With all of the heat that mainstream hip hop has felt in the past several years about increasingly violent topics, misogyny and rampant drug references, the Virginian rhyming duo Clipse – Malice and Pusha T – stands firmly as a middle finger to the FCC and musical do-gooders. Their bombastic tracks of unabashed drug dealing and street crime shine as some of the most sadistically hypnotic songs being released – to say nothing of the razor-sharp flows, wordplay and production. And while a number of similar artists have tried to wash their image of its morally hazy aspects, Clipse has continued to produce the same high-octane tales of crack sales and fatal attacks, even outright boasting: “We been consistent since day one.”

Brian Merlos
Like G-Unit, only not terrible. (photo courtesy of Clipse)

Their latest release We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 3 – undeservingly carrying a byline of the group’s obligatory crew the Re-Up Gang – is an extension of the mixtape series Clipse began before its long-awaited 2006, major-record release Hell Hath No Fury. Only this time around, rather than copping the golden beats of the mainstream radiowaves – hence the series’s moniker – Clipse opts for a spattering of original beats and flashy production.

And it’s exactly this schematic denial that makes Vol. 3 so incredible. A group that has often used the best production from hip hop’s biggest producers, namely the Pharrell Williams-led Neptunes, the duo’s recent mixtapes have been limited by the stolen beats of its contemporaries. It would be naive to assume Clipse, or any rapper for that matter, has the ability to recruit big name acts like the Neptunes for a random mixtape. Fortunately, they’ve proven time and time again that their best work is done on original beats.

Presented by the now-notorious DJ Drama, Vol. 3 is a behemoth of an album, battered by epic production and searing flows. So much so, that some might argue that it is a perfect argument for a Clipse divorce from the Neptunes on their next proper release. A majority of the album’s tracks (“20k Money Making Brothers On the Corner,” “Dey Know Yayo,” “Sand Solo” and “Cry Now” to name a few) feature some of the smoothest and most explosive beats heard in the last several years.

The clanging-gunfire percussion of the aforementioned “20k Money Making Brothers On the Corner” is the epitome of Clipse’s style while they scream about dope selling and impeccable flows (“Raising the bar, I’m Tiger below par / I’m the hidden dragon in crouching tiger with that raw”). The string-heavy “Sand Solo” stands in stark contrast to the steel power of “20k” but still displays the glossy, flossing image of the duo; while its counterpart “Liva Solo” harks back to the street grime and rapid-fire rhymes they’ve become known for (“I’m smiling, I’m too strong / I’m writing it in this song / Three lefts make a right / I’m too right to be wrong / Right in my zone, I’m writing my songs”).

Oddly thrown into these street-riddled beats is the Kanye West anthem “Good Morning.” A track that rides a throbbing bass and punctuated snares, it stands apart from the rest of the album and fronts the only lull on Vol. 3. And though its placement on the disc seems awkward and , when Malice rhymes, “I’m bored by my so-called peers” and “You ain’t gotta question who I’m better than,” it strikes as a slap in the face to Kanye, the oft-thought king of contemporary hip hop. Unfortunately, the ensuing tracks “Emotionless” and “Rainy Dayz” look to deny his claims: not altogether abhorrent songs, but they clearly stand out as the dullest and driest cuts on the album.

We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 3 is ultimately just an exercise for Clipse and a mouth-watering appetizer for all of the group’s fans. As with all mixtapes, this disc will be ignored by the mainstream, left for die-hards to worship and something to tide them over until the next proper release. But as artists like Lil Wayne leave their mark on the scene with similar free, internet-only releases – and given Clipse’s turbulent record-label history -Vol. 3 is more a full-length, acknowledged release than it would’ve been seen as in the past. But then again, the best things in life are free.

Re-Up Gang

Rating: 3 and a half out of 5 stars

We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 3

Self-released

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