Review Summary: "Lord Willin'" is a strong debut by two talented rappers who don't reach their full potential, but are saved by the fact its one of the most interesting and well produced albums of the past 5 years.
The Neptunes are an oddity. It’s not like they produce that much good material; sure, their have been a few big singles they’ve made that were more than flash and fluff, but their reputation is seemingly largely undeserved. Then you remember arguably one of the most memorable hip hop beats of all time; “Grindin’.” Even though it may have been the most overplayed song of 2002, its hard to deny how infectious the beat is. Sure, the rappers that Pharrell threw in with the beat weren’t that great, how could you deny the song as soon as the song breaks down during the bridge?
The Clipse are essentially a collaboration between rapper brothers Malice and Pusha T and the Neptunes. The first release on The Neptunes label, Lord Willin’
carried quite a few high expectations with it, and it was half fulfilled. Released during the a huge period of popularity for hip hop, it could have very well been the savior of popular modern hip hop; an intelligent gangsta rap album with incredibly original and experimental beats. Upon first listen, it becomes apparent how close Lord Willin’
comes to reaching this goal.
Pusha T and Malice are incredibly similar rappers. Similar in nearly every aspect (sound, delivery, songwriting; they’re pretty much identical in everyway except hairstyle), they don’t ever really create an emcee interplay in the vein of one of their most obvious influences, the Wu Tang Clan. They’re both strong rappers, having a cold and harsh delivery that suit’s the material quite well. Pusha T does seem to have a better ear for catchy rhymes; his verse in “Ma, I Don’t Love Her” is one of the few times on the album where either of the duo seem to be writing specifically to hook the listener in.
They still never really ever show any flair on the mic, though. For all the machismo, they lack the charisma to really get you into what they’re saying. Generally un-emotional, it often seems as though they’re just imparting a story they heard second hand on you. It doesn’t help that nearly all of the guest rappers and singers are some of the most honest rappers/singers in the business; Ab-Liva is one of the most underrated cats in the game, and he completely shows up the brothers on “Cot Damn.” Faith Evans on the previously mentioned “Ma I Don’t Love Her” does similarly, causing an originally dead song to have life again. While their may be an excessive amount of guests, it ultimately helps save the album from the monotony of Malice and Pusha T’s rapping.
Lyrically, the duo are above average. Their main weakness is they trap themselves in their own image; most of the album focuses on the same subject material of running drugs, the gangsta lifestyle, and how they cap bit
ches on a regular basis. They do keep it interesting; taking a storyteller stance on most of it may effect some of the impact, but makes it a fresh change from the general gangsta subject matter in rap. However, when they deviate from that and turn to even more cliché subject matter (bitches and cash), it gets even worse. There’s really no way to save a song that talks about how kickass their lives are…unless you supply a beat as sick as the beat to “Grindin’” is.
The albums saving grace is the incredible production of the Neptunes. Half of their reputation as innovative producers has to be attributed to this album; a good mix of synth’s and samples and the occasional live drum beat thrown in, nearly every song on here is memorable. While the drum claps on “Grindin’” may be the most easily recognizable aspect of the album, its hard to deny the scratching on “When the Last Time” isn’t supremely catchy, or the string samples on “Gangsta Lean.” Half of the songs on the album would otherwise be forgettable if not for the great beats and hooks supplied by Pharrell and the Neptunes. While the emcee duo try to stay far away from hooks, Pharrell regular contributes a strong one to the songs. “Young Boy” is probably where this is most apparent, when Pharrell says “Motherfu
cker/Nigga I don’t mind” over horns and a great bassline, its hard to deny how strange and plainly awesome the Neptunes are on this album.
Overall, the album is great. The duo are strong, if uninspired, rappers and show plenty of potential for improvement in the future. The guest spots do generally improve the album, while the production is as experimental as a mainstream hip hop album is going to get. While they would vastly improve on nearly every aspect on Hell Hath No Fury
, Clipse provide a strong debut on Lord Willin’
that, while not the genre re-defining it could have been, is incredibly enjoyable and memorable.
“When the Last Time”