Clipse: Lord Willin'

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Clipse

Album: Lord Willin'
Label: Star Trak

For his debut solo single "Like I Love You," Justin Timberlake called on the services of The Neptunes, whose members recruited their high-school buddies in Clipse to give the song a smattering of street credibility. The song itself is standard Neptunes-by-numbers. But Bill O'Reilly and his army of reactionary busybodies—who recently bullied Pepsi into dropping Ludacris as a spokesman for being a "thug rapper"—would have a collective heart attack if they realized that Timberlake was kicking it with rappers who spend much of their debut album extolling the virtues of selling cocaine. One of the first acts on The Neptunes' Star Trak label, Clipse arrives with two distinct advantages over other rookie rap acts. First, there's its connections: In a pop world where superstars beg The Neptunes for a single track, Clipse boasts an entire album bearing the duo's production stamp, which, in an uncertain musical climate, is close to a commercial sure thing. Second, it boasts a Texas-sized hit in "Grindin'," a catchy gangsta nursery rhyme that pushes the drums front and center as brothers Malice and Pusha T discuss the gangsta prerequisites: guns, drugs, and money. The duo only intermittently recaptures the irreverent wit of Lord Willin's album cover, which depicts a black Jesus rolling through the hood in the back of a convertible with the Clipse brothers in front. But the duo's thick, deep voices boast plenty of authority. Gangsta rappers tend to distinguish themselves through attention to detail, and on Lord Willin', Clipse depicts a vivid landscape where children are mesmerized by the scuzzy glamour of drug dealers, families breed generations of hustlers, and easily corrupted kids gravitate toward villains rather than heroes. In true gangsta-rap form, Lord Willin' is one part anguished reflection to 10 parts belligerent drug-and-gun talk, but while the lyrics seldom surprise, the production often does. By all rights, The Neptunes' hectic pace should leave the duo low on ideas, but Lord Willin' demonstrates no sign of artistic exhaustion. Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo find endless exciting variations on their trademark sound, regularly slowing down the pace of their jittery funk while adding sonic curveballs to their arsenal. Clipse wouldn't attract nearly as much attention had its members gone to school with Poke and Tone of Trackmasters rather than Williams and Hugo. Thankfully, Lord Willin' belongs as much to its brilliant production team as it does to the far-less-auspicious duo in the spotlight.