Clipse's ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ And The Politics Of Righteous Anger

Ten years later, Clipse’s masterpiece rings true for our times

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” is an amended version of a longer quote from William Congreve’s poem “The Mourning Bride,” from the dawn of the 18th century. The play is a tragedy, centering on Zara, a queen held captive by the king of Granada. At the end of an especially passionate monolog in the third act, Zara says: “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury, like a woman scorned.” I don’t know where, along the line, the quote was cut in half, and then the back half of it changed to the quote we now know. But in 2006, Clipse borrowed the paraphrased quote as the title for their third album, Hell Hath No Fury. The album, darker and more focused in tone than its predecessor, 2002’s Lord Willin’, calls more to mind the first part of Zara’s quote.

Clipse covered Hell Hath No Fury in ego and bitterness, a clashing of emotional worlds directed at their label for delaying the album, their peers across the rap landscape, and the streets that they had left but refused to be forgotten on. Combined with golden-era Neptunes percussion, they were, it seemed, done with optimism, done with love for anything but omnipresent hustle. Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned.

I have an investment, particularly now, in the politics of anger. The act of naming anger and all of its siblings (resentment, disgust, bitterness) is one proper response to the slights or aggressions that we run up against. To confidently name an emotional response and feel justified in it takes away from any need to apologize for it. Hell Hath No Fury is an angry album. It’s not only an angry album; the album’s greatest accomplishment is that it’s of anger but not driven solely by anger. Every note is sharply articulated, down to the finest details. On the wide map of the human experience, at the intersection of anger and success is, surely, remorse, or sometimes regret. If Pusha T and Malice had spent the 48 minutes of Hell Hath No Fury simply airing their many grievances, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as the album they ended up with — one where they aired those grievances while also turning the mirror on themselves, the street kings who made it to the mountaintop and still didn’t like the view.

I have never not believed anything in Pusha T’s rhymes, although this doesn’t mean that everything he raps about is true. I’m saying that I believe the burden of a storyteller is to give the listener an opportunity to imagine the reality they’re speaking to so closely that it becomes genuine. Pusha would, I’m sure, insist on the accuracy of his raps, but I think insisting on receipts for the narratives of Clipse, Pusha’s in particular, is a failure of the listening process. It assumes that their body of work, that this album, is merely about drugs and money.

To some extent, of course, it is. On the cover, Pusha T and Malice sit by an open oven, gold crowns atop their heads. But really, Hell Hath No Fury is about power: who has it, whom it can be taken from, and how to demand that people turn their heads and see it.

When we talk now about gospel in rap music, it’s always about the actual gloss of the church: large choirs and swelling sounds backing uplifting messages of joy and acceptance. The gospel of Clipse, however, is the more touchable gospel of forgiveness: Pray on the dirt you’ve done in the morning, knowing you will do more before the sunset. Here, the divide between the brothers is palpable. In retrospect, listening to Hell Hath No Fury, it makes sense that Malice would, after one more Clipse album, change his name to No Malice and completely leave secular rap music behind. On a track like “Momma I’m So Sorry,” Malice is the shepherd, turning the youth’s eyes away from the drug game that coughed him out and into something brighter. Pusha T remains who he is for the majority of the album: an unremorseful kingpin, an encyclopedia of the trade. While Malice spends much of the album tentative, one foot on the pavement and another on the pulpit, Pusha spends it making himself untouchable. The lyrical complications between the Thornton brothers don’t fully hit their peak until Clipse’s next and (to date) final album, 2009’s Til the Casket Drops, which was drenched in the kind of remorse and introspection that waits at the end of the road for many musical groups. But the seeds were planted here, in the frantic and dark pace of Hell Hath No Fury.

I’m less interested in the end of the road, and more interested in what starts someone down the path to the end. On Hell Hath No Fury, Pusha T sees Christ as both a drug metaphor (“So much white you might think your holy Christ is near”) and a way out. And what must it be like, to look at your brother and realize that you are starting to pray to different Gods?

Anger is not an emotion that I manage well. I sometimes imagine that this is a common thread for anyone who has grown up marginalized in America. My father rarely yelled when I was young. I knew few black parents who yelled. For many of the black mothers I knew, a silent look was enough to freeze whatever mischief had drawn their attention. There are people I know who measure their anger, dole it out in small doses and rarely publicly, so that when the anger finally arrives, it’s a surprise, a last resort.

I have yelled more in this wretched year than I have at any other point in my life, and I find myself ashamed each time, wondering if I’m failing the ideas of respectability that I spend every other moment trying to reject. It is with this in mind that I have spent a lot of time thinking about the articulation of righteous rage or justifiable anger, and how, in this social and political moment, there are days where our anger is all we have.

Hell Hath No Fury is the great Clipse album because it’s the one where they understood this more than anything else. Lord Willin’, steeped in brilliance, was a little too bright in tone. Til the Casket Drops was more sad than anything else, a slow-moving storm cloud. Hell Hath No Fury is a playbook. It’s a dark album, sure, but not because it’s about death or even inner turmoil. Its darkness comes from a rap group, sure of what they’ve earned, no longer tapping on the door but kicking it in. Jive’s long delay of the album resulted in a ferocity born out of feeling like an avenue was being taken away. Once you’ve made it out of one hustle and into another, moving backward isn’t appealing. When work on the album was halted by the label in 2004, the group sued in an attempt to get out of their contract. When that wasn’t resolved until the spring of 2006, it delayed the album even further. It makes sense, then, that the type of anger expressed on Hell Hath No Fury is measured — it’s the kind that shakes free of a person after they have held on to it for long enough to think through every possible phase of the emotion. I don’t fear the person who yells, madly waving their arms above their head. I fear the person who speaks like they already know the ending of whatever is coming, like they are controlling it with their own hands.

Clipse may never record another album. The Thornton brothers have truly found different paths: Pusha T is on an unsurprising, but somehow still startling, solo tear in one lane, while No Malice has found success in another. Despite the different audiences the two paths cater to, the brothers haven’t changed their individual missions all that much. No Malice is still introspective, looking at the past with a heavy eye. Pusha T, even as he’s aged and become more stoic, is still boastful, a chip on his shoulder regardless of his accomplishments. For a moment, the brothers gave us a perfect album. A snapshot of love turning to bitterness. A playbook for how to sit in your righteous rage and let it crawl out slow. Not always loud, but impossible to miss.