Rap and drugs. The somewhat unholy marriage is now decades deep. Not surprisingly, the conjunction has produced some dynamic musical results that have been readily smoked, ingested, and snorted by the mainstream music listening public. Back in the late '80s, Ice-T was one of the first rappers to blur the lines between the rap world and the underworld. On his single "I'm Your Pusher," which tastefully sampled Curtis Mayfield's "Pusherman," Ice-T compared his whole album (Power, 1988) to drug weight, proposing that his music would be something rap fans would fiend for the same way a smoker fiends for nicotine. In the early part of the 21st century, after the Virginia-based production team the Neptunes' had splashed their electro-synth beats everywhere, from songs with hardcore rapper N.O.R.E. to pop sensation Britney Spears, Pharrell Williams and partner Chad Hugo created their own label, Star Trak. The first act signed to the Star Trak label was a pair of Neptunes cohorts known as the Clipse, a sibling duo of highly skilled VA transplants (by way of the Bronx) with some obvious nefarious connections to the world of drug hustling. Pusha T and Malice rocked the rap world in the summer of 2002 with their first single, "Grindin'," a dark and gritty tale of the street pharmacist's everyday strive to make ends meet. Over a thunderous throwback knock from the Neptunes, "Grindin'" was one of the summer of 2002's most prolific anthems and transported the Clipse to the realm of overnight rap success. Lord Willin' is an oft-scary trip down the backstreets of Tobacco Road as Malice and Pusha T recount the trials and tribulations of the drug trafficker-turned-MC. Following in the footsteps of such rap criminologists as Kool G Rap, Nas, Jay-Z, and Mobb Deep, the Clipse offer the Virginia hustler's viewpoint with clever, hard-hitting lyrics like: "...I'm from Virginia where ain't s**t to do but cook/pack it up, sell it triple price/f**k the books..." and "Virginia's for lovers but trust there's hate here...." While the two MCs' presence is invariably formidable on virtually all of the tracks, the Neptunes' pop-ish turn in their beatwork doesn't always do justice to the depths that the Clipse MCs wish to plunder. The Neptunes' synth-gloss production style, while generally soulful and rarely without edge, misses the mark in case of the crossoverish "Ma, I Don't Love Her" featuring Faith Evans, as the MCs seem thoroughly out of their element. The album also has a slapped-together, non-cohesive feel that detracts from its more enjoyable aspects. On the flip side, the follow-up club-banger "When the Last Time" is a catchier alternative to the crew's lead single and tracks like "Comedy Central" featuring Fabolous and "I'm Not You" featuring Jadakiss and Styles of the L.O.X. are also a cut above run-of-the-mill.
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AllMusic Review by M.F. DiBella
feat: Faith Evans
feat: Jermaine Dupri