Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
Ever argue with someone who really, really likes Clipse? OK, hip-hop fans being overprotective of their godbody MC of choice isn't exactly pipin' hot off the presses. But during the late part of 2006, Clipse stans were the least likely to be havin' that shit. Normally, "On Second Thought" requires a far longer turnaround time, but Hell Hath No Fury is still a lightning rod, strictly because its content remains far less interesting than its context which is still-relevant, and as such, the album deserves to be evaluated while that's still the case. It lacks anything that jumps off the CD like "Grindin'" or "When the Last Time." And it lacks the righteous spontaneity and (no one ever seems to mention this) the unfair beat-selection advantage of We Got It 4 Cheap, Vol. 2.
In other words, Hell Hath No Fury is clearly the third-best Clipse album, and yet, a group of 78,000 people, most of which seem to have careers in semi-professional music journalism, made it their life's work to ensure that not only did it get released, but that it be the beneficiary of an echo chamber that ensured the discouraging words of this work will probably be the first to see the light of day. It's worth mentioning that this has befuddled nearly everyone I've talked to outside of the blog/blog-commenting community about this record. All in all, it might've been the third-best proper hip-hop album to be released since November (see: the more compelling Doctor's Advocate and the more enjoyable More Fish). This alone makes it a first-ballot candidate for most overrated hip-hop album of all-time.
Granted, Hell Hath No Fury isn't a bad album in the way Blood Money was, but the embarrassing manner in which people wrote about it made you kinda feel bad for them. In my mind, families cried rivers as fortunes in student loan debt resulted in one-upmanship for the most ridiculous hyperbole: the coke-rap Yankee Hotel Foxtrot! Greek tragedy! Or pretty much anything Sasha Frere-Jones recently wrote in a New Yorker article which is one of the most condescending things I've ever read—or the most delusional. The construction of "event"-ness surrounding Hell Hath No Fury was pathetic and necessary; there was too much riding on it and too much effort into hyping it up to admit that people were fighting three years for what is essentially 45 minutes of mildly witty boasts about dealing cocaine and shooting people and beats from guys who peaked a half-decade ago.
The most commonplace plaudit for Hell Hath No Fury was that it was the musical version of “The Wire.” As creator David Simon has said, “The Wire” is "really about the American city, and about how we live together. It's about how institutions have an effect on individuals, and how... whether you're a cop, a longshoreman, a drug dealer, a politician, a judge, [or] a lawyer, you are ultimately compromised and must contend with whatever institution you've committed to."
It's impossible to say whether Clipse trade in realism, because this album's not about dealing drugs at all. It's not really about anything. In their lyrics, they're not rapping about the process and lifestyle of being dealers; they're making quips about how much drugs they deal, but we never hear about their customers, their territory or their competition. Rae and Ghost may have been obsessed with the stuff on Cuban Linx, but they made it cinematic; they described their rivals, charted their emotional ups and downs, reflected as much as they boasted, and let other people in (not to mention the interchangeable Thorntons couldn't make a "Verbal Intercourse" or "Ice Cream" to save their lives).
And keep in mind an obvious touchstone: Mobb Deep. Their outlook was similarly bleak, and even though they were also describing a life that wasn't theirs, stories like "Up North Trip" and "Trife Life" prove far more compelling than the placeless, pointless, and aimless violence of "Chinese New Year" because things actually happen. Hell Hath No Fury hath no plot and, until the refreshing playfulness of "Hello New World," no implication that anything is taking place outside of the Thorntons' mind or that they even acknowledge other people's existences.
As a matter of fact, the most accurate comparison for Hell Hath No Fury is “Family Guy”: gorging on not-clever-enough-by-half quips and slapdash references instead of developing narrative, characters, resonance, or anything that might make a subsequent partaking more pleasurable than the last one. And mostly, it rose to prominence due to a vacuum (“The Simpsons” hitting rock bottom/what many called the worst year in hip-hop history, which might be true if it wasn't for 2005) rather than bringing anything fresh to the table.
So really, Clipse are more like a comedy act, but even the best jokes get tired when you hear them a second time. And really, where was the cleverness? "I move those keys, move over Alicia"? "While I'm shovelin' this snow man, call me Frosty"? "The news called it crack, I called it diet coke"? Given the time, couldn't you come up with this? The bigger problem isn't so much that Clipse try to get by on wordplay or cleverness, but it's always about the same shit. "I force-feed you the metric scale"…damn right.
Many have claimed that its lack of introspection makes Hell Hath No Fury thrilling, or that even the Big Tymers-in-training "Dirty Money" makes flossy living sound compellingly frightening. But for a record that spills a lot of blood (once again, this was turned into a good thing!) there's no actual blood and guts, and "Mama, I'm So Sorry" furthers the evidence. Once again, a compendium of death threats and coke talk, but the fact that they use the title as a hook doesn't make them complex. It makes for sloppy songwriting, which is better exemplified in the badly telegraphed "Nightmares," which attempts to round out the album with a note of reflection and remorse, but ends up being the equivalent of a lifelong sinner's insincere deathbed switcheroo.
The big reason that Clipse will be forgotten, if they already haven't, by people who don't spend most of their time on the internets is evident in the back-to-back D.O.A. singles, which cements why they fight against their strengths trying to make typical "albums." I find it hard to believe that anyone felt bad about Clipse's deal with Jive. That's like trying to organize a buyout for Edgerrin James' contract with the Cardinals: they were complicit in the failed marriage, and they should've known what they were getting into (remember what label Tribe was on when industry rule #4,080 was invented). About that complicity: Clipse is always on the verge of trying to make club tracks, but the fact is, they can't write hooks to save their lives. See "Mr. Me Too," which spoils its momentum from the jump with Pharrell's verse and lame chorus punchline. Or "Wamp Wamp (What It Do)," the worst excuse for a catchphrase since RZA tried to force "Bong Bong" on all of us. Hooks rarely get better and mostly become mindless toss-offs on recent southern token words, a la, "Dirty Money" or "Trill."
Is it unfair to immediately liken this album to some of the greatest of all time? According to Hell Hath No Fury's astounding Metacritic score, no. But don't cry for their relatively weak sales: as much as this sounds like an insult, Clipse are more at home making mixtapes, much like how “Family Guy” is more appealing stashed into Adult Swim than proper sitcom territory. Hell Hath No Fury feels unnatural—they sounded vicious naming names, not having to deal with singles and having the balls to let the world know that Cassidy and the Game were getting far better beats than they merited at the time. Restraint can often be a virtue, but in Clipse's case, it strips them completely of content and leaves nothing but context.