September 27, 2006. “Let me tell you what it is,” Malice barks into the phone, speaking with controlled rage. “They,” they being Jive Records, “don’t move with any type of aggression. If they moved how we said to move, we could have made the Halloween release date.” Basically, Jive wanted “Dirty Money” as HHNF’s second single. The brothers Thornton wanted “What It Do (Wamp Wamp).” A standoff ensued, no one blinked, and there was no follow-up to “Mr. Me Too,” so the album got pushed.
Jive Senior Vice President Chris Lighty, who is also the Clipse’s former manager, admits that, “There is not a meeting of the minds going on right now.” But he defends the company’s decision. “The Clipse album getting pushed back is just making sure they get the best push possible. The market is a terrible place right now. You don’t want to put them out there unless the market is prime and ready for them. Fergie sold 100-something thousand with a huge, gigantic pop record. Chingy has the No. 1 record in the country—60,000 units.”
The Clipse aren’t really hearing that this morning. “We don’t care what the album does,” Malice says. “Put the bitch out. Who cares? I don’t care at all… I feel like I don’t have to explain to this label who we are or what we do. We’re definitely not what’s popping on the radio. Our credibility is all we have. It ain’t no sensational story about the Clipse, other than label drama.”
Actually, it is pretty sensational: Reformed dope dealers from Virginia sell nearly a million records with an uncompromising, critically acclaimed debut then sit in label purgatory for four years. (Don’t think four years is a long time? When said debut, Lord Willin’, was released in August 2002, Ja Rule was arguably the most popular rapper on the planet.) And just when all the label drama seemed settled, well, apparently, it wasn’t. Once again, the Clipse are getting hosed because of something Pusha says is “not a Clipse issue.”
For all of Lord Willin’s bluster (remember “I’m not you, rapper…”?—it was four years ago), the Clipse take their rap very seriously. Malice laughs when asked about the contradiction. “Fuck that,” he says. “I’m real. I can contradict myself. I can’t be held to one thing I said on one record.” Both brothers think today’s audience doesn’t value lyricism and that this attitude has seeped into the music. “There is no one I’m checking for,” Malice says, before citing KRS-One, Rakim, Kool G Rap and Large Professor as influences. “I remember when everybody was hot in hip-hop. But I’m smart enough not to disclose my truest feelings about the rap game, because I can’t be labeled a hater. My kids like it, so maybe it’s for kids. Maybe people just want to have a good time. But fuck all that shit—it’s about lyric-driven hip-hop.”
The Clipse use words like “philosophy,” “language” and “literature” to describe their verses and would prefer not to be pigeonholed. “I feel slighted,” Malice says, “when people refer to our music as ‘coke rap.’”
We Got It 4 Cheap collaborator Clinton Sparks agrees. “Their lyricism is sick,” says the Boston-based mixtape DJ. “They are overlooked for that. They definitely should be more recognized for their lyrics.”