In April, our members will get a special new edition of Clipse’s 2002 debut LP, Lord Willin’. In case you’re new to Clipse — or an old fan using this excuse to remember the group’s other releases — here’s a primer on the best releases from the Thornton brothers.
Gridlocked in a holding pattern with Jive, their next album in label switch purgatory, the brothers Thornton recruited Philadelphia heavyweights Sandman and Ab-Liva to form the Re-Up Gang. Flanked by Clinton Sparks, the We Got It 4 Cheap Series spawned two volumes within a year, with a third arriving three years later. A decade later, the second installment reigns supreme as the Re-Up spend an hour thriving and thrilling with messianic coke rap over any and every industry standard. What you see is what you get: every pot, stove, thread and angle of dope dealing. There are case studies of running a niche dry, and there’s the Clipse in untouchable mixtape form: They are the niche, and the Re-Up Gang is invention from frustration.
Clipse’s return to studio-album form arrived in another certified classic that pushes their ethos even further into the seductive destruction that tears at everything they know. While they finally finagled out of the Jive situation, the rap game threatened to eat at them like the coke game did, resulting in even darker, razor-sharp precision. The Neptunes came back behind the boards, unafraid to take Push and Malice to rap’s sonic edges as the brothers took us to the edges of their existence. The paranoia’s more palpable, the splendor’s more frivolous and forgiveness may never come. If you must show someone what the mid-2000s was like for hip-hop at its most lavish and tormented, this is the definitive look into the hustler’s equilibrium.
You can get the VMP edition of this album, our November 2021 Hip-Hop Record of the Month, here.
Til The Casket Drops (2009)
After a third volume of WGI4C and another prelude mixtape, the Clipse returned for a victory lap in a race we didn’t know was seconds from ending. On the inside, the conscience continued to eat them alive while the drive to win begged them to push. How can they reconcile a legacy with the pain they’ve inflicted? Outside of the fantastic intro “Freedom,” where the brothers look themselves and their evils in the face, the rest of album dabbles in extended flex and flux, the Neptunes poppier presence throwing the formula off from the darkness they perfected. This Clipse effort is the lightest fare in the discography by a mile: brighter days on the horizon, bigger ways to ball out and bittersweet fanfare for the dope boys with the trap further in their rearview.
Pusha T: My Name is My Name (2013)
When King Push goes solo, pivoting to the G.O.O.D. Music factory he’d one day become president of, the superstar potential thrives best by returning to the darkness. This album paints Pusha T as reformer, survivor and renegade deep in the music industry; on classic single “Numbers on the Boards,” he quips: “…might reach back and relapse to wrappin’ up this raw.” When he takes us back to Virginia — where there wasn’t shit to do but cook — he remains as immersive and unforgiving as his entrance a decade prior. When he leans into poppier pastures, the results vary, but the dope boy impulse throbs beneath the bassline, like a legend with no issue reminding you where he’s come from and why he remains untouched.
No Malice: Hear Ye Him (2013)
In the same year his brother settled into the spotlight alone, Malice quietly returned to music with a solo album as a first step on the road to redemption. Adding the “No” to his name, the religious and Biblical implications throughout the Clipse catalog take center stage as No Malice reckons with the wickedness of his past while clearing the air around his relationships after the breakup. The production leaves plenty to be desired, sometimes even sounding drastically outdated, but when No Malice zones in, he conjures moments of past technical glory. Don’t miss “Shame the Devil,” the last trace of a Clipse song we have to this day.
Pusha T: King Push: Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude (2015)
Somehow, approaching 40 and almost two decades in the game, Pusha T can still spin a crack song unlike none other in his class. While the shtick is far from original by now, he continues to excel with some of the darkest instrumentals of the time. When a man describes himself as the “L. Ron Hubbard of the cupboard,” you wonder why he’s yet to be dethroned from his niche. Ab-Liva reappears, Jill Scott gives a phenomenal hook, even Beanie Sigel comes through for a thunderous guest effort. (We’re still waiting on the final product this album was the prelude to, suffering through endless pushbacks and occasional singles.)
Bonus: Kanye West: “Runaway (feat. Pusha T)” (2010)
The story goes: when Pusha went to Hawaii to work on the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy sessions, Kanye West told him to add “more douchebag” into his verse every time he approached with a rewrite. Four tries later, the most stellar display of assholish design was committed to wax, to live on as a crowning achievement for Pusha T’s guest work. In one of Kanye’s riskiest artistic leaps — a nine-minute single bookended by three minutes of distorted Auto-Tune wailing — it’d be nothing without Push playing the bad guy he was being in real time. It’s the pinnacle of ego, luxury and selfishness; all territory the Clipse have explored before, but peaked in a way you cannot ignore.