In its third album, the Virginia based hip-hop duo Clipse has taken its Neptunes-fueled brand of street slangin’ and made a decision to grow up. While many of the album’s tracks contemplate everything from life decisions and fatherhood, the album is not without both its bangers and gimmicky busts.
Two songs that stand beyond those restrictions (for better or worse) are two jams spun with some island flavor. “There Was A Murder” is an interesting beast. It’s a fusion of some bargain basement reggae, complete with Rastafarian chorus, and the boys switching to a Caribbean flow. The anti-snitching jam is west coast sensibilities with a calypso rhythm. “Footsteps” a better version of the Jamaican fusion, much grittier and funkier. The chorus is like Montel Jordan doing Matisyahu with an Autotuned wailer in the mix. There’s even the line “it weighs on my conscience and I hate conscious rap”, demonstrating a level of uncertainty about maturing.
“Popular Demand (Popeye’s)” is a confusing conundrum if there ever was one. While the phrase “Sittin’ outside of Popeye’s, eating chicken and fries” has a Will Ferrell-like ability to catch on, the whole thing kind of falls apart. It’s one part gangster gloat feast to the beat of an old-time piano and one part meditation on how absurd the game is (“Who knew all those commas meant you could lose your common sense”). A case of good intentions being bogged down with asinine hooks. “Counseling” is the jam for those with a sex addiction. It’s another one of those really interesting balances of the scummy rap player beating his chest while demonstrating a genuine lack of an ability to connect and commit. Throw in Nicole Hurst, a poor man’s Beyonce, and you’ve got sexy R&B meets 80s cheesy gimmick rap ala the Fat Boys with a dash of N.E.R.D. level skate thug thrown in for good measure.
“All Eyes On Me” is the first cameo that isn’t a huge letdown (sorry Kanye and Cam’ron). Keri Hilson actually sounds like a vixen and is smokier than ever. It might also be that this is like some Neptuned-Bollywood jam that celebrates throwing money and women with well-endowed posteriors. It could even be an album breakout. “I’m Good” is the kind of Will Smith “Summertime” celebration of sheer abandonment as the brothers work to buck off the negative vibes of their community and the ever-crumbling world around us. Call it the lowest common denominator, but the combination of a beat that rumbles and buzzes and Pharrell’s heavy falsetto makes for an infectious hit.
The songs where they bare it all to the world make the club favorites that much more acceptable. The opening track “Freedom” speaks to the whole emotional aim of the album. The brothers have suffered and gained from rap. This is the song, and by extension the album as a whole, where they can establish a world where they’re remorseful and not yet ready to get off the streets. Best line: “My critics finally have a line of mine to jerk off to.” Add in the lighter than air guitar and the battle-ready drum machine and the message is pretty clear: Clipse is in charge. “Showin’ Out” goes from satirizing Lady Gaga to tearing into the cruel mistress that is rap (“Common loved her, I wish I never met her. They slutted her out, there’s nothing left to treasure”). Here, Clipse offer emotional insight into why the duo do what it does behind a distorted track full of effects and jingly keys that burns alongside them.
“Champion” is the celebration with a beat that would make T.I.’s Paper Trail a non-currency color of green. “Life is with your kids watching Madagascar in the head rest of the H3 with crash bars, rocking play clothes, every day’s a catwalk”. More evidence they’re dealing with a new level of realness. Sadly, they have a tendency to go overboard on the whole concept. “Life Change” is less an angry flow regarding feeling wretched and more this kind of really cheesy anthem. The thinly veiled Christian metaphors and lyrics (especially on the second verse) are disingenuous. “Now I’m back on board due to the Lord’s GPS” is just awful. Same thing for “Door Man”, which features lines like “I put my money on the roof and crush this bitch” and “Don’t cry for us now, just pray for our babies.” It’s kind of amazing the depth of spirituality the song portrays while at the same time portraying the most conceited rappers imaginable.
Take your feelings for Clipse and put them aside when you give the album a spin. The brothers are in brand new places with a brand new sound and the jury’s still out regarding whether this move will be for the best or not. However, there’s no mistaking that while the new music is sometimes emotionally evocative and other times uninspired cliches, the game has forever changed for Clipse.