“The Funeral”, 1999’s introduction to Malice and Pusha T, appeared—at first—to be a more auspicious event than the song’s title let on. With dynamic production from the then B-list (but climbing) Neptunes, the pair caught my attention with 1) a truly original video featuring a N’awlins style funeral procession (somber yet festive), and 2) the fact that they’re a hard act from Virginia. My interest was piqued. And then, in a sardonic, B.I.G.-esque example of a morbid song title catching up to you…Clipse got buried.
But fear not, somewhere between doing Nore’s “Superthug” and Justin Timberlake’s solo offering, the Neptunes got big—massive, actually. Now they’re a duo of demiurgical dorks, who can do pretty much what they want. Clipse projects and rock albums included.
But back to the Clipse (and you’ll find yourself saying that a lot when listening to this album, because they’re essentially guest stars on their own joint). Yes, it’s the same derivative, misogynistic, couldn’t-afford-Jordans-so-I-had-to-sling-drugs talk that we’re used to, but for some reason the conceits don’t feel as redundant here as they should. It could be because they’re more believable than most; I’ve never seen the duo smile (Ha! Admit it, you had to ask yourself which duo, didn’t you?). It could be because of the Neptunes canvas it’s painted on. In any case, you feel like listening, because you just know Pharell wouldn’t deal with the same-old same-old, right?
Well, yes and no. While they don’t break any new thematic ground here, the Clipse succeed in putting a little (very little) of their own spin on the safe stuff. Every hardcore act has their version of “why” they do the things they do, but listening to Malice and Pusha explain their entrée into the crack game, you get the sense that the two are students. Their professors: Crockett & Tubbs, Yosemite Sam, and their own Grandmother. They describe their indoctrination in detail on tracks like the aptly titled “Intro”, “My mama shoulda seen it coming/ me runnin’ up and down the stairs too quick/ humming Miami Vice, theme music”. And on “Young Boy”, “Never stood a chance exposed from way back/ lying to the baby, saying it’s Ajax/ I was ‘bout 4 when I walked past that door/ that shoulda been closed, where I first witnessed the raw/ See in my household it was quite unique/ playing hide and seek, you might find a ki(lo)”. That’s about as introspective as this album gets. Though, there is the last verse on “I’m Not You,” and “Gangsta Lean”, the token extended metaphor song, expressing their love for weed, but the track is more “Money Is My Bitch” than “I Gave U Power”. Just another bad version of “Me And My Girlfriend”.
Taking the album for what it is, and realizing that everything ain’t gotta be Def Jux, the Clipse do sound great when they’re just talking trash. “Comedy Central” is one of the album’s better moments, though Fabolous steals the show. Say what you will about him, he sounds like he learned to talk to Neptunes beats. The only cat who sounds more at home with Pharell and Chad is Nore.
“When’s The Last Time” is the current single, and it’s ready-made for the club. It is, in fact, about what goes on in nightspots. However, I can't help but picture Pharell winking at us when he pleads, “When’s the last time you heard sumthin like this?” Because he knows, just like we do, that we hear this all the time on the radio. Could this, like “Lapdance” (guess what? It was really a critique of politicians on the take!) and “Brain” (pssst, it’s actually about….brain) be another one of Pharell’s meta-narratives? Is he making a statement about the cookie-cutter nature of pop radio? Is "this" really a call to arms!? Me thinks not, but it makes the song more enjoyable if I pretend.
The crown jewel here though (besides “Grindin”), is “Virginia”. Over an ice-cold beat, the Clipse let you know exactly where they’re from. Most Neptunes hooks are nice, but “I’m from Virginiiiaaaa, where ain’t shit to do but cook…” is just classic. “Ironic, the same place I’m making figures at? / That there’s the same place they used to hang niggers at.”
I’d actually hoped for more geo-specific moments like this. But outside of the “Grindin” video, the album doesn’t do a lot of referencing of the group’s homebase. And that's what really makes the album suffer. Becuase even if you’d never been there, the Dungeon Family made the names College Park, Decatur, etc. stick in your head. Same thing with the Wu and various Staten Isle locales. Local scenery then, becomes part of a group’s larger myth. It’s what gives legendary crews, such as these, their charm. There is no such mythologizing on the Clipse album. Their loss. "Ya coulda been a contendah!!" However, there is some good production, and some solid, though not spectacular spittin’. Worth a listen or two.