Arista / Star Trak, 2002
The two Thornton brothers, born in the Bronx before moving to Virginia Beach during their childhood, were first involved in the cocaine trade before pursuing a career in music. Growing up in poor conditions in the inner city of Virginia Beach, the duo saw it as a way to survive and get by financially.
At the same time, both brothers were trying to find another way to make money: music. The older brother, Gene, embarked on a solo career in the early 90s and formed the group Jarvis. The young rapper’s solo career, as well as his group, struggled to take off before he met Pharrell Williams, who was still little known at the time. With his teammate Chad Hugo under the name The Neptunes, the producer duo was also trying to make a place for itself in Hip Hop with some productions, notably for N.O.R.E or the Bad Boys Record team.
At the time, the little brother, Terrence, was a simple spectator and did not rap, until he decided to launch himself and impressed both his older brother and Pharrell. That’s how the Clipse were born in the early 90’s, known by their respective names of Malicious and Terrar. When Malicious returned from the army in 1994, with the support of Pharrell, the duo signed a contract with Elektra. A first album is in preparation, Exclusive Audio Footage, entirely produced by The Neptunes. The duo released a first single under Elektra, The Funeral, allowing them to become known to Hip Hop fans. Although the single is of a decent quality and shows the narrative qualities of the duo, the song struggles to take off, which will lead to the abandonment of the project, and the group, by the record company.
Despite the success of Kelis’ Kaleidoscope in 1999, produced entirely by The Neptunes, Pharrell did not let go of his friends from Virginia Beach and signed the duo to his newly founded record label, Star Trak Entertainment, in 2001. The two brothers then change their name to Malice and Pusha T. The recording sessions between the four Virginia Beach friends started for a new album, Lord Willin.
Despite the difficult beginnings of the duo, the two brothers have an art of storytelling for unhealthy stories that reminds Kool G Rap. We can thank Pharrell for supporting this duo and bringing them out of the little known Virginia Beach scene. And even though the narrative has a New York feel to it, they make a point of letting you know they’re from Virginia Beach, starting with the cover with that Virginia coastal town setting and sign. With the exception of the few guests present, this is a 100% Virgnia album with a totally Neptunian style.
The Neptunes’ productions are part of the beauty of this album with the trademark of the duo, which is exactly why this is not a New York album. The lyrics about a difficult childhood in the underprivileged streets of a big city are not a novelty in themselves. The originality comes from the contrast with the dark lyrics and the Neptunes’ productions which are as surprising as they are explosive. The electro-synth beats with omnipresent snare drums produce a result that is both dark and joyful. Young Boy features harsh lyrics contrasted by saxophone and Pharrell’s upbeat falsetto vocals for which he would become known.
Darker in approach, Virginia communicates a chilling and dramatic atmosphere while Grindin offers an indescribable beat full of slams and snare beats, it’s both raw with a raging growl on the chorus. When The Last Time is closer to a funky electronic party banger. The Neptunes manage to assemble raw and worked elements with a deconstructed, layered, jerky effect. We have both the heat of the South and the darkness of New York. The effect is there with a southern atmosphere on New York tunes.
Immersed in the drug environment in the middle of coke dealers, Malice and Pusha T tell their stories with a dramaturgic aspect full of emotions. They need to tell us what they have on the heart and narrated their lived, proud to have come out of it but nevertheless marked by this dark period of their lives. Throughout the album, they tell us about their frightening adventures in the alleys of Virginia Beach with an amazing narrative quality, especially on Virginia. They describe their difficult childhoods in the moving Young Boy. Lord Willin is a narrative tale of two kids who have made it through adversity with both arrogance and modesty.
The Clipse present a lyrically tough rap that contains all the codes of New York gangsta rap, while reinventing the music over the original, cutting-edge beats of the Neptunes. A creative crossover that allows the Clipse to create a style all their own, breaking the codes of the more gangsta rap from New York. Lord Willin will also mark the apogee of the Netpunes’ career, a time when a Neptunes’ beat was absolutely necessary on his album, not to mention their collaboration with Snoop Dogg.