2002 seems like an eternity ago in the world of hip-hop.
Ja Rule, Ludacris, and Nelly were actually considered hot properties while legends such as Jay-Z, Nas, and Eminem were in the process of defining their storied legacies.
However, 2002 was also the year that Pharrell Williams unleashed a sibling duo from Virginia Beach that would raise the bar for succinct lyricism.
Terrence “Pusha T” and Gene “Malice” Thornton, better known as Clipse, set the hip-hop community ablaze with “Grindin,” the smash single from their platinum-selling debut Lord Willin.
While their subject matter was rather unglamorous, largely rapping about cocaine, the level of talent on display was undeniable. Their clever, inventive wordplay coupled with the woozy production of The Neptunes instantly made them a recognizable force within the industry.
While a sophomore effort was inevitable, the Thornton brothers became engulfed in a heated legal dispute with their label Jive Records. It got so ugly that their next project was delayed for over three years. Going that long between major releases is akin to career suicide.
In the face of their legal woes, Clipse was still able to deliver the grimy, unapologetic music their fans craved by flooding the mixtape circuit with their well-received We Got It 4 Cheap series.
Their official sophomore album Hell Hath No Fury, was released in 2006 to near universal acclaim. A number of reputable publications bestowed their highest honors upon it, including XXL Magazine (an XXL rating) and Pitchfork (a rare 10/10 rating). The album is also included on Complex’s list of the 25 Rap Albums from the Past Decade That Deserve Classic Status.
2009 brought another studio effort, Til the Casket Drops, before the unthinkable happened—older brother Gene converted to Christianity, even changing his stage name from Malice to No Malice.The decision forced both brothers to venture into solo territory for the first time in their respective careers.
Pusha T is currently signed to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label. His solo debut My Name is My Name, was released last year to rave reviews. No Malice also released his solo debut, Hear Him Ye, in 2013. The album was a stark departure from his previous works that glorified money, sex, and violence.
Whereas many rappers proclaim to know God, No Malice takes his faith quite serious.
A recent CNN special, “Brother’s Keeper,” takes an in-depth look at the Thornton brothers, tracing their roots from childhood into becoming rap superstars and eventually parting ways. I’d recommend it as essential viewing for any Clipse fan (or to anyone looking for a great story) since you get both brothers candidly discussing their feelings on what has been an extremely unlikely turn of events. Despite their professional differences, both clearly love and respect each another.
One of the more powerful scenes involves Pusha T recalling the exact moment when he realized he would never rap alongside his brother again. You can tell it was a shocking blow. A scene of No Malice taking host Bill Weir on a tour of their old neighborhood, while giving a vivid account of his drug dealing days, is just as incredible. While many rappers fabricate their background, specifically when it comes to their histories in the drug game, Clipse truly lived the lyrics they rapped about.
When asked about the possibility of a reunion No Malice firmly states that no amount of money can convince him to go return to his old way of life.
While Clipse was spectacular, really one of hip-hop’s all-time great duos, I applaud Gene for following his convictions in the face of what must have been tremendous pressure from the music industry and friends.
Hip-hop music, in its true nature, has always been about expressing who you are and being unafraid to show others the complete you. In that regard No Malice is a shining example of that.
Although there may never be another Clipse album, fans should take solace in the fact that the bond they share is just as strong as its ever been. After all, that is the true definition of brotherhood.