I was blown away the first time I pressed played on We Got It For Cheap Vol. 2: The Black Card Era. As someone who’s always had an appreciation for lyric-driven rap, what the Re-Up Gang offered here is a veritable buffet of top notch lyricism. While it’s always been understood that Malice and Pusha T were lyrical heavyweights, it seemed they took things to another level when paired with Philly brethren Ab-Liva and Sandman. Pusha especially, as he was widely though to be the weaker sibling before he kicked it up like five notches on this tape. Suffice it to say, there’s a reason this mixtape was voted as one of the best in 2005 and I wore my eardrums out listening to it.
When the third mixtape in the series, The Spirit of Competition, dropped, I died and went to heaven. Back when beat jackin’ was still a thing, the Re-Up Gang were doing some serious damage to other people’s instrumentals. They murdered Shawty Lo’s “Dey Know,” caught a few bodies on Jay-Z’s “Roc Boys,” blacked out on Pharrell’s “Show You How to Hustle,” and put out one of the finest tracks in their entire catalog on Jim Jones’ “Emotionless.” The pounding bass, brooding overtones, and Ab-Liva’s verse all served for the perfect recipe to make “Emotionless” a classic record. To quote Jay-Z, “the shit’s just mean, man.”
If it feels like I’m spending a lot of time not talking about Clipse Presents: Re-Up Gang, this is intentional. In order to know why I was so disappointed in the album, one would have to understand the context in which I purchased it. When the crew said they were done with mixtapes and working on a new album, it might’ve been the fourth happiest music day of my life. My hype was leveled up beyond reason until I heard the group’s first single, “Fast Life.”
Produced by Scott Storch, the song was an all Clipse affair as the single didn’t feature Ab-Liva or Sandman. Also, as much as it hurts to say, the song sucked. The lyrics weren’t the problem, but Scott Storch’s beat just didn’t fit the Re-Up Gang’s aesthetic. It didn’t feel like a Re-Up Gang record, it felt like an obvious shot at mainstream relevance. That’s not to say that they shouldn’t have tried to make a marketable record, but more so to say this was a piss poor attempt at that goal.
After giving out 60+ songs of lyrical fire over the previous four years, a poor single could be overlooked. What really burned my grits, however, was that I felt cheated when I heard the album. Earlier I talked about how much love I had for Vol. 3. There’s still plenty to love about the tape, but not enough love to want to hear it again, over less impressive beats. By that I mean, some of the verses from Vol. 3 landed on the album and while they were awesome to hear in their original forms, I found it less awesome the second time around.
Songs like “Re-Up Gang Intro,” “Bring It Back,” “Emotionless,” and “Show You How to Hustle,” all show up in a re-purposed fashion. Some, like “Emotionless,” translated well but others weren’t as endearing as they were when I’d previously heard them. Truthfully, it really felt like a waste of money to pay for songs when there’s a superior version located elsewhere.
Even worse, the way the Clipse allegedly handled the album served as a direct catalyst for Sandman leaving the group. Sandman said he wasn’t happy with “Fast Life” being the lead single and felt like they spent all that time grinding for nothing. So, not only did die-hard Re-Up fans get a pretty weak album after supporting the group for four years, Clipse Presents: Re-Up Gang was the last time the group starred the original cast of Liva, Sandman, Pusha, and Malice.
How a person feels about this album likely depends on how much they listening to Vol. 3. If one has never been exposed to The Spirit of Competition, then it’s pretty likely they’ll enjoy the album. If one heard the tape before they heard the album, however, the album might feel like a disappointment. For a group that gave fans a mixtape three-peat, this album defined the end of era more than it served as a testament to such a great legacy of music. And it’s unfortunate they ended on such a sour note.