August 30, 2010

My Gut Reaction: Clipse - Til The Casket Drops (December 8, 2009)

Judging from my previous posts about them, I appear to be a pretty big fan of the Virginia rap duo Clipse, or at least I'm not completely sick of their dependence on cocaine raps just yet.  So while it makes sense that I'm taking my time getting through their many mixtapes (as Hip Hop Isn't Dead hasn't reviewed that many mixtapes to begin with), you may still be wondering why it took me so long to write about their third album, Til The Casket Drops.

I have a couple of reasons, actually.

First of all, I wasn't very thrilled when Pusha T and Malice announced that their third album would not be fully produced by their friends The Neptunes.  As their previous two efforts (and their unreleased album, Exclusive Audio Footage) had only featured beats by the Neptunes, this wasn't welcoming news.  I pride myself in being able to roll with the punches and adapt very easily, but this move didn't sound like a very fruitful one for the brothers Thornton.  It's kind of like how Wu stans still wish that The RZA would get behind the boards and produce for his crew: I accept that things change, but that doesn't mean that I wouldn't prefer for them not to.  Pharrell and Chad still receive eight production credits on Til The Casket Drops, which leaves only five remaining tracks to parcel out to outside help, but it's still not the same.

Secondly, I wasn't at all thrilled with the lead-off singles.  While the rest of the blogging world thrust their arms upward and swung them about as if they were unaffected by any of their cares or concerns at the mere idea of a collaboration between the Clipse and Kanye West, I remained neutral, as, for some strange reason, I had convinced myself that it wouldn't make the proper album anyway.  (Irrational, I know, but it is what it is.)  And the first actual single, "I'm Good", fucking sucked.  Oh my God, it was awful.  Pusha and Malice (with an assist from Pharrell) attempted to craft the feel-good single of the year, and it failed miserably for me.  Aside from the fact that the track itself sounded forced, the actual music lacked the traits that the duo's previous singles, such as "Grindin'" and "Mr. Me Too", printed like counterfeit money in the basement: namely, those two songs were fucking catchy, whereas "I'm Good" was not.  This turned me off from the project in its entirety...until now, as I noticed that my local library actually had a copy of Til The Casket Drops in stock.

Maybe this will all sound better when heard within its intended context.

Jay-Z's American Gangster producers Sean C & LV's beat informs listeners that Til The Casket Drops won't sound anything like Lord Willin' or Hell Hath No Fury, and if you're still not yet convinced, Pusha T's opening verse is far more lyrical than the standard coke raps that you have been expecting. Although Pusha T and Malice have never been slouches in the writing department, they are consistently overlooked because of their usual subject matter. “Freedom” seems to showcase the brothers Thornton proclaiming their, well, freedom from being pigeonholed, and they do very well at establishing mic dominance, even if the beat itself is counter-intuitive.

Blogs also threw their nonexistent arms up in praise when this Neptunes-produced track, featuring a cameo from Killa Cam, was originally announced. The question is: why? Who exactly was fiending for the Clipse to appear alongside an artist who was best known (at that point) for beefing with Curtis Jackson and then promptly vanishing from the game for an extended period of time? Huh? This song doesn't hit as hard as the duo's other collaborations with the Neptunes; as such, this merely sounds alright. Pusha T's first verse is funny, but the rest of this is only serviceable. Also, why hasn't anybody talked about how Pharrell's non-sequitur-filled chorus sounds like it was inspired by the notebooks of "Kool" Keith Thornton (no relation to the Clipse)?

So far, Til The Casket Drops isn't having much of an impact on my subconscious, and a collaboration with Kanye West probably won't change my mind, especially since I'm one of those purists that looked at the project warily when Pusha T and Malice announced that Pharrell and Chad would not be handling all of the beats. (DJ Khalil supplies background duty on here.) I'm willing to bet that 'Ye, huge Will Ferrell fan that he is (have you ever paid attention to some of his lyrics?), probably gave the song its Anchorman-inspired title. Yeezy turns on the charm (in a performance recorded long before he needed to start apologizing to Taylor Swift) and walks away with the track, while Pusha and Malice deliver slightly off-kilter bars close enough together to constitute verses. Still, this was much better than the Popeye's commercial masquerading as the previous song.

There aren't many rappers who would dare to throw references to both Lady Gaga and David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button within a few bars of each other, but there also aren't many rappers named Pusha T who can pull it off swimmingly. The Neptunes beat annoys at first, with its record-being-spun-backward effect distracting the listener (think Ghostface's “Stroke of Death”, but more carefree), but when the hook begins, so do some hard drums, waking you the fuck up. Guest star Yo Gotti, who spends a chunk of his verse explaining how he ended up on a Clipse song in the first place, sounds too much like Young Jeezy for him to ever have much of an impact on hip hop. However, his line about joining the “millionaire boys club” (he should have said “billionaire”, as that is/was what Pharrell calls his crew) and being issued “a box of baking soda and a skateboard” was fucking hilarious.

For someone who isn't producing every song on Til The Casket Drops, Pharrell sure does pop up a lot on the project, doesn't he? Turns out I was right: even when heard within its proper context, "I'm Good" still sounds as underwhelming today as it did when it first hit the blogs. I'm not against the brothers Thornton branching out and having a positive outlook on life for once, but this was not the best vehicle for such forced optimism. Skateboard P sticks with providing vocals (it's arguable whether this is preferable to him rapping an actual verse). While there is nothing technically wrong with this track, I was left feeling hollow, as if the Clipse played the song as a diversion while they stole my kidneys. No thanks, guys; “I'm Good” just isn't any good.

The first minute and eighteen seconds of this, the ultimate no-snitching anthem, is devoted to the vocals of Kobe, who adequately sets the unapologetic tone: things are most certainly not good anymore. Both Pusha and Malice adopt mild Jamaican accents for their crime tale, which concentrates more on the aftermath than the actual act, and they somehow make it work. DJ Khalil's beat keeps the train moving along steadily as well. This was unexpected, although the Clipse have done much better in the past; this won't be blasting out of my car stereos anytime soon.

Anyone who has enough money to pile it upon the roof of a building, in hopes of toppling said building, has way too much time on their hands, as they're obviously daydreaming about revenge fantasies that stopped making sense three exits prior. So yeah, the hook on here is pretty stupid. This shit was also far too long for me to continue giving a damn. However, I am glad that the Clipse didn't take the easy way out by sampling Leslie Mann's dialogue with Craig Robinson from Knocked Up.

The brothers Thornton graciously invite the only other guy in the Re-Up Gang that they're still on speaking terms with, using a Sean C & LV instrumental as their neutral territory. Ab Liva definitely made the right choice: although I can understand Sandman's position, he won't be going anywhere with his career, whereas Liva will at least be guaranteed a guest verse here and there (and, of course, occasional paychecks) on any Clipse project. It's too bad that this song was pedestrian at best.

The Clipse try to return to the clubs after the success of their “When The Last Time”, a song that they don't even like to perform anymore (as is my understanding). Anyway, this Neptunes beat goes a long way toward making this shit mildly entertaining, but the words used to form the sentences make Pusha and Malice sound like every other rapper in existence. Keri Hilson's cameo on the hook, recorded when the music industry seemed to believe her to be the next big thing (although that hasn't panned out yet, she'll probably get more than a few second chances, given that she's cute and all), was also unnecessary: they could have gotten absolutely anybody else to perform her part without altering the flow of the song. Points deducted for trying to inadvertently remind listeners of a certain 2Pac double album with the title. The instrumental may be interesting to track down on its own, but this shit sucked otherwise.

I wish they stuck with the coke raps. At least I wouldn't have been subjected to this shit, which sounds like a Kanye West outtake as filtered through our hosts. Moving on...

Will forever be known as the point where Max lost his faith in Til The Casket Drops. The Clipse have done a great job acclimating to hip hop as it sounds today, but they've blended in too well, and now they sound just like the bullshit they're rallying against.

The marriage between DJ Khalil's beat and the lyrics was a move in the right direction, as this was fairly enjoyable, but then the Auto-Tuned Kobe hook kicks in, having an adverse effect. It actually took me out of the song, making me realize that the track itself was constructed in such a paint-by-numbers manner that there was no way it could ever truly entertain anybody. Of course, most music recorded today is like that, but it depressed me more coming from the Clipse.

I hated this song, too. Man, I'm glad this exercise in futility is finally over. (Side note: I understand that Chad's apprentice Kenna apparently appears on this song, so it's a testament to the overt awfulness of this track that I didn't give much of a damn.)

THE LAST WORD: Even though it's only thirteen tracks long (with no skits, thankfully), Til The Casket Drops seems to last at least four times as long. For the first time, the Clipse have turned the act of listening to their music into a fucking chore, as nothing on here jumps out at you like even the worst songs on the previous two (or three, depending on how you're counting) albums. (I'm thinking specifically of “Trill” from Hell Hath No Fury, which sounded awful, but at least Pusha and Malice seemed to have a specific direction in mind when they recorded it.) The shift away from the Neptunes songs would be one of my major complaints, had the Neptunes contributions that actually made the album sounded any good, but the fact that there were other cooks in the kitchen force the obvious criticism: Til The Casket Drops doesn't sound anywhere near cohesive. Pusha T and Malice appear to feel that they don't have to put in much effort anymore, and more often than not they're simply treading lyrical water. Why critics heaped praise upon Til The Casket Drops is a mystery to me: nothing on here will give new listeners a reason to give a rat's ass about the Clipse. Which is a fucking shame, as they're usually really good. Usually. Everyone has an off day, I guess, but another release such as this one will put the nail into the titular casket containing their career. Artistic growth is acceptable when done naturally: you can't go from cocaine raps straight to “I'm Good” and “All Eyes On Me” without fucking up somewhere. (And yes, I realize that those tracks also reference cocaine, but compare those two songs to their earlier catalog and tell me I'm wrong.) Consider Til The Casket Drops their huge misstep that can be ignored without regret.


Catch up on the Clipse by clicking here.


  1. While I agree for the most of the review as most of the album isn't cohesive at all, I still love Kinda Like A Big Deal and Door Man. They're hype songs, so I can see where the praise comes from from blogger land.

    Wasn't impressed by the album.

  2. yo max.can u review the bonus tracks and the gold deluxe itunes bonus tracks of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II. the shit is dope kid

  3. djbosscrewwreckaAugust 30, 2010

    Okay, it's no Lord Willin or Hell Hath No Fury. And not so cohesive, and the poppy songs are a bad look for the Clipse, but lack of cohesion and weak commercial leaning tracks are standard for most albums these days. Not excusing it, and it's right to hold the Clipse to a high standard, but I still thought this album was pretty good. There's enough hard hitting tunes - the first verse on Freedom completely kills it. Completely kills it even though he's saying he's a hypocrite and his critics are right. The Kanye and Camron tunes were good (and I'm not big fans of those two). I had higher expectations as well, but looking objectively (compare this to other hip hop out there and not to past Clipse albums) there's enough here to make a decent album.

  4. review slick ricks last album or some run dmc or immortal technique please

  5. "review slick ricks last album"

    Anyway I didnt like this album very much.