Jive, you ignorant sluts.
Like Brian Wilson's Smile, the dramatic lead-in to Hell Hath No Fury (or Hell Hath Frozen Over, as it should be renamed) -- from shelved because of a label merger (Jive ate up Arista, Clipse's old label) to pushed back because of its bleak commercial prospects (Jive didn't hear a single, the sluts) -- was nearly enough to overshadow the record's actual merits. Nearly. Amazing what a couple of self-released mixtapes, one in particular (last year's We Got It 4 Cheap, Vol. 2), can do for momentum. Gone was the frivolousness that characterized too much of Clipse's debut, 2002's Lord Willin'. In its place was scorn, burn, bitterness, even hate. You could hear it in Hell Hath No Fury's first single, "Mr. Me Too," the hissy, out-of-tune synth wobbles turned a whiter shade of pale after boastful sarcasm and icy stares, a question ("Fuck y'all been doing?") that felt more direct than rhetorical -- and who weren't they talking to? It wasn't "Grindin'," but it had the same effect: an interruption as ignorable as a one-tone broadcast signal.
The rest of Hell Hath tries hard to not be as cold, to enjoy the celebration, and most of the fun lies in digesting the experiments: confident, party-favored Neptunes beats jarred sober by frustrated, darkened parables that never seem to end well -- not even for the winners. The outlook is conflicted and refreshingly earnest: Where coke-rap has been played for good-life laughs and embedded street codes, Pusha and Malice know it doesn't wash down that easy; that for every seller, there's a buyer; how paybacks really are a bitch.
Norms are challenged; what could be gimme-spins on radio or mixtapes distort into beautifully ugly pieces of art-rap, like the idea of wanting a hit is unforgivable. Second single "Wamp Wamp" is snake-charmer mysterious, weird. On "Trill," a Houston slang-thieving club-quake becomes the soundtrack for night of the living baseheads. "Ride Around Shining" should be all smooth and cool breeze; instead, the piano notes scurry up and hang there for what feels like forever before fading off and starting over. "Nightmares," ironically, is delicate and soulful, driven by church-organ pumps -- not the psycho-battlefield that's implied by the title. Even the album's cover, a low-budget portrait of the brothers relaxed near a stove and backed by a wall plastered in dollar bills, wearing chintzy crowns, can't help but smirk: It's as if Clipse are saying, All of you, so many of you, look what you've done. It's a joke now. We've got you figured out, and it won't happen again.
It's impossible to guess what kind of album would've turned out had this seen the light of day two years ago, when it was originally expected. Chances are, though, we wouldn't be talking about intensity or hunger or survival with the same emotion in our voices. It didn't take all that time to make Hell Hath No Fury, but it took all that time to make an album like Hell Hath No Fury, so when the heavenly choir bobs up and down in "Keys Open Doors," or the accordions squirt along in The Great Adventures of Slick Rick-sounding "Momma, I'm Sorry," or the big jungle-drum beat rocks "Hello New World," it resonates that much longer, means something even Clipse aren't fully aware of. This is hard, fast, down-to-The Wire music, told briefly and powerfully but, ultimately, with conscious. Score one for the new bad guys. This one ends well.