Third time's a charm for the brothers Thornton -- Pusha T and Malice -- better known to the world as Clipse
It's very rare that yours truly gets excited for a hip hop album, and it seems even rarer that Virginia Beach rappers Clipse release an album. Well, call today the perfect storm since my excitement for new hip hop is due to the release of Clipse's third album, Til the Casket Drops. The duo's last album -- 2006's Hell Hath No Fury -- is one of my favorite hip hop albums of all time, due in no small part to Pusha T and Malice's brilliant lyrics and grimy, subdued rhyming style. Where Hell was a darker album, stacked from front to back with Clipse's trademark crack raps, Casket features guest spots from Kerri Hilson, Nicole Hurst, Ab-Liva and Kenna adding a fuller, more musical sound to the album. It's a brilliant progression between albums, one that makes Casket shine as a different and singular accomplishment from the heavily praised Hell Hath No Fury.
Clipse made their name back in 2002 with the incredibly catchy, insanely subdued "Grindin,'" a song that proved just how much inventive and smart rhyming can carry a rap/hip hop song without overblown and bloated production and some sampled, super-catchy beat (although one could argue the beat in "Grindin'" is rather catchy). That song was all about simplicity and technical rhyming/flowing skills; it was the beautiful marriage between Clipse and producers The Neptunes.
Here we are, seven years later and that partnership is still as strong as ever, and this time around, The Neptunes have taken things over, coming forth with some of their slickest production to date. It all started for Casket with the single "I'm Good," featuring The Neptunes' Pharrell on guest vocals. It's as boastful as any previous Clipse song, yet the difference from Hell Hath No Fury is the decidedly more fuller and radio-friendly beat. Where Hell came from a different place -- one dictated by problems with Clipse's record label -- Casket is more of a celebration for the duo, one that showcases Pusha T and Malice's polished rhyming style.
The duo also benefits from their association with fellow Virginia Beach musicians The Neptunes, who produce 8 out of the 13 tracks on Casket. The album breezes through its early tracks -- including the proven singles "Kind of Like a Big Deal" and "I'm Good," as well as the Hell-esque "Popular Demand (Popeyes)," featuring embattled rapper Cam'ron, of "Hey Ma" fame. Things get a little sluggish with "There Was a Murder" and "Door Man," and even though some of the lyrics are catchy, the beats don't quite match the intensity of the album -- one that has been ratcheted up thanks to The Neptunes. No where on the album is this more evident than on the radio-friendly, super-slick "All Eyes on Me." Kerri Hilson singing the hook certainly helps things along, but as Jay-Z and Kanye have proved before, there isn't a damn thing wrong with bringing such talent on your record.
"Counseling" helps keep the momentum going through the end of the album -- showing that Clipse can find success in the rap game without such a dark, negative feel to their album. While Casket may not find as much critical success as their predecessor Hell, it is a remarkable follow-up in its own right. We want to see progression from our musicians -- not the same album over and over again -- and Til The Casket Drops proves just how Clipse can mature and evolve their sound.