We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 3 - The Spirit Of Competition (We Just Think We Better), where Malice (or maybe it’s Pusha T...I still can’t figure out who is who in this group. Pusha’s the one who is supposed to be the second coming of Christ, no?) inexplicably claims that the Clipse are “not part of the coke rap genre” which is particularly ridiculous when you consider that the Clipse are the poster boys of the “coke rap” brand of hip hop. When not bitching about how the white people at Jive are not playing particularly fair, the Clipse rap about cocaine and only about cocaine. There is a certain admiration I have for hip hop that makes music so gloriously ignorant that you can’t help but sit there in stunned disbelief when somebody has the balls to take it “there” and the Clipse’s myopic dedication to all things white and powdery fits that bill. The Clipse are crack rappers, plain and simple. Sorry, Malice but if it walks like a duck...well, you know.
However, being utterly dedicated to something as vapid as rapping about selling cocaine (as if that was all that interesting...) doesn’t preclude the Clipse from being fantastic rappers which they are. They really, really are. The Clipse have a fiery, impassioned delivery that is as good as anybody and their punchlines are really well-crafted and witty (well as witty and well-crafted as dumb-ass punchline lyricism gets but still...). They make stunningly dystopic music that has a natural charm that belies its underlying misanthropy. The much-maligned production on Hell Hath No Fury provided by the rotting corpse of Pharell Williams was the perfect compliment to Clipse’s dystopic and bleak vision of the world. For those who want to Clipse to rap over Kanye or Just Blaze beats are completely missing the point, the Clipse need to be rapping over sinister post-boom minimalist production because anything else would take away from the bleakness of the Clipse’s rhymes. They would sound ridiculous doing their cocaine talk over Journey samples or bombastic organs just as Dipset and Young Jeezy do. It wouldn’t work.
Despite all of the qualities that the Clipse’s music possess, their music remains ultimately shallow and aggravatingly amoral precisely because their dogmatic adherence to rapping only about selling coke. The rise of the modern coke rap genre post-2002 has led to a lot of music that I would classify as not only annoyingly vapid (Dipset comes to mind) but also stunningly amoral. For one, it seems to divorce the actual reality of drug dealing for most dealers (the small amounts of money, the danger, the violence, the death) with this gross cartoon of what selling drugs purports to be. Instead of insight or honest reflection, we get fantasy and escapism. It’s true that pop culture has a history of portraying crime as escapist fantasy but the best pieces of the crime genre offer a sense of morality or consequence to the action’s of the heroine. Michael Corleone loses his family and his soul. Avon Barksdale goes to jail. Tony Montana gets lit up like Amy Winehouse’s crack pipe. With coke rap, we get punchlines about how Cam’ron’s dope purity and the viability of selling drugs as way to money, cars and bitches.
The Clipse because their way better rappers than the rest of the people in their genre want it both ways. They want the respect of the “heads” who respect them for their craft and thus don’t want their names dragged in the mud with the Jeezy’s and the Juelz’ of the genre. The hacks who come with hot production and some half assed punchlines comparing cocaine with white girls. They write their verses with care and passion of people who clearly want to be considered as emcees's emcees even when they are claiming they are not rappers . They want people to consider them great. However, they rarely go past simply describing their (alleged) criminal pasts in witty ways and get into what it means to be a dope dealer. The best of the genre, the Ghostfaces, the Raekwons, the Scarfaces, create fully functioned worlds with real consequences that go beyond the tired “I’m Sorry I Sold Crack” tropes. When they do deal with the consequences of selling crack, it almost always deals with how selling crack affects them and after, an hour plus of crack talk, it almost always comes across as pandering.
Ultimately, you can get hear it in their voices. The Clipse are better rappers than the shallow music they ultimately create. We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 3 has enough genuine thrilling moments buried within all of the tired drug talk to make you believe that somewhere to know that Clipse could be Hall of Famers but they gotta transcend the coke rap genre to do it. Some of their music is legitimately really great, a but if they want to run with the big dogs, they are going to simply have to diversify. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to start writing club anthems or god-awful love songs or songs about yoga but a little introspect or poetry wouldn’t kill them. After all, keys may open doors but adaptability keeps you in the room.
Download: The Clipse & The Re-Up Gang - We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 3 (No DJ Drama Because Fuck Him...)