Pusha T has long talked big about how he doesn’t need rap. The flashier, more fearsome half of Clipse has other means of making a living, if his verses are to be believed, and he's far more passionate about those illicit pursuits than is he is about rhyming. That arrogance works in his favor when it isn’t cutting against him. He raps with the peevish mien of a big shot with more important things to do, and his best rhymes are colder and more economical for it, but his less inspired work betrays the indifference of a natural talent who can’t be bothered to try just a little harder. This spring’s Fear Of God mixtape suffered particularly for that overconfidence. Arriving in the afterglow of his new partnership with Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music group, the release was supposed to herald Pusha T’s arrival as a solo artist, but it was such a half-hearted effort, crudely mastered and padded with perfunctory freestyles, that it only squandered the buzz he had built up over his recent run of West guest spots.
Apparently he was just hoarding his better material for his proper, commercial debut for G.O.O.D. Music, because Fear Of God II is the lean, rousing listen that its predecessor wasn’t. That’s not to say the 12-track album, which recycles five of the mixtape’s most vital cuts, is a complete course correction. Pusha T still sets up too many obvious punchlines, and as on the mixtape, he forgoes the trap realism of Clipse’s defining works in favor of broader declarations of triumph and greatness. But if his turn toward victory rap can feel a little generic, he’s so fired up throughout the album that it barely matters. He surrounds himself with chest-beaters like Juicy J, Rick Ross, and Young Jeezy and matches their brio, and where he once clashed with any production busier a bare Neptunes beat, he now feeds off the blockbuster production of guys like Bangladesh and Rico Beats.
“Hip-hop bores me,” he sneers on the roiling, VIP’s-produced “What Dreams Are Made Of,” as fierce a track as he’s ripped into since Clipse’s hiatus. Although he delivers the line with hard, disdainful authority, he’s so clearly invigorated here that it’s hard to take him at his word.