"Dedicated To The Winners & The Losers..." - Raekwon

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Artistic Amorality Of The Clipse (I Just Think They Could Do Better)

Still Part Of The Coke Rap Genre...

There is a particularly perplexing moment on the Clipse’s frustrating new mixtape, 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...)


Trey Stone said...

i actually don't find HHNF and Jeezy's Inspiration to be that different, really. obviously, Clipse's rhymes are significantly more thought-out, but there's an overall bleak/otherworldly (my bad, that sounds kinda nerd-ish) atmosphere to both of 'em. i think the production on Inspiration is legitimately good, not just "hot" beats by dudes of the moment.

HHNF is overall a darker album and has less moments of borderline glorification, but Clipse are definitely closer to Jeezy than some people'd admit.

i'm *shocked* you didn't mention the whole Clipse/Weezy thing again here, lol. although i'd say HHNF > either of the Carters, my preference for Weezy as a rapper kinda reminds me of my preference for Jay-Z over Nas. Clipse are good rhymers as you say but they don't really have a ton of personality, and without the right beats it shows. think their beat choices here're kinda questionable.

oh, and Pusha = nasally, Malice = nasalier. like i put it once. that's how i figured 'em out at least

Trey Stone said...

also if i can ramble on a little more, would you consider Lord Willin' the "founder" of modern-day coke rap or something? i mean as it exists now, i know about Cuban Linx/Reasonable Doubt/yaddayadda. probably stuff before that too that i'm ign'ant of.

just curious cuz you mentioned the rise of coke rap post-2002.

Anonymous said...

"...... but the best pieces of the crime genre offer a sense of morality or consequence to the action’s of the HEROINE?" Are you calling crime fantasy protagonists bitches or is that just a typo courtesy of having so much heron on your mind? eitherway amusing. I'm kind of undecided on the morality issue since I enjoy several 'coke rappers' and I dont know if I'm looking towards rap or any form of entertainment to be teaching me any values.For the most part, I consider rappers fiction writers. I just hope the fiction is good if you get my drift. but I do co-sign on the need to diversify given their talent. I'm all for their sense of nihilism but yeah after hearing "got more powder than maybelleine" line, I wonder how much longer they have before their coke metaphors start getting plain dumb...umm I got that KKK y'all. Doesnt get any purer.. maybe?? -jaykay

DocZeus said...

Actually, I agree with you about Jeezy and the Clipse. It doesn't make a lot of sense for those who champion the Clipse as "smart" crack rappers and then villify Jeezy as a "dumb" crack rapper since the overall vibe of the music is rather similar. My beef with Jeezy though is that he's an artistic cipher and seems to exist at the will of the Def Jam marketing team but whatever...

I think the Clipse can be considered not quite the "founder" of crack rap since the genre's roots can be traced back to Melle Mel's "White Lines" but they are defintiely the biggest influence on rappers who simply rap about cocaine as their primary and only subject like Jeezy or Juelz.

As for Clipse vs. Lil Wayne, I thought Pusha's verse on Re-Up Gang Intro to be a nice little jab at Weezy and not much but I still think this beef is pretty retarded since it's basically over who was the first to wear "Bathing Ape" clothes in their videos. Fuckin' stupid.

DocZeus said...

Jay Kay-

I meant to say hero. Just a stupid typo.

I'm definitely not saying that the all entertainment needs to have a moral but if you look at the best pieces of the crime genre, you will find they definitely have an overall sense of morality. Ultimately, you are right. Rap music should be treated like fiction. I'm just saying that the Clipse's music has a lack of moral complexity that keeps them from transcending the so-called coke rap genre. If they want to be the best, they should consider the complexities of what Ghost or Scarface does which create much more realistic, three dimensional music.

floodwatch said...

Nihilism? Clipse? Four words: Hell. Hath. No. Fury. I don't think I'll ever understand how people can be drawn to these clowns.

Beautiful write-up, though, Doc. You could write about watching paint dry and I'd still be engrossed.

Joey said...

Yeah, man, this is good shit. I'd agree that the Clipse can rap, but their music isn't all that interesting since, you know, it's that ig'nant coke shit over and over. And I'd agree that I probably like them better than Jeezy, but it's a different of degrees, not kind. I think the Clipse rap over better beats.

Always a good read over here.

Christopher said...

I wanted to love HHNF. And I found myself repeating the same 4 or 5 songs and eschewing the rest. The fact that the Neptunes productions were hollow and on the whole aged horribly (seriously, check their pre-2004 shit, it's like how listening to Air Supply feels now.) doesn't help, but the hubris of the Clipse in the end is three things:

1. Not much personality-wise, as WGI4C3 drove home. That's technically a small qualm, but it hinders their overall work and depth
2. Considering how flawless "When the Last Time" was, you'd think they'd give up the single-mindedness and branch out. Even I'm schocked at how much of a brick HHNF was.
3. Being Pharell's pets for 9 years isn't a good look. Especially now that they're supposedly beefing. And what the fuck happened to Chad Hugo, the likable Neptune?
(4). Make Sandman stop saying "Ayo Canoooooooooon". Srsly.

Awesome post.

Trey Stone said...

i disagree that Pharrell's beats on HHNF are bad. i was expecting to hate them cuz i figured what was going on was some dumbass "purist"-minded hating on the Neptunes's trademark sound/hits (AKA their really good shit) and praising some dull Pharrell-without-Chad beats as "experimental," but with the exception of "Dirty Money," "Ain't Cha" and "Chinese New Year" they're all good. "Mr. Me Too" in particular i'm not sure why i didn't initially like as much. apocalyptic shit i tells ya.

i think "When the Last Time" is garbage though. that beat just sounds "wrong," for lack of a better word. "Ma, I Don't Love Her" does better in the pseudo-crossover attempt department

Kwis said...

Its strange you single the Clipse out for the amoral finger wagging when they are the ones who every now and then throw a bone to all their guilty liberal fanbase with lines like, "tt shames me to no end, to feed poison to those who could very well be my kin, but where there's demand, someone will supply. So I feed them their needs at the same time cry."

Not saying its genuine, just saying they at least throw a nod that way. Where's Raekwon's morality? He seems more interested in minutiae, which is not the same thing.

Whatever though, carry on you tree hugging bitches. HA!

S.I.C.K. (Supreme Intellect Cultivates Knowledge) said...


Ass Hat said...

good review.

listening to the first couple of tracks, where they talk about rap history and their place within it, i thought they might have been set on transcending the coke-rap genre on this tape.

but then they went right back into the ignorance. (admittedly, it's still imaginative and occasionally laugh-out-loud ignorance). still good, but patience is ebbing.

Daniel Krow said...

I couldn't agree more with your assessment of the Clipse. Even if I do like Jeezy and the Dipset, the coke rap genre rarely deals honestly with the reality of drug dealing, especially (and I think most importantly) the financial reality. Most street level coke dealers make less than minimum wage. Acting like coke is where the real money is just silly.

In answer to the post that asked where Raekwon's morality was, I would suggest that morality can be in the details. Raekwon and Ghostface let in enough odd and often ugly details to suggest drug dealing isn't very romantic.

ByronTheBulb said...

I think you're really selling Clipse short here. Their shit runs a lot deeper than the utter banality put out by the likes of Jeezy and Juelz. On the surface it looks like little more than cold-blooded crack rap, but there's a lot more to it than that. Hell Hath No Fury especially is a pretty chilling portrait of greed and ambition and moral decay.

Basically what I'm saying is that Pusha and Malice are the Daniel Plainview of this rap shit.

Trey Stone said...

HHNF does have more layers than simple crack rap, yeah, but Jeezy's whole production aesthetic is pretty doom-n-gloom too. not the same kind of doom-n-gloom, but still.

Clipse are obviously more articulate, but i wouldn't say they're as far apart in complexity as people seem to think. there's "layers" (sorry, awful word) in Jeezy's stuff even if they aren't as obvious, and even though i think it's more thanks to the production he gets.

i can't speak for Juelz cuz i don't fuck with Dipset. well about half of Purple Haze is as good as critics say it is. but that's it

tray said...

I'm shocked, Doc, that no one in here mentioned "I'm Not You," which supposedly somehow validates the whole Clipse project and saves them from the amorality charge because Pusha, or Malice, I can't tell them apart, did some verse where he admitted to feeling a little remorse for screwing up dope fiends' lives. Oh wait, someone did bring it up... I also like how someone compared them to Daniel Plainview. Yeah, that was a really deep portrayal of moral decay.

Anyway, I would distinguish Jeezy from the Clipse like this. The Clipse are wannabe Mobb Deeps, although to me they're more like slightly more intelligent but less infectious knockoffs of Master P (note the borrowing of the "ughhhhhhhh"). Their message is, the hood is a really dangerous place and young enterprising people like themselves who grow up there are forced to sell drugs, and it's a grim hazardous life and we like to talk about it ad nauseam, but without any real pathos or depth. Ughhhhhh! That's the Clipse. Shallow fatalists in the mold of Master P circa "The Ghetto's Tryin To Kill Me." Jeezy also is a ripoff of Master P (ice cream man = snow man) - a different side of Master P, the "Make Em Say Ughhh" Percy. But, in place of P's ughhhh, Jeezy offers us an aspirational, affirmative "ayyyyyyyyy." Jeezy's vision is fundamentally optimistic, capitalist - drugs aren't a symptom of hood pathology for him, they're a ladder out. "Georgia Power doesn't give a n---a" lights free"; to afford lights, you must sell white. The first words of his first album: "I used to hit the kitchen lights, cockroaches everywhere, now I hit the kitchen lights, marble floors everywhere." Actually, that's how the first verse starts; the first words of the album proper are "ayyyy, you gotta believe." It's just the American Dream all over again. People like Jeezy for about the same reasons that they like Rocky. Jeezy's work is no more about coke than Rocky is about boxing. Both are cheap inspirational palaver, but they work.

Kai said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kai said...

Dope post, dope site. I slightly disagree with your main thesis tho, . Of course the clipse are amoral, and of course they could do better. All of these rappers owe it to their community to lead in a better direction, because make no mistake, they are leading youth in a direction whether they acknowledge it or not. But morality isnt the difference between good art and bad think about the Chronic and alot of th Dre/Death Row albums.

But they clipse' shortocmings dont fall short only on amorilty. They rap about hustling as talented MCs who dont really hustle for a living. Selling weight isnt just making a deal making big bucks and fucking fly chicks. There is alot more nuance to the lifestyle that is entirely missing from their music. Part of that nuance is some kind of moral conflictedness (is this a word?), some remorse, and then there are other details, losing money, people fucking up work, etc, these are all pieces that add realism, and depth to the story being told. These bits of nuance are things that Jay-z did alot of early on, particularly on Reasonable Doubt although he mainly glamorizes the lifestyle now, too.

ON another note, strictly from a technical rhyming perspective, Jeezy and Clipse are very different. Jeezy is primitive as a rapper. The clipse give a certain level of depth to their lyricism, and some of their flows and rhyme schemes. They may make you feel similar because of their content, but there really isnt much comparison in terms rapping ability. If Jeezy never sold drugs he wouldn't be around, his street credibility is what sells his records. That should tell you all you need to know about his skills on the mike.

Lastly, I really like the WGI4C series, Vol. 3 is the best by far tho. best combo of beats and rhymes. The game is fucked up right now, and i can still get my fix for lyricism fulfilled through them to some extent.