Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Clipse' "Til the Casket Drops": I guess the dirty money really ain't that bad...

Rating: 3.5/5

Clipse certainly have a lot to live up to with their new album, don't they?

Gloomy, paranoid and downright suffocating, Clipse’ 2006 sophomore effort “Hell Hath No Fury” is a masterpiece. Among the most critically acclaimed hip hop albums of the past ten years, Hell Hath saw the brothers from Virginia Beach channeling all of their frustrations (with their asshole label Jive records, in particular) into the album, forsaking mainstream pop sensibilities entirely. The album plunges the listener into the madness of the cocaine business; murder, greed, paranoia and regret abound, underscored by some of the best production the Neptunes have ever been responsible for. It pleased the hell out of critics, as well as the group’s adoring fan base, but received a positively ice cold reception at record stores. Faced with the dilemma of balancing artistry with the allure of a platinum plaque, Clipse return with “Til the Casket Drops,” a fierce statement of defiance and success, though also a considerably lighter affair.

Often, the results are absolutely brilliant. Opening with the hard rocking “Freedom,” Clipse make it clear that they couldn’t give two shits about critical opinion of their work, with Pusha T proclaiming “I’m only finding comfort in knowing you can’t replace me/What a thing to say/But what am I to do?/I’m role playing a conscious nigga/And true is true/Cocaine aside, all of the bloggers behoove/My critics finally have a verse of mine to jerk off to/I own you all.” From there, the duo runs effortless through no less than seven tracks without a single blunder. Jittery, high wire synthesizers propel the Cam’ron-assisted “Popular Demand,” and “Kinda Like A Big Deal,” anchored by a rumbling, percussion-heavy monster of a beat, is Clipse at their arrogant best (although they do get just a tad outshined by an overachieving, hilarious Kanye West). “I’m Good” is glamorous, self-aggrandizing, fun, the reggae-tinged, anti-snitching juggernaut “There Was A Murder” entertains and disturbs in equal measure, and “Never Will It Stop,” featuring Re-Up Gang member Ab Liva, is as intense and musically unrelenting as its title would suggest.

But then Clipse make two near-fatal mistakes, practically bringing the momentum of Til the Casket Drops to a standstill with the Keri Hilson(?) assisted “Eyes On Me” and the equally forgettable, Nicole Hurst-assisted “Counseling.” Not only are these songs entirely unnecessary and unremarkable R&B collaborations (i.e. obvious attempts at radio airplay and mainstream acceptance) that, within the context of the album, stick out like hot pepper flakes in a gram of cocaine, but they’re sequenced back to back, and thus bringing the otherwise inventive, hard-edged proceedings to a halt. Unlike Hell Hath’s “Dirty Money,” which felt more like satire of the common practice in hip hop of including a customary “song for the ladies” on an otherwise misogynistic, testosterone-drenched album, there’s just no sarcasm to be found on “Eyes On Me,” a basic, run-of-the-mill exercise in the art of the club banger; something that Clipse don’t do very convincingly.

The group recover nicely though, returning to the epic, remorseful, organ and synth-heavy anthems that they do do convincingly, on stellar tracks like the DJ Khalil-produced “Footsteps” and the stunning, Kenna-assisted finale, “Life Change.” The album ends on a decidedly triumphant, positive note; quite a departure from the fearful, weary-eyed “Nightmares,” Hell Hath No Fury’s dreary conclusion. In contrast to that album’s bitterness and malevolence, Til the Casket Drops is a celebration of life; a decidedly immoral, illegal and potentially deadly life, to be exact. It explains the overall lighter tone and their ill-advised dancefloor ambitions, and the results easily best almost every other rap album released in 2009. But after an album as lean and mean as Hell Hath No Fury, the results are sure to be just a little jarring for even the most steadfast Clipse aficionado.

Gotta love that dirty money though, right?

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