July 25, 2008

Not Available In Stores! Clipse - Exclusive Audio Footage (1999)


The year was 1997. Or maybe 1998. Possibly 1999, who knows? Black Entertainment Television, back when they ran videos by decent artists, rather than the minstrel show buffoonery they promote today, aired a low-budget video for "The Funeral", a song by a Virginia rap duo known only as the Clipse. In the clip directed by Marc Klasfeld, who also helmed Juvenile's "Ha" (which looks eerily similar to this, now that I think about it), two well-dressed rappers pose and mean-mug for the cameras while a funeral march is progressing, and it's spiked with scenes set at the actual ceremony and, at the very end, we see two caskets burning in the river. It sounds creepy as fuck, but if you actually watch the clip, you'll see Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes trying his best to look like a well-manicured thug alongside the rappers Malice and Terrar, who get their point across effectively.

"The Funeral" was a minor hit for the Clipse, leading to the recording of their debut album, Exclusive Audio Footage, for Elektra Records (home of Ol' Dirty Bastard and Busta Rhymes). Produced entirely by the Neptunes, who hadn't yet had the success that would later materialize in their career trajectory, Exclusive Audio Footage was a dramatic tour de force, combining coke raps (yes, kids, there were coke raps back then) with thoughts of guilt, repentance, and, ultimately, redemption. Also, there were good beats, and you could dance to them. Not that you would, but you could.

Elektra Records shelved Exclusive Audio Footage permanently after "The Funeral" didn't become as big of a hit as they would have liked. No thought was given to the fact that the song was about the Thornton brothers describing how they would like to see life go on after they die: it didn't get burn in the clubs, and the hot chicks were too depressed to dance to it, so back into the vault went the Clipse. The Neptunes, Pharrell Williams and Chad "Chase" Hugo (that would be a nickname he hasn't used since the first Kenna disc), didn't have quite enough pull at this time to force Elektra's hand: they had only just begun to start seeing an influx of cash from surprise hits by the likes of Noreaga, Ma$e, and the aforementioned Dirt McGirt, and couldn't do much for their Virginia homeys. So, away it went.

A few years later, the Clipse, who had never stopped recording together (they appeared on other Neptunes projects, such as the solo albums by Mrs. Nasir Jones, better known as Kelis (who was actually hooking up with Pharrell around this time) and the N*E*R*D disc In Search Of...), found themselves at a new label home, Jive Records, thanks to the newfound influence Pharrell and Chad wielded over the music industry (moving tons of units and making millions of dollars will do that to a medium). Terrar quickly changed his name to Pusha T, since the misspelling of the word "terror" wouldn't play to the home team after September 11th, and with coke raps in hand and the Neptunes beats in their back pocket, the Clipse saw their second "first" album, Lord Willin', spawn numerous hit singles and move over five hundred thousand copies, ironically without including any songs that could be considered obvious club bangers (you know what I'm talking about: "Grindin'" is a lot more internalized and esoteric than "The Funeral").

I can't recall how I ended up with my (burned) copy of Exclusive Audio Footage, but it's easily available on the Interweb. The question is, should Lord Willin' really be considered the debut of the brothers Thornton?

Let's find out.

1. PRAYER
Yay, a rap album intro! Love those!

2. HEAR ME OUT
The Neptunes would reuse this beat for the far superior "Knock Yourself Out" by Jadakiss (from The Lox). I always find it interesting to hear the origins of beats and how the tone of a certain song can be affected depending on the rapper involved, but then again, I'm a nerd like that. Oh, the actual song? It works as strictly a curiosity piece, but completely useless otherwise.

3. POWER
Similar to their more recent work, with an old-school Neptunes beat that is at once simple and compelling. The hook is pretty fucking awful, though.

4. INTERLUDE
Brace yourselves, you two: there are a lot of these imaginatively-named interludes.

5. YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW (FEAT PHARRELL & KELIS)
I had completely forgotten that Kelis Rogers was one of the original members of the Neptunes's Star Trak family. (You would think that re-watching the clip for "The Funeral" would have jogged my memory, but whatever.) Regardless, I wasn't really feeling this one.

6. BREAKFAST IN CAIRO (FEAT NOREAGA & KURUPT)
I can't speak for anyone else, but I had been salivating for this song ever since I first read about it in The Source, in its "Fat Tape" section. It eventually turned into the Holy Grail of Neptunes-related songs for me, primarily because of "Superthug", the breakthrough mainstream single for both Noreaga and The Neptunes themselves. And you know what? It sucks. The beat is okay, and Malice and Terrar do alright, but the contributions of Noreaga (who references Mya and Silkk Tha Shocker - damn, this shit is dated) and a horribly miscast Kurupt ruin this song. What a fucking disappointment. And when the hell was Kurupt ever Noreaga's "main homey"?

7. INTERLUDE
Told ya.

8. HOSTAGE (FEAT ?)
One of the bad things about reviewing albums that have never been released is the lack of available production credits. This one features a female vocalist that's either Kelis or Tammy Lucas, depending on where you read, so I'm going with the question mark. Anyway, this song is terrible. Was that southern "bounce" craze really hitting all that much in 1999?

9. WILD COWBOYS (FEAT MARKITA)
Not really sure who this Markita chick is, but I have it on good authority it's not Martika from Kids Incorporated and "Toy Soldiers" fame. Pusha T's (sorry, I meant Terrar's) voice is at a mich higher pitch than you may be familiar with. Also, the fact that the song references other rappers studying Neptunes beats until "they go nutty" proves without a doubt that Pharrell and "Chase" were both conceited as fuck and psychic.

10. GOT CAUGHT DEALIN' (FEAT PHARRELL)
I actually liked this song. Pharrell sounds pretty fucking good: it's almost as if, at this point in time, he was seriously considering becoming a rapper, rather than forming N*E*R*D. Of course, the fact that N*E*R*D is mentioned on Exclusive Audio Footage throws that theory right out the window.

11. INTERLUDE
...

12. TAIWAN TO TEXAS (FEAT PHARRELL)
I hated the hook, but otherwise, this isn't horrible. The beat certainly sounds different from the direction The Neptunes would eventually head. Lyrically, Pusha T and Malice could have reused these lyrics for Lord Willin' and nobody would have been the wiser.

13. INTERLUDE
...

14. STICK GIRL
Sounds like a precursor to that "Ma I Don't Love Her" track from Lord Willin'. Also sounds like it could have been a minor hit in the clubs, not because it's actually good (nope, that certainly isn't the case), but because it plays like it could have fit in on commercial radio at the time.

15. YOU CAN'T TOUCE ME (FEAT LEE HARVEL & NAKO)
Yes, that Lee Harvey (appearing on here as the third rapper), the same guy from N*E*R*D's "Lapdance" song, which I happen to like. He was part of the Star Trak family at roughly the same time as Kelis and the Clipse: however, the other day, I paid him a dollar to clean my windshield at a stoplight. With his tongue. I could give a fuck about that Nako guy, that's how much of an impression he left on me.

16. FEEL LIKE ME (FEAT PHARRELL)
Meh.

17. BODYSNATCHERS (FEAT MAGNUM)
I just heard this song, and I can't remember a goddamn thing about it. Sorry.

18. DIANA ROSS (FEAT PHARRELL, ?, AND ALSO ?)
I have no idea who the guest rappers are, thanks to that whole "unreleased" qualifier, but I'm guessing that the first one is some dude from Harlem, possibly from Harlem World, since he mentions "All Out" before his verse (I can't be bothered to figure out who was actually in Harlem World, though). I suppose it doesn't really matter, though, since this song blows.

19. WATCH OVER ME (FEAT PHARRELL)
Plays out like a rap version of the "Prayer" intro. Which is not a good thing.

20. INTERLUDE
You can't say I didn't warn you.

21. THE FUNERAL
Interesting marketing choice: bury the song that everyone is familiar with at the very end of the debut album. "The Funeral", which I still kind of like, sounds absolutely nothing like the rest of Exclusive Audio Footage, nor does it sound reminiscent of anything The Neptunes have done since. Although I'm happy with the direction both duos went with (see: Hell Hath No Fury, even though Chad Hugo didn't do anything on there), this song leaves you wondering what could have been.

SHOULD YOU DIG IT UP? Only as a curiosity piece. Exclusive Audio Footage is a product of its time, and while it's interesting to trace how the production prowess of the Neptunes has progressed over the past decade, Pusha T and Malice have flows that sound almost exactly the same as they do today, albeit less polished. While a handful of songs are good, there really isn't anything marketable on here, so Elektra Records may have had a valid point with this one. It surely would not have moved as many units as Lord Willin' would eventually do. Overall, this is for diehard Neptunes fans only: everyone else can go about their daily business.

-Max

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2 comments:

  1. Amazing review even though I'm 8 years late. Oh and happy new year

    ReplyDelete