On Hell Hath's closer, "Nightmares," it's Bilal rather than Pharrell who does the Mayfield impression, just one reason why as a paranoid anthem that rap paradox with Robert Johnson roots, an affirmation of sketchy solitude it's closer to the Geto Boys' classic "Mind's Playing Tricks on Me" than it is to Rockwell's "Somebody's Watchin' Me."
"No hotta / Flow droppa / Since Poppa," Pusha T asserts at the kickoff of "Wamp Wamp." Though he follows that up with a truly terrific double-edged pun ("You penny ante niggaz see I know copper" and also "no Copper"), it's a bit of a stretch to claim he and Malice are in the Biggie leagues. Take Life after Death's "What's Beef?" (Bad Boy, 1997), on which Biggie begins with a vainglorious "ha ha ha ha ha," declares himself the "rap Alfred Hitchcock," and rhymes "I see you" and ICU. On that track he also serves up the couplet "Think good thoughts, die while your skin starts to glisten / Pale blue hands get cold, your soul's risen." In comparison, on "Chinese New Year," Clipse threaten they'll turn you "Cookie Monster blue." Scary cute but no don's cigar.
But they're closer to Biggie than most anyone else these days, save maybe their rival, Bush-bashing Lil' Wayne. Hell Hath is packed with almost as many cleverly phrased disguises for cocaine as it is amazing noises, yet Pusha T and Malice's brand of brotherly love and hate is at its best when it surrounds the drug with an image-laden story, as on "Dirty Money." There, one track after his big bro demonstrates how to cook drugs like a "black Martha Stewart," Pusha T gets so high on his ability to transform substances and words that Benjamin Franklin's face starts to look 3-D and silly on some "new crisp billies." By the time he and Malice are dealing with the inevitable comedown on "Nightmares," the substance of their words could turn the warmest smile upside down. *
With Low B of Hollertronix
Wed/14, 9 p.m., $20
444 Jessie, SF