Today's post is a companion piece to the last one, dedicated to clearing out my coffers of pretty much all of the Clipse-related albums and mixtapes in my crates or on my hard drive. Three separate projects are the focus for today: while this means that you two get an extra-long write-up to help you get through your work day, consider this my way of crossing Pusha T and Malice off of my “finish what I started” list. That's right, I'm serious about trying to complete the task at hand.
In 2008, Koch Records had the bright idea of jumping on the Clipse bandwagon. During that time, Pusha T and Malice were still capitalizing on their second (well, technically third, if you really think about it) life as mixtape all-stars, what with their Re-Up Gang projects grabbing as large an audience as they did. Alongside Ab-Liva and Sandman, the Clipse had managed to inject some much-needed energy into their career trajectory, energy that was sorely lacking after the tepid sales of their second (well, technically third, if you really think about it) album, Hell Hath No Fury (which I still believe to be the duo's best work, but whatever).
As Push and Mal were having issues completing and releasing their follow-up, Till The Casket Drops (eventually securing distribution by switching labels from Jive to Columbia, a relationship that lasted the span of that one project), they figured that re-releasing some of their mixtape tracks, albeit with different production backing (since their mixtapes pretty much jacked its beats from other artists wholesale, as mixtapes are wont to do), was a good way to keep their name out there, even though this very idea had come from the Koch graveyard, a label not exactly well-known for its forward-thinking. As such, Clipse Presents: Re-Up Gang was born.
Consisting mostly of redone versions of tracks from We Got It For Cheap Volume 3 (and ignoring the rest of the series) with a few original compositions sprinkled in, Clipse Presents: Re-Up Gang was a marketing nightmare from the very beginning. For one, nearly all of the twelve songs featured were available for free on the Interweb in their intended incarnations. Secondly, Koch wasn't the biggest player in the game, so the budget set aside for this album was minuscule at best, leaving the production in the hands of no-name beatmakers (primarily The Sleepwalkers) and also recovering crackhead Scott Storch for some reason, a far cry from the days when all Pusha T and No Malice had to do was snap their fingers and a Neptunes beat would fall from the sky. And also, did I mention that nearly all of these songs were already available for free?
So from the very start, Clipse Presents: Re-Up Gang was an unnecessary addition to the Clipse canon, and it was going to be an uphill battle for Koch to convince folks that they needed this album in their lives. So, of course, they failed to market the thing, and the fucker tanked. No surprise there. But was there the possibility that maybe this album wasn't as bad as everyone originally perceived it to be?
1. RE-UP GANG INTRO
The album kicks off much like We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 3 did: in fact, both projects share the same introductory song, although this version is backed by an original instrumental from The Sleepwalkers (yeah, me neither). The original take featured the Re-Up Gang working off of the beat from B.G.'s “I Hustle”, and this version doesn't quite reach the same level of intensity, but “Re-Up Gang Intro” still worked pretty well as what it's supposed to be: an introduction to both the crew and the album. Sure, it's frustrating to realize that you've already heard all of these lyrics and ad-libs before, but Liva, Pusha, Sandman, and Malice's verses all still manage to click, which helps the medicine go down. Not terrible.
2. MILLION DOLLAR CORNER
The Re-Up Gang split up into pairs to tackle the two verses on “Million Dollar Corner”: No Malice and Sandman tackle the first half (perhaps Malice drew the shortest straw?), while Pusha and Liva bring up the rear. The prevalent coke raps are damn near numbing, since, at this point in their career, you figure that the Clipse, knowing what they do about the preparation and distribution sides of the business, enough to convince the listener that they're experts and all, would attempt a more trivial pursuit, such as merely talking shit behind the mic. Especially over this Sleepwalkers beat, one that sounds like it cost exactly forty-seven dollars and a three wing combo with a small side and a biscuit to produce.
3. STREET MONEY
One of two tracks on Clipse Presents: Re-Up Gang that is so dedicated to the concept of having expendable income that the song is named after money. Karl Maceo and J. Storm's instrumental sounds like a generic recreation of a crappy modern-day trap rap song that would appear on one of those bullshit “tribute” albums you find in Best Buy mixed in with the rap artists the going-nowhere folks are allegedly paying “tribute” to. Predictably, this shit was weak, but the beat also has a curious side effect: it makes the Clipse's street tales sound derivative and boring as fuck, thereby downgrading Liva and Sandman by default. So that just happened.
4. FAST LIFE
Although credited to the Re-Up Gang as a way to circumvent legal action, “Fast Life” is actually one of the first Clipse songs to explore life outside of Neptunes beats, inadvertently preparing listeners for what Till The Casket Drops would eventually sound like. Scott Storch's beat is much more subdued than you would expect, as it holds none of the bombast and swagger that his earlier production work and/pr lavish spending habits were defined by, and Pusha and Malice end up sounding like cookie-cutter rappers as a result, interchangeable not only with each other, but with every other rapper in existence. With its focus on material gain and its bullshit poppy sound, “Fast Life” is probably what the Clipse believe a Rick Ross song should sound like.
5. MY LIFE'S THE SHIT
Without the burden of needing to support a terrible hook, the Re-Uppers attack ILLFONICS's surprisingly decent instrumental (which sounds like an impersonation of one of Dr. Dre's non-Storch ghost-producers) with alleged snatches of their daily lives, thereby proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that they are better than you, the listener. Still, hip hop wouldn't be what it is today if its artists didn't boast about how much money they have and hoe many women they've run through: a lot of the listeners tend to live vicariously through these exploits. For their part, Ab-Liva, Pusha, and No Malice all sounded pretty good. Sandman's intro has always irked me (it's just so goddamn annoying how he has to shout the same thing on every fucking song), but on “My Life's The Shit”, I had to fight the urge to shut the song off when he started rhyming. No lie.
6. BRING IT BACK
This was awfully boring. This Sleepwalkers beat tries its darnedest to stir up some kind of emotion, but it fails, and all four members of the crew sink with the ship. The lyrics were all okay, if mostly forgettable, but they could have all clicked had the production been much better. Which is a running theme on Clipse Presents: Re-Up Gang, I know, but I wanted to write it down merely to fill the empty space in this paragraph.
Shares a title with a Jim Jones song, a track that the Re-Up Gang swiped the actual beat from to perform their original take on “Emotionless” from We Got It For Cheap Volume 3. This version swaps out the instrumental in favor of an uninspired Sleepwalkers creation (seriously, how did they land this gig?), but the bars are exactly the same. Which is fine: the performances on here were pretty good. Still, what was the point of taking a mixtape track, one built around a highly specific concept and beat, and then changing the goddamn beat, but leaving everything else the same? Kind of renders the entire exercise pointless, doesn't it?
8. WE KNOW
Kind of hilarious in how it pretends that the Matt Bang beat isn't just a blatant ripoff of the music from Shawty Lo's “Dey Know”. On Clipse Presents: Re-Up Gang, the Re-Up Babies utilized that original beat for one of their millions of posse cuts: because Koch wasn't about to pony up for using that instrumental, they took the lyrics and placed them over this monstrosity, apparently paying zero attention to the fact that the lines actually reference the original “Dey Know”, because that's what rappers fucking do on mixtape freestyles that aren't supposed to be re-imagined as actual songs. Goofy, but really fucking hard to listen to: it's best to just pull the Re-Up mixtape track and listen to that instead. I had forgotten about how one of Pusha T's lines from The Man With The Iron Fists's “Tick, Tock” originated here, though.
Karl Maceo and Johnny Fuego's synthy instrumental comes across as a poor Joel Schumacher- or McG-directed remake of 50 Cent's “I Get Money”, and the disembodied female vocal that operates during the hook sounds so robotic that I fear she will soon lead an uprising and imprison all of the humans on Earth. Still, this wasn't the worst song I've ever heard or anything: the quartet seem game enough to spit over it without overthinking anything, so even though this is just another song about money (the second track on this project with that word in its title, mind you) and “roll[ing] with the winners”, the Clipse and company render it listenable.
10. BEEN THRU SO MUCH
It's not that this overly-dramatic song is technically bad: I'm just not in the market for yet another bullshit generic look back on the struggle of any rapper, especially from a crew that has tackled the same material with much better results in the past. Moving on...
11. STILL GOT IT FOR CHEAP
Because anyone who would even remotely consider picking up this album wouldn't be familiar with the We Got It 4 Cheap mixtape series. That's the only plausible excuse I can come up with as to why Pusha, Malice, and company would have thought that song title to be a good idea. Thankfully, it's a ridiculous title that in no way informs any of the verses, so the Re-Up Gang's coke raps are performed without obstruction. The beat was simple but melodic, so this could have been much worse.
12. SHOW YOU HOW TO HUSTLE
Clipse Presents: Re-Up Gang ends on a curious note, with a song that was only originally called “Show You How To Hustle” because it swiped the beat from the Pharrell Williams track of the same name. Obviously Koch wouldn't sign off on the petty theft, so The Sleepwalkers were recruited to lay down some new musical backing, and the electronic bleeps and mismatched drums fail to mesh with an awkward-sounding Re-Up Gang, who, to be fair, probably still haven't heard the new instrumental to this very day, since all of the vocals are lifted directly from the mixtape favorite. Having Pusha, Malice, Liva, and Sandman “rap” over a beat they never actually worked with serves as the ultimate criticism of Clipse Presents: Re-Up Gang, really. Bleh.
FINAL THOUGHTS: So is Clipse Presents: Re-Up Gang really just a useless retread of previously-released material? Yes and no. As mentioned above, a handful of the tracks are original compositions, but they aren't good enough to justify a purchase. So we're left with the mixtape cuts, most of which still feature the interesting and entertaining verses that you're already accustomed to. Bars alone do not make a song, though, and the beats are mostly amateurish productions that Pusha T and Malice likely purchased in bulk at Costco. There's a reason you've never heard of any of these guys, folks, and as for Scott Storch, I don't know what Koch was thinking, trying to build the first (and only, as far as I know) single around the name of a dude whose last actual hit came out three years prior (something from either Christina Aguilera or that cocksucker Chris Brown, take your pick). In short, this project was a waste of time, but would probably be okay if you had absolutely no idea that the mixtapes even existed. But if that's truly the case, I just spoiled the surprise multiple times throughout this post. This was basically a direct-to-video Clipse album. You're welcome.
BUY OR BURN? The fuck do you think?
BEST TRACKS: “Re-Up Gang Intro”, a flash of light before the eternal darkness
For Promotional Use Only: Clipse - Road To Till The Casket Drops (December 1, 2008)
Still in lead-up mode to Till The Casket Drops, the Clipse brothers recorded and released a quickie mixtape to both promote their clothing line, the terribly-named Play Cloths (pronounced “clothes”, which begs the obvious question), and to subtly direct their audience's attention away from Clipse Presents: Re-Up Gang (which had dropped just a few months prior). Instead of going the typical route, dropping snippets of tracks from the actual album in an effort to tease the listener, Pusha T and Malice opted to simply swipe everyone else's hottest beats of the time and run wild over them, occasionally inviting their Re-Up comrade Ab-Liva to play. (Sandman had long since left the group by this time.)
Released in conjunction with Complex, Road To Till The Casket Drops, one of the more literal titles in mixtape history, features ten tracks (and two interludes) of our hosts goofing off behind the microphone, albeit in the cold, focused way they tend to goof off. While it's clear that they were having a laugh, you wouldn't necessarily be able to tell by their verses alone, since those are taken as seriously as every other mixtape track in their catalog has been.
Pusha and Still Malice deliver a verse apiece over an organ-heavy Reefa instrumental (borrowed from a collaboration between Fabolous and Junior Reed, apparently), with Pusha taking the aggressive approach while his brother's movement toward the Lord is set in motion, as evidenced by his clean-ish performance. Pusha gets all of the funny lines, though, including a mild attack on Pras of the Fugees that even Pras wouldn't be able to dispute, but overall this introductory track is underwhelming. Yes, they both sound good, but that's not nearly enough anymore.
2. THE HATERS WISH
The brothers Thornton tackle Don Cannon's beat for one of the all-time classic hip hop duos, Outkast, and their “The Art Of Storytellin' Part 4”. The music itself is good (and underrated), and works well for Pusha and Malice to rock over (and to sling rock over): my only issue is with the fact that Marsha Ambrosius's chorus remains intact from the Andre and Big Boi sessions, giving the false impression that “The Haters Wish” (a phrase never once uttered during said hook) is an actual Clipse song. Still, it was enjoyable, especially to hear Still Malice slow-burn from peaceful to antagonistic in a matter of bars.
3. BIG DREAMS
It's kind of weird and goofy that Pusha's hook on “Big Dreams” is singularly focused on the need to explain why the fashion line is called Play Cloths and not Play Clothes. Anywho, Cool and Dre's instrumental (from The Game's “Big Dreams”) is actually a pretty good fit for the Clipse, with the soulful sample balanced out by the modern-day choppiness of the music itself. Malice doesn't do all that much on here, but he doesn't have to, since this is his brother's track to fuck up.
4. LAUREN LONDON INTERLUDE
5. SO FLY (NOW WE'VE HAD HER)
After ATL's Lauren London asks our hosts for a track dedicated to the ladies, we get a vulgar sex rap that is pretty appalling, especially when you factor in how nonchalant Pusha and Still Malice sound about the act of passing a woman around the crew like a microphone or an STD. Push obviously thinks the juxtaposition is kind of funny, given his ad-libs at the very end. The fact that the song itself is boring certainly helps aid the obvious decision to avoid this shit like the plague that it is: hell, even the Oddz & Endz instrumental (from Slim's “So Fly”, which apparently was a hit after Slim left Bad Boy quartet 112, although I had never heard this beat before this freestyle) doesn't seem fully interested in itself. Mal does get in a choice line regarding The Notorious B.I.G.'s business relationship with Lil' Kim, though.
The only addiction brought up on here is Push and Mal,'s need for money, power, respect, and bitches, which isn't so much a list of vices as it is a compendium of shit all rappers talk about all the time. This wasn't bad, though. Ryan Leslie's beat (borrowed from his own song of the same name) is low-key and surprises the listener when the verses actually begin, and both of our hosts sound pretty good over it. The hook is ridiculous, though: why the hell would the Re-Up Gang even be brought up if Ab-Liva wasn't invited to contribute? It's not like they lost his phone number all of a sudden.
7. POP CHAMPAGNE (FEAT. AB-LIVA)
Remember when Ron Browz had a minor radio hit with the Auto-Tuned monstrosity “Pop Champagne”? Well, he did, and it was obviously popular enough for the Clipse and company to recklessly attack the beat. Push and Mal bring in Liva on this track instead of the last one (whatever), and while nobody sounds very good or natural on here, at least the Re-Up Gang comes off better than the song's originators, Browz and Jim Jones. (For the record, I actually thing Browz's follow up, “Jumping (Out The Window)” isn't that bad, although that speaks more for my tendency to appreciate sophomore-slumping songs than it does of “Jumping (Out The Window)” being of any higher quality.)
8. NUMB IT DOWN
Lupe Fiasco's “Dumb It Down” is, no bullshit, one of the only songs from his catalog that I actually enjoy. This is mostly because of Soundtrakk's instrumental (although Lupe's subject matter is admittedly interesting). Pusha and Still Malice tackle the beat with predictably entertaining results: the most surprising aspect of this happens when Pusha shouts out other rappers for helping promote Play Cloths, especially Lupe himself, which is probably why he's so nice to him during the introduction. Malice is fairly bored, but is still decent enough for the track to work.
9. S.L.U. (FEAT. AB-LIVA)
In which Pusha T tackles the beat to T.I.'s “Swagger Like Us”, the M.I.A.-sampling minor hit that featured his future boss Kanye West (in both a performing and a production role) and his sworn enemy Lil' Wayne. Weird. Anyway, Pusha apes 'Ye's flow for his opening verse, pushing the rest of the remaining swagger onto Malice and Ab-Liva, both of whom prove to be adept at spitting over such a gimmicky (but still alright) instrumental. At least there's a lot less Auto-Tune on the Clipse remake. Still, since the original “Swagger Like Us” featured four emcees (the fourth being Jay-Z), it makes one wonder how this could have sounded had the Re-Up Gang not lost their fourth member. Hmm...
10. SWING YA RAG
Keeps Swizz Beatz's instrumental and hook from T.I.'s “Swing Ya Rag intact, which detracts from the actual verses, since Swizzy celebrates financial excess, having so much money that one can afford to bypass actual Gucci and Louis Vuitton products and aim directly at their
table scraps rags, apparently, while the Clipse brothers
focus more on what it takes to attain said financial success. Also,
the beat is annoying. Next!
11. LIL WILLIE INTERLUDE
12. FEDS TAKING PICTURES
A rather dull way to end things. Pusha and Still Malice sound more than serviceable on “Feds Taking Pictures”, except for on the really goddamn stupid chorus, but Dame Grease's instrumental (from DJ Drama's original track) isn't interesting enough for anyone to give a shit about Pusha's laundry list of shout-outs at the beginning of his verse or for Malice's paranoia. It is what it is, and it is over.
SHOULD YOU TRACK IT DOWN? If you're a fan of the Re-Up Gang series, then sure, because it builds on that legacy and is actually pretty entertaining, for the most part. Those of you two who were hoping that the brothers Thornton would lend a bit more originality to the project will be disappointed, but it's relatively short, so you'll get to My Name Is My Name shortly, just calm down. Nothing on Road To Till The Casket Drops would be considered required reading, but if you added the tracks to your Clipse iTunes playlist and threw that bitch on 'shuffle', you probably won't skip past the likes of “Numb It Down” or “The Haters Wish” when they pop up. And fuck it, it's free, so.
For Promotional Use Only: Various Artists - Play Cloths Holiday 2011 (Hosted by Pusha T) (November 30, 2011)
During the holiday season in 2011, Play Cloths released another mixtape intended to promote the line by featuring rhymes that mostly talked about other shit. Given the fact that No Malice had abandoned hip hop at this point in time, Pusha T stepped up to both host Play Cloths Holiday 2011 and provide the majority of the bars, all of which take place over stolen instrumentals that, for the most part, the minds behind this project couldn't even be bothered to rename (which is why, if you peek below, you'll notice song titles such as “Mighty Healthy Freestyle”).
Pusha T, um, pushes his own agenda, which is to talk about the clothes and his team, which still refers to itself as the Re-Up Gang at times even though the lone surviving member is Ab-Liva. Push invites several of his newbie friends to contribute verses, but odds are pretty good that you've never heard of them, and it just proves that he was obviously saving all of his A-list buddies for his own solo projects. Like Road To Till The Casket Drops, it's clear that this shit was put together fairly quickly, but that doesn't always translate into an entertaining project, even where the brothers Thornton are involved.
1. DON'T FUCK WITH ME
Pusha swipes the beat from Drake's “Dreams Money Can Buy” and, quite frankly, does a better job with it, goofy vocal sample that may or may not have given this track its title and all. The Noah “40” Shebib instrumental is much gloomier than one would expect from something originally called “Dreams Money Can Buy”, but Pusha eschews Aubrey's original intentions (describing how empty his life is even though he has everything he ever wanted) in favor of bragging about material possessions he's been able to procure because of his success. Drake's song is admittedly deeper, but Pusha T makes this his own.
2. IMA BOSS FREESTYLE (FEAT. LIVA DON)
The moment Meek Mill dropped “Ima Boss”, it was inevitable that other rappers would take that declaration and apply it to themselves, by which I mean, of course, stealing the beat. Pusha T and Liva Don (better known as Ab-Liva, as if you two couldn't figure that shit out) are two such rappers. Both are technically proficient over Jahlil Beats's original loud-as-shit instrumental, but neither sounds overly impressive: Push relies on what has worked for him in the past while Liva's slower flow doesn't quite fit. The vibe goes down the drain, though, when Meek and Rick Ross's original hook is shoehorned in (quite poorly, I might add), reinforcing the idea that this is merely a freestyle (granted, they warned us in the track's title, but still) and not anything that either man really gave a shit about.
3. TONY MONTANA
Pusha swipes the boring-as-shit Will-A-Fool instrumental from Future's “Tony Montana” for a quickie verse that doesn't go anywhere, but that's more a limitation because of the music choice than it is anything else: if you're going to perform a song called “Tony Montana” and not be Cormega and Ghostface Killah, then you're pretty much forced to rhyme about cocaine and pretend to be motherfucking Scarface. And so.
4. MIGHTY HEALTHY FREESTYLE (FEAT. CURT@!NS)
Perhaps Pusha already had the homage “New God Flow” in the can when this mixtape came along, because he cedes the instrumental from the Ghostface Killah classic “Mighty Healthy” to rapper Curt@!ns, whose decent performance is a byproduct of the badass Allah Mathematics beat more than it is of actual skill. Pretty Toney has effortless charisma, which is why “Mighty Healthy” bangs, while Pusha T and Kanye west, who both performed on “New God Flow” (alongside Ghost himself on the Cruel Summer album version) have presence behind the microphone, which is why that track also clicked. This freestyle, however, fades away from memory even before the first syllable is unleashed. Sigh.
5. SHE WILL FREESTYLE (FEAT. LIVA DON)
Ab-Liva takes on T-Minus's moody instrumental from the Lil' Wayne / Drake collaboration “She Will”, marking the second time tonight that Pusha T has borrowed from the catalog of a rap label (Young Money) that he doesn't particularly care for. Liva turns the track from a mediation of women and their incessant need to pop their pussies whenever Weezy is around into some dull, throbbing threats and a declaration that he rolls with a better crew. I like Liva, but this shit was beneath him and wholly unnecessary. Also goes on for way too long.
6. N----S IN PARIS FREESTYLE (FEAT. FAT TREL)
Washington D.C. Native Fat Trel swipes Hit-Boy's work on the Jay-Z and Kanye West hit, and let's just say Hov and 'Ye have nothing to worry abut. Okay, let's say a bit more: this shit sucks. Trel doesn't so much flow as he does force the bars out from behind his teeth, none of which sound remotely interesting over an already-familiar instrumental that doesn't even build as you're expecting it to, thanks to the choppiness and low production quality of this freestyle. Groan.
7. OOOH (FEAT. HODGY BEATS, TYLER, THE CREATOR, & LIVA DON)
This original composition is a bizarre Odd Future collaboration that was probably recorded around the same time as Pusha's own duet with Tyler, the Creator, “Trouble On My Mind” (from 2011's earlier Fear Of God 2: Let Us Pray). The instrumental on here is simple but kind of dull, so we're left to rely on the verses to carry this shit, and given the guest list, you can probably guess how I felt about some of this. Hodgy Beats kicks things off decently enough, and Tyler blows on here because yeah, but, weirdly, Push and Liva pass the microphone back and forth during their middle verse, so neither man receives a proper showcase. There's certainly a good reason why most Odd Future heads will have never heard of this track.
8. WELCOME TO THE LIFE (FEAT. M. WATTS)
9. I SHOT YA (FEAT. CURT@!NS)
Curt@!ns is invited back to the project to spit over the (ill, and don't deny it, you dig it, too) Trackmasters beat for LL Cool J's “I Shot Ya”. Don't let the fact that Poke and Tone produced it turn you away: this instrumental was built for hard-as-fuck verses and posse cuts. You should let the fact that Curt@!ins sucks keep you away. Dude kicks a performance that is wholly undeserving of his place on Pusha's team: hell, if it were somehow possible for the shittiness of this freestyle to erase the “Mighty Healthy” track from earlier, it would. Meh.
10. PESOS FREESTYLE
For the finale, Push returns to deliver a verse over the A$AP Ty Beats instrumental to A$AP Rocky's “Peso”. Credit where credit is due: Pusha makes it sound like the beat had been handwoven for him out of the finest silk. But, as is the nature of most freestyles, it's not as though the bars ever really lead anywhere. An enjoyable distraction and nothing more.
SHOULD YOU TRACK IT DOWN? Nah, there's no real point to this one. Most of you two have already heard Pusha T's take on Drake's “Dreams Money Can Buy”, which is the only track on Play Cloths Holiday 2011 that sounds like some actual thought was put into it: the rest of this made me upset that Pusha didn't use his better-known friends, Ab-Liva notwithstanding. Don't waste the time looking for this one: that's valuable Google search time you can devote to some other shit.
Read up on the rest of the Clipse catalog by clicking here.