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For The Record: How Clipse’s 'Lord Willin'' Established Virginia’s Foothold In Rap
Fraternal rap duo Clipse

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For The Record: How Clipse’s 'Lord Willin'' Established Virginia’s Foothold In Rap

On their 2002 debut album 'Lord Willin',' Clipse’s drug-slinging rhymes and the Neptunes’ pop-centric production established Virginia’s foothold on street rap.

GRAMMYs/Aug 19, 2022 - 03:56 pm

As rap moved into the new millennia, the industry abandoned the antiquities of its past and widened the margins, drawing in musical talents from all corners and elevating them to astronomical heights. Street rap duo Clipse was instrumental in the geographical shift, with 2002’s Lord Willin' establishing Virginia’s foothold on coke rap and a new era of lyrical titans.

By the early 2000s, hip-hop’s maturation was in full swing: Atlanta was building towards its future reign, the boom of Houston’s hip-hop scene was on the horizon, and Virginia’s spotlight grew brighter over the decade as Timbaland, Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo of the Neptunes crafted the era’s most innovative sounds. 

While Timbo went on to guide the careers of Ginuwine, Aaliyah and Missy Elliot, local legend Teddy Riley brought Pharrell and Hugo under his wing. As the Neptunes, the two produced records for the likes of  Ma$e, N.O.R.E. and R&B groups SWV and Total. Eventually, the duo revisited their relationship with two childhood friends who would later chronicle their hometown’s booming drug trade under the moniker Clipse. 

Virginia-based MCs and brothers Gene "No Malice" and Terrence "Pusha T" Thornton aspired to leave a life of selling drugs in favor of cooking up hit records. With the help of Pharrell, Clipse signed to Elektra Records in 1998, and by the next year, had an album, Exclusive Audio Footage, ready to hit retail stores. 

"That album was nothing more than friends together doing something they love," Pusha explained in a 2002 interview with XXL. "No outside interference, no arguing. It was all happy times."

Despite a record slated for a 1999 release date, the group’s triumph was short-lived. The album’s lead single, "The Funeral," failed to make a mark outside of Virginia radio, and the project was shelved. While the album was heavily bootlegged for years — and mysteriously released on streaming platforms this May — the two brothers were dropped from the label.

"I’m gonna tell you who was disappointed the most," Pusha recounted to XXL. "That was Pharrell. He was like real hyped about working with [established artists] but he’s always been like, ‘Yo, we gotta show them how we do it.’"

Determined to shepherd their career success, Pharrell build up enough cache to establish Star Track Entertainment with Arista Records in 2001. He brought No Malice and Pusha in as the imprint’s first signees and released their debut album, Lord Willin’, on Aug. 20, 2002. 

Boasting guest spots from heavyweights like Jermaine Dupri, Jadakiss, Styles P, Faith Evans, Fabolous and others, Lord Willin is a mesmerizing journey through the Thortons' roots in the Indian Lakes section of Virginia Beach —  an environment that fed their hunger for life’s treasures and fueled their rap careers. 

"It was really about establishing identity, and, like, putting our flag in the ground," Pusha recalled in a 2012 interview with Life +Times. "We basically wanted people to understand and know where we were coming from — no one had ever seen this side of Virginia before. We knew that this music was a bit newer."

The Clipse were outside of what the Neptunes were doing, Pusha continued. "This was at a time when Pharrell was hot, the Neptunes were hot. He was on every hook from Nelly to Mystikal, everybody" and is the first voice on "Grindin'." "The intro…basically set the tone for all of those maneuvers and moves. It was just like, 'This is what we are, we’re different. This is the streets, this is Virginia, this is new, this is risk-taking.' Playas, we ain’t the same. You know."

Led by street anthem "Grindin’" and radio smash "When The Last Time," the album is laced with sooty tales about the duo’s drug-and-gun dealings and the glamorized corruption of their past hustle  ("Virginia"), a lifestyle sown from the pillars of their own family tree. On the LP’s "Intro" No Malice raps, "Scouts honor, started with my grandmama / Who distributed yay she had flown in from the Bahamas."

All 13 tracks are produced by The Neptunes, who were at the peak of their powers and fresh off collaborations with Britney Spears, Jay-Z, Usher and other artists. The Clipse meld their minimalistic and radio-seeking production with the rawness of No Malice and Pusha’s coke-slinging rhymes on "Cot Damn" and "Gangster Lean."

Along with the riches of big-time dealing on "Let’s Talk About It," No Malice offered a sign of empathy on "I’m Not You," rapping, "To feed poison to those who could very well be my kin / But where there’s demand, someone will supply / So I feed them their needs at the same time cry / Yes it pains me to see them need this / All of them lost souls and I’m their Jesus."

The production of Lord Willin’ doesn’t always match the gravity of No Malice and Pusha’s mountainous themes and enthralling anecdotes, with the pop-ish sounds of songs like "Young Boy" muffling the accounts of their upbringing. But by all measures, the Clipse’s debut placed the military town and tourist city on the hip-hop map — a foray that was driven by the duo’s vivid lyrics and the Neptunes’ generally immersive production.

Clipse’s first full-length showing landed at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and sold 122,000 units in its first week of release. It was certified Gold by the RIAA on Oct. 1, 2002, and sold upwards of 950,000 copies as of December 2009, according to Nielsen Soundscan. In validating its classic status, Rolling Stone also ranked the album No. 12 on its 100 Best Debut Albums of All-Time list. 

Lord Willin’ sparked Clipse’s continued success and popularity. Their 2006 follow-up Hell Hath No Fury is now a classic, while the We Got It 4 Cheap mixtape series with Re-Up Gang members and Philadelphia-based rappers Ab-Liva and Sandman is beloved. But in the years since No Malice and Pusha’s third outing, Til The Casket Drops,in 2009, their musical paths couldn’t have grown more detached.

While Pusha has built a stellar solo career with the same coke raps and command he came to the game with, No Malice found solace in his faith. He distanced himself from the rap industry and altered his former moniker "Malice" on Twitter back in 2012.

"Can you imagine how many people went to jail listening to things that I said? Forget everybody else and other rappers and other groups, think about how many times people got pulled over, went to jail (and) my record playing in the car," No Malice told Vlad TV in 2017. "Think about how many times somebody’s head was blown out, and the theme music is still playing."

The brothers have collaborated sparingly over the years, with the group coming together for Pusha’s "I Pray For You," Kanye’s "Use This Gospel" and on the I Know Nigo! compilation cut "Punch Bowl." Every time the duo reunites, fans clamor for another classic from the group, including King Push, who, admittedly, is just as uncertain as the public. 

"I talked to him this morning and he was like, ‘Yo, I’m hearing what people saying,’ but he’s not committing," the "Diet Coke" rapper told The Breakfast Club in April. "Regardless of whatever perspective he wants to attack it from, me and him are creative enough to definitely make it work. That’s not an issue, it’s just him and what does he want to do."

It's been two decades since the release of Lord Willin', but the album has only appreciated in the years since No Malice and Pusha first put the city of Virginia Beach on their backs. While the older Thorton has squared his focus on his spirituality, and Pusha has forged a path as the "Martin Scorsese of street rap," their contributions will remain linked and their legacies forever immortalized.

For The Record: How 'Wyclef Jean Presents The Carnival' Expanded The Boundaries Of Hip-Hop

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N.W.A Are 'Straight Outta Compton': For The Record

N.W.A's DJ Yella, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and MC Ren

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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N.W.A Are 'Straight Outta Compton': For The Record

What started as an attitude that helped put Compton on the map grew into a worldwide music revolution celebrating the streets

GRAMMYs/Jul 26, 2018 - 11:05 pm

A debut album that landed like a sledgehammer, 1988's Straight Outta Compton has become a legend in its own right. The featured N.W.A lineup was Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and MC Ren. The album was produced by Dr. Dre and DJ Yella, and released on Ruthless Records, the label co-founded by Eazy-E and N.W.A manager Jerry Heller two years before.

Although it sold well initially, its landmark status rested on the controversies surrounding its gangsta lifestyle themes and attitudes. Its provocative tracks described the world N.W.A knew through their own eyes, including the title track, which elevated the group's hometown of Compton, Calif., "Express Yourself" and "Gangsta Gangsta." The album also included "F* Tha Police," which resulted in the FBI and U.S. Secret Service sending threatening letters to Ruthless Records and the group's banishment from many venues.

Credited as one of the most influential hip-hop records of all time, in 2015, Straight Outta Compton the film appeared, dramatizing the 1988 impact of the album, with Ice Cube portrayed by his son O'Shea Jackson Jr. Confrontations with law enforcement and antagonism based on "F* Tha Police" form a core element of both the 2015 drama as well as the drama on the streets that has never stopped.

Among the album's many aftermaths, Eazy-E died in 1995, Ice Cube went on to produce and star in his extensive filmography and the adventures of Dr. Dre touch on many other histories, including those of Eminem and Kendrick Lamar. Meanwhile, in recognition of its critical importance to music history, Straight Outta Compton was inducted into the Recording Academy's GRAMMY Hall Of Fame as well as the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry.

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Alanis Morissette's 'Jagged Little Pill': For The Record

Alanis Morissette

Photo: Terry O'Neill/Iconic Images/Getty Images

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Alanis Morissette's 'Jagged Little Pill': For The Record

Learn about the singer/songwriter's big GRAMMY night at the 38th GRAMMY Awards with her third studio album

GRAMMYs/Mar 23, 2018 - 03:10 am

For a generation of music lovers, the '90s hosted a boon of hits that have now attained classic status. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill is arguably at the top of the list.

Released June 13, 1995, as her third studio album, Morissette worked on the project exclusively with producer/writer Glen Ballard. She plumped the depth of raw emotion to craft the LP's 12 alt-rock tracks, marking a departure from her previous pop-centered releases.

The Canadian native's honest approach to Jagged Little Pill flipped the industry upside down. The album went on to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and produce three No. 1 Billboard singles: "You Oughta Know," "Hand In My Pocket" and "Ironic."

As of 2015, sales of the album surpassed 15 million copies in the United States, making it one of only three albums to reach that milestone behind Metallica's self-titled album (16.1 million) and Shania Twain's Come On Over (15.6 million).

Further solidifying its legacy, a musical stage production based on the LP will premiere in spring 2018.

Jagged Little Pill also brought Morissette her first four career GRAMMY wins at the 38th GRAMMY Awards. She took home the coveted award for Album Of The Year and Best Rock Album, while "You Oughta Know" earned Best Female Rock Vocal Performance and Best Rock Song.

"I actually accept this on behalf of anyone who's ever written a song from a very pure place, a very spiritual place," Morissette said during her Album Of The Year acceptance speech after thanking Ballard. "And there's plenty of room for a lot of artists so there's no such thing as the best."

Kendrick Lamar, 'DAMN.': For The Record | 2018 GRAMMYs Edition

Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images

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Kendrick Lamar, 'DAMN.': For The Record | 2018 GRAMMYs Edition

Celebrate the Compton rapper's successful fourth album, which brought home a total of five GRAMMY wins on Music's Biggest Night

GRAMMYs/Feb 9, 2018 - 03:16 am

Kendrick Lamar's phenomenally successful fourth LP, DAMN., landed with a bang in mid-2017 that saw fans digging voraciously into the full media experience of the album's release in an intense manner.

There were rumors based on tweets, there were secret second album release theories, there were even guesses at the tracklist's double-meanings that actually turned out to be true.  Altogether, it made for a moment in pop culture that coalesced into an explicit public statement: Lamar was no longer content to merely capture the attention of hip-hop purists and music scenesters with their ears to the street; he was here to convert new listeners over from the mainstream without sacrificing the authenticity of his core sound. And along the way maybe raise a few middle fingers in the direction of his oftentimes befuddled political detractors.

"The initial goal was to make a hybrid of my first two commercial albums," Lamar explained to Zane Lowe on Beats 1 Radio. "That was our total focus, how to do that sonically, lyrically, through melody – and it came out exactly how I heard it in my head. … It's all pieces of me."

Lamar's soul-bearing reaped obvious rewards at the 60th GRAMMY Awards, with DAMN. generating a total of five GRAMMY wins, including Best Rap Album, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration ("LOYALTY."), Best Rap Song ("HUMBLE."), Best Rap Performance ("HUMBLE."), and Best Music Video ("HUMBLE.").

Along with its successes on Music's Biggest Night, DAMN. also proved to be a commercial windfall for Lamar, with lead single "HUMBLE." clocking in as his first-ever No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100, with supporting singles "LOYALTY." And "LOVE." both charting in the Top 15. For its own part, DAMN. debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, has been certified double-platinum by the RIAA, and ended the year as the No. 1 album of any genre for 2017, by chart performance.

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Alabama Shakes' 'Sound & Color': For The Record

Alabama Shakes

Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images

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Alabama Shakes' 'Sound & Color': For The Record

Wilder than before, the band's fusion of country and soul with immersive rock on their 2015 album defined a sound all their own

GRAMMYs/Jun 21, 2018 - 09:43 pm

Alabama Shakes' 2012 debut Boys & Girls was such a wild success, no one expected the band would get even wilder on 2015's Sound & Color. But the band took their music way out, exploring a spacious, country-soul rock sound that would be more completely their own if it didn't seem so timeless.

"We're just a normal group of people who believe in writing and making something, and honestly, it was truly from a point of having fun," lead singer/guitarist Brittany Howard told our oral history of the album. "It wasn't to get famous or anything like that. We wanted to play gigs, that was our goal, but we didn't have anywhere to gig."

Bassist Zac Cockrell, guitarist Heath Fogg and drummer Steve Johnson write together with Howard, and the band shared in their Best Rock Song win, at the 58th GRAMMY Awards for "Don't Wanna Fight," as songwriters, in addition to winning Best Rock Performance. Sound & Color also won Best Alternative Music Album that year.

Alabama Shakes' 2012 debut brought them 55th GRAMMY Awards nominations for Best New Artist and Best Rock Performance for the song "Hold On." As a single, it remains their biggest hit so far, having reached No. 93 on Billboard's Hot 100. The following year the band was nominated for Best Rock Performance again, for "Always Alright" from the soundtrack to Silver Linings Playbook. A truly admired band, their album sales suggest Alabama Shakes falls better into the category of classics-makers than hit-makers. Their debut reached No. 6 on the Billboard 200 in 2013 and Sound & Color reached No. 1 in 2015.

Although Alabama Shakes hasn't released an album since Sound & Color, their performance of "Joe (Live From Austin City Limits)" drew another Best Rock Performance nomination at the 59th GRAMMY Awards. Earlier this year at the 60th GRAMMY Awards, Alabama Shakes' performance of "Killer Diller Blues" won Best American Roots Performance, the band's fourth win. The song was originally recorded by Minnie Lawlers, and as for other artists participating in the Jack White and Bernard MacMahon 2017 project American Epic: The Sessions, all final recordings were made on an antique 1925 Western Electric direct-to-disc system. How's that for a historic recording?

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