Thursday, March 13, 2003
Speaking of the funk, I absolutely adore the Clipse album, which was only just released over here. Partly it's a case of the boys themselves. I have loved all their appearances on tracks for Kelis, Backstreet Boys, Justin Timberlake etc. but I always wondered if it was merely a case of context, their trademark deadpan menace delivered in identical nasal voices and near-identical flows sounding like a festering sore on the face of pop melodrama. Were those moments of startling insouciance - like in "Popular Thug" when Pusha says "Pusha T, do you think that its cool that ya deal?/'Bout as cool as that breeze on the beach in Brazil" - really just a matter of contrast? I've never, for example, been able to decide whether that line was brilliant or terrible.

If Lord Willin doesn't solve the problem completely, it's at least as effective as the aforementioned appearances in suspending debate; these guys are so enjoyable that I can only conclude that they are inspired rappers. To steal Matos's point, the main attraction is how comfortable the brothers sound being bad, to the point of boredom. But, "Grindin" excepted, the record doesn't really sound menacing; "jaunty" is the better word, whether applied to the honking falsetto-funk of "Young Boy", the frisky candy-bounce of "Ma, I Don't Love Her", the swooning sparkles of "Gangsta Lean" or the tripped out ultra-rhythmic minimalism of "Ego" (possibly my favourite at the moment). The brothers sound, if not jaunty exactly, then slightly wry and bemused - hustlin' may not be a cause for celebration, but nor does it require unrelenting grimness. It's such a firmly entrenched way-of-life that it approaches emotional colourlessness; if they didn't talk about it so much it could almost be the absent-center to their work. At any rate, I love their upbeat, almost silly moments: their faux-wimpiness in "Ego" ("Don't move so fast! I'm scared of thugs and my nerves is bad!"), Malice's proud boasts of recruiting his grandmother into his operations etc. etc. etc.

Lord Willin' also has the distinction of possessing great tune after great tune, the sum total being not as much a knockout as Kaleidoscope but at least the equal of In Search Of... (regardless of all inflexible pop-phobic critics who pretend that the Neptunes' only worthwhile productions are the ones they do for themselves). It's further evidence of how much The Neptunes are now more like an in-house band than they are a production team. Accusations of monochromatic production techniques miss the point: those snare hits and bass sounds are the band instruments, and what impresses still is how effortlessly a dozen unique variations on what is now an incredibly familiar sound can be churned out. "Ego" stands as perhaps their most fluid slice of funk (in the rhythmic not formal-stylistic sense) yet, the stiff-jointed kicks and agile percussion pattern blending and complementing so wonderfully and naturally that it's tempting to imagine these breaks becoming the staple breaks for a new generation of producers in the future - I can almost see people talk about the "Ego break" with hushed reverence. The Neptunes have become a sticking point for me because they are the best at this stiff-to-loose transition within US pop; universally they've only been bested by the most ruggedly naturalistic (and perhaps now outmoded?) garage - the chimeric midnight-funk of London Dodgers' "Down Down Biznizz", UGC's "Mic Tribute (Remix)", James Lavonz's "Mash Up Da Venue" - tracks which seem to offer the same challenge: "throw dem 'bows, but carefully..."


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