if we do that, and we love it, then it stays.”
Pusha would stay with Pharrell for days or weeks at a time, while they played the movie Joker on repeat to keep Pusha’s “demon” character, as Pharrell endearingly refers to him, present at all times. Simultaneously, Pusha continued to seek out production from Ye, and as he bounced across coasts from sessions with one to the other, he noticed the old friends and fellow superproducers were developing an unspoken competitive edge–”once that back and forth started happening, I was like, “Oh, this is a thing,” he says.