Clipse at the Middle East (Downstairs) on February 26

A Review of the Clipse at the Middle East (Downstairs) on February 26, 2007

, Staff Writer

The Clipse get a lot of mileage out of their perceived credibility and their role as the thugs’ backpack rappers who spin true-life tales of crack sales on records. In the world of hip-hop, where doing time and getting shot at are tangled up in conceptions of artistic integrity, such credibility is a precious commodity. But too often, the focus placed on recording and posturing in hip-hop neglects the performance aspect of rap, resulting in live shows featuring a huge posse yelling over a track with backing vocals (50 Cent anyone?).

Luckily, the Clipse’s show at the Middle East to kick off their nation-wide tour showed that the duo has true talent to go along with their startlingly real life subject material. Performing with only a DJ and special guests dropping select verses, the Thornton brothers Pusha T and Malice sped through a brisk set packed with hits and new songs off their excellent new album, Hell Hath No Fury.

Pusha T was the more animated brother, rapping wide-eyed and manically moving around the stage. His rhymes and rhyme patterns were easier for the crowd to latch onto than those of Malice, who snaked lines around the beats with a more subdued, more threatening vibe. Each brother sported a diamond-covered “$50,000 showpiece” over otherwise casual clothing, testaments to rap’s excesses.

The similarly nasal voices of the Clipse were countered by the deep voices of fellow Re-Up Gang members Ab-Liva and Sandman, who took the stage for the Neptunes remix “Hot Damn,” and new songs “Ride Around Shining,” and “Ain’t Cha.” Being on stage together was obviously fun for the group, as Pusha T laughed at the more impressive moments of wordplay (It was nice to see that he enjoys Ab-Liva’s line “It makes all of her twist like Dickens” as much as I do), and members joined in on each other’s verses.

While the Clipse have never been the type of rappers to focus on hooks, many choruses translated very well into a live setting. “Keys Open Doors,” “Chinese New Year,” and “Wamp Wamp (What It Do)” all became opportunities for audience participation, and Pusha T lauded the front row for knowing every word. The duo even conducted the audience on show highlight “Grindin’,” leading everyone in a slightly rearranged hook.

Before the duo’s last song, the Clipse thanked the crowd for “keeping us relevant.” They went on to thank “all the MC’s bitin’ our style. What do you call them? Swagger-jackers?” and invited the crowd to “go ahead, name some names.” In light of recent media beef this led to the inevitable naming of Lil’ Wayne, which the Clipse half-heartedly dismissed before slamming into the menacing “Mr. Me Too,” a song about copycat rappers.

After nearly an hour of nearly flawless reproductions of their records the duo left the stage without returning for an encore. It was sort of abrupt, but few rappers would be able to put on such a long, lean show devoid of filler as the Clipse. They are clearly masters of their craft, capable of giving a performance just as effective in person as on the track. It was refreshing to see rappers standing on skill instead of posing in front of publicist-fabricated street cred. Hip-hop is not dead as long as the Clipse are alive, no matter what Nas may think.

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