Despite the success of their first album, Lord Willin', Clipse's second album Hell Hath No Fury was shelved due to internal label politics with Jive Records, who had undergone a merger with Clipse's former label Arista Records. The logistics of this merger between sister companies prevented the release of Clipse's long awaited sophomore album for nearly 4 years. But instead of changing their style to fit Jive's brand of corporate pop ( which included acts like Brittney Spears, N*Synch, and the Backstreet Boys), the brothers Thornton decided to raise the ante instead and formed the Re-Up Gang, a mixtape quartet of “street musicians” who rap exclusively about selling cocaine.
As a side project not officially endorsed by Jive Records, the Re-Up Gang was able to exercise their “criminal minded formalism” without restriction in their We Got It 4 Cheap mixtape series. The intensification of the Re-Up Gang's esoteric wordplay in these mixtapes is conflated only with their vehement claims to actually being drug dealers, to the point where the two worlds become indistinguishable:
Neighborhood P nigga, don't get it fucked up
36 O's still through the front tuck
How could you ever think rap had me pumped up?
When that powder white coming by the dump truck. (Pusha T, “Run This Shit”)
The claims to moving powder, both lyrically and in actuality, during Clipse's hiatus serves two functions; the first as a form of damage control against Jive Records (“Nigga, fuck Zomba / I sell nose candy... / Willy Wonka", Zomba being a subsiduary of Jive); the second serving as a metaphor that connects selling rap and crack as part of the same economic labor, where rapping can serve as an alternative to dealing, and vice versa. This latter function of crack/rap as being alternative hustles is revealed in the first song on Hell Hath No Fury, aptly titled after the mixtape series We Got It 4 Cheap, where Pusha T states that “A four eleven Cuban helped us weather the storm / Pyrex and powder, it was back to the norm / Through all the adversity the fury was born” (Pusha T, “We Got It 4 Cheap”)..
By the time the official Hell Hath No Fury was released in 2006, it had undergone several rewrites, reflecting the darkness and animosity between Clipse and their new found corporate masters. The tone of Clipse's second album channels a much colder worldview than their first, and is as relentless a manifestation of gangsta tropes about hustling free base as could be expected in an era where the crack epidemic has winded down and the black market sales of cocaine has evened out (Coates, “Keeping it Unreal”). Although Clipse released the highly acclaimed “Grindin” on Lord Willin, a single specifically about selling crack on the streets of Virginia, it was in Hell Hath No Fury that 'crack rap' found its lyrical renaissance, with the brothers Thornton waxing poetic on a set of gangsta tropes long due for a stylistic overhaul.
In Hell Hath No Fury, Clipse revels in the artifice of rapping about selling cocaine at a international level. They utilize cryptic references to high end luxury commodities from Europe and Asia to paint a convincing picture of the dealer's life of riches, including “Ferraris and Salvador Dalis,” Versache models, “Dior whores,” Japanese Bapes (“Bathing Apes”), as well as “PETA screamin' murder. / Furs you never heard of” (Malice, “Momma I'm Sorry”). In “Ride Around Shining,” the global circulation of cocaine capitalism reaches its symbolic apex, where real time stops (“so much ice in they Rollies the shit don't tick man” / “minute hand is like Parkinsons”) and movement in space slows to a crawl (“float around in the greatest of Porsches / feel like a chuck wagon cause I'm on twelve horses”), the lyrics matched only by a beat consisting of an ominous synth, in which nothing but the pierce of sweeping piano strings plays.
In “Keys Open Doors”, the title itself a pun on how distributing kilos of cocaine can new avenues of wealth, an angelic hymn turned daemonic chant is designed to “make ya skin crawl” over lyrical images of the dealer's “life through the windshields of choppers” (Pusha T, “Keys Open Doors). Fully conscious yet relentless in their wordplay, Clipse takes you behind the scenes of the coke hustle like a highlight reel, where there's “so much white you might think ya Holy Christ is near,” and where they “cook money clean through Merrill Lynch / accountant just gasp at the smell of it” (Pusha T, “Keys Open Doors”). Following the stone cold catch phrase of “money's the leash, drag a bitch by the dog collar”, the song “Dirty Money” turns “college hos” and “stripper bitches” into disposable commodities, where both the ruthless drug dealer and the gold-digging whore are nothing but actors playing roles in a game of “money falling out of tree” (Malice, “Dirty Money”). The production for the album's single “Mr. Me Too” harps on a decontextualized white background and a minimalist soundscape in which global signifiers of wealth (cocaine, Ferarrais, Versacci, etc) float around in capital's claustrophobic anti-productive recording surface / miraculating machine space. Like “Mr. Me Too,” the track “Ain't Cha” is a sangfroid acknowledgment of Clipse being trendsetters for a generation of street hustlers, who are “Tryna get some good fame / Slang in the rain / [To] get a big chain” (Malice, “Ain't Cha”).
What separates Clipse and the Re-Up Gang from their “so-called peers” like Lil Wayne is that they promise “through sheer volume and detail of drug talk, [they] can rehabilitate rap by reconnecting gangsta signifiers—shopworn, depleted, and theatricalized—to their pungent, gritty signifieds” (Jonah Weiner, “Do Real Rappers Rap?”). Pusha T confirms this in an interlude on We Got It 4 Cheap Vol 2, in which he refers to Re-Up Gang as “the Black Cards,” a reference to the American Express Black Card, where “the value of these motherfucking verses are 100% guaranteed,” both as a language for and an acknowledgment of street hustler authenticity. By revaluing the currency of gangsta rap tropes which have been watered down into stylish caricature (“niggas too high on they stilts;” Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy) and mere theatricality (“niggas dunce cappin and kazooin;” Young Jeezy, Rick Ross), Clipse and the Re-Up Gang are able to bring back a spirit of urgency to “street music” as a whole, the kind of urgency found with N.W.A and their aesthetic ethos of instant gratification and excess.
“I really feel like its the beginning of the end for a lot of motherfuckers. Think about it – Live nigga rap is back! All that “get over” shit, all that “super stupid shit,” that shit is done – that shit is done. Keep it real...I rhyme for my niggas on the corner, all 20,000 of 'em. 20,000 money making brothers on the corner. Lets go.” (Pusha T, “20K Intro”)
According to Louis Chude Sokei, signifying is a practice “in which hyperbolic speech and disturbing images are necessary in the attempt to articulate revolutionary desires without a revolutionary politics.” (Worlding 135). The Clipse and their “excessification” of the coke rap genre functions as a type of revolutionary signification for disenfranchised street hustlers, one that is the inversion of Outkast's creative appetition, in which the patterned contrasts of variations of a theme (selling cocaine) makes for novel concepts and musical chimeras. The Clipse's inverted version of creative appetition is to take one subject, the illicit exchange of cocaine, and to expound on it with encyclopaedic wordplay, esoteric references, and polysemous beats, so as to create a revitalized language of signification which symbolically counters/negates/reverses the dominant economic reality of young black males, in which some of the only viable/lucrative options for making money (rapping and drug dealing) are outlawed, censored, or “shopworn and depleted” in theatrics (Jonah Weiner, “Do Real Rappers Rap?”).
The picture that Clipse and the Re-Up Gang paint of their personas as coke dealers functions in a similar manner to that of the anti-heroes in blaxploitation films and spaghetti westerns, “both of which critiqued American culture and politics by reversing, rejecting, and revising its moral structures” (138). In the case of the Clipse and Re-Up Gang, this moral reversal of the status quo takes on the form of the raw celebration of cocaine as an international commodity, which functions as an inside out reading of gangsta rap's internalization of predatory street capitalism restructured to fit the promises of wealth and freedom in a globalized world. As a type of “post-ideological resistance” that offers” (136) an alternate reading of dominant stereotypes of black men” in the absence of conventional employment opportunities, Clipse's figure of the international hustler channels a revolutionary impulse within their young black male constituency to escape the confines of disenfranchisement in the hood. Malice articulates this position best in his verse on “Momma I'm So Sorry,” when he conflates selling coke and rapping as one and the same hustle:
Youngin', learn from me, let's not be at odds
We're more likely than not, two peas of a pod
Same hustle, 'cept my hustle now flows
I once gave it away, at 30 grams an O
That accounts for all them days in the cold
Feels like kissing cake mix, can't wait to lick the bowl
But it's a bigger picture, homes trust I done seen it
From Frankfurt to Cologne, Oslo to Sweden
From Italy's Milan to the shores of Napoli
Now I consider Ferrari and Salvador Dali's
I'm no longer local, my thoughts are global
That's why I seen distance, son expand ya vision
Even adored by Norwegian woman, blonde hair and blue eyes
I'm getting back with a vengeance. (Malice, “Momma I’m Sorry”)
In “The Ultimate Flow,” Malice claims that he's “accustomed to a certain way of living” and that he “only knows] two ways of getting – either wrap or unwrap.” In either case, there is “a sense of systemic injustice allowing even the most uncomfortable viewer to sympathize with (or justify) the criminal” (137); specifically for Clipse and the Re-Up Gang, this tale of systemic injustice takes on the form of their disillusionment with Jive Records and the shady hip hop's industry's ability to deliver on promises of wealth:
The wall's removed and now I see
My leg was pulled, the joke's on me (haha)
So heartbreakin, like lovin a whore
Might hurt ya once, but never no more
It's like tryin to fly but they clippin your wings
And that's exactly why the caged bird sings
Who can nickname it, the shame rings true
Seems to me reparations are overdue
I done been to the top, I done sipped the juice
And with that bein said, bird crumbs'll never do
Even on my last not a penny in the bank
I'ma stand on my own, so thanks but no thanks
Keep the pranks as I bid farewell
I gotta answer to Marcus and Jennel
And to little brother Terrence who I love dearly so
If ever I had millions never would you sell blow, never (Malice, “We Got It 4 Cheap”)
By referencing Maya Angelou, black disenfranchisement, and familial obligations along with “the excessively hyperbolic gestures” of selling coke on a globalized scale, Clipse speaks “for the very general of race in America” within a “particular universe of moral reversal,” in which power is in the hands of whoever controls the most capital (138). Here with Clipse as in Lil Wayne's Dedication 2, the selling of crack/cocaine gets conflated with the labor of rap, and vice versa, as mutual halves of the same hustle; a way to make the absolute best of a bad situation through the anti-hero's stylish ruggedness, sheer determination, and wit. The hustler emanates a quasi-romantic notion of a will to power/”amoral individualism in which greed, revenge, and raw power become the core values that uphold the style aesthetic.” (Chude Sokei 154), one that young black male audiences can connect with in terms of “authenticity”/keeping it real to the streets, in which there is no option but to hustle. “You can't say that it don't beat starving,” says Pusha T on “The Ultimate Flow”. To put it shortly, drug dealing and mixtape hustling exist as viably lucrative alternatives in a post-industrial world where there aren't a lot of options for young black males to have more legal/legitimized work. In the case of rappers like Clipse in the coke rap genre, who conflate the economic stakes of two worlds through wordplay and signification, the anti-hero aesthetic of the ruthless hustler becomes a way of exercising power against the dominant and globalized forces that be, a way of recuperating the black male's political and economic impotence with unrelenting stylish wit that turns the tables on the status quo. When Pusha T claims on We Got It 4 Cheap Vol 3 that he 'Prepared for the worst, that blood's on Jive's hands/See, when the 'Fury' dropped, so did 80,000 grams/ Now add that to my 80,000 fans,” it is simultaneously a form of swaggering and an acknowledgment of the dynamism inherent within the anti-hero hustler's aesthetic, his ability adapt to an absence in ideological leadership or conventional labor.