Before Clipse released their third and final major label album, Til the Casket Drops, in late 2009, the duo, along with Re-Up Gang group members Ab-Liva and Sandman, dropped Clipse Presents: Re-Up Gang, a 13-track commercial mixtape mostly produced by The Sleepwalkers.
Released independently on August 5, 2008, the project was an extension of the pair's We Got It 4 Cheap mixtape series, which helped immortalize brothers Terrence "Pusha T" Thornton and Gene "No Malice" Thornton in the hip-hop pantheon.
One week after the project hit store shelves—remember those days?—I spoke with Pusha T about the mixtape, the difference between Clipse tapes versus albums, his top-five lyricists list, and why better marketing could have made Clipse a household name.
Of note, during our conversation, Pusha mentioned receiving 10 beats from Kanye West during the creation of Til the Casket Drops. While none of West's material ended up making the final cut, less than two years later, Pusha would sign a record contract with West and G.O.O.D. Music, eventually being named the label's president.
Our interview, edited for content, clarity, and length, follows.
DJBooth: You just released Clipse Presents: Re-Up Gang, and you're busy working on your next full-length album. Being so busy recording new material, how do you two find time to do the essentials, like, you know, breathe and eat?
Pusha T: [Laughs] Definitely gotta breathe and eat, man. But, like you said, it’s been a very busy time for the Clipse. First things first, Clipse Presents: Re-Up Gang, that album’s out in stores. And, for those who don’t know, we had a mixtape series, We Got It 4 Cheap, volumes one through three, which inspired this whole album. Basically, looking at it as just a springboard to launch everybody in their own creative direction. The Clipse, Sandman, and Ab-Liva make up the Re-Up Gang. Clipse is definitely a duo, Sand and Liva soloists, so it’s a good way just to showcase everybody’s talent, and just hopefully get everybody off and rollin’.
Some of the material from the last Got It 4 Cheap mixtape was actually carried over and remixed on this album. What is the difference between Clipse album content versus mixtape content?
The Clipse album with the Re-Up Gang is different because I think that the Re-Up Gang is a bit more aggressive. It’s more aggressive, and it’s more just tryin’ to kill you, line for line. I think that the Clipse albums are a bit more song-oriented, and even though it’s still hardcore, it’s a bit more formatted. The mixtape to me has more of a raw feel.
In his review of the project, our very own Nathan S. wrote, “Where the mixtape delivers body blows, the album sticks and jabs, and where the mixtape was straight dope, the album feels like it’s cut with a little bit of musical baking soda.” Do you agree with his assessment?
Alright, musically, I would look at the mixtape series versus the album that we put out, and it’s sort of tough and it’s sort of an unfair comparison because when we do mixtapes we stick to the essence of a mixtape. We stick to the 1995 rules of a mixtape: you take beats that are already out. So, when a listener hears us on those beats, that’s half of the battle for a listener. I expect people to have their opinions about the production of this album, or whatever the case may be because if you fell in love with the mixtape series, you were in love with the lyrics that you loved over beats that you had heard before, that you were familiar with. If you love Clipse, you fell in love with the great Neptunes production, I mean, guys who are just totally musical geniuses. To compare the production from either A, a mixtape, or B, a Clipse album, to [Clipse Presents: Re-Up Gang] is a bit unfair.
When we last spoke, in April 2006, you called the Re-Up movement the “new Death Row Records.” You said, “There will not be a dynasty like us.” Two years later, are you still confident that that can and will happen?
I think that when you see, starting with this Sandman solo album, the Pusha solo album, and going forward, the other artists, Liva—I think that you will definitely be impressed, definitely. I don’t have a worry in the world about that.
With all the poppy, dance-driven, radio-friendly rap music that’s been dominating the charts and airwaves, does lyrically-driven and stimulating hip-hop, what you guys produce and give to the masses, need a reintroduction—no pun intended—into this game?
A reintroduction is a big statement, ‘cause there is good, lyric-driven hip-hop out there. I look at it like, what we do is we focus on the base, and we do everything in our power to expand on our base, and bring people into our fold. That’s just the way I’m tryin’ to attack the situation.
Do you feel appreciated?
Definitely, man. This hip-hop game is, when I look on the 'net, or when I go do these shows, appreciation can be a thousand people in a venue, you know? And, chantin’, and sayin’ your words, and doin’ what they do. Or it can be 30,000, of course, in a stadium. But I get the same feeling from both. I tell people all the time, we sold a Platinum album, we sold an album that I don’t even know what it’s scanned today, 250, whatever.
It should’ve gone Platinum! [laughs]
Yep, it should’ve, but hey, you know, we gotta call a spade a spade. The Clipse has learned, you can’t say “Woulda, coulda, shoulda…” no more, so we leave that alone. My shows are Hell Hath No Fury-based. That’s my album; I love that album. You know, hits were on Lord Willin', that’s fine, you’ll get some of those as well. But even though it didn’t sell as much, that’s what we love to do.
Who is currently on the same level creatively? Who is your top five?
Okay, my top five…
Yeah, and no ties, because that’s lame.
No particular order, but I can give you five: André 3000, JAY-Z, Kanye West, Fabolous.
One more? Jadakiss.
The much-anticipated new Clipse album, tentatively titled Til the Casket Drops, is set for a November release. What are the chances that date sticks?
No, no November release. You should have a single by then, and top of the year, January.
Does the album follow the same sonic blueprint as Hell Hath No Fury? If not, how is it different?
Okay. Different: production credits will be shared, and it won’t just be Neptunes. There will be other high-caliber producers—Sean C & LV, The Runners, the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, The Neptunes, DJ Khalil, Dame Grease, we haven’t been in yet with Just Blaze, but I know he’s on the list, Kanye, and Swizz.
Impressive list. I read Rick Rubin is also involved.
That’s also been spoken about. See, I can’t say Rick, ‘cause I didn’t hear Rick’s music. I got CDs from Swizz, and I got 10 joints from Kanye the other day. I didn’t say Rick ‘cause I didn’t hear his music yet, so I don’t wanna try to fool anybody. But, yeah, because you said it, and everyone knows Rick Rubin signed us. I’m lookin’ forward to it, for sure.
Will there be guest appearances, or are you keepin’ it strictly Clipse?
No, I think we’re gonna do a few guest appearances, but I’m not gonna say because I wanna make sure I have ‘em. I don’t wanna tell nobody anything that ain’t true. But definitely, we’re looking to venture off into other people that we admire, [that] we think are good.
What is the most important thing that has to happen for Clipse to see the success that you both know you are capable of achieving?
A planned-out marketing campaign.
How are Clipse best marketed?
You have to tie in all of the things that people are so familiar with, with the Clipse. You have to really market the world of the Clipse. The Clipse’s major success started in the ghettos of the world with "Grindin’," so you don’t wanna exclude them. After you hit there, you were introduced to, I hate to call ‘em hipsters, ‘cause I just think it’s the cool bunch, know what I’m sayin’? We were introduced to the cool bunch of folks via the guys who were up on everything, with the We Got It 4 Cheap series, with the fashion, with the BBC, all that stuff we were doing, the whole Japanese—we were introduced to that culture as well. So you don’t exclude them at all. Then you just tie in all these impressions, and you tie in all those different worlds and blend them together.
Does your record label, Columbia, know all this? If not, I will gladly pitch them the last five minutes of our conversation. And best of all, I will only charge you guys 10 percent. How does that sound?
That’s fine with me; I have no problem with anyone making money, as long as they’re helpin’ our situation!