Many rap fans care about Clipse more than most people care about most things. Pusha T and Malice routinely put out better, smarter music than pretty much everyone else, managing to make the American dream seem menacing, disgusting, and coldly beautiful. Their drug tales were imbued with a vividity that strongly suggested that it came from a place of lived experience, setting a template that's been emulated by many but matched by none.
These days, the two halves of Clipse are in very different places. Pusha T, of course, is now the prize pony in the G.O.O.D. Music stable and finally seems to have found the pop ubiquity that was elusive for Clipse in their early career. Malice, meanwhile, put himself on a different path.
After it came out that Anthony Gonzalez, Clipse’s manager, was heavily involved with a $20 million drug ring, Malice jumped down something of a rabbit hole, emerging only recently with a memoir and a completely altered perspective on life. He goes by No Malice now, and in the past few months has been making his return to rap. I got on the phone with him last week to talk about his comeback, the status of Clipse, and how he doesn’t mind living his life wrong for so many years.
Noisey: How’s it feel to be back?
No Malice: This rap game to me is second nature. It feels good to be back in the studio. It feels really good to be able to do something with my brother, and with Ab-Liva, the Re-Up Gang. It’s like exercise. You never forget what it is. I just feel like now I got more content, better content. Way more substance. It really means a lot to me.
At what point did you decide to foreground the Christian themes in your music over everything else?
It happened around 2008, but it had always been tugging at me: Any Clipse fan knows that I’ve always made a reference to my faith. That’s really been the theme of our albums. I would mention something, just some really good food for thought, then I’d go back to the lifestyle I was living. The whole Clipse movement and the Re-Up movement, it’s very genuine and very true. We talk about that lifestyle. It’s been a lot of friends going to jail, a lot of indictments coming down, and I think it’s only accurate to just tell the entire story and not just part of it.
What was your reaction when your manager got arrested?
It was a shock. It was always a threat that you lived with. You heard a lot of rumors, but you just never thought that it would happen. And when it finally did, it was like a huge pit in your stomach. It’s still very unbelievable. But it didn’t just stop there with him. Friends keep getting indicted and going to jail, even now. So it’s just a reality that people need to be aware of. And when I say people, I mean any young person who’s emulating this music and thinking that it’s the way to go.
The thing about Clipse is you guys showed both sides of the coin.
That’s always been what the Clipse has been about. And Pusha comes from one angle, I come from another, and I think that’s what the fans really appreciate.
Tell me about your relationship with Pusha now.
It’s the same that it has always been. I think people try to make up things, but we never have any problems. We laugh and joke; everything is cool. We’re two grown men, and any two grown men that are still joined at the hip, to me, there’s something wrong with that. I’m definitely on my path. My lifestyle has changed. I’ve grown a lot and continue to grow. I’m not the same person that I was, and I’m trying to express that in my music. Pusha is doing his thing. He’s everywhere. He’s enjoying his work and everything that he has going on, and we’re proud of him and continue to show support.
Can we expect a new Clipse record soon?
(Laughs)Let’s talk about that later.
I’m sure you get that question every ten minutes.
There’s nothing that I want more than to do a record with my brother. I just, I have a different message, and I’m really focused on what I’m focused on, you know what I’m saying? I don’t rule anything out, but there would definitely have to be some changes made.
Tell me about your faith.
A lot of people get into religion, and they talk about being spiritual, and I really don’t know too much about religion itself. I just have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and I live my life for him, so that for me is what it’s about.
How did you spend the time when you were laying low?
What’s crazy about it is before the rap, and even during rap, you would see certain artists and they would get out of the game and get into their faith, and I had never understood that. Like, we used to think people were crazy, and would even go as far as to call them crazy. But there’s definitely a truth. And when you look at the outcome, it gets no realer than that for me. And when I look at the fact that it took ten years for the life that we celebrated to come full circle and bite us on the backside, I can’t help but think of all the other people who have been affected by it, or other young kids have been affected by being influenced and listening to the music, and thinking drug dealing or violence is the way to go. I mean, it came back and really got us. And I wonder if it would still be that dope if they could see the outcome right now. I just wonder. I’m not too sure that they would. And the Clipse is real. I don’t know about anybody else—I have my suspicions—but Clipse is real.
You don’t swear anymore, do you?
I’m not gonna say I don’t swear. I try not to. But, you know, I’m human.
When you’re rapping, if you need to fill up a space with a syllable, like—
Nah, see, that’s one thing I never did. I never used a swear to fill up a space. It always had a point. It always had a purpose. Whether it was to convey a feeling, or it was the perfect rhyme word, it had a purpose. It never was just for the sake of cursing.
There’s definitely a generation of kids that got into rap because of the Clipse, and I feel like a lot of the younger writers who write about rap got into thinking deeply about rap as a direct result of Clipse.
That’s what’s up man, that’s what’s up. I like the sound of that. I think within Clipse’s music there is also a lot of gems and life lessons. I like to think that when the song goes off, we leave you with something that can benefit you, in some verses.
What’s your favorite Clipse song?
That is the most unfair question in the world to me. I like “Grindin’” of course, for the way it took off, and that signature beat. But I like songs like “Momma I’m So Sorry,” “Cot Damn,” “We Got It For Cheap.” They all really hold a special place close to me because we never just rhyme. We always take it from a certain place and time in our lives, so they all hold some kind of sentiment to me.
Say you had a time machine. What would you go back in time and say to yourself at 20?
I probably would do it the same way. And the reason I say that is because I had to learn from the mistakes I made. I had to go through certain situations, experience them, and see the outcome to allow me to be who I am now. So it’s not that I have regrets, because I really believe the story is still being told. I think pretty much that’s life. You do things, and then you learn from them. And if you constantly learn from your life, and are constantly learning from your mistakes, I think you’re in good shape. When you stop growing and learning and you’re just repeating the same thing over and over again, and suffering the same failures over and over again, that’s when you’ve got a problem. Nobody’s perfect, but just continue to learn from yourself. That’s what’s important.
How old are your kids?
My son is twenty and my daughter’s sixteen.
What is your relationship with them like?
Oh, it’s great. My son’s beside me right now.
Tell him I said what’s up.
(To son) Drew said what’s up. (To me) He said what’s up. He’s on his iPhone, I don’t know what he’s doing. He says he’s on Twitter. We work together. I just recently opened a studio in Virginia Beach and he handles the video department, so our relationship is really good. Close knit family. It’s just awesome.
How do you think having a dad who is a rap star affected the way your kids grew up?
In all honesty, I like it the way that it is now. Before I just thought, you know, I could just buy you everything and that would be sufficient. I spent a lot of time on the road. I mean a lot of time on the road. And money is great, everybody needs money, but it does not take the place of being present. And when I was present, we spent time together and everything, but it’s just good to be there. And I’m glad that I was there as much as I could’ve been. It’s a balancing act. But there was a time I thought that as long as I buy everything, long as all the Christmases was phat, all the back to school clothes were phat, I thought that would make up for me not being there.
When you changed your name, was that a philosophical decision as well?
When I changed my name to No Malice, I was asking myself “Do I want to be known as a malicious person?” The name was about attacking the verses maliciously, but you don’t get to explain that to everybody, and when they see you and associate you with malice, it’s not who I am. I am not malicious, by no means, and I don’t want to be known for that. And when I was younger and it was a stage name and a persona, and it served its purpose. This is just a new time in my life, and like I said, I’ve grown. So I don’t want to be attached to anything negative like that.
That makes a lot of sense.
Everything served its purpose. And listen. If you like the Clipse and you liked Malice, this is not me trying to change and be something different. This is my natural progression.