Clipse

Lord Willin' (Star Trak/Arista)

Three tracks in, Clipse introduces listeners to where it comes from: "In Virginia, we smirked at the Simpson trial/Yeah, I guess the chase was wild, but what's the fuss about?/See plenty of my partners feeling like O.J./Beat murder like the shit is OK/That's what our dough say." When, say, Ja Rule drops something similar, you know he's just going back to his comfortable home, where his wife calls him Jeffrey and his biggest concern is making sure his platinum plaques are in place when Cribs comes calling. With Clipse, it's not as clear. Brothers Malice and Pusha T (Gene and Terrence Thornton to their mama) don't sound like rhymers playing the parts of Tek-toting, powder-pushing hustlers; more like the other way around. "Ironic, the same place I'm making figures at/That's the same land they used to hang niggas at," Malice pronounces later on "Virginia," and he doesn't sound mad. He just is.

And the music matches the lyrical tension, the Neptunes' sparse menace as lean as someone who just got out of the joint after a five-year bid. "Grindin'" is the grittiest hip-hop hit in years, little more than skittish kick-snare stutter and Ping-Pong patter, as Clipse inventories its ill-gotten gains ("The 20s are spinning like windmills/And the ice?/32 below minus the wind chill"). From "Intro" to the pair of "Grindin'" remixes that end the set, including a stop at "Comedy Central" (which isn't a very fun place, as it turns out), Clipse brings gangland fantasies back down to street level. They're still fantasies (aren't they?), but at least they aren't cartoons. Will Pusha T and Malice hold it together when they don't have to worry about hustling for dollars? Lord willin'.

 
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