Hell Hath No Fury
Hip-Hop is supposed to be uncompromising. Raw.
Furious even. All anger and adrenaline and getting out all the feeling
the real world has no room for. The brothers behind Clipse -- Malice and Pusha
T -- understand this fact better than anyone in hip-hop right now. If you called
their very long-awaited new album, Hell Hath No Fury, simply another coke
rap record you'd be far missing the point. Unlike even 2006's other "classic"
rap release, Ghostface's Fishscale, Hell is so razor sharp, so direct,
so, as record snobs might say, minimal, that it's practically punk in its
conception. It wastes no time with interludes, or tacked on guests, or hooks even
-- verses go on way past the 16 bar mark, the content of which are so deep with
metaphor, tricky with double meanings and awe-inspiring inside mythologizing that
most of these cuts don't even need choruses. However, quite possibly most impressive
of all, is that for an album that was shelved once and completely overhauled from
the ground up, and then almost shelved again by Jive until XXL blessed it with
its rare, famed XXL rating. For a record that's produced by the Neptunes, the
arbiters of commercial rap radio excess, Hell is unbelievably free of all
the cheesy, phoned-in, throw-away radio clutter that's been a cancer to hip-hop
since soundscans became surrogates for quality.
Minimalist. Here's a
word that gets overused in every genre across the board. Unless, we're talking
about a Hisato Higuchi album, it rarely comes to mean anything anymore.
However, "minimalist" fits Hell like a glove -- not only for
its important political implications within the bloated hip-hop world, but within
the album's very nature. Usually producers are called in to help focus an artist,
challenge a performer to be the best that he or she can be. Hell completely
inverts this formula; the Neptunes have never come up with a more brazen, experimental,
and totally satisfying collection of tracks -- 11 conversations about one thing.
Variations on a theme. And so minimal, the mechanisms are all exposed: spray cans
for shakers on one track ("Mr. Me Too"), hanging piano sustains ("Ride
Around Shining"), raucous steel drums and table-top-banging snares ("Wamp
Wamp"), menacing synth lines ("Trill") and sure, accordions too,
all in 4/4 time. All the usual Neptunes signifiers, all the sonic toys that Chad
and Pharrell have been playing with for a while now, all finally perfected in
glorious Technicolor focus. And, of course, one gets the succinct impression that
the boys in Clipse helped push the Neptunes into such career-defining highs.
then there are the rhymes. Few artists have as diabolically simple flows.
Rarely do Malice or Pusha play with cadence, or time signature, or even dynamics.
Clipse are almost bold in their simplicity, they taunt the listener with a rhyme-style
that screams "I'm so dope I don't even need to switch s**t up." These
guys just love being difficult with words, building a wall out of nouns and verbs,
using language simultaneously as a threat and a defense mechanism, and again and
again their narratives of coke dealing and the figurative and literal price
of coke dealing, stream by in dense and unrelenting syllable tornados. They almost
sound like Jadakiss gone drone after awhile -- in other words, the perfect canvas
for the Neptunes to go bonkers with space and rhythm, and color -- two things
haven't gone so well together since my Sunday evenings and HBO's The Wire.
And that about sums it up -- a rap classic for the MySpace generation, the black
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, a nostalgia treat for cynics, the worthy successor
to Illmatic. Yep. Check for the expanded edition in 2020. [HG]