We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 1 / Vol. 2
B- / B+
he Clipse never completely went away, but there were times when it definitely felt like they did. This seems foolish in retrospect, but in late 2003 I eagerly awaited what I thought was Hell Hath No Fury’s impending release date. Now here we are, two full years later. The brothers Thornton made their glorious return this year, and even though it’s taken a while, I’m giddy enough that I still feel like talking about it.
It’s both sad and amazing how label problems can temporarily destroy such promising careers, and the Clipse was victimized as badly as anyone in recent memory. With a hugely successful debut, the massively popular and productive Neptunes providing the beats, and a promising follow-up waiting in the wings, it looked like we were headed towards a beautiful new age for the boys from VA. But they and their label(s) got shuffled around, crushing their momentum. Back to the kitchen they went, until the We Got It 4 Cheap series arrived to chronicle their resurgence. It’s as great as anyone could have possibly hoped.
Behind the boards for both is “Mr. Get Familiar himself,” Clinton Sparks, and the mixtapes feature two rugged MCs, Ab Liva (who appeared on Lord Willin’) and Sandman, who play almost as vital a role as either of the Thorntons. And from time to time their old friend Pharrell shows up to drop a verse, collectively forming the Re-Up Gang, a moniker that is constantly spelled out through both sets, and one which I now scrawl across all of my possessions like a schoolgirl with a crush.
Volume 1 prepares listeners for what they’re about to hear. Liva delivers a line that basically summarizes the We Got It 4 Cheap ethos: “Liva the hustler, still in my glory and / Cocaine pusher, doors up, I’m DeLorean.” “Coast to Coast” has the four main characters rattling off only a few bars at a time, and the slight change in approach leaves it as one of the best tracks on the first tape.
Dark, simple beats are used for most of Vol. 1’s first half, letting the rappers run the show. Given how the quality drops off abruptly, it’s a shame it doesn’t continue. The majority of the highlights occur in these early tracks. Liva’s verse where he ends each line with “wit’ it” on “Stay From Around Me” (a good one: “Me and two bitches like John Ritter wit’ it / Guns so big that I’m lookin’ like a midget wit’ it”) is especially memorable. As is “Studin’ Y’all,” a track apparently intended for Hell Hath No Fury that most closely resembles the material from Lord Willin’. But after that, Pusha and Malice all but disappear until the final tracks. Liva and Sandman are given their proper chance to shine.
But as Pusha foreshadows at the conclusion, “It’s only Volume 1,” and the missteps made on 1 (which overall is still quite good) only seem worse because Vol. 2 is nearly flawless. Many of the beats on 1 are taken from songs that best fit the mood that it tries to convey. On 2, the Re-Up Gang reimagines some of the most well-known hits of the first half of 2005, as well as other classics. In every instance, they take the songs and reform them to fit inside their gritty snow globe. After months of listening, I’ve yet to grow even the slightest bit tired of hearing Pusha and Malice take a pop radio station and turn it into their personal journal.
On “What’s Up” they explicitly outline the process of cooking up, selling, and living glamorously off of cocaine. It’s an intimidating early track, and if you disapprove strongly enough you might as well leave. “Mic Check” triumphantly plants the Black Card Era’s flag firmly into the ground (“I was in the spot from the first to the fifth / With a mean comeback like the Return of the Sith”). The outstanding original “Zen” revels in the extraordinary wealth they’ve earned from their dual pursuits. “Hate It or Love It,” just like 50 and Game’s version, is a bio of sorts for all five Re-Up rappers without straying too far from the straight coke rap. One of Vol. 2’s funniest moments comes when Pusha introduces their rendition of “I’m a Hustla” by asking, “Now how could we not do this one?”
As “Ultimate Flow” wraps things up, ruminations are made on the role of cocaine in the Clipse’s world. Pusha lets his guard down for a second and questions the drug he’s devoted so much time and so many rhymes to, but concludes that without it he’d have nothing to rap about, pausing awkwardly (and humorously) to demonstrate his point. I can’t rightly praise their subject matter, but they certainly go a long way with it.
Hell Hath No Fury is promised to be on its way a couple times throughout Vol. 2, and if it ever does see the light of day it’s got a lot to live up to, both commercially and artistically. I don’t see how it could possibly fail. The world seems to be at least as ready for Clipse as it was when Lord Willin’ was released, and as rappers Malice and Pusha have only improved. Fears of Clipse’s disappearance can now subside for some time. With We Got It 4 Cheap, it only took a few mixtapes to definitively reassert their brilliance, and I just hope that enough people hear them so that Clipse might once again receive their much-deserved acclaim.
Reviewed by: Ross McGowan
Reviewed on: 2005-12-08