"I really feel like it’s the beginning of the end for a lot of motherfuckers," Pusha T. tells us early on We Got It for Cheap: Vol. 3. "All that ghetto shit, all that super stupid shit, that shit is done." Taken alone, it’s a confounding statement: Isn’t Soulja Boy still breaking ringtone sales records? But consider the Virginia Beach duo’s recent history — namely, that $1.8 million Columbia deal, orchestrated by newly instituted label exec Rick Rubin, that came only months after a bitterly-fought-for release from Jive — and understand the good cheer.
Rubin, for one, thinks people still buy records — and not just any records, but chilling, venomous records whose most unique pleasures reveal themselves only after multiple spins and are nearly singularly about the perks, pitfalls, and distribution systems of cocaine trafficking. God bless his alternative-lifestyle heart.
Perhaps the four years Jive kept Clipse on the shelf was just a karmic investment. Consider the legions of music critics and finicky rap purists won over by the irresistible evil-major-label plotlines and those glitz-free We Got It 4 Cheap tapes. On The Spirit of Competition, with newfound financial backing, Clipse still plays to that infatuated core.
Vol. 3 is the series’ first to be credited to the Re-Up Gang, the extended crew that includes Philadelphia rappers Ab-Liva and Sandman, long-time affiliates both. Their roles have expanded, and they acquit themselves adequately, but their styles are too molasses to hang with Pusha’s ferocity.
Because this is, increasingly, Pusha’s show. As always, he spits every line with that same over-articulated delivery, taking pains to let us know how brilliant he thinks he is, making sure we don’t miss a drop of it. He warms up early, reheating the simmering Lil Wayne beef on "Re-Up Intro": “Don’t make me turn daddy’s little girl into an orphan/ That would mean I would have to kill Baby like abortion." Picture Pusha delivering the line live, white towel whipping, eyes bulging.
Big brother Malice is still the perfect complement, twisting beats with an end-of-days decadence, a hangdog glamour. Nothing on Vol. 3 is better than Malice’s last bit over Jim Jone’s "Emotionless"; the synth-heavy dirge with overlays of the "C.R.E.A.M." piano riff becomes a chunk of sad-sack candor. At first Malice stumbles, kicking out gloomy platitudes (and, perhaps incidentally, referencing an ignominious side of Kevin Bacon’s back catalog) — “I’m empty inside, like Hollow Man/ I’m here but I’m not, like a hologram” — before really getting honest.
For whatever reason, this is deemed the right time to air out some unidentified brotherly slight: "And as for P he is yet to wish me well /So there it is, I pick my bone/ Toast to C.E.O. Mal, I sip alone." That post-party solitude is a perfect image for Clipse, a depressive act operating in a flashy medium that can no longer let the baggage go for long enough to party convincingly.
Critics will continue to treat the We Got It 4 Cheap releases as albums because Clipse treat them like albums: They’ve been promoting the mixtape since last fall, pushed forward a single ("20K Money Making Brothers on the Corner") and have even excised host DJ "Barack O"Drama’s omnipresent catchphrases (sadly, along with the "R-E-U-P-G-A-N-G" chants, for the most part). Amid the middling Ab-Liva and Sandman spots, these verses, steely and unremitting — again, particularly Pusha’s — shine.
Download We Got It for Cheap: Vol. 3