In the world of music, there are some collaborations that are so magical, so perfect from beginning to end, that they bring out the best in each member of the team so well that in an ideal world they would never end: Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Paul McCartney and John Lennon, MF Doom and Madlib. High on any list of the best musical alliances should be the partnership between producers The Neptunes and rap duo Clipse.
Superstar producers The Neptunes signed Clipse in 2001 to their Star Trak imprint under Arista Records. While most established stars had to pay exorbitantly for a single Neptunes-produced track, Clipse’s debut “Lord Willin’” featured exclusively Neptunes gems, virtually assuring its success. With few moments of serious reflection, the album maintained lyrical depth but focused mainly on the gangsta essentials: cash, guns and drugs.
With the huge success of their debut, a new Clipse-Neptunes collaboration was widely anticipated. But after Arista Records dissolved into Jive Records in 2004, contractual obligations forced Clipse to stay with Jive while the rest of the Star Trak roster found a new home at Interscope. Frustrations increased as the duo continued to work on their new album, and after being denied a release from their contract, Clipse sued the label. During litigation, the brothers released two critically acclaimed mixtapes but made virtually no money on the enterprise. An agreement between Jive and Clipse was reached this summer, and after two delays in the release date, “Hell Hath No Fury” was finally released November 28.
Thankfully, the Neptunes’ move to Interscope did not stop the duo of duos from collaborating on this newest release and bringing in a few Star Trak heavy-hitters to help out, like Bilal, Slim Thug and Rosco P. Coldchain. While Neptunes Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams abandoned the sparse, hollow instrumentation of “Lord Willin’” for a fuller, more layered sound, Pusha-T and Malice still exchange the drug-dealing lessons and competition-smashing diatribes we’ve come to expect. But in a move that signals their newfound maturity, Clipse use their lyrical acumen to take on more reflective subjects like their regrets, history and, in “Hello New World,” their hope of seeing fellow Virginians achieve success. In “Momma I’m So Sorry,” the brothers take responsibility for hurting the mothers, grandmothers and baby mommas in their lives over a barely-there, addictive accordion beat. If “Lord Willin’” was the congratulatory boasting of a wildly successful life in drugs, “Hell Hath No Fury” is the weighty aftermath: Still celebratory, Clipse consider the consequences of their behavior. For anyone who thought the duo could only spit clever metaphors about selling cocaine, these more thoughtful songs prove Clipse’s lyrical class.
Although this sophomore effort features more complex beats, the Neptunes keep the thumps sparse enough to perfectly showcase the brothers’ relaxed, deep-voiced raps. And, just like their partners, Clipse know exactly where to draw the line, with an intuitive sense for where to end their new pensive streak and revert back to the gangsta formula they perfected on their debut. The tracks “Dirty Money” and “Ride Around Shining” are self-hating to the point of satirical, serving as advertisements for a dozen high-end fashion brands and the material benefits of a coke-slinging lifestyle. Similarly, the hit single “Mr. Me Too” offers the fuzzy instrumentation and sparse beat reminiscent of “Grindin’,” and features Push delivering a sarcastic chorus with just the right mix of disdain and boredom.
Clipse are talented enough to do well under any producer, but Hugo and Williams have an innate ability to play off the duo’s incisive, intelligent lines. Fans who have followed Clipse’s career for the past few years should be thankful that label disputes and bickering have done nothing to lessen the two pairs’ chemistry; Blending the best of street and the studio, “Hell Hath No Fury” is honest, nuanced and vivid, a hallmark in the genre of gangsta rap.
Hell Hath No Fury