Clipse performs at Rex Theatre
You either love Clipse or hate it. You either find the band’s witty-but-sincere lines about drug dealing to be snappy and clever, or completely banal. You either find its beats badass, dark, and spooky, or just plain cheesy. You either love Clipse or hate it.
Clipse — composed of two brothers, Malice and Pusha T — rolled through Pittsburgh Thursday night at the Rex Theatre and brought every drop of sincerity that a respectable rap group of this caliber should have. Rapping to a racially, stylistically, and age-diverse crowd, the brothers were focused, down-to-earth, and intense, just like their music.
Whereas many rappers strut around stage with bloated egos, Clipse was always in the music, crouching low as each verse climbed in intensity and climaxed with grit. On “Momma I’m So Sorry,” the show’s opener, Malice crudely admitted his faults, rapping, “Momma I’m so sorry/I’m so obnoxious/I got two hot rocks in my pocket.” Malice himself came across as sarcastic, but the beat itself was just as caustic — a whiny accordion dangled above a metallic high-hat shimmy.
As the semi-packed crowd started chanting the hook to “Keys Open Doors” in unison, Clipse broke into the spooky track with full force (are we chanting for “keys” or “kilos”?). The ghostly synthesizer and clickity-clack of obscure percussion gave you goose bumps. And if the bounce isn’t enough to make you pay some respect, maybe some clever, drug-tinged lyricism will: “Open up the Frigidaire, 25 to life in here/So much white you might think ya Holy Christ is near.” It’s a balls-out lifestyle, but someone’s gotta do it.
The Neptunes (Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo) took all production duties on Clipse’s most recent record, Hell Hath No Fury. Since the record’s release in November 2006, Clipse has enjoyed acclaim from critics as diverse as XXL and Pitchfork. Commercially, however, the record has sold only moderately. Many attribute this to the never-ending drama between Clipse and its label, Jive Records. The unspoken problem didn’t go unspoken for long, though, when Pusha T finally shouted, “Fuck Jive!” Thursday night. The crowd shouted in approval.
The energy stayed pumping through older Clipse tracks, including the club-friendly “Grindin’.” But it was Hell Hath No Fury’s “Wamp Wamp (What It Do)” that really got the crowd jumping. Rapping over the impossibly heavy thwack of steel drums and trash-can percussion, Malice showed off his never-ending sense of trickery (and drug referencing): “The feds don’t know so they stick they noses/While we off the coast proposing toasts.” In “Ride Around Shining,” Pusha T rapped, “Winter through the summer/Care less what it cost me/While I’m shovelin’ the snow man call me frosty .... [I’m] the black Martha Stewart, let me show you how to do it.” Sure, you won’t see these two cats on your Wheaties box any time soon, but these badasses from Virginia Beach can wordplay better than your English-major Auntie May.
The last song of the night, “Mr. Me Too,” was another club hit — deep bass hits thumped through the speakers. Malice, wide-eyed and ferocious, whipped out his diamond necklace with “Clipse” scrawled across it, and Pusha T leaned in for the delivery. The two are so deep in their lives, and subsequently, their music; there’s no getting them out.
Clipse may flaunt, deal, and party, but when it comes time to get to work, they are clever, crude, and — above all — original. Even though it took four years to put out Hell Hath No Fury and get Clipse back on the road, let’s just be happy that the brothers from down South decided to share their awesome take on the world with Pittsburgh.