The new Clipse album dropped today to near universal acclaim. Almost every review I've had the chance to read has showered praise on the insightful and unflinching lyrics, the dark and sparse production by the Neptunes, and the simmering rage that the Thornton brothers have felt during the label limbo over the last 4 years. I can't add much to what's already been said. This album is fantastic. It's one of the few recent rap albums that I can play all the way through despite my A.D.D. when it comes to repeating/shuffling songs on my iPod.

The subject matter of the album is mostly compelling - I'm a sucker for tales of people selling crack and somehow juking the system and making it big (see: my newfound fascination with The Wire - although nothing ever works out for anyone in The Wire) - and the songs, despite their bleak subject matter, manage to be catchy, if not uplifting ("Hello New World" is the best example of that). Also, the production on the album is fantastic; from the calypso drums on "Wamp Wamp" to the guitar riff on "Dirty Money" to the hollowed out sound on "Hello New World" and "Momma I'm So Sorry," the Neptunes have laid out a canvas that perfectly complements the bravado and remorse that dominates the lyrics on the album. The best compliment I can give the album is that it sounds like it was made by two rappers who know they are on the verge of becoming huge and aren't willing to squander their opportunity. The Clipse say something on the album. And they sound great doing it.

Listening to the Clipse album also allowed me to put the new Jay-Z offering into focus. On my first listen, I thought that the CD was exceptionally defiant. It was a big fuck you to everyone who thought that Hov would pull an MJ-on-the-Wizards comeback; a big fuck you to Dame Dash, the Dips, Jimmy Jones; and crappy rap music in general. Usually defiant rap music is great. But it doesn't sound right coming from Hov. He's not supposed to be defiant! He's the motherfucking president of Def Jam! He owns part of the New Jersey Nets! He's dating Beyonce! He hasn't been an underdog since the late 90's!

After the defiance of the album lost its appeal, I started to feel lonely listening to the album. Granted, part of this has to do with the fact that I've been listening to it while studying in the library and have hated myself every minute that I've been here. Anyway...the album is lonely. What was supposed to be Hov's crowning achievement (the glorious comeback), isn't that glorious because he's got no one to go to Waverly Diner with (so to speak). Over the last few years he's lost one of his best friends and been slammed by almost every artist on his label and other industry figures for his management of the Def Jam roster. What was supposed to be a comeback has been clouded by other bullshit.

My final thought on the album is that I'm not sure what the Hov is supposed to be rapping about now. He's 38! I'm pretty sure he hasn't been running drugs up and down the Eastern seaboard in between marketing meetings; I'm pretty sure he hasn't carried a gun in a while; I'm pretty sure he's not screwing around on Beyonce. That pretty much sums up what Hov has talked about his entire career: drugs, guns, and girls. I liked it when he talked about that stuff. But you can't do that forever because it starts to ring hollow after a while. I think that rappers face a lose-lose situation. Rapping about nonsense is great (or, rather, acceptable) when you're in you're 20s but it comes off as increasingly forced (and, more importantly, repetitive) the older you get. I'm all for rappers talking about "real" things ("Minority Report" is one of the better songs on Kingdom Come) but the nature of rap music (the inherent descriptiveness of 16 bars compared to 4 line rock and roll stanzas) means that songs about something become a little too weighty. And albums about those topics might be difficult too - especially when you're used to the artist rapping about Cris and 40/40.

Essentially, Jay still sounds pretty great rapping on the album...the problem is that I don't really care about what he's rapping about. I guess what I'm trying to say is that rappers, for their own good, shouldn't age. Hov should always be 26 and releasing Reasonable Doubt, LL Cool J should always be telling fools that his momma wants him to punch them in the face (instead of making AWESOME collaborations with J Lo), Busta Rhymes should have remained a yelling lunatic instead of taking himself to seriously, Mos Def should have stuck with Talib and should have never ever ever ever ever distracted himself with acting, Andre 3000 should have stuck with being an eccentrically great rapper instead of becoming an eccentrically crappy falsetto-singer, DMX should always be a psycho covered in blood on his album cover and should never be a psycho who keeps getting arrested for repeated gun charges. Biggie's and Pac's legacies were forever secured by the fact that they never met old age - their deaths were awful losses, but if the careers of their peers have showed anything, it's that it's hard to grow old in rap.

In the end, I guess that's why I like this Clipse album so much. Because these guys are on the verge. Because their success is still new to them and they're relishing it. Because of the fact that they're underdogs. Because when I saw them perform live at the Knitting Factory, they stopped rapping and started smiling because they were enjoying the fact that the entire crowd knew almost every lyric to their songs. And it wasn't the bullshit "soaking the moment in" pose that a lot of famous rappers do - it was pure joy. All I hope is that they capture that magic for the rest of their careers.

Get the fuck out the throne, you clones. The kings are back!


Sam said...

Incredible post. It seems you just don't want rappers to mature and assimilate -- certainly a lose-lose situation for them. Unfortunately, I can't disagree. Well done.

Tom Campion said...

Today I finally got around to buying "Hell Hath No Fury," and you were right. There's at least one grad student in Music City bumping Clipse in his Jetta now.