Tuesday, November 28, 2006

like a thun scorned

Not chiming in with ‘Album of the Year’ accolades is becoming as blasphemous as disagreeing with the designated ‘Best Show on Television.’ I worship ‘The Wire’ and the long-awaited Clipse album has me saying “Holy shit!” but, cotdamm, it ain’t quite the gospel that was “We Got it For Cheap Vol.2.”

Hearing “Hell Hath No Fury” a few times makes me realize, after all these years, that calling Mobb Deep ‘cold’ dismissed the warm blood coursing through every paranoid verse. It may seem unfair to compare groups that rely on opposite lyrical tactics but they both arrive at similarly cold and slang-heavy environs and the link between the relentlessly dark realms of Clipse and Mobb Deep seems unavoidable and appropriate.

As much as the Havoc and Prodigy recording-personas were consciously shaped and perfected for their second album, they were conveying a worldview (however insular) and, even in Prodigy’s brilliantly blunt (and coded) language, we believed in that world’s existence… even if it was a ‘Queensbridge’ filtered through the heads of the artists (and producers). The Clipsean world is harder to see. Part of that is due to the weird mix of desperate actions sprinkled with new money flash (Hi Pharrell!).

‘Hell Hath…’ often leaves me looking into a snow-globe of shaken storms and eerie smiles, whereas classic Mobb Deep style immerses me in cold sweat. I can’t help but be struck by the near perfect craft of Clipse lyrics and matching Neptunes tracks but that glossy surface discourages me from reaching out for their shadowed perch. The crispy cadence, the mechanized beats, and the clear vocal tone, click together like a well-oiled machine… but I’m still just admiring clockwork a safe distance from the grinding gears.

In the past Prodigy’s kluge of threats formed an imprecise structure that provided a space for this listener. Not a ‘comfort zone’ but something ‘recognizable’ and imperfect. Havoc’s sparse placement of dusty samples over the heavy bass did the same. It was not surface. It was surround sound.
Although Clipse cleverness has no equal, Mobb Deep’s relentless brutality, at it’s best, has an organic quality that never tries to impress with finesse. The lyrics often bowl the listener over with unadorned directness even when chopping the ‘thunny language’ in with English. Oddly, Hav and P seem to present a ‘secret language of siblings’ more organically than brothers Pusha and Malice. No wonder that I admire their beat selections for the Re-Up mixtapes because they helped round out and ground the sharp lyrics.

Clipse craft can generate envy of talent and inspire awe, amazement and appreciation of the song/object that has been made (which I also appreciate in the throwaway intricacies of Cam’ron and Peedi Peedi) but it rarely lets my mind transcend the object or it’s ‘making’. And, although I’d never attempt to define ‘art’ I know it when it changes how I see the world. The paranoia and pain that Mobb Deep pointed to will forever lurk in New York’s shadows. It seems apt to mention that East Coast rap was at a ‘low point’ before the mid-Nineties rebirth with Mobb, Nas, Biggie, and Wu, at least relative to the West Coast vitality. Recent years leave the East Coast in a similar position relative to the ‘Third Coast’ hip-hop. Is it any wonder that it has become an acceptable opinion that Clipse’ style fell from the Big Apple tree of MCs as opposed to it’s southern species?

As much as I can’t quite inhabit ‘Hell Hath…’ it is the first rap album that earns a fair comparison to Mobb Deep classics. There are few higher honors I could bestow on an album. And most of the other critics have already done that.
But before I verge into personal blasphemy by uttering “They don’t make ‘em like they used to!” let me declare the return of a savior that restored my faith in the ‘here and now’ of NYC hip-hop.

Prodigy’s solo video / song ‘Mac 10 Handle’ swooped down like a fever dream angel recently and plunged us back into P’s hellish visions that have been lacking in recent years. Without this heavenly hardcore hip-hop could I even discuss Mobb Deep’s relevance in the same breath as the au courant crafty Clipse? Hell no.

The anticipation for ‘Hell Hath...’ is done and, lord willing, the hunger for the Prodigy mixtape will replace it. Can I get a amen?