Every now and then, friend, film buff, and general music enthusiast Brandon Colvin will drop by to share his musings and opinions. Enjoy his thoughts on the Clipse’s new album Til the Casket Drops.
For diehard Clipse fans (myself included), the disappointment of Til the Casket Drops was always inevitable. After their snarling, elegant 2006 masterpiece, Hell Hath No Fury, announced their creative resurrection with its ice-cold-yet-burning beats and aggressive verbal gymnastics worthy of only the wittiest coke poets, brothers Pusha T and Malice had nowhere to go but down. And, with the new album, they’ve confirmed many of their fans’ worst fears, diluting the purity of their product by cutting with fashionable aesthetics and slick production. Just as Pusha T referred to crack as “diet coke” in HHNF’s “Hello New World,” one might refer to the Til the Casket Drops as “diet Clipse.” Which is not to say it’s a horrible record by any means; it is certainly passable pop-hop (and more satisfying than the similarly plagued and disappointing The Blueprint 3). The album simply has no edge, lyrically or musically. It’s weak – which is quite a problem for rap duo famed for its gut-checking, acidic braggadocio and brutally austere, Pharrell-produced tracks.
It is within the context of this last area – production – that TtCD’s problems truly originate.
It’s difficult to precisely pinpoint how much a beat informs a lyric, or vice versa, but I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that the consistent symbiosis achieved between The Neptunes’ detached, austere rhythms and Clipse’s nihilistic angst on HHNF was immaculate, regardless of which informed the other most often. TtCD is a resolute shift away from such tonal homogeneity, resulting in an unnecessarily cluttered mishmash of faddish styles that only intermittently approaches the focused intensity of HHNF, a fact which seems to suggest that Pusha T and Malice are attempting to adapt themselves to the various requirements of a messy kitchen full of too many cooks, losing their artistic identity in the process. Even the Neptunes-produced tracks on TtCD, including “I’m Good,” sound more like the Pharrell’s solo work than Clipse.
Veering away from HHNF’s unified guidance, Clipse has enlisted a slew of producers and collaborators, including Kanye West, Cam’ron, DJ Khalil, Keri Hilson, and The Hitmen, in a botched, scattershot attempt to embrace the mainstream, leaving the dark tones and rough edges of their previous album behind. The result is a comparatively shallow effort. While the production on TtCD certainly leaves much to be desired – its glossy tintinnabulations chiming like bells instead of thundering like a “Chinese New Year” – the most startling change is how the production approach seems to have undercut all of the resonant force in Pusha T and Malice’s lyrics. The threatening harshness of their respective flows has been pacified and mutated into a string of rhymes amounting to nothing but self-important fluff with plenty of snide bark but no bite. Clipse’s songs are still chock full of complex metaphorical schemes and ingenious wordplay, but I wonder, what’s the point? Pusha T and Malice aren’t living up to their monikers. They aren’t rapping like angry coke dealers; they are rapping like pissy pop stars. What it amounts to is well-done, relatively vapid club rap, easily digestible and easily ignored – crisp, bubbly background noise.
Despite its general mediocrity, TtCD does boast a few notable tracks, particularly “Never Will It Stop” and “Footsteps,” both of which are non-Neptunes joints. However, these infrequent bright spots are eclipsed by low points: the god-awful “All Eyes on Me” featuring Keri Hilson and the incredibly forgettable “Kinda Like a Big Deal” featuring Kanye. I never thought I would hear auto-tune on a Clipse record, nor Keri Hilson, for that matter. Perhaps these coke-rap prophets need a swift kick in the artistic ass. If Clipse requires tribulation in order to dig for something deeper than “I’m Good” or “Counseling,” let’s hope this credibility-draining collision with the mainstream somehow proves damaging enough to evoke the violent, reactionary, passionate side of the duo that blossomed on HHNF following the years of record label frustration that culminated in their perfectly crafted hip-hop middle finger to everyone. If anyone can climb out of the grave Clipse has started digging, it’s the 1-2 punch from Virginia Beach. Don’t let the casket drop yet, guys.
Hear the difference?