Live: The Clipse Shines Through All the Bullshit

clipse.jpg"Wanna know the real? Coke never been the deal / Never glorified that, just the character it build"

Clipse + JR Writer + Brasco S.O.B.'s July 12, 2006

S.O.B.'s is not a great venue; it has asshole bouncers and overpriced drinks and virtually inaccessible restrooms and dubious booking, and the bigass columns in the middle of the floor fuck up slight lines something awful. But I'll say one thing for the club: it's the one venue in New York where you can decide to go on the spur of the moment. I hadn't heard about the Clipse/J.R. Writer show at the venue until yesterday afternoon, so I didn't have the time to pester PR people and get guest-listed up, but it didn't matter; I had $15 in my pocket, and that's all I needed to see the best rap group in the world. In this city, you can't even go see a damn movie without planning hours ahead and buying tickets online. When Clipse played at the Knitting Factory earlier in the year, people were spilling out of the door; it would've been laughable to try and buy a walk-up ticket that night. At S.O.B.'s, you could get in, and that's worth something.

If last month's M.O.P. non-show was any indication, events don't tend to run all that smoothly at the club, so it wasn't a huge surprise to walk up and see some nonsense no-name just-signed NY rappers saying stuff like "my swagger is crazy, right?" I have no idea how much potential Brasco has; it's not the sort of thing you can really judge from a live rap show now that 90% of major-label rappers don't give a damn about their live shows. The only thing distinctive I saw about him last night was his Venom T-shirt. And when he ceded he stage to some other guy who claimed to rep NY while doing the snap music dance while people walked around the audience with big street-team posters and promotional SUVs idled outside, the scene looked like just about everything that's wrong with the rap industry in 2006. Oh, and the snap music guy had a song called "Does Your Chain Hang Low," and its hooks samples "Do Your Ears Hang Low," swear to God.

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I like JR Writer a lot as a rapper, but his live shows fails the same way so many live rap shows fail: nobody tries. He comes onstage as bouncers clear a path through the crowd for his entourage, and everyone smells like weed when they pass by. When they get onstage, there's eleven people up there, and more will come up soon. There's a DJ and a hypeman and a guy with a video camera and a few guys with no mics who sort of rap along and then five or six guys who just look bored and stand around in the background. Why are those guys even up there? JR does "Bird Call" and "Grill Em" and a few of his mixtape tracks ("What You Know About Crack"), but he's clumsy and perfunctory, just saying the words, not putting any energy or conviction into it. He butchers his verse from "Shake." He hypes his assorted products. He leaves. And it's not even clear that he's to blame for the mess; live shows aren't a big part of the mainstream rap economy, so nobody devotes a whole lot of attention to them. They focus on mixtapes and clothing lines and weird cross-promotional schemes instead, and so these live shows are more like opportunities to party or network, to get raw footage on a street DVD. And the only people who lose out are the people dumb enough to expect a real live rap show, a species that's been endangered for years.

Voice review: Jonah Weiner on JR Writer's Writer's Block Part I

And all that makes what the Clipse do onstage even more remarkable. A Clipse show isn't like a Jay-Z show, where his rare forays into live performance are huge media spectacles, where he's got the budget to make a big entrances and grand gestures and to indulge every whim. Clipse have everything working against them, a largely disinterested crowd, a lack of recent hits, mics that barely work. It doesn't matter. They still wreck it with fluid rapping and cool charisma and a clear desire to own whatever stage they're on. Malice and Pusha T are two of the most vivid and fierce rappers working, and Sandman and Ab-Liva, their perennial backup guys, are good and getting better. And they do their songs straight through, not omitting any verses and trusting the crowd to have a long enough attention-span to hear a three-minute song. Their set was pretty much just a slightly shorter version of the one at the Knitting Factory show: "What Happened to That Boy," "Pussy," "Cot Damn," a bunch of material from the greatest mixtape of all time, "Grindin'." I would've loved to see them encore with "When the Last Time" or "Young Boy," but it's better for them to leave us wanting more. The only substantial change since the Knitting Factory show was the set's closer, "Mr. Me Too," their bleak, skeletal monster of a new single. I wouldn't have thought it was possible, but the song sounded triumphant.

It's been discussed a lot on this here internet lately, but the group is going through ridiculous levels of label drama in getting their sophomore release to us. It's hard to see why Jive doesn't just go ahead and release Hell Hath No Fury; with all the bubbling-under support the group has found over the past year or so, seems to me the thing would go gold with minimal promotion. But there's been all manner of extracurricular nonsense, like did Pharrell sell the beat to their next single to Foxy Brown? And does Jay-Z want to keep that beat for Foxy? And is Pharrell abandoning his friends in their time of need? I have no idea, but all we've had in the past few months, beyond "Mr. Me Too," are a few tantalizing glimpses of what the album could be: an audio snippet here, a masterful Rap City freestyle there. "We've been through a lot of shit in this record industry," said Malice onstage last night. "Still going through it," said Pusha. They're too good for this nonsense.

Voice review: Nick Sylvester on the Clipse's We Got It 4 Cheap, Volume 2

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