It's been four years since a debut album full of crack-cocaine tales put the Clipse on the map, and there's no guarantee fans will get their next fix anytime soon.

It's been four years since a debut album full of crack-cocaine tales put the Clipse on the map, and there's no guarantee fans will get their next fix anytime soon. The Virginia hip-hop duo's Neptunes-produced new Jive album, "Hell Hath No Fury," scheduled to drop earlier this summer and then Halloween, has now been pushed back yet again to Dec. 12.

"Be careful what you wish for," the Clipse's Malice says pensively, when talking about the album's mercurial release date. The group's 2002 debut, "Lord Willin'," has sold nearly 940,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, but "Hell Hath No Fury" has been hamstrung by a bitter legal battle.

The Clipse sued Jive to break its four-album contract, citing lack of promotion, and hoped to exit the label for Star Trak, the Neptunes' imprint. But the group says Zomba chairman/CEO and Jive president Barry Weiss refused to allow the Clipse to split. The contractual struggle was eventually settled with a label distribution deal for the pair's Re-Up Gang Records.

"It got to the point where we were talking to the lawyers every day," Pusha T says. "It was so stressful, it'd be like, 'I didn't even open my rap book today.'"

"The album's limbo was through no fault of our own," Malice adds. "The battle was between Star Trak and Jive, and we were caught in the middle. And we had to wait until they settled it. And when you're suing somebody, every step of paperwork takes six months. And before you know it, years have gone. Who wants that?"

When the brothers couldn't escape Jive, their relationship with the label turned even more awkward. Rumors have swirled that the album's latest delay was the result of derogatory comments Pusha T made about the label's staff in a recent interview.

"We'd already fought long and hard for the Halloween date," he says. "We're realists. We know we don't have the easiest radio records. [The duo's breakthrough single] 'Grindin'' took eight months to break. It takes a little more time for the casual listener to get, but our core audience gets it. I don't even want to say anymore because I don't even know when it's coming out. I do know that it'll be out this year.

"And I don't hate every Jive staff member, I love some people up there," Pusha T adds. "I just got a little emotional."

Meanwhile, the Clipse is hoping to jump aboard Young Jeezy and Rick Ross' upcoming tour, and a Re-Up Gang compilation album featuring new artists Ab-Liva and Sandman, as well as solo records from both signees, are projected to drop through the imprint in 2007, distributed via Jive. The Clipse is also shooting a movie musical titled "Hell Hath No Fury" that will also be "dark and demonic" like the new album's material.

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