Clipse

    The Mickey Mouse Club of smart, steamy hip-hop, Malice and Pusha T’s childhood Virginia ‘hood festered with the kind of talent hard to picture as anything but global – Missy Elliot, Timbaland and the Neptunes have all risen from the Virginia streets to redirect air waves the world over, the latter two as the undisputed royalty of sparse, unabashedly danceable beats.

    It was only a matter of time before the Clipse, two dark-chocolate MCs with the countenance and verses of gods, were similarly launched from their smalltime East Coast home up into the universe – or, more particularly, onto virtually every critic’s “”Best of 2006″” list, alongside unlikely, more whimsical whiteys like the Decemberists and Joanna Newsom. Indie-rock connoisseurs always need at least one hip-hop album to latch onto for a more rounded collection – last year, the Clipse was it (along with Lil’ Wayne, of all people). As Malice predicts in a tongue-rolling, tap-dancing verse of “”Momma I’m Sorry””: “”I’m no longer local, my thoughts are global/ That’s why I seem distant, son expand your vision/ Even adored by Norwegian women, blond hair and blue eyes.””

    Indeed, the Thornton brothers, five years apart, have noticed the change in a big way. Theirs is an art that originated out loud, on eye-level, in a throbbing huddle of family and friends – the need to tour the material live is a no-brainer. “”For the Clipse fans, that’s what it is,”” they said.

    But the evolving fan base is a strange shift for them. “”It’s really interesting to see,”” said one. “”We go to our shows these days – coming from ‘Grinding,’ coming from clubs where our fan base used to be 90 percent black and 10 percent white – and now it’s probably like 70 percent white, 10 percent black and 10 percent Asian,”” they said. “”It’s flipped, really spread out.””

    But who can blame us? There is an unmistakable musicality to the pair’s rich, earth-rumbling flows, flawlessly marching hand-in-hand, stomping all over the best grimy, garbage-can-lid beats of Pharrell’s career. Their preceding catalogue – five mixtapes and one packed-tight studio album – never let their ever-shaping raps fall below excellence, but last year’s Hell Hath No Fury was a new kind of stable, overflowing with creamy hooks and crafted street stories.

    And they’re not exactly resisting – or slowing down. On their recent success, one said, “”I love it. I feel like we took a risk. It’s great to hear all the praise, sincerely knowing that we went left of everything that was going on in hip-hop at the time, everything that was winning.””

    Next year, to accompany mixtape We Got it for Cheap, Vol. 3, featuring their “”Golden Mic Freestyle Battle”” winner AntFeLLA, the Clipse are acting in “”Hell Hath No Fury: The Movie Musical”” (to make sure “”people get the point of the album””), directed by Jamaican director Cess Silvera.

    “”I’m from Virginia, where ain’t shit to do but cook / Pack it up, sell it triple-price, fuck the books / Where we re-up, re-locate, re-off them brooks / So when we pull up, it ain’t shit to do but look,”” Pusha T choruses with Pharell in “”Virginia,”” off debut studio album Lord Willin’. The new Clipse audience may not relate – much less understand what he means – but it sounds damn good all the same.

    Additional reporting by Kathryn Berk.

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