Linking up to record a song was seemingly always in the cards for Pusha T and Thomas Mars. Both 46 years old, the rapper and the Phoenix singer made their forays into the music industry when they were still teenagers. Pusha formed the hip-hop duo Clipse with his older brother, No Malice, when he was 15. Mars, meanwhile, began jamming on the guitar with his brother as a child before forming Phoenix, initially as an indie rock garage band in the early ‘90s, operating out of his parents’ home in Versailles.
While long admirers of one another’s work, the paths of Pusha and Mars never directly crossed. It wasn’t until Pusha discovered Phoenix would listen to one of his songs, 2013’s “Numbers on the Boards,” to hype them up ahead of a performance — a routine that gradually grew into the band performing the song during soundchecks — that their worlds started to collide in earnest. Word had gotten back to Pusha more than once over the years that the band were fans of him, and he was already familiar with a few of Phoenix’s indie rock anthems.
Earlier this year, Chad Hugo, producer and one-half of the Neptunes, was working on a remixed version of Phoenix’s “All Eyes on Me” and thought Pusha’s sound would give the track the perfect edge. For the rapper, hopping on the remix was a “no brainer.” Pusha and Mars even went on to perform the song live at the We Love Green music festival in Paris ahead of its official release.
In a new interview, the two artists delve into their collaboration, from working with Hugo to hitting the stage together.
You’re both so well known in your respective genres, but you only happened to meet face to face when the “All Eyes on Me” remix came about. What was your relationship to one another’s music before then?
Mars: Musically we’ve definitely always known each other. Pusha was one of our dream collabs. For about 10 years, we’d play “Numbers on the Boards in our green room before going on stage We’d get obsessive with with the whole My Name is My Name album, but it was that song in particular. At some point, the planets aligned.
Pusha: I actually heard about “Numbers on the Boards” being played at his shows. It kept randomly being brought up to me, and I was like “oh, that’s so dope”’ And then Chad Hugo called me and was like, “you have to be on this song that I’m doing a a remix.” I didn’t know that Chad had any connection to the band before I got on it. It was already a no brainer, though, because the song was just dope originally.
Mars: And I knew Chad from from playing in Norfolk, Virginia. Every time we played there, he was down to hang out after the show. I knew that Push was from there too though.
Before releasing the song, you also played it live at We Love Green, the first time Phoenix had played in Paris in several years.
Pusha: It was it was basically a homecoming for the Phoenix guys. I was already performing in Paris at the same time, a little bit earlier before them. When you do collaborations, when you make a great song and when both parties are happy, there’s only one thing left to do. And that’s to perform it for the crowd.
It was something that kind of had to happen because I knew the people would appreciate it. The crowd was nuts. Anytime you can give a little bit extra to the fan base, I think you should. Especially for it being Phoenix’s homecoming, man, I don’t think I would have missed that opportunity.
You’re spending quite a bit of time in Paris currently, right Push?
Pusha: I’m in Paris a lot. I’m always here for Fashion Week. With the music I’m creating right now. I’m doing a lot of it with Pharrell. He’s living here now and working out here, so I’ve been going to Paris to work a lot.
You both mentioned your connections to Chad Hugo, who is of course half of the Neptunes with Pharrell. How did you begin working with him?
Mas: He showed up at a show in Virginia. I had met Pharrell and Chad at a show in Paris that they had done prior but we really got to know each other in the US.
Pusha: I met Chad through Pharrell when I was probably 13 years old. We would all skip school to stay over Chad’s house where all of the musical equipment was. At this time, I wasn’t even making music but my brother was making music and Pharrell and Chad, of course, were making music. I was the youngest one in the group.
Myself and my brother, Pharrell. Chad, and our friend group all lived within probably a mile from each other. Due to school zoning, we all went to separate schools, so we didn’t necessarily ever have to bump into each other but music brought all of us together.
The kids would all get together in Virginia Beach. anybody who was good at music – whether you are a rapper, a dancer or could beatbox or DJ – everyone would go down to the beach and showcase their skills. Not just us, Timbaland and Missy Elliott are from there too. There was no social media back then. We were kids brought together by music.
Thomas, what drew you and the band to “Numbers on the Boards” specifically?
Thomas: When you’re when you’re getting ready to go on stage, you start to make music backstage. You start to hit stuff and so, naturally, we started jamming. We’d have like a little jam room and I would start drumming on the song and then little by little the song worked its way into the soundcheck.
Pusha: You know it was just that album’s 10th anniversary? It just passed a few days ago.
Mars: It still sounds new. We have a strong bond with your music. We played your music for everyone on the tour bus after shows. Whatever music you’re playing, it’s so magical because you’re leaving a place you have like a great feeling you accomplished something, You’re going to the next place and the music is coming with you. My Name Is My Name is definitely the record we played the most.
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