In hip-hop, as in life, it helps to have friends in high places. The Virginia Beach hip-hop duo Clipse (Pusha T and Malice) would be a below-average gangsta rap act if it weren’t for their childhood friendship with Pharrell Williams, who’s better known as half of the acclaimed Neptunes production duo. Thanks to their boyhood chum, Clipse have a record deal (on the Neptunes’ new Arista imprint) and, better yet, an entire album produced by the wunderkind beatmakers.
So it’s just another case of boring MCs and bangin’ beats, except that these beats could make Vanilla Ice sound dope. Plenty has been written about the Neptunes’ sexy digi-funk — an ingenious fusion of Southern crunk, greasy soul, and slithery synths — but on Lord Willin’ they twist up their distinctive sound into stunning new permutations. The standout track is "Grindin’ " — constructed from little more than a handclap, a bass kick, and a schoolyard melody, this cut is sinewy, menacing, and stark in a way that recalls Run-DMC’s "Sucka MCs," AC/DC’s "Back in Black," and goosestepping soldiers. And though it’s easy to dismiss Clipse’s constant spewing of "‘caine and guns" clichés, the pair motor through the Neptunes’ slippery grooves with the ease of NASCAR champs. Still, for their career’s sake, let’s hope that Neptunes connection is rock-solid.