The Thornton brothers have, like too many other MCs, dealt with the frustration of label issues and album delays. Ever since dropping their debut, Lord Willin’, it’s been nothing short of trouble for Pusha T and Malice. Even with a few hit singles, such as “When the Last Time” and “Grindin’”, and a top-tier production team (the Neptunes), Clipse still went through the label drama that hip-hop has become known for. The duo’s follow-up, the critically lauded Hell Hath No Fury, basically dealt with much of the anger brooding beneath the surface. Of course, it was also full of rhymes about every aspect of cocaine, from cooking it on the stove to selling it in the streets. But it was their anger from putting up with so much unnecessary industry bullshit that stood out. For example, there’s the line, “And I’m sorry to the fans but the crackers wasn’t playing fair at Jive” from “Mr. Me Too”.
Apparently, as plenty of Til the Casket Drops displays, most of those negative thoughts and feelings have subsided. To drive that point home, Pusha and Malice have told interviewers that Hell Hath No Fury was created out of a very specific mindset—one that was dark, unhappy, pissed, etc… And it was an album they admitted could never be recreated because they the negativity just isn’t there anymore. As a result, the sparse coldness of Hell Hath No Fury is gone. While the two MCs aren’t exactly happy-go-lucky on here, they are absolutely more upbeat. There are very few references to pushing cocaine, too, so it goes without saying that Til the Casket Drops is primed to alienate some of Clipse’s fanbase. Those looking for an album full of harsh street-tales over chilling beats should look elsewhere.
Pusha and Malice’s third album is very much like a less insecure cousin to Jay-Z’s third entry in the Blueprint series. Both feature huge highs and devastating lows that make for a frustrating listen. As such, both are also very inconsistent. From the rhymes to the beats, there is a strong disconnect from one track to the next. While some producers brought their best stuff to the table, others are clearly just recycling their material. On The Blueprint 3, Jay-Z was handed solid beats from No I.D., Kanye West, and the Neptunes. But Jigga also received some of Timbaland’s most boring material.
And somewhere along the line, the Neptunes, who helped propel Clipse’s career, decided they were complacent. Nearly every one of their beats on Til the Casket Drops incorporates tired sounds that we have all heard before. In particular, there is a video game-esque loop that plagues both “Door Man” and “All Eyes On Me”, the latter of which is this album’s worst track. The Neptunes have also fallen back in love with synthesizers. Used appropriately, like any instrument, synths can obviously work very well in hip-hop. But when they’re just those run of the mill synths that rise and soar on every track, they can lose their appeal. The Neptunes are clearly no longer interested in crafting minimalist beats. Everything has become over the top to the point it’s obnoxious and almost tacky—see “Showing Out”, a glitz-and-glamour track we have all heard before ad nauseum.
The Neptunes aren’t complete failures on here, though. “Popular Demand (Popeyes)”, which features Cam’ron, is excellent with its wheezy brass and clinking piano loop. And “Champion”, a celebratory anthem, is equally enjoyable. It’s just a shame that it appears on the same album as “I’m Good”, which is essentially the same song. And all of the aforementioned misfires are mostly balanced by fantastic production from DJ Khalil and Sean C & LV, with the latter crafting the killer opening banger “Freedom”. Khalil even goes so far as to save certain tracks that are otherwise dull content-wise, such as the shit-talking “Kinda Like A Big Deal”. He also brings out the best in Pusha T and Malice, such as one the dub-influenced “There Was a Murder”. For that track, the two MCs spit some of their finest storytelling raps on this record. It’s only matched by the introspective “Footsteps”, one of this album’s best except for its awful Autotuned hook.
But, like with Jay-Z’s latest record, those highlights aren’t enough to save the album as a whole. For better and for worse, Pusha T and Malice complement their beat selection on Til the Casket Drops. And it all makes for one of the year’s biggest disappointments from two of hip-hop’s best lyricists. Just because you are celebrating and reflecting on your career does not mean the music has to suffer.
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// Notes from the Road
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