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REVIEW: Clipse, Til the Casket Drops

Photography Estevan Oriol

Clipse
Til The Casket Drops
(Re-Up/Columbia)

Beats: XL

Lyrics: XXL

Originality: XL

The Clipse are seeking redemption. For rappers, and literal brothers, Malice and Pusha T, the rap biz has been bipolar, full of ups and downs. While their original planned debut, Exclusive Audio Footage, was shelved, their proper debut on Jive Records, Lord Willin’ (2002), was met with much praise and near-platinum sales. Unfortunately, label shenanigans delayed the Virginia duo’s sophomore salvo by four years. Like the We Got It 4 Cheap mixtapes their devotees rabidly consumed in the interim, 2006’s Hell Hath No Fury was also critically lauded (it earned a perfect XXL rating in this magazine), thanks to reflective street songs like the solemn “Nightmares” and the admirable “Momma I’m So Sorry.” Still, despite all of the adoration, HHNF failed to move weight at registers, or iTunes, stalling out at about 205,000 copies sold to date. As persistent with their product as ever, the Clipse return for the hat trick, this time on Columbia Records. And despite its grim title, Til the Casket Drops is more about celebrating life than foreshadowing a tragic demise.

From the onset, the disc’s beats are epic in scale. On the album’s intro track, the Sean C & LV–produced “Speak of Freedom,” Pusha spits, “All the apologies, I wear the cross, I bear the blame/We in the same group, but I don’t share my brother’s pain,” as he goes on to talk of music as a self-made prison. Separately, Malice speaks of a similar sentiment, when he questions, “How was I to know I was happy being piss poor?” over a perfect sound bed of rapid-fire drums, melodic strings and rock-guitar accents.

It is key to note that, until now, The Neptunes have been the sole sound providers of the two previous Clipse albums, but on Til the Casket Drops, Pharrell and Chad make a little room for Cali producer DJ Khalil and the aforementioned Sean C & LV. Rather than being stark contrasts, the outside contributions blend right in with The Neptunes’ otherworldly sonic bleeps and bangs—so much so that it’s Khalil who laces the bum-rushing, Kanye West–assisted lead single, “Kinda Like a Big Deal,” and the standout, dancehall-tinged “There Was a Murder,” two menacing additions to the Clipse’s catalog that otherwise wouldn’t exist had the group not branched out.

Just as with their prior releases, it is the duo’s ability to go out on a limb, beyond coke-fueled trappings, that remains their strong suit. On “Champion,” Malice kicks, “A long way from pumpin’ in housing projects/Investing in real estate, weighing out my prospects,” while a shimmering synth and numbing bass play in the background. Lord Willin’ and Hell Hath pounded listeners with tales of Pyrex, yet this album is more nuanced. Never mind the saccharine, Keri Hilson–laced radio volley “All Eyes on Me”—the Clipse’s need for something resembling a radio hit is to be expected. Instead, more emphasis should be put on the mid-’90s-sounding “Counseling” and the bright and boastful “I’m Good,” which sonically fare much better.

But don’t think for a second that the brothers Thornton have become milquetoast MCs who have forgotten their struggles. At least for a moment, the chest-thumping “Never Will It Stop” quells such notions and gives a nod to the Clipse of old. Says Malice, “Child of a lesser God, so when I drop the top on the Porsche/It’s my way of reaching for the Lord.”

Playing both sides, though, is nothing new to the pair. Paranoia-stained verses with touches of spirituality is a formula the brothers have perfected. Malice, whose pointed barbs are a highlight of the album, weaves these themes into his bars more and more often. Consider it hip-hop gospel, but without the cheesiness. It is most evident on “Life Change,” where he admits that he was “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked,” before adding, “Money, hoes and clothes is Malice’s past tense.”

Combining an even mix of maturity and playfulness (check “Back by Popular Demand” featuring Cam’ron), the Clipse’s future remains as prosperous as ever. With Til the Casket Drops serving as a return to grace, there’s proof positive that Pusha T and Malice still have much to live for. —Alvin Blanco

  • klm1015

    Can’t wait for this to drop I know its gonna be a classic

  • Mitch

    Well-written! This review deserves a byline.

    • Look Up

      You must have missed the name at the end of the review… SMH/LOL

  • AZ40

    As long as Pharrell doesn’t do that horrible singing Im Good

  • http://xxlmag.com Blakout615

    I been saying forever that production wise they needed to step out. And im glad they finally did.
    From the review,I cant see why they didnt give it an XXL. They said it themselves that the joint with keri hilson is to be expected. Cant wait to hear the album tho

    • jonny bizness

      yo blackout u ain’t gonna get a xxl with keri hilson on ur album but popeyes,kinda a big deal and i’m good more than makes up 4 it

  • jonny bizness

    I’M GLAD THAT THE CLIPSE HAVE BRANCHED OUT WITH OTHER PRODUCERS COS YOU CAN GO ONLY SO FAR WITH NEPTUNES BEATS 4 ME MALICE AND PUSHA R BETTA LYRICALLY THAN 99% OF RAPPERS OUT THERE I HOPE THIS 1 SELLS COS THEY DESERVE IT

  • http://myspace.com/chuckplatinum Chuck Platinum

    The Clipse have always been banging them hits out I dont expect anything less and with Sean & LV on the prod. will give them an even more grittier sound cant wait for the album peace

    http://myspace.com/chuckplatinum

    http://twitter.com/chuckplatinum

  • SOUTHSIDE A-TOWN

    yo, anybody co-signing that classic status on they last album? i just started to fux w/ these dudes. they the truth. & i would like to reiterate (damn, i hope i spelled that right), I’m Good is MY SHIT!!!

    • jonny bizness

      southside i would give hell hath no fury xxl 4 rhymes and originality and an xl 4 production so yeah it’s a classic

  • Phill Gates

    I don’t know why people keep giving The Neptunes shit about there beats. Production doesn’t always need to be high-maintenance if you got the right rhymes. I was a little skeptical in the outside-production thing for this album too; but the more I’m hearing from the leaks, it fits TTCD well.

  • KingPoetic

    Holy smokes, a rap album getting an Xl review @ xxl??!?!

  • DoubleClutch95

    I can’t wait to hear the album… I think that the clipse going with a more radio friendly album hurt them from receiving an xxl on Til the Casket Drops. Either way lyrics received XXL and that’s all that matters to me.

  • yoprince

    i hear ppl say the clipse have two classics sometimes. i disagree. but hell hath no fury is a classic.

    the neptunes are still and have always been brilliant.. and that includes pharrell on his own.

    also.. fuck sales. i don’t see why this album review mentioned sales. these two in general do not make pop music and HHNF definitely wasn’t geared toward commercial success so why even mention it.

  • http://www.justice.gov.za GO-Getta’

    Cocaine rap sh*t!

  • kedordu

    this feels like an xxl to me .. if lyrics are xxl and beats are xl .. then its xxl

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  • Deadly MIME

    Look out for Ugly People and the remake song “I’m Good” from the Clipse

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  • RE-UP G

    XL? are u stupid? XXL REAL TALK

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  • kedordu

    THIS IS MY FAVOURITE ALBUM THIS YR .

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