Clipse breaks its silence with `Fury'

Whip-smart wordplay helps sophomore effort stand out as one of 2006's better rap albums

CD review

November 30, 2006|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

The two have every right to be angry, maybe even a little paranoid.

Gene "Malice" Thornton and Terrence "Pusha T" Thornton, collectively known as the rapping brother duo Clipse, showed much promise on their 2002 debut, Lord Willin'. The album went gold, spurred by the hit "Grindin'." But their momentum was killed when label politics - a corporate merger and nasty legal disputes - held up the release of a follow-up. Four years have zipped by with no album. Aside from a pair of underground mix tapes, We Got It 4 Cheap, Vols. 1 and 2, the Virginia Beach, Va., pair has kept a low profile.

Hell Hath No Fury, Clipse's sophomore album, finally hit stores this week. (Yesterday, the brothers made an in-store appearance at Sound Garden in Fells Point.) All the anger, frustration and paranoia the two must have felt as their promising career was left hanging have been synthesized in dark, sometimes self-loathing lyrics. Courtesy of the producing team of the Neptunes (mainly Pharrell Williams), the music shadowing the brothers' smart wordplay emphasizes the ominous overtones of the rhymes. The overall sound is impressively lean.

Though the subject generally centers on very tired drugs-and-money fantasies, Clipse finds a way to make it all interesting. It's not that the two have a Biggie Smalls-like gift for narrative and drama. (Few do.) Rather, it's the Thornton brothers' direct, whip-smart wordplay that pulls you in.

The rhyme patterns don't feel too belabored; the syntax is never jumbled. The lyrics often underscore the bleakness of the beats: "Give up the money or the angel cries two tears/Front of your crib sounding like Chinese New Year."

The lead single, "Mr. Me Too," featuring Williams, is one of the few lighter moments on the 12-track album. As the fuzzy beat bounces and pulsates behind them, the Thorntons swap some of their cockiest lines - many of which can't be reprinted in a family newspaper. That cut is followed by "Wamp Wamp (What It Do)," an unconventional club burner made gritty by the swaggering presence of Slim Thug.

"Ride Around Shining" is the best track on Hell Hath No Fury: Backed by little more than a fractured beat, floating harp plucks and looped, clipped groans, Clipse spits sharp, colorful rhymes about "stylin'" and making big drug deals. The feel is tense and cinematic as paranoia seethes beneath the surface. Nothing on the CD quite matches the song's understated power.

The rest of the album is jagged and sometimes morose, especially the rap ballad "Nightmares," featuring Bilal, the often-overlooked Philly soul crooner. But Clipse's easy verbal dexterity and warped humor make the heaviness bearable.

This isn't music that glorifies the drug life per se. Under all the boasts about money, fly women and settling scores, the tension and terror of "bangin'" and "slangin'" for a living simmer. The guys seem to have a conscience.

Lately, hip-hop has produced a string of fat disappointments: Jay-Z's Kingdom Come, OutKast's Idlewild soundtrack and Ludacris' Release Therapy, to name a few. With its cohesiveness and daring playfulness, Hell Hath No Fury stands out as one of the better rap albums of the year. What the brothers of Clipse lack in lyrical depth, they make up in wittiness. The two are always incisive, finding twisted beauty in the dark.

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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