By Sidney Madden, photo by Michael Fequiere. If you went to a house party in the early 2000s, Clipse were more than likely the soundtrack to your night. With raw lyricism and infectious, layered beats courtesy of The Neptunes, the Virginia Beach rap duo put their state on the map with new millennium hits like “Grindin,” “When The Last Time” and “Mr. Me Too.” For brothers Gene “Malice” Thornton and Terrence “Pusha T,” the climb up hip-hop’s hierarchy was rapid and well deserved. In the midst of success, Malice lost track of his soul. But unlike many other rap stars, he was man enough to admit it.
Fourteen years after their debut album, Lord Willin’, six years after announcing Clipse’s separation and four years after officially changing his rap moniker to No Malice, the 43-year-old MC is ready to tell his story of finding God in the new documentary, The End Of Malice. No Malice details losing himself in the business and finding himself again in God in the doc, which premieres on Revolt TV Easter Sunday (March 27). Co-produced by Second Films and Ditoremayo, The End Of Malice features interviews with Pharrell Williams and Pusha T, among others.
The 40-minute film serves as a trip down memory lane for any Clipse fan. In addition to being the on-screen centerpiece, No Malice lends his talents to the film’s soundtrack, Movin Weight, rapping on the lead single “Best Believe It.” Before the broadcast premiere, XXL caught up with No Malice in New York to talk about life after rap, his motivation for getting back in the game and of course Pusha’s G.O.O.D Music presidency.
XXL: In your own words, what does The End Of Malice mean to you?
No Malice: The End of Malice to me is just really Malice coming to the end of himself. The end of selfishness, the end of ego. And I’m not going to say it was so excessive, but Malice was just so into a lot of things that weren’t edifying and just some things he really needed to do away with.
Can you elaborate a little more about the things you needed to do away with?
Sure, about the subject matter, about the consequences I believe it left on a lot of impressionable minds. I believe that what we did… our backdrop was always selling coke, it was always selling drugs and we did it very very well and I feel like the influence, the impression it left on people was just… and I’m not talking about grown people who could listen responsibly. I’m talking about a lot of the youth that listened and enjoyed our music. I just feel like I had to take some responsibility by telling the entire story. Our music was 100 percent non-fiction but there was more to it and I just feel like I had to shed light on the downside. Not everything was so glamorous.
Why do you think it was a film that needed to be made now in 2016?
I feel like especially with everything that’s going on within the community, with the nation… the violence that’s going on, Black-on-Black crime, police brutality. It’s just a lot going on and this film, with all the intimate details and stuff going on, it’s something I wish I could’ve kept to myself. Like, be like, “God, I learned my lesson. Now let me get on the right foot.” But it was just so obvious that this was something that had to be shared on the same platform that I’ve been given.
Was it one specific incident that sparked the idea in you? You said police brutality. Was it Mike Brown’s death? Donald Trump running for president?
[Laughs] That’ll do it! Donald Trump. No, but there were many scenarios I’d seen in my life and my experiences. There wasn’t any one thing in particular, but if I had to choose something, it was definitely the indictment of my manager and my friends and watching the Feds come in and pick up everybody. And we had been celebrating this lifestyle ever since, as far as music is concerned, since our first album dropped in 2002. So for it to come back and bite us in 2009, I could only imagine how many other people fell victim while our music was the soundtrack to their lives. It definitely came back and got us.
Your rise was crazy in 2002.
Yeah, so Lord Willin’ dropped 2002. We had the hit single “Grindin’” which took nine months to break. A lot of people didn’t know what is what that we were talking about at first, it was just that beat. The Neptunes beat, it was just infectious. So later on, people started catching on, saying, “Hey, they talking about coke.” And it was actually a really fun time because we had been trying to get a deal. Finally a deal landed and it was just raw and uncut and we were just venomous as far as spitting. You know, just really enjoying the whole hip-hop thing and being able to share your music with the world and putting on for your state where you come from.
And then what about the downfall of it? You talked about the Feds and all that, but just on a more personal level.
I don’t even know if I can say it was a downfall as far as “success” goes. I had these epiphanies and revelations where I believe our career was about to take off even further. It wasn’t like we came crashing and then I hopped out the music game. I don’t know. It’s just doing the checks and balances of your life. I just always knew something wasn’t right. I knew something didn’t sit well with me personally. And I always make it a point to let people know that what I’m doing now is sharing my experience. I’m not coming in and trying to tell anybody what to do, how to act, what they should or shouldn’t do. But I just want to be responsible with the part I played and what energy I put out into this world.
What was it like telling your brother this?
Yeah, so I told my brother that I wasn’t going to be able to do this anymore and it was hard.
Yeah, he recently retold that story and said how shocked he was.
Well, this was when… I had told him in the elevator. We had just got finished meeting with Rick Rubin. This was before Til the Casket Drops, 2008 maybe 2009. Anyway, we’re sitting in there talking to Rick Rubin and we’re talking about the album and you know, strategies of what we did on the album and the whole time in my head I’m like, “Y’all talk all y’all want. I’m making my exit.” But I hadn’t told anybody anything. So I’m saying, “Yeah, yeah yeah.” Like I’m there but I’m not. So, after that meeting, my brother and I went back to the hotel and we were in the elevator going upstairs and I told him. I said, “You know, I’m not going to be able to carry on. I just see things different.” I made it very clear to him and you know, he respected it.
What exactly did he say?
He said, “Ok, if that’s what you want to do.” He looked a little confused at first but my brother knows me. He knows when I say something I mean it especially something of that magnitude. And you have to understand; at that time we were already talking about doing solo careers to maximize everything. You know, “We’ll do the Pusha T solo, we’ll do the Malice solo, we’ll come back, get the re-up game.” You know, mapping it out. But I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it. So he respected my decision and it was definitely nothing I was willing to debate or have conversations about. My mind was 100 percent made up, yup. And we always respect each other so if he’d told me the same thing I would’ve respected. We had a good season together but what people have to understand is we ain’t married. We not joined at the hip.
What’s his role in your movie?
His role in the movie? It was really good to see and hear the perspectives of how they saw me. My brother and Pharrell, they really paid attention to things that I wasn’t even paying attention to. It’s always good to hear from an outsider looking in and what they remember.
Yeah, stuff you might not even remember.
Yeah. Like “Gene, you was always thinking all the time. I could always tell when something’s bothering you.” And I think it brings a good perspective to the movie because you don’t have to just take it from me. A lot of people saw the change coming very organic. Yeah, and even the fans let me, “Yo, I knew this was coming. I could hear it coming.”
But you haven’t completely left rap. You rap on the soundtrack.
Right. I rap on the soundtrack. Soundtrack is called Movin’ Weight. I got a song on there that’s called “Best Believe It” with a young cat coming out by the name of MD Uno so, make sure you check for that. I’m also on another track called “Can’t Let Go” on the credits. So yeah, definitely.
Would you ever make another solo album?
Absolutely I plan on releasing one this summer. Let The Dead Bury The Dead is the title. Yeah, it’s going to be hard. I’m working with a few cats right now, but I got some tricks in my pocket. I’m going to wait before I disclose that.
What is your motivation to rap now? It’s not creating a landscape of coke and drugs, so what’s the motivation?
Well, I think my motivation now to rap is the fact that I’m not impressed by anything that I’m hearing now. I mean, I don’t know how you can step out of the rap game like I have and come back to it and nothing to me has really changed. As far as rap goes, there are only a handful of lyricists that I appreciate it for being lyricists. A lot of rap to me seems like it’s a bunch of weirdos, you know?
Who do you appreciate as a lyricist?
Oh man, I appreciate Pusha lyrically. And when I say lyrically I mean the art form of hip-hop. I appreciate Drake. I like real MCs. I like Jadakiss. I like Eminem. Everybody talk about “top five,” when they going to realize it ain’t not top five without Eminem. You know what I’m saying? It’s only Eminem. Just guys that still have a love for it. Lyrically I like Kanye, I like Jay-Z. I just like the art form, never mind content. I just like lyric driven hip-hop. The cadence of it, the way it makes you feel, the thought process, the analogies.
What do you think of Pusha’s new presidency role at G.O.O.D Music?
I don’t think you could’ve found a better candidate for the position. Pusha is in the know, he knows music and he knows art, fashion. He just has a good eye for anything and that chalet.
Do you still argue about music like brothers do?
[Laughs] Naw, not at all. We don’t argue about music, in fact we really don’t even talk about music. We don’t talk about anything industry actually. We haven’t done that for years. We talk about family, we talk about issues of life. We get deep, but we definitely don’t talk about industry. No time for that.
Is there anything you miss about the hip-hop lifestyle?
Oh, I miss the budgets! The money, yeah, that’s a good one [laughs]. That’s a given. I miss the money definitely but I miss being with my brother. I really miss the togetherness of being with Pusha and even Ab-Liva, you know. Us being together. In the trenches! Fighting this world together. I miss that.
Great! And why did you want to put the film out on Easter?
Yes, the film premieres March 27 on Revolt. Easter Sunday. Coming back from the dead. Resurrected.
It’s interesting you say coming back from the dead because this film is basically you on the other side of it. It’s like Malice vs. No Malice.
Right, right. You know, there’s a point in time in the film as I’m watching it, it reflects that. I was walking and I was talking to a friend who had came to the concert and I was just looking at his swag, and I’m talking about myself, my swag at the time, and just listening to him talk and I was just like, “I don’t know who that dude is.” It was crazy, like a past life. It was like a stark contrast. Yeah, I was like “Nigga, what up, motherfucka da-dit-da…” and I was like, wow, I ain’t see that dude in a long time. It was crazy.
Why would you say you don’t know that person anymore?
I just hadn’t seen that person in a long time, not that I can’t identify or recognize. It’s just not who I am now. And the fact that I hadn’t been him in so long it just shows that change is real. The transformation is real. I was really that dude at one time. I was really him. Now when I look at it, I’m like,”How the hell could I have ever been him?” You know what I’m saying. It’s crazy.
And growth. I thank God for it.