It doesnt get more ghetto than this. Rap musics lionization of the drug dealer is as old as rap itself, and throughout the years weve seen such anthems as Ice-Ts metaphoric Im Your Pusher, Biggies comedic Ten Crack Commandments, and the greatest of em all, N.W.As Dopeman, not to mention countless other odes to the art of slangin. But where brags about having hustled street corners were once a way to shock society, the crack games gone mainstream. Throughout the summer, MTV and urban radio pumped Clipses Grindin, a curious phenomenon considering that most stations wont let Khia talk about her crack but are seemingly just fine with Pusha T boasting, Im the neighborhood pushercall me subwoofercause I pump base.
Whats amusing about Clipses best-selling Lord Willin is how single-minded they are in talking up their past profession. Not every song is about dealing -- one of the albums best cuts, Ma, I Dont Love Her, finds the philandering Pusha T and Malice trying to placate their suspicious spouses -- but Lord Willin undeniably feels drug-dominated. The upside is that Clipse push their crack credentials to the point of parody -- however unintentionally -- and that makes Lord Willin as entertaining as any of Ludacris purposely bugged-out songs. Listen to how Malice kicks off the Intro, rhyming scouts honorstarted with my grandmammawho distributed yayshe flew in from the Bahamas. Yet despite what would seem like wink-wink hyperbole, Malice and Pusha T are dead-set and irony-free. If anything they protest too loudly when theyre constantly reminding us, I lived off cocaineway before I lived off rap (Pusha T in Comedy Central), as if making money off hip-hop is an embarrassing admission.
If Clipse are trying to distance themselves from the rap game, the Neptunes reel them back in. As the pop worlds current kingmakers in the biggest way, the Tunes lace Clipse with studio-cooked funkiness, tracks bursting with a lustrous sound thats an ideal fusion of pop and hip-hop sensibilities. Shrill electronic whistles accent the high drama of When the Last Time, while slurping, burping bass blips keep FamLay Freestyle charging forward. The superb Comedy Central stalks listeners with a sinister guitar loop as Pusha, Malice and guest Fabulous slip their verses within the beats folds.
While Clipse may pen endless anthems on pushing weight, Scarfaces latest, The Fix, provides weight, his persona exuding a gravitas Clipse couldnt touch with a 10-foot crack pipe. With his gruff voice and dark, stark lyrics, Scarface manifests menace effortlessly, filling his narratives with a gritty realism conspicuously absent from Clipses pulpless fiction. On In Cold Blood, Face paints his own evocative portrait of the corner scene: Full of formaldehydemy clothes reeking marijuanacops rollin up on usmy neighborhoods like a sauna.
The Fix is Scarfaces seventh album in 11 years, and it boasts a level of maturity befitting the rappers long career. While Face can still brag with the best of em -- see how he holds his own next to Jay Z and Beanie Siegel on Guess Whos Back? -- hes no longer a brash upstart but the elder ghetto statesman, reflective in his observations. Hes unrepentant of his trife life choices, but on songs like Heaven and In Between Us he also weighs the costs of it all, physical and spiritual. For In Between Us, Scarfaces chorus (sung by Tanya Herron) amplifies the sophistication of his sentiments as Herron moans, Am I paranoid?And if thats the caseIs it curable?Can you help me find my place?I cant handle thisIm losing itwith a loose gripIm hanging onto emptiness.
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The albums music is no less impressive, led by Chicago phenom Kayne West and supported by everyone from Face himself to partner Mike Dean to -- surprise, surprise -- the Neptunes. Like Jay Zs The Blueprint, The Fix turns to 70s soul for its sonic cache, filling the album with bright, lush melodies and dense, dramatic rhythms. Nashiem Myrick borrows a gorgeous piano loop from Donny Hathaway for the striking On My Block, but West steals the show with his riddim-blessed track on Guess Whos Back?, a leading candidate for beat of the year.
Both Lord Willin and The Fix draw their inspiration from the shared source of corner dope hustlin, but each offers an entirely different gratification. Clipse, with a big assist from the Neptunes, roll with the kind of hyperreal bravado youd find on a video-game soundtrack -- flashy and fun, but short on depth beyond its pixilated pleasures. Scarface, a solemn figure armed with the strongest album in his decadelong career, stands triumphant as hip-hops spiritual-minded gangster, preaching his own brand of street sermon and dispensing grace with a gunshot blast.
CLIPSE | Lord Willin | (AristaStar Trak)
SCARFACE | The Fix | (Def Jam South)