Monday, February 11, 2008

Record Review: Re-Up Gang (Clipse): We Got It For Cheap, Volume 3: The Spirit of Competition (We Just Think We Better)

One of hip-hop's best artists returns with their latest mixtape...and, yes, the title is quite long. But, in fairness, we think they better too.

Rating: 4/5

With We Got It For Cheap, Volume 3: The Spirit of Competition (We Just Think We Better), one thing is exceedingly clear: Pusha T, Malice, Ab-Liva, and Sandman spend a vast majority of their time thinking of witty, pop culture-referencing ways to say “We sold crack.” Fortunately for us, they are very, very good at it.

I remember hearing a ton of hype two years ago for the second Clipse full-length (Hell Hath No Fury) and although I hadn’t heard Lord Willin’ in its entirety, I knew the singles, and quite frankly I couldn’t understand the buzz. “Grindin’” and “When the Last Time” showed an exceptional, distinct rap duo, but not an all-time great, and iTunes sampling the rest of the record left me impressed but not blown away. Yeah, the label dispute built up a lot of drama, but the mere publicity of the ordeal was just that, publicity.

Then, of course, I heard Hell Hath, and it didn’t just meet the hype, it exceeded it. Thus, I knew that something musta tipped everybody off. This was a Martha Stewart situation: someone was getting insider information. At this point, I was only vaguely accustomed to the idea of “the mixtape,” and it did not occur to me until I checked Clipse’s Wikipedia page that perhaps they were releasing something on the side.

I downloaded We Got It 4 Cheap, Volume 2: The Black Card Era (the more acclaimed of the two mixtapes, as I learned), and everything came together in my mind. It was vicious, searing, explosive, and tough-as-nails, an undeniable statement that we are that good, and we’re bringing hell’s fury one way or a-fuckin-nother. Tracks like “Zen” and “Play Your Part” were pure dynamite, and the gang of four (Clipse plus Sandman and Ad-Liva) tore up Dr. Dre’s “Hate It or Love It” beat with almost obnoxious ease.

Now, with label disputes settled (they’re on Columbia) and the Hell Hath follow-up hotly anticipated, why put a lot of effort (and an abundance of proper-album-worthy metaphors) into a mixtape? I honestly can’t tell you. The mixtape certainly gives them a chance to rap over whatever they want, but the Gang could have done that for a few tracks, then fill the rest of it with remixes, snippets from the forthcoming album, and some previously unreleased throwaway verses. This time around, they didn’t have anything to prove.

Yet, here we are, We Got It For Cheap, Volume 3. Remember what I just said about what they could have done? Thank heavens they didn’t. This shit is off the hook. It’s not a proper album, but the rhymes here are on par with anything in the Clipse catalogue, save for Hell Hath’s best moments. Lyrically, it’s a bit redundant…okay, it’s a lot redundant. Cocaine, cocaine, some Pusha T “yucks!” then some more cocaine.

How does the Gang make it work? They’re just so good at rhyming about crack it’s almost ridiculous. You would think they would get tired of it after a while, but they keep up the intensity and deliver such a relentless flurry of allusions and punch-lines that I can’t help but bow at their feet. There may be other rappers at Malice’s and Pusha’s level, but nobody better.

I mean, just listen to the two of them go. Listen to Pusha’s menacing, “Don’t make me turn daddy’s little girl to orphan/That would mean I’d have to kill baby like abortion.” Listen to Malice to reference Chariots of Fire, The Wire, The Lion King, and, within the space of four lines, unleash one of the most absurd string of similes I’ve ever heard: “Like Pearl Jam I kill my peers like Jeremy [pronounced Jerm-y]/And here I am with open arms like Journey/Ooh baby I like it raw, ‘Ol Dirty/Shame on a ni**a for even feeling worthy.” You ain’t gonna get that shit from Fitty Cent.

Sonically, We Got It For Cheap, Volume 3 offers up a typical slew of street-savvy, gritty bangers, with the year’s hottest hip-hop beat and a mid-90s Wu mafioso joint thrown in for good measure. Sound familiar? Yeah, the Re-Up Gang approaches their new mixtape much like they approached the last one, except rapping over “ROC Boys” instead of “Hate It or Love It” and Cuban Linx standout “Rainy Dayz” instead of Ironman’s “Daytona 500.” Outside of these two (along with Kanye’s “Good Morning” beat), nothing here compares to any of The Neptunes’ psychotic, ominous Hell Hath production, but nothing here fails either, most of it actually succeeding in reinforcing the Gang’s ferocious rhymes.

Needless to say, as a mixtape, you can throw sequencing out the window, and you are gonna have to tolerate the occasionally weak track (ie. the Sandman and Ab-Liva solo tracks toward the end). However, the Re-Up Gang’s latest lands far more punches than it misses, and, given the flurry of top tier rappers that released records at the end of last year, this could, even as a mixtape, stand among the best rap albums of 2008. Unless of course we get a Curtis follow-up ;)

Download it here. (It's legal! Woo-hoo!)

1 comment:

Andrew said...

I still need Hell Hath No Fury haha.

Any chance we'll be getting a British Sea Power review tomorrow?