Before becoming a celebrated MC as one half of the Clipse, No Malice was a member of the United States Army. He was a high school grad with a son on the way and was uncertain about his family's future.
"I was looking for stability," he told MTV News. "I needed it, something that was honest money and something you could count on, benefits and things of that nature. It also [allowed] me to go to school and learn a trade."
From Toy Soldiers To Enlistment
The army move made sense for No Malice. As a kid in Norfolk, Va., the MC (born Gene Elliott Thornton Jr.) would play with toy soldiers and army trucks. His dad, an Air Force air traffic controller, was also an influential figure. One day, he shared stories of friends he lost in the Vietnam War, a conversation that still echoes in No Mal's mind.
"I saw a certain kind of sorrow that I wouldn’t normally associate with my dad," he explained. "So, when I think about Veterans Day, I tend to think about those people who lost their lives, who sacrificed, those who have given their lives and their families who are still here mourning them."
The Army Experience
Thornton served in the army from October 1991 through March of 1994. "I opted for the shortest enlistment," he said. "That was because I didn’t know how I would do in the army."
When he joined, No Malice realized two important things: 1. He wasn't super ready for the exercises. 2. Bonding would be a huge part of this experience.
"I couldn't run for nothing," No Mal said. "And there was this Italian dude named Robert Zappardino. He could really run. And he wouldn’t leave me behind during the [running] test. He could’ve been #1, but he stayed with me. Every other time I tried, I failed. But when it was time to graduate, he helped me through it. So, it definitely was a brotherhood."
That brotherhood also opened Thornton up to different types of music.
"I was listening to country music, believe it or not," he said. "One of the homies was listening to that every day. When I got there, and I was listening to it, I was hating it. By the time it was time to leave, I was loving it. You can definitely learn. That’s what it’s about. It’s a melting pot."
The Generator Mechanic
He also learned a trade in the army as a generator mechanic. During war time simulations, this would be especially handy.
"Whatever called for some kind of electricity, you would have to run it off a generator," he explained. "If there were any malfunctions, you would have to get up no matter what time it was in the night and go out there with your flashlight to fix the generator."
After his time in the army, Thornton chose not to reenlist. "I did it out of a necessity at the time, what I thought would be my best option,” he explained. "I went in and used it for what I could get out of it. When I felt like my time was up, I came out."
Honor And Gratitude
Years after serving, No Malice -- then just named Malice -- and his little brother Pusha T stormed the music game as the Clipse. After multi-platinum success, Thornton's appreciation for his army fam hasn't wavered.
"I think it’s very honorable to serve your country," he said. "I really believe that. So many freedoms that we have are not allotted in other places. I also believe that freedom is not free. There must be sacrifices of some sort.
"So I respect the soldiers and the people that go to fight on our behalf," he continued. "They give up so much. They give up time away from their family. They give up their lives, limbs and body parts. A lot of them have mental scarring from the things that they’ve been through. It’s all a sacrifice, so to me it’s very honorable."