After the 2002 release of their debut album Lord Willin', the Virginia duo known as the Clipse, made up of the coke-rap fraternal demons Pusha T and Malice, found themselves at war with their record label. After a business merger, the brothers Thornton found themselves absorbed into the Jive Records family, and, to absolutely nobody's surprise, the home of Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears didn't have much of a clue how to market them. As such, their follow-up project, Hell Hath No Fury, wasn't considered the highest priority (and not just because the Clipse had failed to turn over a single that could be potentially marketable).
This wasn't a position new to the duo: their actual debut album, Exclusive Audio Footage, still hasn't ever been officially released due to label politics. But Pusha T and Malice handled their situation differently in 2002 than they had in 1997, thanks to the new resources available to them: namely, the Interweb. They vented their frustrations with their mixtape series We Got It 4 Cheap, teaming up with their friends Sandman and Ab-Liva to form the Re-Up Gang, a group who commandeered other rappers' instrumentals to further their agenda, which mainly consisted of keeping their fans satiated while trying to embarass Jive Records into releasing Hell Hath No Fury. The first volume of this project was released in 2004: the second followed one year later.
Surprisingly, this tactic sort of worked, as Hell Hath No Fury hit store shelves in 2006 to high critical acclaim and terribly low sales figures. Although most of the people who actually bought the album were happy with the final product, there was a question as to whether or not the long-ass wait tarnished the overall effect. Regardless of the album's ultimate impact on our chosen genre, there was little doubt that the Clipse were at the height of their game, and they had achieved the impossible: they beat the record label.
Probably not so shockingly, Jive Records later dumped the Clipse, and they ultimately washed up ashore at Columbia Records. At their new home, they were actually treated as the artists they were, and they encountered little adversity while recording their third project, Til The Casket Drops. And as a way to thank their longtime fans for sticking by them, the Re-Up Gang reunited in 2008 for a third volume in the mixtape series, entitled We Got It For Cheap Volume 3 (and subtitled The Spirit Of Competition). This was a lead-in to an actual album from the quartet, which was released later that same year.
However, things had changed for the Re-Up Gang. The fortunes of Pusha T and Malice had changed for the better, and the confidence boost that was defeating their record label at their own game had led to a dangerous form of complacency. Neither Sandman nor Ab-Liva had upped their lyrical game in the two years between Hell Hath No Fury and the new mixtape. And Malice was growing visibly sickened by the state of hip hop at the time. None of these ingredients make for an interesting mixtape soup. The addition of DJ Drama, taking over for Clinton Sparks, as the ringmaster didn't really ease the pain of the average fan, either.
(Note: I'm reviewing the No-DJ version of We Got It For Cheap Volume 3, as I can't fucking stand deejay drops when I can avoid them. However, there appear to be two separate versions of this mixtape available online: I opted for the longer, twenty-track version, although there is really no reason for any of you two to sit through that one. Yeah, I know I just gave that away right now. Try to stick with me anyway.)
1. HERE'S WHAT THEY THINK ABOUT YOU INTERLUDE
What?! An introductory track...on a mixtape?! Who ever heard of such a thing?
2. RE-UP GANG INTRO
After an intro that recalls memories of the beef between Ice Cube and N.W.A., one would think that these guys would take over a classic West Coast instrumental for their official reintroduction. And one would be wrong: instead, the Clipse and company commandeer the fairly rote beat from B.G.'s “I Hustle”. (The West Coast beat-jacking occurs later, when the listener will have long since stopped giving a fuck.) Four verses float by without sticking to your ribs, the worst coming from Sandman, whose contribution is so close to self-parody that you hope he did it that way on purpose but I highly doubt it. Ab-Liva, Pusha T, and Malice all come across as decent, as they tend to do, but there wasn't anything about this track worth recommending to even the most diehard Clipse fan.
3. SHOW YOU HOW TO HUSTLE
The entire Re-Up Gang fares much better over this track, which swipes both the organ-driven instrumental and the title from a solo track by frequent collaborator Pharrell Williams, and the quartet make the case that Skateboard P wasn't the best fit for his own song. Sandman redeems himself with a much more interesting performance, Ab-Liva does admirably, and the brothers Thornton walk away with a track that should have appeared on a less dark version of Hell Hath No Fury. This was a step in the right direction.
4. ROC BOYS
It makes perfect sense why the Re-Up best friends gang would borrow the beat from a Jay-Z song which celebrates a high volume of drug sales (transactions that were done by whatever fucking character Shawn pretended to play on American Gangster, anyway). What doesn't add up is how unappealing all four artists sound on here: it's almost as though they believed the Sean C. and LV beat would do all of the work for them. Pusha and Malice both come across as bored out of their respective minds (a trait that, unfortunately, followed them to their third album Til The Casket Drops), while Live and Sandy have trouble merely trying to keep up. So yeah, “Roc Boys” is the first outright failure on We Got It For Cheap Volume 3. It's sad, really.
5. 20K INTRO
6. 20K MONEY MAKING BROTHERS ON THE CORNER
During the final verse, Malice claims that he isn't “a part of your coke rap genre”, which sounds absurd until you realize that he and his brother have essentially reinvented the very idea of coke rap. Still, even though this is one of the more highly-acclaimed entries on We Got It For Cheap Volume 3, I never cared for this track: all four rappers sound alright enough, but Dame Grease's instrumental, an original composition created specifically for the Re-Up Babies's dreams to come true, does nothing for me, except spark an urge to hit the 'skip' button. This shit is overrated by every and any definition of the word. Yeah, that's right, I just wrote that.
7. DEY KNOW YAYO
Obviously the Re-Up Gang had given up on mixtape freestyles long ago, choosing instead to write new verses around beats that just so happen to already exist, but it's too easy to see these guys tripping all over themselves over their take on Shawty Lo's “Dey Know”, an already ridiculous-yet-somewhat-catchy track that takes to its natural evolution as a coke rap anthem about as well as a fish dropped into a pond filled with Jell-O mixed with vodka. The four guys sound like three too many, which is strange, since Shawty Lo used his original song's remix to get a bunch of his friends together to talk shit. But that sentence doesn't need to make sense as much as the song needs to actually entertain you. Which it does not.
8. 500 BIRDS INTERLUDE
9. SCENARIO 2008
That title makes me wish that the Re-Up Get-Along Gang has the stones to rap over the classic A Tribe Called Quest posse cut and not some unnecessary Eve track where producer Swizz Beatz couldn't even be bothered to come up with an original beat, instead reusing his own work from Jay-Z's “Jigga My N---a”. Everyone sounds okay, I suppose, but I was most amused during Malice's final verse, where he deliberately mispronounces the name “Jeremy” in order to make it rhyme with “Journey” (and also displays a common misconception regarding what actually happens at the end of the video for Pearl Jam's “Jeremy”). Still, that word I just used to describe Eve's original track? Also applies here.
10. GOOD MORNING
Foreshadows Pusha T's eventual position in Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music empire by stealing both West's beat and his chorus from Graduation's “Good Morning (Intro)”. Almost as if on cue, Pusha rides the instrumental beautifully, burying his non-familial cohorts in every possible fashion, but Malice steps in toward the end with a verse that is not only depressing as shit, it also helps explain (to a small degree) just why he was so unhappy with our chosen genre that he chose to take a leave of absence in 2010 instead of recording a fourth Clipse album right away. Interesting.
11. RAINY DAYZ
Excellent choice in instrumental: on here, the Re-Up Gang borrow Raekwon's RZA-produced “Rainy Dayz”, the best song from Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... (an album filled with some absolute classics) and one of the most cinematic experiences Prince Rakeem has ever been involved with. Obviously, Rae and Ghostface Killah own this shit, and nothing Pusha-Ton, Malice, and their boys do will ever compare, but damn it if they didn't actually try, especially Pusha's brother, who's weirdly mastered contribution (recorded at a higher volume than everyone else, for some reason) opens up some wounds in the ongoing “Why doesn't Pharrell really help the Clipse anymore?” argument, all while exploring maturity and shouldering some of the blame himself. Huh.
I like the title of this song, because it's so goddamn easy for me to say that these guys all sound emotionless over the instrumental, swiped from the Jim Jones song of the same name, which lacks soul to such a large degree that it starts sniffing around for the listener's about halfway through the proceedings. However, saying such things would be doing Malice a disservice, as he goes three-for-three with performances that distill his boredom with hip hop and which leave clues as to how his passive nature may have led to his self-imposed hiatus. Pharrell Williams actually catches it fairly bad on here, and Malice isn't even really being, um, malicious. Wow.
13. FUCK YOU
I didn't care for this shit. The Re-Up Gang never truly get their heads above the dominating ocean that Swizz Beatz's “Fuck You” beat (originally given to The Lox) places them in, and as a result, everyone dies. As to why Swizzy was never brought up on murder charges, I'll never know.
14. BRING IT BACK
This was boring as shit.
15. HAND ON MY GLOCK (LA THE DARKMAN & WILLIE DA KID)
The first of two tracks that DJ Drama quietly inserted into We Got It For Cheap Volume 3's program has absolutely fuck-all to do with the Re-Up Gang: they don't even make a cameo on “Hand On My Glock”. Instead, Drama turns to his boys: the part-time Wu-affiliate La the Darkman (who I believe may not even be on speaking terms with Drama currently), and La's little brother, the surprisingly-not-Wu-affiliated Willie Da Kid. The song itself, which swipes its beat from Hot Dollar's “Streetz On Lock”, a song that I listened to for the first time just right now) isn't terrible, but it doesn't fit on this project (for more than just the obvious reason), and La proves to the listener why it's been fourteen years since Heist Of The Century and he has yet to drop a sophomore album. Moving on...
16. CRY NOW
The Re-Up Gang repurpose the best Obie Trice song that will ever be recorded, but while the guys match the high level of energy that Witt and Pep's original beat brings with it, there isn't any member of this barbershop quartet that actually gels with it. The end result finds the listener nodding their head to the instrumental, but none of the performances will resonate with you. This was one of the rare instances where the Clipse and company have selected a beat that overpowers their talent. When you're left wishing that Obie himself would make an appearance, you have a problem.
17. SAND SOLO
Even on his solo song, Sandman still feels the need to announce his presence, which is surely a sign of severely low self-esteem, possibly brought on by the fact that his friends, the brothers Thornton, are both light-years ahead of him behind the microphone. This one-verse wonder certainly could have been a lot worse, but the spirits of Pusha, Malice, and even Ab-Liva are missed.
18. LIVA SOLO
Not really sure why the hell Sandman received much more time for his solo track than the guy who is actually still a member of the Re-Up Gang today, but whatever. Anyway, Live sounds a bit more engaging than his counterpart, but he still doesn't hold a candle to what Pusha and Malice have both proven they can do.
19. REAL N----S
The Re-Up Gang tackle The Notorious B.I.G.'s classic mixtape staple, rhyming over the same West Coast beats that Biggie chose way back in the day. One thing I always liked about Biggie's track is the fact that the overall concept was supposed to be Christopher Wallace rhyming over Dr. Dre beats (as a subtle middle finger to Death Row Records? Not really, but I'm sure some of you still believe otherwise), but someone snuck on the instrumental for Above The Law's “Black Superman”, which had nothing to do with the good Doctor and, as such, sounded fresher than the classic-but-overplayed beats from “Deep Cover”, “Nuthin' But A G Thang”, “Murder Was The Case (Remix)”, and “Gin & Juice”. The same applies here: in fact, these guys sound much more comfortable jacking Above The Law than they do pilfering from Suge Knight's office. And with that, the Re-Up Gang have left the building.
20. CHEERS (DJ DRAMA FEAT. PHARRELL & CLIPSE)
The other track DJ Drama snuck into the proceedings at least includes the Clipse in a performing capacity, if not their
weed coke handlers. Unfortunately, it's a previously released song (originally found on Drama's Gangsta Grillz: The Album), which may just make all of the Re-Up Gang's fanbase visibly upset without a proper outlet to explore their feelings, and just like that, the Republicans are back in the White House. See what you did there, Drama? How fucking selfish was that shit. Anyway, this track features an awful lot of Skateboard P and too little Pusha and Malice over a generic Neptunes-aping instrumental from Khao, which begs the question: if you already had Pharrell in the studio, why couldn't you just fork over some more dough and get him to create his own beat? Unsurprisingly, there's a reason why “Cheers” isn't that well-known.
SHOULD YOU TRACK IT DOWN? We Got It For Cheap Volume 3 is for Clipse completists only. The third entry in their popular mixtape series was the first to show some dents in the armor, as Pusha T, Malice, Sandman, and Ab-Liva find themselves unable to rally against a common enemy (the role Jive Records played throughout the first two volumes), and their performances are rendered inconsistent because of it. Malice, especially, sounds tired of the entire enterprise, unafraid to speak out about just how unhappy he is in our chosen genre to the point of sounding like a crybaby, leaving his brother and their weed carriers to pick up the slack, a task they were wholly unprepared for. Their choice in beats for We Got It For Cheap Volume 3 is also a bit suspect, as a good majority of the songs on this project are handicapped from the moment the stolen instrumentals kick in. I'd love to blame DJ Drama for the failure of We Got It For Cheap Volume 3, and the fact that he shoehorned two songs entirely unrelated to the cause onto the project doesn't help his case, but the blame for We Got It For Cheap Volume 3's inconsistency lies with the Re-Up Gang themselves. It's possible to have too much of a good thing, I guess.