Review Summary: Terror thinly disguised as bravado, music that pushes the limits of production, Hell Hath No Fury is nearly unparalleled in rap music. A perfect album.
Brothers Terrence and Gene Thornton end the final verses on their magnum opus, Hell Hath No Fury
, in very similar and very important ways. After eleven straight tracks of unrepentant evil, everything comes to a head on the grand finale, “Nightmares”. First comes Gene, standing on the balcony of his ill gotten home, jaw set, glaring through his Louie V Millionaire sunglasses. “One day, they may even catch up to me man/But ‘til then I’m Leonardo, catch me if you can – UH!” Then his brother, cruising through his city, contemplating the men he’s killed and the women he’s used. “Something’s wrong with me/Niggas don’t get along with me/Got a fo-fo/Hope your body got strong kidneys – OH!” Those final exclamations are the surprised cries of two drug-dealing brothers as bullets find their targets, the sound of death finally taking them.
Rewind. Back through the album, back past the album release date, back, back, back, back to 2003. After being knee deep in the rap game for years, Clipse were no strangers to being f*cked with by record labels. Their entire debut album, Exclusive Audio Footage
, had been completed in the late 90’s and shelved by Elektra Records for having no commercial potential. The brothers Thornton had to wait their turn once again. Then, in 2001, Pharrell Williams, a friend of the Thorntons since childhood, got his own imprint on Arista Records, Star Trak, and quickly signed Clipse. Now under a label run by someone who fully recognized their potential, Clipse were getting their shot. Released in 2002 Lord Willin’
was a solid album with a lead single so earth shaking its producer had to state on its intro that nobody had ever heard anything like this before. “Grindin’” changed everything, shaving everything down to an ever mutating drum pattern, a few synth plinks, and Pusha T and Malice laying down diamond hard bars, it became an unlikely top 40 hit and gave the Clipse the platform they needed to take creative control of their sophomore effort.
This brings us to where we left off in 2003, recording their sophomore album. Details are scarce on this period but what is known is financing for recording was cut in 2004 as Arista Records was absorbed into Jive Records under a merger between Sony Music and BMG. Clipse had to stay on Jive while Star Trak moved to Interscope Records. I hate to say it, but thank god this happened. Had things gone smoothly label wise, Hell Hath No Fury
would have probably been released sometime in 2004 and been a good album. But that’s not how things worked out; instead, Clipse’s biggest ally Pharrell was under Interscope and Jive couldn’t give two ***s about Clipse. The frustration of countless delays lit a fire under the Thornton’s ass, they gave us the awesome mixtapes We Got it For Cheap Vol. I & II
, taking beats from bigger artists and crushing them off their own songs. At the same time, the songs for HHNF
became venomous reflections of the torment caused by being famous rappers forced to return to the drug dealing they had left behind. “That was the darkest time in my life”, Terrence told Pitchfork in 2011, “At the time, one of my good friends pulled me aside and was like, ‘I keep forgetting that you rap,’ because we were so involved with other *** […] We were supplementing our income, doing everything we could.” After suing their label for a release from their contract, an agreement was finally reached with Jive and Hell Hath No Fury
released in 2006.
While I don’t agree with Jive’s decision to make life hell for Clipse for so long, I understand. Hell Hath No Fury
contains no clear singles. Imagine being the Jive employee who had to sit down and figure out which of these singles would be a hit. The best they could do was pull the song that called them unfair crackers and threatened to murder them in the music video, and that’s the lead single
. No R&B hooks, no big name guest artists, no concessions to rap radio, not even a skit. Clipse had no idea if they were going to get another shot at this, not a second could be wasted.
When The Neptunes produced Noreaga’s Superthug in 1998 it debuted a fully formed sound that would mutate in ways both subtle (“Caught Out There”, “Southern Hospitality”) and smooth (“Rock Your Body”, “Beautiful”). Beginning with “Superthug”, The Neptunes could be counted on to deliver smash hit singles that sounded like nothing else on the radio. But The Neptunes relationship with Clipse was different, Chad and Pharrell had been working with Clipse longer than anyone else and because of that history the Thornton brothers would accept nothing but their rawest, grimiest productions, hit singles be dammed. Pusha T told Indy Weekly in 2007, “We don’t go into it saying, ‘Hey let’s make a hit!’ We go into it saying, ‘Yo, lets change the game.’” On Hell Hath No Fury
, The Neptunes ended their legendary run with 12 perfect productions, each just as lethal as the last.
Some of the alchemy conjured up on this thing defies words. “Mr Me Too” leaks a bloody mist of synth into the air as a single tone pulses through the haze. The drums on “Wamp Wamp (What It Do)” are like having your teeth knocked out by a ball pin hammer, listen close to hear a spinning ratchet alternate between channels as the percussion line loops. A robot choir on “Keys Open Doors” sound terrified at their own nonexistence while a twinkling bell slashes against woodblock and rim shot. As futile as this is, if I absolutely had to pick a best beat it would go to “Ride Around Shining”. A row of piano strings are strummed until every single one is vibrating, then that sound is looped until it hangs in the air like the sword of Damocles. No wait, the best beat has to be “Trill”. A horde of synth locusts pulse and twist through the air as bass plunks and hissing hi-hats desperately try to fight their way up through the mix but get beat down again by that disgusting synth line. No no no, it has to be “Chinese New Year”, drums sparking and sputtering like an exposed power line while squealing keyboards disappear into the atmosphere. Ahh, see? This is impossible; a case could be made for every track here. Even now, someone reading this is shocked I didn’t mention the rusty guitar line of “Dirty Money” but I have to end this paragraph or I’ll talk about the beats all day.
Had this collection of beats been given to anyone else, they would have been swallowed whole. Clipse were the only ones who knew The Neptunes well enough to work with these beats without being overshadowed. Their styles, always efficient never showy, are used to convey a very important fact about Hell Hath No Fury
. Drugs are sold, women are ***ed and ducked, guns are fired, currency is exchanged for goods and services, and nobody, I repeat, nobody
is having any fun here. This is conscious hip-hop with no conscious. We joining the Thornton brothers at the 3rd act of their story, the thrill of the drug trade and fast money has been replaced by the joyless inertia of maintaining their lifestyle. “Me and my misses like Soloman and Sheeba/Sign of the times her Emilio Pucci sneakers” raps Pusha. King Soloman was well known for his wisdom and riches, showering his many wives and concubines with gifts. Soloman’s fall came in the form of idolatry, renouncing his God and turning to pagan magic, tearing his kingdom apart. So too does Pusha T, bowing before the throne of cocaine, despite his record contract, he continues to sell. “Open the Frigidaire, 25 to life in here/So much white you might think your holy Christ is near,” he claims. Meanwhile, his brother Malice’s conscious eats at him. It makes sense he would turn to Christianity later in life, he is much worse at being the bad guy here. “Even my baby mama, I cant look you in the face/Cause I can’t do enough, you a symbol of God’s grace/So I place you in the flower bed, porcelain shower heads/Throughout the house and keep the youngin’s mouths fed,” he wants to do better, he wants to raise a proper family and go straight but like his brother he cannot make a clean break. “Listen youngin’, you’ve only just begun/You’ll understand when you’re older/Said father to the son.”
The Thornton brother’s disgust for their profession runs so deep it escapes as Pusha’s ad-lib of choice. “Yee-ugh!
” The money they spend is devoid of pleasure, on “Dirty Money” their balling is communicated with the excitement of someone reading the exact same meeting agenda every morning for work, “Now lets go shopping, lets go chill/Let’s go buy them new Louboutin heels/Ass in La Perla/Ears full of pearls/Damn dirty money know how to treat the girls.” They pull women into their misery, dragging them into the same misery they wallow in, “Corrupt they mind, turn ‘em to liars/I groom ‘em well.” If Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101
was an endorsement of the dealer lifestyle, Hell Hath No Fury
is the dire warning. Stay away child, it will eat you alive.
was released to a universal critical sh*tstorm of praise, even publications that didn’t particularly dabble in rap music like Entertainment Weekly couldn’t front, perfect scores dropped left and right. But with no hit singles it sold a scant 78 thousand in its first week and has yet to go gold. Clipse followed this with the just okay ’Til the Casket Drops
before going on hiatus. Pusha T signed with Kanye’s GOOD Music imprint and entered a second phase of relevance, continuing the unrepentant dealer streak while appearing on top twenty singles. Malice backed away from the rap game, turning to religion, changing his rap name to No Malice, and publishing an autobiography. Pusha’s solo debut, My Name is My Name
, looks more and more promising every day while talks of a new Clipse album, tentatively titled As God As My Witness
, have cropped up recently.
But on Hell Hath No Fury
, their story ends here. After eleven bangers, everything quiets down for the masterful denouement, “Nightmares”, raps equivalent to “Climbing Up the Walls”. The Neptunes pull their drums, the star of the show for the entire album until this point, into the background and let a tense organ take over. Pusha and Malice stand off stage for the albums only R&B hook. Bilal slowly weaves terror, “There’s something in the room/That’s lurking in the shadows […] these four walls are closing in.” Malice steps to the spotlight first, foreshadowing what was to come, “They coming for me, they running up/I’m on my balcony seeing through the eyes of Tony.” He clings to his gun, sweat breaking out on his forehead. “One day they may catch up with me man,” but its too late, they’re already here. “UH!” His life snuffed out in an instant. Pharrell contributes what might be his greatest vocal turn here, singing through a filter like the ghosts of the remaining brother’s many misdeeds. “Look over your shoulder…/Something is near…/And I’m so scared/When I’m alone I’m so scared.” Pusha begins by quoting the similar paranoid masterpiece, “Mind Playing Tricks On Me.” “I make big money/Drive big cars everybody know me, its like I’m a movie star,” with fame comes enemies, a life of crime is catching up to Pusha as he contemplates his potential killer, “Was it that nigga? I took his powder with a smile/Praying the lord the gun don’t pop and hit the child.” He’ll never know. “OH!” A yelp of surprise is the last thing we hear from Terrance. The quick fade out that follows sounds like his soul slipping from his body, the blood running down his chest, dripping off the car door and onto the pavement.
The album’s title comes from William Congreve; the full quote is “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.” The love the Thorntons had for each other and for the money that they acquired was inevitable twisted into hatred. Hatred for the unforgiveable things they had done, for their product that had ruined so many, but most of all, for themselves. Hell Hath No Fury
is an awe inspiring document of the soul deadening effect wrought by a life of evil backed by the greatest album length performance by some of the greatest producers in hip-hop history. Its legacy will transcend sales; ignore it at your own risk.