The Clipse's Hell Hath No Fury or the Gangsta Rap Yankee Hotel Fox-Not
The story of the Clipse would bring a smile to Malcolm Gladwell's face. For those who haven't read Gladwell's Tipping Point, it's central premise is simple: small groups of influential people have the ability to affect change on larger portions of the population. One of the more interesting examples Gladwell provides is the case of a handful of hipsters in New York City who glommed onto the forlorn Hush Puppies brand. Within a short period of time, these hipsters managed to spark a nationwide trend that led to Hush Puppies being placed in fashion shows and in malls across America, in the process completely revitalizing the brand.
Similarly, when the hipsters found the Clipse in 2005, their brand was similarly moribund. In 2002, Clipse released their second album, Lord Willin. Although the album ultimately managed to go gold, I've never met a soul outside of the Internet who actually purchased the thing. It received good but not great reviews. Rolling Stone tagged it with 3 stars (surprise, surprise), as did AMG while XL gave it an XL score.
After a ho-hum but succesful single "Grindin,' (that apparently everyone likes but me) came and went, the Clipse became an afterthought in the rap world. Another rap duo that rhymed about drugs, no different from 99.9 percent of rap groups other than the fact that they had the Neptunes making beats for them. Yes, it seems that between the middle of 2002 until the middle of 2005, everyone forgot about the Clipse. Except for the writers at Pitchfork.
Nothing Gets Between Pusha T and His Sad Faced Bluejeans....Nothing
Over the last year and change, Pitchfork has kept up one of the most steady drum-beats of hype ever launched by a media publication, reviewing 10 different Clipse or Clipse-featured singles (giving the majority stratospheric scores), reviewing their live show with lavish praise and giving two of their mixtapes the #15 slot in their 2005 Year End List. On top of it all, the website seemed to write Clipse news updates every time either of the duo blew their cocaine-drenched noses.
This media blitz soon spread to other music outlets, creating a buzz which ultimately culminated in the Clipse's long-awaited follow-up, Hell Hath No Fury finally getting to see the light of day next Thursday. The advance buzz on the album has been tremendous. GQ gave it the misnomer: "The gangsta rap Yankee Hotel Foxtrot." While Pitchfork already ran a column last Friday literally begging people to buy it at a Soundscan-checking store. XXL awarded the album a perfect XXL score, only the seventh time the magazine has ever done so. Hell even at Stylus, half the staff has been studying the advance singles as though they were the Dead Sea Scrolls rather than songs that sound like the noise that Fred Flintstone would make when he clubbed a dinosaur over the head (Wamp, Wamp).
But the truth is that Hell Hath No Fury will do down as one of the most overrated rap albums of all time. Make no mistake, it isn't a bad album. In fact, it's pretty good, but it certainly won't be worthy of the critical tongue-bathing that it will inevitably receive. While the album features a half dozen good to very good songs, half of it is redundant and dull: cocaine raps spit over boring all-too-minimalist beats. While Pusha T and Malice can certainly flow as well as nearly any duo in hip-hop, they still haven't learned to write lyrics with substantial wit or complexity. All too often, their rhyme schemes fall into predictable AA,BB, CC, DD formation, while their punchlines and diction are bloated with cliches. And their lyrical content is about as one-note as it comes: did you know that these guys deal coke? If so, you will learn absolutely else about them.
Of course, the reasons for the hype are obvious. Nothing gets a music journalist more excited than a story pitting artists against big bad record label "monsters" (see Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and The Meadowlands). But the funny thing is that the Clipse aren't even the best rap duo constantly beset by label problems. That honor would go to Camp Lo and M.O.P., two groups infinitely more worthy of the hype machine.
Blue Steel???...Ferrari???...Le Tigre???...They're All the Same Look
But none of this is the Clipse's fault. They got royally screwed by Jive and were forced to watch from the sidelines as a treadmill of lesser acts won fame and rap fortune (Ying Yang Twinz say Yeah!). And like I said, Hell Hath No Fury is pretty good but far from great. Things start off auspiciously with the first track "We Got it 4 Cheap," about what else, how they sell cheap cocaine. But in spite of the trite subject manner, the duo turn the song's uplifiting synths and banging drums into an anthem. The second track, "Mamma I'm So Sorry," is similarly excellent, utilizing the best accordian sample since the Madvillain album.
But in spite of the track's effectiveness, one can already see chinks in the album's armor. Between tracks one and two, they insert a Pulp Fiction sample for no real reason. Not only does the sample feel outdated by a good decade, but it seems to epitomize the lack of consistency that plagues the album, as its the only movie sample used. Contrast this to a true classic like Only Built 4 Cuban Linx which utilizes cinematic inserts and elucidatory skits throughout, giving the album the consistency and over-arching concepts that Hell Hath lacks.
The Clipse Paying Homage to Wayne's World "Extreme Close-Up" CamBy the third and fourth tracks, the singles, "Mr. Me Too," and "Wamp, Wamp" the album's critical flaw becomes apparent. In 2006, you can't count on the Neptunes to churn out 12 well-produced tracks. "Mr. Me Too" not only is a direct rip-off of "Drop it Likes It's Hot," it also undermines their tough-talk claims by showcasing Pharrell on yet another song. After all, how much coke can you slang when you spend most of your days hanging out with Skateboard P? Exactly.
"Wamp Wamp" utilizes steel drums to try to give the track a calypso feel, but it feels like something Swizz Beatz would've made in 1998 for the Ruff Ryders Volume I compilation. Additionally, it features some of the laziest lines on the album: "no hotta' flow droppa since poppa....I ball around the world like a globetrotter." By track 5, "Ride Around Shining" the Camp Lo-lite feel that pervades this album becomes more obvious. Over a lukewarm Neptunes beat, the Clipse drop some vicious rhymes. Yet while artists like Raekwon and Camp Lo invented unique slang to express their world of guns, drugs and jewels, the Clipse seem content to spit the same tired tropes.
Indeed while Sonny Cheeba of Camp Lo would effortlessly spit gems like "diamond runnin/strangers in paradise over flash/sugar cane alley cats/lo in parade/with the black spades/courvosier/; the Clipse are content to write hooks like "all my fly bitches like dirty money dirty money, all my stripper bitches like dirty money, dirty money." Or "let's go shopping, let's go chill, let's go buy the new Louis Vuitton heels."
A Face That Only a Pitchfork Writer Could LoveFollowing the four song lull, the Clipse return with "New World" a stunningly woozy rap minimalist stomp, and a song almost good enough to make one forgot "Wamp Wamp." "Keys Open Doors" is similarly outstanding, as the banging beats and claustrophobic synths match Pusha and Malice's tremendous flows. Sadly, these two tremendous tracks do little to build momentum as the next song is "Ain't Cha," another calypso disaster. Saddled with weak production, the song sinks, as does "Trill" which features one of the dumbest hooks written in 2006, as the Clipse just keep on repeating "Bitch/n**ga I'm so Trill" over and over again." It's so much like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot it's scary.
The album manages to close out strong, with the menacing machine-gun funk of "Chinese New Year," all pyroclastic flow and madvillainy. The Bilal featured "Nightmares" is a song that might be the closest the Clipse come to introspection. Yet rather than express regret for the life of drug-dealing that they glorify, they refuse to dig deeper, issuing another two-dimensional portrait of the hustling life, filled with stale lines that reveal how long this has been in the vaults (i.e. "I'm Leonardo...catch me if you can.) Nonetheless, the duo makes a wise choice to have Bilal rather than Pharrell singing and as usual, they destroy the slow rollicking soul-drenched beat, which provides a welcome respite from the ice-cold synths that dominate the album's production.
Far from a classic, Hell Hath No Fury is one of the better hip-hop releases of 2006, though it can't help but be analyzed in the context of its massive hype,which sadly it fails to live up to. Almost completely devoid of any sense of introspection, the album recycles stale cliches about the hustling life that you've probably heard on every rap album made since 1995. Indeed, neither rapper manages to assert any sort of individuality and one would be hard-pressed to say anything about its lyrical content other than: wow...these guys really like cocaine. Plagued by beats that range from brilliant to atrocious, the album lacks any sense of sonic consistency and despite the rapper's prodigious rapping ability, flow alone doesn't make a great rapper. Go ask Canibus. But all these things don't really seem to matter, as it's way past the tipping point and this album is sure to be regarded by most as one of the best of 2006. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a pair of Hush Puppies to go buy.
Clipse: "We Got it 4 Cheap" (right-click, save as)
Clipse: "Keys Open Doors" (right-click, save as)
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