[27 November 2006]
Superfluous in its presence in hip-hop, cocaine has always had a prominent role in the library of subject fodder for rappers. Rap chewers have been tossed everything from the don’ts (Run-D.M.C.‘s “Roots, Rap, Reggae” grazing the hands-off P.S.A. in 1985) to the what-to-dos (Notorious B.I.G.‘s solidification of the cocaine-slinging rules in 1997’s “Ten Crack Commandments), yet rappers still usher cocaine into their lyrics as if crack is the perpetual must-have accessory to a successful career. But for such lyricists who have a history of pushing drugs to their respective communities, rhyming about coke is as palpable in maintaining listeners’ interests as the distance in time they were dealing it. Fans will always have to push themselves to believe that the 30-something Jay-Z once did the duty, for the fact that he has since been bedazzled with stacks of money and barely clad women.
The Clipse, a Virginia Beach duo of Malice and Pusha-T, leave little space in their raps for lapses in this breed of authenticity. Basing their entire career on coke rap and self-aggrandizement, the duo is in the hip-hop game to flaunt their way of life without pretension. They are lucid in terms of relaying their lifestyle, as the only abstinence in talking about it lies in their sole inability to give the direct coordinates for where they move it. But for the group, selling drugs is not the only standard of living. In terms of a financial basis, the brothers presumably have a stream of royalties from their gold debut Lord Willin’, but since label woes subsequently followed its release, listeners were left with only mixtape lyrics and MySpace messages to assess how the duo spent their time away from rap. In this sense, their situation offers ultimate validation for what they further choose to rap about, leaving the listener with a crumbled sense of liberty to doubt the duo’s subjects in rhyme.
With their highly awaited sophomore release Hell Hath No Fury finally breaking past industry barriers, the Clipse are using their opportunity to once again rap about pushing that white, but with authenticity already in place, the duo focuses on poetic device and metaphorical wizardry as a way to pepper the could-be-flavorless drug topic. The album, which rests under the production umbrella of the Neptunes in a top minimalistic form, is a 12-track waltz through the life of on the corner, where somewhat delusive aspirations of glamour sit comfortably next to topics such as the musings of female conquests, sometimes mixing interchangeably. The duo’s lyrics are delivered with an equally matured air, and since the brothers take wordplay to the furthest extent they can, the album remains as entertaining as it does intellectually stimulating.
In terms of lyrics, Pusha-T and Malice are rarely out of top form throughout the entire album, with English colloquialisms being spun around and mashed together and half-serious declarations cultivated for entertainment’s sake. On the accordion stilted “Momma I’m So Sorry”, Pusha-T goes so far as to don himself a chief intellectual comparison in his drug rights, musing “I philosophize about glocks and keys, niggas call me young black Socrates.” The Clipse hold no pretension in making such aggrandized declarations, as most of the album is an exercise in overwrought braggadocio, like on the brilliant “Ride Around Shining”. The track, based on the simple snips of a crisp drum pad and a hypnotic strum on piano strings, shows the rappers in a state as dreamlike as the atonal sample, with Malice rapping on the chorus “Float around in the greatest of Porsches / But like a Chuck wagon cause I’m on twelve horses / And the three behind mine? / They be the clique / So much ice in they Rollies / They shit don’t tick, man.”
Because the duo takes such a fantastical approach to all of their topics, the album remains as entertaining as it does in its earnestness. The group clearly seems intent on valorizing a lifestyle that is beyond their worlds of drugs and rap while remaining rooted in them, and in turn, the group parodies their topics to the point of reaching audio pornography: a type of music that propagates true activities and actions, but is presented in a way that makes the listener know it is exacerbated and, consequently, makes it even more entertaining. On the electric guitar riddled ode to women “Dirty Money”, Malice raps, “Before I’ma bicker with your ma, I’ma switch ya / I fly ‘em in quick, I fly ‘em out even quicker / By no means am I in love with a stripper / Understand that, then you fit in a glass slipper.” While he may possess godlike womanizing tendencies, Malice adds his own sense of fantastic unrealism to his lyrics as the duo does on the rest of the album, breathing life to subjects that are as commonly approached in the hip-hop world with a heightened ability to engage the listener.
While Hell Hath No Fury is riddled with compelling lyrical wordplay, the album only suffers in its lack of depth. Moving drugs and fantasizing about a life of glitz may be interesting in verbal presentation, but the album leaves the listener without a firm impression of the duo’s identities. The closest that the album comes to breaking past this boundary is on the organ-droned “Nightmares”, featuring a much-missed Bilal, where the rappers touch on the dangers of moving cocaine and the paranoia that comes with it. At the end of the track, Pusha raps “Still I creep low, thinking niggas tryin’ to harm me / Hopin’ my karma ain’t coming back here to haunt me / Was it that nigga, I took his powder with a smile / Prayin’ to Lord, the gun ain’t pop and hit the child, shit.” Pusha positions himself in a space of vulnerability where the listener can ultimately relate to his hardships in everyday life. This type of subject is gritty and introspective, but while it staves off the entertainment factor, the listener is tragically left with a sole track that peeks into the duo’s uneasiness and insecurity.
Though the duo sacrifices their humanization throughout the album, Hell Hath No Fury stands as one of the most entertaining releases of the year, patched with glorious lyrical play, blinging exercises in fantasy and a jaunty half-seriousness. The Neptunes’ futuristic production adds a sense of appropriate experimentation that easily combines with the Clipse’s atypical lyrical style, and the producers adequately use the partnership to explore industrial noise and simplicity like on the stinging “Trill” and eerily creeping single “Mr. Me Too”. In itself, Fury may not be the next step for the Clipse in terms of artistic growth, but listeners are likely to discover a new line with each listen to serve as a source of amusement, signifying a palpability that only few in hip-hop possess. And as for the Clipse—until the release of their next album, the duo should be satisfied with their current production, but if waning success sends them back to the corner in Virginia, the next album will be an even riper concoction.