In 1697, the British playwright William Cosgrove wrote The Mourning Bride, and two famous quotes have lived on from that play for centuries: “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast” and “Heaven has no rage, like love to hatred turned. Nor hell a fury, like a woman scorned.” The latter is the more famous and still widely used in its modified form: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” That saying, like the many that persist throughout the ages, still rings true — just ask anyone who has ever done a woman wrong and felt the acute, essence-piercing sting of her vengeful wrath. What might be even worse is pissing off two clever, vicious, sometimes joyously maniacal, drug-dealing storytellers that are seemingly happy to hit you with literal or verbal bullets with the quickness. That’s exactly the mindset Virginia Beach-raised brothers Gene (“Malice”) and Terrence (“Pusha T”) Thornton carried into their sophomore album as Clipse — so aptly named Hell Hath No Fury — which turns 10 years old today.
We were ready to get into the thick of things with the success of the first album … the songs we had done were really hot, but at that point in time we were in a different place, we were happier. Time passed, and we saw it was a big hold up, and the momentum, the people that waited for us, we took too long. We couldn’t dare come out in the same mind frame as we did in Lord Willin’ – so, now we mad, we angry, we pissed the fuck off.
Lord Willin’ was an excellent platinum debut. It was commercially viable thanks to the unconventional yet irresistible radio takeover “Grindin’” and three additional singles, “Cot Damn,” “Ma, I Don’t Love Her,” and “When The Last Time.” These hits suggested Clipse plus Pharrell Williams and the Neptunes equaled a force to be reckoned with, and that feeling was reinforced by deep cuts defined by lyrical mastery, thrilling drug tales, and complex personality. But Clipse had to watch the rest of their Star Trak labelmates move to Interscope and on with their careers while a contract dispute with Jive led to their original, more immediate followup album getting shelved.
As the years passed and that album began to feel stale, the duo started from scratch, cooking built-up frustration into their usual coke metaphors galore to create the triumphant proper sophomore album we know as Hell Hath No Fury. A lull after giving the streets a hit of a product like Lord Willin’ is not good for business. Clipse knew this and would hold loyal fans over while continuing to grow their following with We Got It 4 Cheap Volumes 1 and 2, a pair of mixtapes that ballooned anticipation for the album until it was ready to pop. That bubble did not necessarily include radio programmers, partially because Clipse’s hiatus allowed the rest of rap to flood the game with competing products, adding another chapter to drugs and rap’s decades-long complicated relationship.
As early as 1983, Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel came with the anti-coke anthem “White Lines (Don’t Do It)“. Even that well-meaning warning is rumored to have begun as a celebration of cocaine use a la Rick James. Hence the contradictory video that retrospectively plays as an anti-D.A.R.E. advertisement with white powder running down a topless woman’s spine and into the place where the good Lord split her. Eazy-E of course used money from his time in the drug game to found Ruthless Records, and Ice Cube used those stories as inspiration for N.W.A songs like “Dopeman” in the late ‘80s. The Notorious B.I.G., Jay Z, and other early/mid ‘90s rappers referenced their pushing pasts often in their music which added to their perceived street bona fides. DMX, the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Field Mob’s Smoke all battled with cocaine abuse and had highly publicized arrests in conjunction with their personal use in the early 2000s. 50 Cent picked up where Jay and Biggie left off with drug and street tales that built the foundation for a lucrative career.
In the mid-2000s it seemed like all the mainstream players had powder on their hands. Young Jeezy (funded by Black Mafia Family’s drug money legitimized as BMF Entertainment) was the “Snowman.” Lil Wayne all of sudden sold drugs despite rapping since the age of 12. Juelz Santana was “human crack in the flesh” after being the baby-faced ladies man in Dipset for years. Fat Joe claimed his home borough of the Bronx nicknamed him “Cook Coke” in addition to his main alias of Joey Crack on “Lean Back.” Former prison guard William Leonard Roberts II outright stole the name of notorious LA drug kingpin “Freeway” Rick Ross. Even some rap vets like Busta Rhymes, who emphasized a stint he had peddling white on 2006’s The Big Bang, began to play up pasts they had kept under wraps or possibly fabricated all together to remain relevant. Here a ki, there a ki, everywhere a ki ki.
Clipse were ahead of that curve in 2002, combining the allure of the drug game with the conspicuous consumption of the early aughts to make moving cocaine (in whatever form) the main motif instead of a skill on the rapper resume. By the time ’06 came around, the rest of rap had gained ground on them, but in terms of quality it didn’t matter in the slightest. Hell Hath No Fury was not the landmark album it would have been had it arrived hot on the heels of Lord Willin’, but looking back on it with the corrective powers of hindsight, it’s one of the finest documents of a time where rap’s coke market was flooded with product.
No one seemed to have more fun rhyming about moving kilos than Pusha T. And however recklessly unabashed or fiendishly inventive he would get while gleefully rapping about his pharmaceutical feats and the luxuries they afforded him, Malice was there to balance with bars of contrition and vulnerability. The channeled frustration over their long wait between albums only added a renewed hunger to a dynamic that was equal doses unique and skillful. Q-Tip and Phife Dawg’s yin and yang, Outkast’s defiance of convention, Red and Meth’s playfulness, and Bad Meets Evil’s diabolicalness all bended and knotted together to fit a style all their own.
Push recognized that the rest of rap came with coke bars in Clipse’s absence and said those bars were lackluster on the lead single “Mr. Me Too”: “Been two years like I was paddy wagon cruisin’/ The streets was yours, you’re dunce cappin’ and kazooin’/ I was just assumin’ you’d keep the coke movin’/ But I got one question, fuck y’all been doin’?” Then he does what they can’t by following up with slick drug-kingpin braggadocio: “Pyrex stirs turned into Cavalli furs/ The full length cat, when I wave, the kitty purs.” Really, who other than Pusha T could flip a Nardo Ranks reggaeton song into relevancy with lines like “Chill retardo, South Beach Gallardo/ Teals started up go brr like it’s Nardo?”
Malice has his share of creative drug boasts as well, but he takes the wiser older brother stance and infuses them with culpability and hopes for forgiveness on lines like: “If hustling is a must, be Sosa, not Tony/ We can all shine; I you’re your wrist lit like mine/ Neck and ears, I want it like mine/Foreign cars, stick shift, six gears like mine/ Anything that keep mama from crying” on “Hello New World.” Both brothers are so imaginative with their wordplay that you often forget they’re rapping about selling cocaine as metaphors take you somewhere unexpected. The actions described are difficult to condone or feel complicit in, but the rhymes are indisputably excellent in their originality. Clipse are seldom violent in their lyrics, but they body each of the 12 Neptunes beats on this album.
The beats themselves should not be glossed over, though. At a time where the decadent “bling” from the Neptunes sound (as Jay Z put it) was shining all over rap and pop, the production duo went minimal and somewhat obscure, giving Push and Malice’s lines room to breathe and resonate. Pharrell’s playful and intricate pop sensibilities contrast with Chad Hugo’s baleful melodies, mimicking the delicately struck balance the Thornton brothers continually display. Just to keep the ear guessing, accordions (“Mama I’m Sorry”), steel drums (“Wamp Wamp (What It Do)”), harps (“Ride Around Shining”), cowbell (“Keys Open Doors”), and other unorthodox instrumentation turn lyrics that would hit like a succession of quick powerful jabs into feet-lifting uppercuts. Beneath the surface, there are some monstrous bass grumbles sure to rattle license plates, particularly on “Trill” and “Ride Around Shining.”
With the stakes raised by the crazy anticipatory buildup for the album, the Clipse delivered in a major way. Their third album, Til The Casket Drops, didn’t deliver nearly the same result after almost just as long a break between albums, but you’ll still find plenty of fans interested in a Clipse reunion off the strength of Hell Hath No Fury. Although numerous reports have surfaced saying Push and Malice, now known as No Malice, will never reunite, No Malice has finally opened up to possibly rhyming with Push again despite the radically different paths they’ve taken. No Malice’s book Wretched, Pitiful, Poor, Blind And Naked details how he arrived at his deep Christian faith, while Push called himself “the last cocaine superhero” on his latest album Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude. Still, fans are holding out.
Hope for a reunion isn’t the only testament to Clipse’s legacy. Pusha T’s solo career, however doubtful he was at its inception, is thriving. He’s now president of Kanye West’s G.O.O.D Music imprint, is prepping one of rap’s most anticipated albums in King Push, runs the Play Cloths clothing line, and has enough pull to have conversations with his home state’s former governor, be a spokesman for the legalization of marijuana, and campaign for Hillary Clinton while calling himself Blobama. He’s still inventively rapping about coke after all this time, albeit much more skillfully due to years of honing. Push is probably the best coke rapper ever, and his only competition for coke rap relevancy is Jeezy, who managed to notch another #1 album recently.
Clipse could flip the game on its head with another album. The coke wordplay, stylish conspicuous consumption, and boss raps of Push balanced by the consciousness, faith, and remorse of No Malice would be a combo the world has never seen before. In a time where drug dealing is still just as viable and limiting an option as sports or entertainment for young black men, those two voices juxtaposed on wax may be sorely needed in this time of sociopolitical unrest. Here’s hoping.