For most rappers it’s just a dream, but for Gene and Terrence Thornton, a.k.a. Malice and Pusha T of the Clipse, it’s been a reality. Running with their good friends the Neptunes for the past 10 years, they’ve had an endless supply of tracks at their fingertips, beats prophesized to mold either a platinum crossover hit, a bona fide club thumper, or a certified street classic guaranteed to be recited from corners to high school cafeteria tables.
Imagine being that privileged and passing up on the beats only to see everyone from Jay-Z to Britney Spears fulfill the tracks’ destinies as hit-making soundscapes. The Clipse say it’s not a big thing, they have more in the chamber.
“We had first picks of all the beats you hear now,” remembers Malice, 29, the oldest of the siblings. “We had first pick of all of them. When Pharrell [Williams] came up with the beats, he would ask Pusha if he wanted them. We got pick of the litter.”
Despite seeing their peers collaborate with the Neptunes and bathe in success while they waited their turn in the music industry wings, the duo says they have no regrets about not keeping the beats for themselves.
“We gave [them] up for whatever reason,” Malice continues. “Just ’cause somebody else came out with it, it doesn’t mean it was gonna be a hit for us. Everybody who did get them hits, they killed them. We totally give it up to them. They did their thing. [Noreaga's] ‘Super Thug’ wouldn’t have been the same with us on it.”
Besides, they don’t have time to hate. With their song “Grindin’ ” solidifying itself as another Neptunes-produced smash, the crew has had to stick to their M.O. of hustling steadfast (see “Neptunes Withhold The Bling From Clipse’s ‘Grindin’ “ ). They’ve been out performing and promoting their upcoming official debut, Lord Willin’.
“You could tell who’s who,” 24-year-old Pusha says about the crowd at their shows. “You could tell who’s doing what. We just went from Philly all the way down to Georgia. You can tell who is grindin’, who’s getting money, who wants to be getting money. The ladies be feeling it, like they out there grindin’. This was the buzz single and I didn’t expect to get feedback from not one girl. To me it wasn’t built for them. I don’t know how they latched on, but they latched on.”
Ironically, the Clipse first clung to rap when they moved from hip-hop’s birthplace the Bronx to Virginia in the 1980s, before either had reached double digits.
“We come up together,” Malice says about meeting the Neptunes as a teen. “We all from the same area. I was known locally for rhyming and Pharell and Chad started doing their thing with the music and we saw where they was trying to take it and everything just made sense. Everything fell [in] line.”
The brothers scored a record deal in 1998 with Elektra and released the buzz single, “The Funeral”, but after several delays in putting out their would-be LP, the Clipse clipped ties with the label.
“Just some creative differences, man,” Malice explains of why things didn’t work out. “It wasn’t a bad situation. They respected the game and let us off.”
“They just let us go, after we seen it wasn’t going in the direction we wanted,” Push chimes in. “The Neptunes kept it cool by still doing business with them. After that, Ol’ Dirty [Bastard's 'Got Your Money'] came out, and a lot of rap hits from Elektra came out.”
Without a label, the two kept working on music but reverted back to hustling in the streets, a profession they retired from once they initially signed with Elektra (“Grindin’ “comes from that era, Pusha says).
You’ll hear numerous references to selling narcotics in songs like “Grindin’ ” and “I’m Not You,” but the brothers Thornton say they haven’t suffered criticism from reflecting a one-time reality they don’t condone today.
“I haven’t heard any negative feedback ’cause of the [talk of] drugs,” Malice defends. “We don’t glorify it. We’re not saying, ‘Go sell drugs.’ I do not promote that. I say, ‘Do something else.’ ”
They mix and blend themes on Lord Willin’, which drops this summer. “That’s our thing down here in the south,” Pusha explains of the phrase. “If it’s meant to be, it’s up to the Lord. ‘Lord willin’ ‘ is very old-timey. My mother says that every day. My grandmother says it every second. She could just be talking about me going to the store and coming right back.”
“When the Last Time” is the duo’s next single. “It’s a basic club record,” Malice says. “The feeling of the record takes you back to the [Jungle Brothers] ‘J. Beez Comin’ Through.’ It even starts like that. It’s just one of them records that alerts people to run to the floor, prepare yourself. When that record comes on, you gonna run to the floor, put your bottle down. Spill what’s in your glass. You gonna do something to get ready.”
The track list for the Clipse’s debut album, according to Arista Records:
- “Young Boy”
- “Grindin’ ”
- “Got Damn”
- “Ma, I Don’t Love Her” (featuring Faith Evans)
- “FamLay Freestyle”
- “When the Last Time”
- “Comedy Central” (featuring Fabolous)
- “Gangsta Lean”
- “I’m Not You” (featuring Jadakiss and Styles from the LOX)