Hell Hath No Fury
lipse, the gangster synesthetes, splashed their home state with anxious twilight-blues, sickly dollar bill greens, and endless buckets of bloody reds on their 2002 full-length debut Lord Willin’. But on Hell Hath No Fury, the duo’s famously long-delayed second full length, they take all their Technicolor pyrex-and-Swiss-bank-account stories and add a calm, compelling dash of foggy grey distance. It makes their second album not just one of the stand-out rap albums of the year, but one of the most unsettlingly restrained gangster rap albums in recent memory.
For most, the story behind the new Clipse album is the delay. The (roughly) two-and-a-half years of label chicanery, two-plus years of lawyers, two-plus years of The Source and XXL putting Hell Hath No Fury on “most anticipated” lists, two-plus years of pan-flash rap acts blowing their hour upon the stage. Even with the record ostensibly completed, the madness continued: this year alone the album was slated for August. Then Halloween. Then late November.
Would the album “mean” less if it had come out right on schedule? Who knows? Now that it actually is out, though, that mythic two-year delay becomes something else entirely. Not hibernation, not pop exile, not even a trip into the distant wilderness. Think Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver doing endless pushups in his dingy apartment, peering out the window, biding his time and getting hungrier by day.
When I interviewed the Clipse earlier this fall all they could talk about was restraint. A far cry from the infamous “lynching every staff member at Jive” quote Pusha T gave to Rolling Stone, Malice and Pusha T talked about “not rushing” the album, making “handcrafted” music, bringing “a living quality to music, no hoopla.”
Their lead single “Mr. Me Too,” the apparently Lil’ Wayne-baiting anthem? “Tactful, keeping the spirit of competition,” in the words of Pusha T. Feelings towards snap music (a favorite target of purists and bloggers alike)? “There’s a lane for everyone.”
Sure, their hated label honchos were in the same room during the interview, but this was almost surreal composure. They are, in the words of Pusha, “indifferent.” Most people get their career crippled and wallow. Clipse went ahead and released two fantastic mix tapes—the now legendary We Got It 4 Cheap series—and, well, waited.
So when you hear the opener off Fury, the Reasonable Doubt-emulating “We Got It For Cheap,” you expect to hear something more, say, malicious and vengeful than what you actually get:
The wool is removed and now I seeWhen Malice raps those lines he takes a half pause and makes “exactly” into an ornamental and deliberate moment. It’s catharsis, and from that second forward, Fury becomes less about retribution than business: the business of sneering, vicious, infectious, professional hip-hop. Global. Capital-first. Emotionless. They never look back.
My leg was pulled, the joke’s on me
So heartbreaking, like loving a whore
Might hurt you once, but never no more
It’s like trying to fly, but they clipping your wings
And that’s exactly why the caged bird sings
Pusha T is probably the better MC, more unpredictable in syntax and tempo, though Malice gets more of the quotable lines (“I get it cross state with the grace of Maria” is the cinematic allusion of the year). As a pair they still suffer from the fact that they’re nearly indistinguishable in voice and delivery, and their similarly passion-less approaches to the subject material does leave the listener occasionally lost. Still, both have wiry, sharp voices that breathe life into resonant, unexpected images and themes (Solomon and Sheba get referenced as easily as Eric Bischoff and the duo’s beloved Bathing Ape outfits).
And, lest we forget the Neptunes. Once again, Chad Hugo has pulled Pharrell back into the studio and justified every salivating piece of praise thrown the pair’s way. They produced the entire album and each song on Fury is an exquisitely stripped down, taut dialogue between a mere two or three elements. A dripping harp cycle and a rimmed snare (“Ride Around Shining”), a Gothic choir over handbells (“Keys Open Doors,” perhaps the album’s best beat), an asphyxiated accordion and hi-hats (“Momma I’m So Sorry”), and little more than a tinfoil guitar riff (“Dirty Money”). No noticeable sampling. No skits. No guests except for some mercifully brief Re-Up gang cameos and a Slim Thug hook on the steel-drum-fueled virus known as “Wamp Wamp.”
Except for a calculated, woeful album closer—“Nightmares” and its hook’s absolutely hideous abbreviation of “paranoid” to “p-noid”(?!)—Fury is a twelve step sequence of poisonous, caustic, and lithe rap.