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Clipse

Lord Willin' (Star Trak/Arista)

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Three tracks in, Clipse tells listeners where it comes from: "In Virginia, we smirked at the Simpson trial/Yeah, I guess the chase was wild, but what's the fuss about?/See plenty of my partners feeling like O.J./Beat murder like the shit is OK/That's what our dough say." When, say, Ja Rule drops something similar, you know he'll soon be returning to his comfortable home, where his wife calls him Jeffrey and his biggest concern is making sure his platinum plaques are in the proper place when Cribs comes calling. With Clipse, it's not so clear. Brothers Malice and Pusha T don't sound like rhymers getting into character, merely playing the parts of Tek-toting, powder-pushing hustlers; it's more like the other way around.

And the music matches the lyrical tension; the sparse menace, courtesy of producers the Neptunes, is as lean and mean as someone who just got out of the joint after a five-year bid. "Grindin'" is the grittiest hip-hop hit in years (maybe ever), little more than skittish kick-snare stutter and ping-pong patter, as Clipse inventories its ill-gotten gains ("The 20s are spinning like windmills/And the ice?/32 below minus the wind chill"). From "Intro" to the pair of "Grindin'" remixes that end the set, Clipse brings gangland fantasies back down to street level. They're still fantasies (aren't they?), but at least they aren't cartoons. Will Pusha T and Malice hold it together when they don't have to worry about hustling for dollars? Lord willin'.

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