Re-Up Gang

We Got It for Cheap Vol. 3 Mixtape

(Re-Up; 2008)

By Traviss Cassidy | 21 February 2008

“These are angry, cynical young men.”

The above evaluation, delivered by some nameless, obviously white radio host in the opening seconds of the Re-Up Gang’s We Got It For Cheap Vol. 3: The Spirit of Competition (We Just Think We Better), barely scratches the surface. If there’s anything to be learned from their three LPs (including shelved debut Exclusive Audio Footage [1999]) and four mixtapes (counting the extraneous We Got the Remix), it’s that brothers Gene and Terrance Thornton (a.k.a. Malice and Pusha-T of the Clipse, a.k.a. one half of the Re-Up Gang) treat anger not as a temporary feeling but rather as a necessary component of life that drives, feeds, and sustains. Theirs is an anger that requires no provocation, a fire that needs no timber but still consumes everything within earshot. What’s more, we need them to carry that everlasting flame of infuriation. How else are we going to get another Hell Hath No Fury (2006)?

Of course, much has been made of the extenuating circumstances that stoked Fury‘s fire: the brothers Thornton’s frustrations with Jive Records, who repeatedly delayed the album’s release in favor of the more commercially viable artists on their roster—all the while refusing to grant the duo’s requests to leave the label. It’s understandable, then, that those who attributed HHNF‘s all-consuming rage solely to Jive’s ill-treatment might also assume that, following Clipse’s $1.8 million deal signed with Columbia records last October, Volume 3 of the Re-Up Gang’s We Got It For Cheap mixtape series would slip into vacuously self-laudatory pap for lack of interesting subject matter (I’m sneering at you, Ghostface’s “We Celebrate”).

But those people would be wrong. True, Volume 3 is rife with talk of affluence, both monetary and lyrical (check Malice’s boast: “Re-up in the game / Whenever have you seen such / Splendor at its best / Modern-day King Tut”), but only in the context of moving—grams of coke, the bar for rap up—and never with a hint of complacency. You see, like their razor-toothed cousins of the sea (heh, sharks), the Re-Up Gang has to keep constantly in motion, for a single stationary moment runs the risk of death. And what fuels this relentless advancement and creativity? That anger.

You see, I don’t care that these guys can no longer use their label woes as an excuse for erecting sky-scraping monuments to the gods of Diss. Their wrath finds new targets like Flava Flav finds trashy women with low self-esteem. Example: Lil Wayne. Okay, so Malice has already washed his hands of this one (explaining he can’t have beef with a guy he doesn’t really know) and all Wayne really said was that Clipse copped his clothing style and that, um, they haven’t been in the rap game for very long. Nevertheless, Pusha is absolutely, terrifyingly pissed. And regardless of how ludicrous it sounds, the verbal scuffle has presented the MC with an oil well of ideas into which he’s gladly spewed his sparks of creativity, each one producing a raging conflagration of There Will Be Blood proportions. The end product is two magnificently crafted, endlessly entertaining Wayne take-downs (not counting the one about “Blueprintin’” Jay-Z) that deserve highlight status even in Pusha’s already intimidating curriculum vitae.

The first Wayne jab (“Sorry but I don’t respect who you applaudin’ / Little nigga flow but his metaphor is borin’ / Don’t make me turn daddy’s little girl to orphan / That would mean I’d have to kill Baby like abortion”) requires little explication, though the second (“Bitch I sell cane / Rotate them chickens like a weather vane / The wind blow, it come and go, I’m hurricane / Listen again, I hurry cane / Don’t make me come to Miami and bury Wayne”) merits the geeked-out message board analysis these guys often inspire. To be brief, what makes the verse truly revelatory is how Pusha slams Weezy on his own terms, using the same metaphorical language, double entendres, and gravelly reggae-tinted flow that (rightly) earned his rival fame.

While Pusha’s busy wowing us with his calculated wrath, Malice emerges as the most introspective and—as we’d expect from an older brother—mature MC on the tape. With the RZA’s “Rainy Dayz” beat providing a reflective backdrop, Mal delivers a verse whose wavering pitch and meter brilliantly mirror his unsteady convictions: “You’re gonna have good days, but better stay for the rainy ones / So much pain, it weighs on my cranium / Dollars, no sense / The walls are cavin’ in / Thirty years, my parents split / I’m so ashamed of them / And so I swerve / Life throw curve balls / Two mil and got the nerve to get birds off.” In contrast to Pusha’s everyone-in-the-crosshairs verbal blitzkrieg, Malice’s anger builds until it reaches its boiling point, but even then it only rarely spills over (e.g. his swipe at Pharrell later in the song).

And what of Ab-Liva and Sandman? As on past installments of We Got It For Cheap, the two MCs employ their husky deliveries as a nice contrast to the almost-too-precise enunciation of the Thornton brothers. Their talents have improved steadily since Vol. 1 and now they sound bound and determined, even hungry, to earn equal billing (this is the first record credited simply to the Re-Up Gang). Liva rides the slow rumble of “Dey Know Yayo” with surprising fluidity while delivering some of the most complex rhymes he’s ever put down, all “Liva nigga heata man / Nicknamed the Tita man / Like Ishmael with Fishscale / Got it off that Peter Pan.” Even Sandman—whose tendency to spew tough-guy banalities makes him the weakest of the four—shows frequent flashes of brilliance. He’s the only MC who sounds comfortable with the “Roc Boys” beat, for example, matching his flow to the cadence of the drums.

Beat-wise, We Got It For Cheap Vol. 3 splits the difference between the laid-back breaks of Vol. 1 and the all-stops-out bangers of Vol. 2, which wouldn’t have been a problem had they not stuffed all the slower numbers into the album’s midsection, pushing the more party-ready joints to the front and back ends. Consequently, Vol. 3 sounds like three mini-albums spliced together into one uneven yet thrilling listen. DJ Drama’s version attempts to tie some of these loose ends, though with little success, making even more apparent the absence of Clinton Sparks, whose brilliant mixing endowed Vol. 2 with an indomitable sense of momentum.

So although We Got It For Cheap Vol. 3 lacks the intuitive flow and top-notch beat selection that made Vol. 2 an instant classic, its powder-pushing protagonists are just as witty, lyrically deft, and flat-out pissed (see: first 800 or so words of this review) as they’ve ever been. Anyone with the imprudence to ask for more better be ready to become the next victim of these dudes’ collective wrath.