Clipse Presents: Re-Up Gang
By Traviss Cassidy | 7 August 2008
Pusha T, tireless entrepreneur that he is, describes Clipse Presents: Re-Up Gang thus: “This release gives us something fresh in the marketplace to reward Re-Up fans while we continue to work on the Clipse album.” I wouldn’t be caught dead calling Pusha T a liar, because if I did I’d probably end up in the Casket that—lord willin’—drops in November. But I would like to draw the reader’s attention to three key items in the above quotation, for they bear heavily on what unfolds over the course of this, the Re-Up Gang’s official debut:
Item #1: “Fresh.” Early press statements from Thornton the younger promised nine new songs along with three remixes of We Got It for Cheap Vol. 3 burners. This, I hate to say, was a li—OH SHIT. I mean, a manipulation of the truth, which in turn is a variation of Malice himself, who compares himself to the Bible’s God-sent Truth in lead single “Fast Life.” What I mean to say is, evidently Pusha Ton is spraying little transmuted Malices all over the sidewalk, because anyone with eardrums can tell that no fewer than four of these tracks were featured on WGIFCV3 donning different beats (despite a slight misdirect: “We Know” = “Dey Know Yayo,” natch). Plus, Mal and Sandman recycle entire verses on “We Still Got It for Cheap,” meaning we’re now down to seven and a half tracks of new verses. Which leads me to:
Question #1: How “fresh” is this really?
Even ignoring the reused raps, each member of the Furious Four (is that corny?) at one point or another tackles themes and phrasings that are now old hat for the group. (And I don’t mean, “Dudes is still braggin’ ‘bout they dope! LAME!!” because: duh, that’s the point. Don’t make me explain what a “re-up” is.) Ab-Liva huffs “dope deala’ swagga’” for about the 47th time on tape while chatting up (as always) convertibles, jeans, David Blaine, jeans, Sean Jean, Gucci, and his fucking jeans again and again. Harsh criticism, I know, but I dish it like a father who’s seen his son grow in maturity by leaps and bounds only to inexplicably take a shit on the neighbor’s lawn, just because he remembered it was a fun thing to do when he was three. Liva’s a very good MC, for sure, but his recycling of such tropes and topical matter undersells his intelligence, and his often-whispered delivery frequently obscures his brilliant wordplay. Sandman has less going for him lyrically on this album, despite seemingly gaining momentum with many solid verses on We Got It for Cheap Vol. 3. Also, since I’m foolish enough to enter the realm of FatherHood, here’s another bit of advice: yelling “Canoooooon” before each one of your verses does not make for a good entrance. I mean, what would a “Sand Cannon” even do besides irritate the eyelids of its foes?
Once again, Malice and Pusha emerge as the most reliable MCs of the group, though they by no means replicate the virtually infallible spitting streak of Hell Hath No Fury. I’ll forgive Mal’s tireless cultural pedagogy (entrée is an appetizer in France? Hot damn!) because, let’s face it, he drops a totally sick money laundering allusion: “That’s right, ladies and gents / Coke money turned rap money, give it a rinse.” Still, he misses a big opportunity by not fleshing out the revealing man-in-the-mirror-is-my-real-enemy shit he tapped into on Vol. 3. Pusha’s his witty ol’ self for the most part, though by now he’s stretched his Stevie Wonder/keys jokes paper thin. Perhaps the most telling part of Clipse Presents is that most of the rappers’ best moments appear on the tracks which yank their verses from WGIFCV3.
…So: Clipse Presents: Re-Up Gang is about as fresh as day-old pizza reheated with brand new parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. Yum, kinda.
Item #2: “Marketplace.” Pusha and Malice are businessmen, if not quite a business, man. They don’t have patience for middle men (Pusha brags about “touchin’ the hands of the growers” on “We Know”), and when they do have to deal with intermediaries, i.e. record labels, they get their dollar’s worth. (Indeed, Clipse negotiated a “groundbreaking” 50/50 split with Columbia records, whereas most artists get a 10% cut from their albums’ proceeds.) We Got It for Cheap simultaneously referenced the low wholesale prices the group pays for cocaine, and their fans’ no-cost acquisition of their mix tape jams. But look on Amazon and you’ll be greeted with a festering “WTF?”: not only are they selling WGIFCV3 as an mp3 album for $ 0.89 a track, they’ve released Re-Up Gang: The Saga Continues—essentially a compilation of tracks from Vols. 1 and 2 of WGIFC—under the guise of a bona fide rap album. (Don’t even get me started on Got Snow?) Weren’t/aren’t these tracks all available for free? Which leads me to:
Question #2: Has We Got It for Cheap lost its double meaning? That is, has market savvy elbowed out the group’s net-only philanthropy, flooding the market with music we all copped three years ago and leaving only a sneering coke reference behind? The Thornton brothers pride themselves on their economic acumen, so surely they’ve heard of the term “market saturation.” Or at least they understand its basic implications: now they’re pushing product to fans that already have all of it. Basically, do we really need Clipse Presents: Re-Up Gang if we already have 37.5% of the verses and the other 62.5% are basically more of the same? Perhaps Clipse’s pay-for-what-you-get output was meager until very recently thanks to extenuating circumstances: first Elektra dropped them, then Jive ignored them. Now that they’re on amicable terms with Koch and Columbia, will we have to wade through more of this senseless packaging and re-packaging?
Item #3: “Clipse album.” It’s called Till The Casket Drop, and it’s coming in November. Hopefully. Yep…we’re waiting too.
Which leads me to:
Question #3: Is Clipse Presents: Re-Up Gang just a holdover until that smoldering bomb drops? That is, do Malice and Pusha really give a shit about this record? If their verbal support for the Re-Up Gang as an entity has been unflagging, their follow-through has been less than enthusiastic, as evidenced by their seemingly indiscriminate selection of producers. Just check out those lumbering, klutzy, cheese-ball beats that muck up practically every song here; those plastic, too-eager-to-please horns, chintzy strings, and intrusive Nintendo bleeps that obscure much of the rapping; those grating kitchen-utensil sounds on “Street Money”; that beat on “My Life’s the Shit,” which could be an elephant limping on a broken ankle and tracking a large wad of gum all over the kitchen tile. Okay, lead single “Fast Life” is cool in a “Dirty Money”-bloated-on-its-own-affluence way, except that Clipse singles aren’t supposed to please club-hoppers, they’re supposed to rattle their ribcages and send them running for the fire exit, asses inevitably singed. My central gripe here is: how do the Re-Up boys expect listeners to believe what’s in their verses if the beats don’t match them in filth and precision? One more thing: HHNF was a rare treasure in hip-hop: a bona fide headphones record, something Clipse Presents definitely is not. In fact, Clipse Presents sounds better blaring from the shitty, blown-out speakers of my ’94 Nissan Altima than it does from my expensive headphones.
Phew. 1200 words of mostly whining about a group I love and man do I feel down in the dumps. Yes, I love Clipse and the Re-Up Gang, but tough love invariably accompanies true love, so there you have it. The relationship is just on the rocks for now; here’s hoping November is like the honeymoon all over again.