It's no surprise, really, that Clipse has had trouble following up its 2002 hit "Grindin'" and the platinum album it came from, Lord Willin'. The label entanglements that have shadowed the group and a two-year delay for its second major-label disc, 2006's Hell Hath No Fury, may have stymied whatever commercial momentum Clipse had worked up, but the Virginia Beach rappers haven't done much to help their sales potential. They've retreated into increasingly dense and cerebral production and elaborate rhymes, sacrificing melody and accessibility for an almost bewildering experimentalism.
The group's new not-really-legal mixtape, Re-Up Gang: The Saga Continues, recaps the first two volumes of the We Got It 4 Cheap series, a selection of bare-bones remixes released in the interim between Lord Willin' and Hell Hath No Fury. It's less an inviting listening experience than a cutaway diagram of the group's process. It has immediate rewards, but its air-tight atmosphere ultimately sucks most of the pleasure from it.
Clipse's mixtape work doesn't match the wildly inventive and nearly abstract Neptunes production and wordplay on Fury, but it does highlight the grim focus and matter-of-fact virtuosity of Pusha and Malice (at the expense of their Re-Up Gang partners Ab-Live and Sandman). The recognizable tracks—T.I.'s "Get Ya Shit Together," the Game's "Put You on the Game," Mobb Deep's "Cobra Clutch"—have all the air sucked out of them, broken down into basic component parts and rebuilt to fit Clipse's rolling, jerky rhythms. It's sort of like dub with all the extra space squeezed out. Even the handful of original productions, with squiggly keyboard riffs overseen by DJ Clinton Sparks, are hermetically sealed.