Throwback: My ’06 review of the Clipse masterpiece, Hell Hath No Fury
I used to write hip-hop album reviews. I know, doesn’t seem that far-fetched at all.
From late 2006 into early 2008, I slammed the likes of Styles P and Sa-Ra (album is kind of dope now – what the hell did I know?) for HipHopSite.com. This was pretty major for me, a young journalist at the time searching for as many writing avenues as I could find. Perhaps more significantly, HipHopSite was the first website on the Internet to cater to rap in a way that spoke to me, and it unquestionably help to cultivate and refine my appreciation of the genre.
This was the place where I first heard Skew It On The Bar-B and Nas Is Like. I remember the goosebumps that accompanied the opening drums of the latter like it was yesterday. As such, HipHopSite will always hold a significant place in my life.
To get the gig, I had to submit two reviews. Though I can’t recall the first – not even Gmail can help with this, surprisingly – I was able to track down the second just a few days ago. Clipse’s second LP, Hell Hath No Fury, finally freed from the Jive Records fault, was the subject matter and the review, at least in my opinion, still holds up fairly well. Check it out below.
Remember, be gentle – I was but a young Padawan when I scribed this.
Hell Hath No Fury
Much has occurred in hip-hop since the world last heard from the brothers Clipse.
Jason Mizell aka Jam Master Jay was tragically murdered. Jay-Z retired then unretired. And so on, and so on, and so on.
It’s been four years since the critically acclaimed, and commercially successful, Lord Willin’ introduced mainstream culture to Virginia Beach’s most imposing duo – Malice and Pusha T.
Now their often-delayed, all but permanently shelved, sophomore effort has finally emerged from the depths of the Jive Records vault. The album, a 12-track saunter entirely scored by the Neptunes, is lyrically, musically and aurally a breath of fresh air – if air were to squeeze the life out of you, revive you and kill you again.
There’s little doubt Clipse’s well-documented row with Jive has driven the duo into Hell. Their latest offering is unrelenting in prose, and almost desolate in tone. It’s as if pure rage has been pressed, sealed and shipped to the masses.
Make no mistake, the duo’s subject matter has not changed – they are still crack rap’s leading scribes – but their lyrical approach here is chock full of spite, incisive spite balanced amid life on the corner, stunting and braggadocio. “No serum can cure, all the pain I endured / From crack to rap to back to sellin’ it pure,” Pusha laments on We Got it For Cheap (Intro).
The two siblings are superb throughout the assemblage, albeit from different perspectives. Pusha, the younger of the two, is lurid and cynical, with a touch of malevolent honesty. The elder Malice is much more remorseful; his lyrics hold ties to family and tradition, as apparent on Momma I’m So Sorry: “I’m sorry grandma for the mistakes that I have made/When I aired family business out, you put me in my place.” It’s a riveting dynamic.
Not only are the brothers marquee wordsmiths, they have no problem experimenting with form and style. If the cosmic anxiety of lead-single Mr. Me Too didn’t hip you to it, check the fervid ego displayed on Trill. Here, Pusha displays otherworldly ability: “Flow chameleon/ Worth by the million/ Sell the Bolivian/ Feds in oblivion/ Bitch Brazilian/ Purse reptilian/ Took her from far-off island like Gilligan.” Only a handful of groups – see vintage Outkast – are able to combine raw lyricism, in-depth street tales and a thirst for experimentation so well.
That, in itself, makes the Neptunes’ style of production perfect for Clipse. Their work here, as an all-encompassing score, is possibly their finest to date. Combining heavy drums with light, complimenting arrangements – or the complete other way around – Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo provide a landscape nearly as bleak and terrifying as the one Clipse describe in speech. Keys Open Doors is a pitch-black ensemble Craig T. Nelson might have heard during the filming of Poltergeist. Trill harks its sound from some bass-stricken parallel dimension, while Ride Around Shining is minimalist perfection flanked by disturbing harp chords and a circa ’80s breakbeat.
The only drawback of Hell Hath No Fury may be the fact that, after two LPs, we still have yet to find out who Clipse really is. Only on Nightmares, featuring Bilal, do the brothers allow listeners a look into their respective personalities. And even then, the song, which touches on the paranoia and hardship associated with drug dealing, leaves much still cast in shadow.
Still, Hell Hath No Fury is a brilliant work. It’s more than just a worthy successor to Lord Willin’ – it’s a progressive step into the elite.
Perhaps, in retrospect, Jive did the right thing. The four-year purgatory no doubt forced Clipse to reevaluate their musical aspirations. There’s no doubt plenty of motivation was produced in the process. And what emerged was an obstinate piece of pure, uncut street music.
Hell, indeed, hath no fury like pushers scorned.