Album Review

Amidst the brilliant drug metaphors and street-ready beats, the us-against-the-world fire-breathing intensity and clever wordplay, Virginia rap-duo Clipse have a deeper artistic motivation, which sets them apart from your typical coke-rappers.

On “Momma I’m So Sorry,” backed as always by the production of the Neptunes, Pusha T raps, “I philosophize about blocks and keys, n*****s call me young black Socrates.” Pusha and his older brother Malice are in the game to create worlds — mythical lands that are based in their own truth, extensions of the stories that they have lived in the past and present. Through their singular mastery of hip-hop diction and language, they assemble an environment on their sophomore album Hell Hath No Fury, which features imagery rivaling Joanna Newsom’s Ys for sheer transforming power.

Like Newsom’s lyrically dense epics, Clipse use an uncommon vocabulary of metaphors without stopping or slowing to clearly define their meanings. Yet, for the fans, this is precisely what resonates as truth; what makes the rappers tales of drug-money stacks and snitches so believable.

Songs like the lead single, “Mr. Me Too,” are not empty stylistic ploys aimed at simply convincing the listener of the credibility of the rappers. Pusha T is actually angry, and that nasty cadence you hear as he scowls, “Who gonna stop us? Not a goddamn one of ya,” is intentional and real. After facing years of legal troubles with Jive Records, following the success of their debut Lord Willin’, Clipse have finally been given a second chance and you can feel the heat of resentment behind every line on this record. The duo never shies away from the harsh realities of their past, or street-life in general, and it fuels their rage, as well as pride, over their own rags-to-riches story.

The beats themselves are icy, mean and strange, reflecting the tension of the themes. Standout “Trill” is a bubbling cauldron of horror with the Neptunes shaping big bass drums around sinister alien synths. The aforementioned “Mr. Me Too” finds Pharrell revisiting “Drop It Like It’s Hot” to create a darker vision of Snoop Dogg’s huge hit, as Pusha maliciously spits, “Tomorrow ain’t promised so we live for the moment.”

In this line, we see a core motivation behind Hell Hath No Fury, which essentially uses its difference and singularity as a defense against the impediments of the world. The fear of being further trampled by the industry elite, or being punished by “guilt” and the hard past is what motivates final track “Nightmares” or leads Clipse on “Mr. Me Too,” to protectively ridicule those who are attempting to cop their style. But in their individuality they hold the key to sustaining success.

On “Ride Around Shining,” the crew sings, “All I want to do is ride around shining while I can afford it,” while the beat floats on a magical lingering synthesizer. It’s perhaps the most compelling song on the best rap album of the year, and as Pusha T and Malice take their style into the coke-stratosphere with lines like “While I’m shoveling the snowman, call me frosty,” it’s clear that through their intentionally strange and distinct voices, they continue to fight the possibility of failure. But they also move closer to artistic transcendence.

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