“When I get mad, I put it down on a pad,” Chuck D said on Public Enemy’s classic “Welcome to the Terrordome,” explaining a lesson he “learned in Virginia (Beach).” Chuck was referring to the 1989 Greekfest riots, where the perceived racism of police and local businesses toward the droves of Black college students resulted in two days of looting. Virginia Beach’s most famous brothers, Malice and Pusha T, were only teenagers when their hometown exploded from its built-up frustrations, but it’s possible that the Clipse have learned the same lesson as Mistachuck.
After being stuck in label limbo for the last four years, Clipse have plenty of reason to be mad at the world. While the rest of their Star Trak family jumped ship to Interscope, Clipse had to sit back and watch as an unresponsive Jive Records let the original follow-up to their 2002 platinum debut, Lord Willin’, sit on the shelf past its expiration date. Rather than self-destructing, the duo started from scratch and channeled their frustration into a new, confidently mature sophomore effort, Hell Hath No Fury.
Best known for their unconventional radio smash “Grindin’,” Clipse are no strangers to taking risks with the boundary-pushing Neptunes, who return as trusted co-pilots for Fury. This time, Pharrell and Chad’s well-known hollow Korg drums and distorted synthesizers are replaced with an unpredictable gathering of lush instrumentation that embraces Pusha’s inventive drug-game metaphors and Malice’s soul-baring confessionals. On the hypnotic “Keys Open Doors,” over the eerie mix of screwed-up angelic voices, chimes and congas, the brothers run circles around the competition, while the spine-tingling boom-bap of “Ride Around Shining” sets the stage for Pusha’s hilarious boasts (“The Black Martha Stewart/I can show you how to do this!/Break down pies to pieces/Make cocaine quiches”). Whether rhyming over wild steel drums (“What It Do [Wamp Wamp]”), distorted, lo-fi guitar plucks (“Dirty Money”) or overblown 808s (“Trill”), the brothers come with colorful references and inventive wordplay that easily put them in a lyrical class of their own.
Leapfrogging over rap’s stereotypically one-dimensional hustler, Clipse proudly bare their scars without compromising their larger-than-life persona. Older brother Malice accepts responsibility for his missteps on the woozy accordion thump “Momma I’m So Sorry,” spittin’, “I’m sorry grandma for the mistakes that I have made/When I aired family business out, you put me in my place.” While Pusha is more known for his witty one-liners, he brings a new level of honesty to the album as well. Bilal’s aching vocals frame the soulful, stripped-down “Nightmares,” where Neighborhood P’s paranoia takes center stage (“Hoping my karma ain’t come back to haunt me/Was it that nigga?/I took his powder with a smile/Praying to the Lord the gun ain’t pop and hit the child”). Super thugs take note—this is how you create compelling crime tales.
In retrospect, perhaps Clipse should thank the “crackers” at Jive for the four-year hiatus. At a time when most MCs are pressured to strategically churn out a cookie-cutter album every year for fear of losing their spot, Fury is street hip-hop built to last. The forced sabbatical gave them ample time to painstakingly evaluate their musical motivations. Avoiding the extraneous guest appearances and the stepped-on pop confections of their debut (such as, “Ma, I Don’t Love Her”), the 12 carefully crafted tracks on Hell Hath No Fury are pure, uncut dope. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.—BRENDAN FREDERICK
Read the rest of XXL’s Critical Beatdown review section in the
November 2006 issue (#86)