Decoding the Subliminals on Pusha T and Jay-Z’s “Neck & Wrist”


Spring is here, and things are thawing out for even our most notorious snow enthusiast: Pusha T. The Virginia rapper’s fourth studio album has been teased all year with nary a release date in sight. Today, though, the hype train picked up some more steam: we have a summer tour announcement, a title—“It’s Almost Dry”—and a new, incendiary single with Jay-Z. .

“Neck & Wrist” is the pair’s second collaboration, following Pusha’s “Drug Dealers Anonymous” loosie from 2016. (They also appear together on Kanye West’s “So Appalled,” which is more of a posse cut.) At 44 (Pusha) and 52 (Jay), they’re two of hip-hop’s most storied veterans, and have earned the right to talk a little bit spicy. While “DDA” was more of a gritty, straightforward lyrical sparring match, their latest—over a stellar beat from Pharrell—is more of an early-aughts style bragfest.

Jay in particular is in take-on-all-comers mode, opening the verse by addressing comments made by comedian Faizon Love that he’s been exaggerating his past as a drug dealer. Love believes that Jay has perpetuated a dangerous image in hip-hop by claiming to have a degree of street bona fides he actually does not possess, even though it’s been a theme throughout his music since the ‘90s. “When Jay-Z creates this whole ‘I’m a drug dealer, I’m a drug lord’ [persona], these kids say, ‘We gotta do it, too, to be like Jay-Z.’ Not knowing that this is all made up shit,” Love has said in past interviews.

To address Love, Jay first turns the comic’s name into a kind of homophone, before poking fun at his skepticism. “The phase I’m on, love, I wouldn’t believe it either / I’d be like, ‘Jay-Z’s a cheater,’ I wouldn’t listen to reason either,” he raps.

Jay then shifts his focus to address a long prevailing knock–that he would not have been able to ascend to New York rap royalty were it not for the void The Notorious B.I.G.’s death in 1997 created in hip-hop. But Jay-Z and B.I.G. were, of course, close friends and collaborated several times. They even had plans to start a duo called The Commission, which B.I.G. had already begun referencing across Life After Death and some of his last recorded verses like “Victory.”.

On “Neck & Wrist,” Jay invokes The Commission to assert that he and Biggie would have shone side by side: “They like, ‘If B.I.G. was alive, Hov wouldn’t be in his position’ / If B.I.G. had survived, y’all would have got The Commission / Hov was gon’ always be Hov.”

While Jay-Z’s subliminals are garnering the most attention, Pusha is, as always, in rare form, matching Hov on a technical level. When the rollout for “It’s Almost Dry” first kicked into gear, Pusha spoke about how Pharrell—who, along with his Neptunes partner Chad Hugo, produced exactly half of the new album, while Kanye handles the rest—challenged him to be more of a songwriter on this new project and go beyond straight bars. “Neck & Wrist” is emblematic of the way the two lifelong friends and collaborators push each other: rap purists consider Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury album to be the gold standard of Neptunes production, and Pharrell’s beat here is arguably the closest he’s come to tapping into that specific sound.





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