It’s been more than two years since Pusha T signed to G.O.O.D. Music. Since then we’ve gotten a lot of great guest appearances from the guy (“Runaway,” “So Appalled,” any G.O.O.D. Friday track), but zero satisfying solo releases. Fear of God and its reiteration Fear of God II: Let Us Pray, contained some great material (“I Still Wanna,” “Cook it Down,” “Trouble on My Mind,” My God”), but were largely jumbled and directionless. Now, here’s Wrath of Caine, a mixtape that serves as a prelude to his proper solo debut. Wrath of Caine is Pusha Ton’s first project that feels truly cohesive, serving its purpose as both a stand-alone release and as an appetizer for My Name is My Name, allegedly due out this spring.

We already know that Pusha is a very good rapper. What we still need to see from him is his ability to ride non-Neptunes tracks (they’ve only got one beat on here, clocking in at a whopping 1:43), and his ability to carry an entire album without his brother. His talent to do both has improved, but he still isn’t quite there. That’s why WoC is more of a stepping-stone than anything else. About half of the beats and rhymes are album worthy, but the other half, while not “bad,” would certainly be disappointing on a studio release.

There are eleven producers over just as many tracks, so the project isn’t as cohesive as it should be (it’s all about beat selection– mixtapes like this one are serious business these days) and more than once his hook game isn’t exactly killing it. French is usually a solid go-to for a hook, but here he eschews his usual drunken karaoke style for full-on blackout mumblings. “Trust You” is forgettable other than its hook: it’s a good one, but the fact that it’s somebody doing a Future impression is too distracting.  It’s also unfortunate that the intro and outro tracks aren’t nearly as memorable as the songs on either side of them. And for a Harry Fraud beat, “Road Runner” needs a little more work.

Luckily, these filler issues are easy to forget. Cast those aside, and Wrath of Caine is exactly what we want from Push. He’s invoking Biblical imagery and Ric Flair and coupling them with countless drug-dealing references. He kills Jake-One’s “Take My Life” and the Young Chop-produced “Blocka.” The latter has a particularly infectious hook. The hook for “Millions” is another good one, but it is a little disheartening that getting Ross on a song these days means you know the exact type of hook you’re going to get: “Millions in the ceiling/ Choppas in the closet” x10. Still a great song with great verses from both MCs. And let us pray that My Name is My Name contains a full version of the Neptunes-produced “Revolution.” It’s only one verse on this tape, but it’s a rare one.

The highlight of the tape is the Boogz N Tapes-produced “Only You Can Tell It,” which features one verse each from Pusha and Wale. Apparently from a “’Ye batch,” Kanye’s rainy day fund, it’s a great, great beat—one that Pusha claims he “begged for.” With good reason! This is an album quality track. Such a strong beat demands more than halfway decent rhyming, and Pusha delivers. With his skills—and his bravado—Pusha needs an entire album of production like this if My Name is My Name is going to be the classic we all want. Otherwise, he’s selling himself short, which is something he’s never done in his career. Wrath of Caine is a step in the right direction.

8/10

Written by Patrick Bierut (@mrchernobog)

Download: Pusha T – Wrath Of Caine