Pusha T carries himself as a man above the current spectacles in rap. “I drops every blue moon, to separate myself from you kings of the YouTube,” he brags on the stand-out “Untouchable.” While 2013’s My Name Is My Name found him cementing himself as a solo rapper, away from his not-so-flashy counterpart Malice, Darkest Before Dawn continues in the tradition of propelling Pusha T to a different level of stardom. This time around, he entertains the question of what exactly his focus in the rap game is. Whether it’s to save the culture or be more famous, he addresses both inquiries head on.

From the opening track, it’s quite apparent Pusha is going for a darker tone. It’s a natural transition from his last album, but there’s more at stake here, including his dire need to stand on his own. He proudly separates himself with every chance he gets, from other rappers. On “M.F.T.R.” featuring The-Dream, he shows that he’s well aware of his placement in rap. Not just that, but he’s content enough to question the rest of his peers about their motives.

If he’s not taking jabs at those he considers beneath him, as heard on the Diddy-produced “Crutches, Crosses, Caskets,” he’s focused on the run he’s been able to maintain. “M.P.A. (Money, P*ssy, Alcohol),” features Kanye West, A$AP Rocky, and The-Dream, as our not-so-subtle background entities. The melodic track was produced by J. Cole and Kanye West, and serves as the perfect backdrop for Push to explore those three vices. Hip Hop heads probably picked up this album and went straight to number 7, as did I. “Keep Dealing” features Beanie Sigel, and it’s the darkest offering on the album. After Sigel’s unfortunate accident last year, the track is almost equivalent to his redemption song. The broad street bully’s voice may not be how we remember it, but that aggression we all loved from him seeps through with passion.

With 10 tracks, clocking in at just under 34 minutes, G.O.O.D Music’s new president has something delicate here. Each track is driven as a stand alone, not relying on the other. Although the album serves as a prequel, it leaves us hanging and doesn’t build a story to hang on to. The album closes with “Sunshine,” which features Jill Scott. It’s a powerful record that touches on how African-Americans are perceived in the U.S., and it’s certainly a transition in subject matter for Push. We’re kind of left waiting for more, which can be a good thing, but in this case, it leaves uncertainty. Where My Name Is My Name was more bulky with motive and eyed the possibility of crossover appeal, Darkest Before Dawn takes a step back into the shadows where his comfort lies. The project does an exceptional job of honing in on his capabilities. Pusha isn’t the kingpin Rick Ross portrays because that’s simply more attention than he’d want. He’s much more comfortable when his emergence is called upon. Hopefully the second part of the album coming in April, ties together some loose ends.