No Malice Says, "I Expect More Great Things" From Pusha T
Exclusive: No Malice recalls faith-based lyrics dating back to Clipse's "Exclusive Audio Footage," and why there will never be any funny business or dissension between he and Pusha T.
Blood is thicker than water. Flowing together, Pusha T and his brother No Malice (then known as Malice) showed how a family-first approach to Rap worked for them. As members of the Clipse, the blood brothers were a tandem to reckon with, a treacherous duo with Neptunes production to back up their drug-dealer-inspired raps. The duo released a series of album, including 2002’s Lord Willin’, 2006’s Hell Hath No Fury and 2009’s Til the Casket Drops.
But, as many siblings must eventually leave a safe haven together in order to traverse through individual paths, No Malice and Pusha T have decided to move as soloists of late. Some have chalked this up to a family feud, perhaps believing that artistic differences or personal issues have divided them, an assertion they’ve denounced. The two are still close, No Malice says, though he acknowledges that they do not speak about music these days.
No Malice spoke with HipHopDX about his new work and focus. He broke down some of his rhymes in detail, providing insight on his perspective. He also discussed his closeness to Pusha T and detailed the appreciation he has for the musical life they’ve shared as the Clipse. No Malice also spoke about his love for his brother and why he refuses to let anyone disrespect Pusha T.
No Malice Reflects On Clipse’s Debut, “Exclusive Audio Footage”
HipHopDX: You’ve got a couple decades under your belt as an emcee. So how do you approach an album today differently than you did with Exclusive Audio Footage that you did with The Neptunes?
No Malice: These days, for me, it’s a lot easier because it’s so much uncharted territory. It’s like starting with a clean slate, having new ideas and I guess, new beliefs. And [it’s about] just tapping into a whole new realm, just being able to share it and not really recycling over and over things you’ve already talked about.
DX: So when you do look back at Exclusive Audio Footage for example, what thoughts come to your mind?
No Malice: When I look back to Exclusive Audio Footage, I am reminded of how I have always made references to my faith. I’m reminded of where I started from, and I’m reminded of where I’ve veered away from. I am reminded of everything that happened in between that time ‘till now, only to come back to where I started originally. On Exclusive Audio Footage, we had an interlude called “The Prayer.” I pray over the album, I pray over the words and I pray over the way it affects people and what they’re getting from it. I pray for forgiveness, and then right after that is a song called “Watch Over Me,” where me and my brother [pray]. So when I look back at Exclusive Audio Footage I’m just reminded of my origins, I guess.
DX: You talked about your brother. What does he think of your new music?
No Malice: What does he think of my new music? You know we haven’t really talked about the new music. A friend of mine that he’s really close with, that we’re both close with, told me that he really likes the new music. But when my brother and I talk, we don’t talk about music—we really don’t. He won’t talk about my album, and I won’t talk about his album. Yesterday, we talked on the phone for a long time, but we don’t talk about music for some strange reason.
DX: Was it always like that or is that a new development in your guys’ relationship?
No Malice: I don’t think it’s so much him. I think it’s more or less me, because I have become detached from what’s going on in the music world. And, you know, my brother’s success and all the hype doesn’t surprise me at all. It doesn’t throw me for a loop, because I’ve been on tour with him for 12, 13 years. You know what I’m saying? I’ve always known of his greatness and his lyrical ability, and this is not new to me. Maybe the world is becoming more exposed outside of the Clipse, but I am definitely not surprised. As a matter of fact, I expect it and I expect more great things. You know, he respects everything I do. There’s no questioning it and he supports everything I do, otherwise it wouldn’t make for good conversation between us.
DX: So does your detachment from the industry come from you being disappointed by a lot of what you’ve seen? Where does that come from?
No Malice: No, no, no. I’m not disappointed. I’m not disappointed by what I’ve seen or what I see. I’m not disappointed. As a matter of fact, I understand it. I’ve been a part of it, so I understand the thought process. I understand why people say the things they say and why people do the things they do. I understand that. I get it. I believe it’s just a time where at some point, you’ve got to grow up. At some point, you’ve got to wake up. I think everything is about growth. You know, you’re here one minute, and you live that kind of life, and you do what you do. Then you learn, make mistakes and you get better in it and—everything should be about growth. Life in itself should be about growth.
No Malice Says Spirituality “Opened His Eyes”
DX: And it seems like the development has come with a lot of spirituality. Would you agree?
No Malice: I don’t think it would come without spirituality. I think that without spirituality you stay in the some bubble. Without spirituality, your eyes have no need to open. Like, you don’t need to see further than what you see, in my opinion.
DX: When you talk about, “Pitching keys like a tent without blinking / Served our own moms, without blinking.” When you talk about that, what do you think lead to that for you?
No Malice: Well, that’s real, because I would see my friends serve they own momma. You’re so caught up in getting money, if your mom is addicted to drugs or whatever, and she go get her drug friends and bring money back to you from them, then you give her a little taste just because she brought all her drug-using friends back. So you give her something for free. And you so caught up in getting money, did it appear to you that you just served your momma? You just served your momma. You know, that money will blind you, and you’re not thinking what you’re doing. And I’ve seen a lot of my friends do that. And so I’m like, “We even served our own mommas without blinking!” Like, we ain’t even think about it. But boy, that’s your momma. So, I literally seen these things and at the time, I didn’t think about it. I thought it was cool. Your mom is bringing you money…that’s cool.
DX: Yeah because you say you were, “Walking dead, clueless, no inkling.” So it shows that you weren’t thinking about it all, and neither were the people that you’re describing here. So what allowed you to wake up to that reality?
No Malice: Like I said, it is definitely my belief in Jesus. My belief in… As I read the word of God, it speaks to me. It speaks to me in such a way that it has literally changed my lifestyle, and it didn’t come from nobody else. It didn’t come from no creature. It didn’t come from somebody telling me, “Hey, you living wrong” and pointing their finger at me. But as I became immersed in the Word of God, the Bible, it literally applied those theories to my life. It woke me up, and I was like, “Oh, this is talking about exactly what I’m going through.”
And money, money was definitely a blinder, because when I was making all of that money, what I did was… It was basically all for myself, and then I would help out those closest to me. But when you look at the grand scheme of things, what are you doing on the whole? What are you talking about? What are you feeding people? And I’m not condemning it. I’m just explaining. You said I was “walking dead,” and “clueless.” As long as I’m getting money, I don’t care what I’m saying. Like, who cares? I don’t care. I’m getting money. You know what I’m saying? So I was able to realize that that isn’t so important.
DX: Yeah, because, like you just talked about money. You say, “Gotta get that money, huh? Nah, I’m chilling.” So it doesn’t matter as much to you?
No Malice: Right, right. Money is a necessity, and we need money. But when you put money up against humanity, it doesn’t equal out. When you put money up against your brothers and sisters—and not only that, but at the same time—these are the people supporting you. These are people buying your records. So, in all honesty—and I would really believe nine out of ten people would have to agree—you would have to really love your brothers and sisters. You would have to love your followers. You would have to love them to care about what you’re saying to them or what you’re making look good to them. If you don’t love them, then you can feed them anything. Just pay me.
DX: Yeah, I mean, you do talk about “Dead-End Rap.” Is that what you’ve witnessed before you said you detached yourself from Hip Hop; that “Dead-end Rap that can’t even crack its glass ceiling.”
No Malice: Yeah, yes. It’s like a hamster-wheel, bro. It’s not bearing any fruit, and nothing comes out of it. It just goes over and over again. Like really, what good is coming out of it? Trust me, when I speak to you in doing this interview, and let me be very clear; I’m just talking about myself. I ain’t pointing at no other emcee or no other rappers. I’m not condemning Hip Hop, and I will never do that. I’m talking about myself. And not only that, but my story is real. The life I once led is a real life. And I look at my manager, Anthony [“Geezy” Gonzales] who’s in jail right now. I look at my man, Rat King. I look at my man, Raymond. I look at my man, J Mac. I look at Little Larry. You know what I’m saying? I look at Sean. I just look at everybody, and they all locked up right now. Right now. And they were home with me. They were overseas with me; they were traveling with me, and we were celebrating.
And now, you can ask anyone of them, was it worth it, and every last one of them is going to say “No.” You can ask their kids, is it worth it? You know, all the brand new clothes and all of that. You can ask their kids right now, would they rather have daddy home? They are going to tell you, “Yes.” You can ask their wives, “Do you wish your husband was home?” They are going to tell you, “Yes.” You can ask their parents and friends, and they’re all going to tell you the same thing. So I’m just telling the entire story, man. Like, I’m telling my entire story. I would be doing my fans a disservice to only tell one side of the story. I have to tell the whole thing or I’m being fake.
DX: Yeah, I mean, its natural for an emcee to evolve over time. And this evolution, like you said, it seems like it was coming out at different times throughout your career. What are other moments in songs that you’ve done, as a member of The Clipse in the past where you can pinpoint where you kind of saw this development already creeping through your perspective?
No Malice: Definitely on “Popular Demand (Popeyes).” [I say,] “If I’ve mislead any kid that’s fatherless, that burden’s on my soul as long as I exist.” On “Freedom,” I can’t remember the verse, but I definitely know I was blacking-out. I know I was blacking-out on “Life Change.” I think I’m pretty much known for having that conscience in all of my raps from the beginning. I never just painted it as, “This is so glorious.” I always gave as best as I could—both sides of the equation, as I knew it to be.
DX: Now, how is it different, in your eyes?
No Malice: In my eyes, now, I just feel like it doesn’t deserve all the attention that I gave it. Even though it’s authentic, and it’s a true story, I don’t think it deserves all that attention, man. My thing with Hip Hop and the rhymes we write is that we paint pictures. We use analogies, metaphors, double entendres, like we really… It is an art form to us. The canvas was just a lifestyle to us, and some people don’t really get what we’re doing in those verses. I mean, remove the canvas and it still really, truly is art. [It’s more than] just putting those words together, and we ain’t just rhyming A, B, C. We doing something special in those verses, and that’s what I really like about the Clipse.
DX: That intricate rhyme style, you’re saying?
No Malice: Yeah. It’s an intricate rhyme style, it’s intentionally thought provoking, and it’s incredibly articulate. And it’s real. So I don’t think you get a better combination.
The Potential For A Pusha T & No Malice Reunion As The Clipse
DX: And that’s why people are excited for anything by the Clipse. As much as they love you, as No Malice, and as much as they love your brother, as Pusha T, people are very excited for anything Clipse related. What can you tell your fans about any developments with the Clipse as a group and any group album?
No Malice: For me, that’s what “Shame The Devil” was all about. Because I know people still want to see the Clipse together, and they still want to see us collaborate. With that song, I made a way I can be true to my beliefs and how I feel, and Pusha stays true to his art form. So we really wanted to give that to the fans. Me and my brother have discussed Clipse and things we would like to do, but that’s still in the making, because I’m not going to compromise anything. What I believe is not up for debate, and what I believe is not up for any kind of hackling or juggling. It’s not up for none of that. I don’t rule anything out if we come up with a way that’s going to make the great music we can make and be for the betterment of people. So yeah, I leave that door open.
DX: But up until now you haven’t found that ability to balance?
No Malice: Up until now, Pusha has been doing his thing, traveling everywhere, working and doing everything he’s been doing. And I’ve been working on my solo project. So we haven’t really put too much attention into that. That has definitely not been priority.
DX: But it’s exciting because I know you’ve talked about blood being thicker than anything. So the prospects of your relationship continuing and your collaborations not being completely over bring some optimism to your fans.
No Malice: Well, it brings optimism to me. Like I said, I don’t rule anything out. I’m witnessing bro, and I’m just like anybody else. If you would have asked me, like five, six years ago, I never thought I would be where I am now. I never thought that my soul would be so heavy or that my conscience would take a turn the way that it did. I could not even imagine that, bro. So that lets me know right there that I’m not in control of anything. Life takes its turns according to what life shows you and the way that you choose to respond to it. I’m witnessing, and I ain’t going to say, “Oh, I’ll be good now,” or “Oh, I’m going to try to do better.” I didn’t do that. I didn’t make this decision for myself, so I don’t know what the future holds. I have learned to stop saying what’s going to happen in the future ‘cause I don’t know.
DX: Yeah, and I think you bring light to the relationship when you talk about, “The Clipse break up / Well it’s not strange, if I’m Abel to this Caine.” That relationship is still a strong one.
No Malice: Between me and my brother?
No Malice: Yeah man, but listen—see, that’s what I love about my brother and myself. We all are dummy-proof. We’re not going to let Hip Hop, we’re not going to let media speculation… We were brothers first before any of this. And if I decide to change my life or do something different with my life, or if he decides to do something different with his life, we’re not Siamese twins where we got to do everything together. You know, we’re not even twins.
And we don’t get caught up in that, “I have to do this, and you have to do that.” No. At any point in time, you say you tired of this or you want to try something else, the only thing we can do is respect it. That’s the only thing we can do, ‘cause at the end of the day, he has to live his life and do whatever is right for him and his soul when he go to sleep at night. And I have to do what’s right for me when I look in the mirror. So I count it as a blessing that we have already had a chance to work together side-by-side, tour the world together, share experiences and laughs and memories. Man, that’s a blessing in itself. So I respect that. It’s no funny business, or it’s no dissension between us. Nah man, when I see my brother and he’s doing something, the only thing I can do is appreciate and be happy. As long he’s happy and and his soul is right, I’m happy for him. I don’t have to be right there. I don’t have to be there for me to be happy about what he’s doing. It’s not contingent upon me. Me being happy is not contingent on me being a part of what’s going on over there. No, I love him from afar. Like, whatever he does. And nobody’s going to talk about him.
Why No Malice Stepped In During Pusha T’s Beef With Lil Wayne
DX: And when someone did, you stepped in, right?
No Malice: Man, listen—nobody’s going to talk about him. Period. Nobody.
DX: They’re going to make you take the “No” out of your name?
No Malice: Yeah, man. Look, I hope they don’t do that. But you know, all of it is in good fun, and really just trying to uplift through your art when you can. It ain’t about beefing with people and arguing and fussing. Everybody’s just trying to make a living for themselves and trying to have quality of life.
DX: But as an emcee, it starts to get your blood boiling when someone says something about you?
No Malice: Yeah, I guess if you let egos get in the middle of things. And see, that’s another thing that I’ve come to understand about reading the Bible and things. It’s about letting go of yourself, like, not to be easily offended and not to think higher of yourself than you ought to. Like, “Oh, you said something about me.” Now you go crazy. No. No one’s above nothing. So what if you said something about me? So what? Who are you? That’s how we should look at it. But instead we take it personal and let it get to us. And like you said, our blood starts to boil. Nah man, it’s not that serious, because there’s way bigger issues. And really, if you spend more time counting the good things that’s going on rather than looking at the negative, you should find that you’re pretty much on the upside of things.
DX: But when Wayne said that about your brother, was that your thought process or were you thinking something else?
No Malice: What I was thinking was, “Oh, you talking about my brother?” You know what I’m saying? And then he said, “And anyone who love him.” So I was like, “Wait a minute, the whole world knows me and my brother been together all the time.” Then I started thinking, “Wait a minute, my mother love him.” So, it got a little personal, man. But I will honestly say this, man—and I’m being serious—I don’t want to see nothing bad happen to nobody. I don’t want to see nothing in Hip Hop. And when I see any of these people face-to-face, it’s not like I’m going to go say, “Oh, you said something about me?” It’s not about that at all. I probably will laugh, throw my head up and keep moving.
DX: Because of what you’re talking about, of letting go of your ego?
No Malice: I would probably do that anyway, you know? [That was] before my life changed. Like I said, everybody got a right to say what they want to say, man. And chances are, they’re not going to say it in your face anyways. So, it’s not really that serious.
DX: Now, we talked about your career from Exclusive Audio Footage and beyond. The Neptunes were instrumental in that career. What can you say about how you’ve witnessed their growth as producers and as people in your time working with them?
No Malice: Oh man, it is definitely life lessons to be learned. And me getting to see behind-the-scenes—and seeing what outsiders or what the world see—I can honestly say there are life lessons to be learned on everyone’s behalf. I’m only at liberty to talk about mine, so that’s why I do it, ‘cause I know this ain’t just about me. I’m not the only one in life who goes through things, but I don’t mind sharing my story.
When I look at The Neptunes, knowing where they come from and what they have grown to be, it’s like awesome to witness that. Chad and I are very close, you know? Pharrell and I were close, but you know, he’s just in Miami, and he’s doing his thing. But Chad and I hang out; we go to dinner, and he comes over. I’ll go pick him up or something like that, and we kick it. Just watching how they’ve grown is amazing. To see the things we go through with people let’s you know that life’s real.
No Malice On Versatility & Previous Work With The Neptunes
DX: And working with then for so long, how does it impact the way you choose beats today?
No Malice: Even with Neptunes beats, I had the feeling, because it was just Neptunes and it was automatic. It just so happens that almost everything they did, I felt. So now, when I listen to some music or I’m looking for production, it just depends on how it moves me. If it moves me and I’m feeling it, I’ll go ahead and write to it.
DX: Was there ever a Neptunes track that you recall really wanting that you didn’t get?
No Malice: Well it was always after the fact. If we heard something before it got out, it was ours even if we had to pull it from somebody. We definitely got it. There were songs that got out that I definitely wish I got my hands on like, “Pass The Courvoisier” and “Southern Hospitality.” You know, those got out before I could even say, “Hey, hold up. That’s ours.” You know what I’m saying? But that’s pretty much how that worked.
DX: So what did you tell Chad and Pharrell when “Pass The Courvoisier” came out?
No Malice: Pharrell was like, “You wanted that?” I said, “Cuz, that is crazy.” He said, “You like it like that?” I said, “Yo, that thing is crazy, man. Crazy.” He was like, “Man, if I had known…”
DX: Yeah, their career from working with Gloria Estefan and Britney Spears to Roscoe Coltrain and Slim Thug—I mean, those are very different artists to work with. Has that kind of career journey helped you broaden your own horizons to different artist that you might work with?
No Malice: I think it comes from being from Virginia, because Virginia is just the military town. So we got people here from everywhere. You know kids, and parents in the military are from Kentucky, Wyoming and all different places. So we’ve always been exposed to all different kinds of Rap. We could always tell who’s really doing their thing coming from a certain region. I think we always had that mind of openness that it could be done. Anything that the Clipse gets on, I think we stay true to ourselves. That’s why were able to do the remix to “The Call” with the Backstreet Boys. We did that song with Justin Timberlake, and we’ve always been able to just be who we are. We don’t switch it up; we just be who we are and try and compliment whatever record it is.
DX: What do you remember most about that era when you were doing remixes with Justin Timberlake or the Backstreet Boys or the other pop stars that you got to work with?
No Malice: What do I remember about it? I remember everything. Is there anything in particular?
DX: Yeah, like a strong memory that comes to mind when you remember just lacing these remixes for artists that maybe people didn’t expect you to work with.
No Malice: I remember Justin, and I remember how excited he was about how the music turned out. He told me how much he really liked my verse, and I remember the chance that he was willing to take with street dudes on a record, and him coming from a whole different background. I was just surprised of his willingness and how he got it so easily. I really think he’s black. In real life, I think Justin’s black. But he totally got it, or whatever. We did the whole VMA thing, and we went to L.A., shot the video and partied with his parents. It was just a real cool vibe…it was a real cool vibe.
DX: You were getting on every remix.
No Malice: Yeah, yeah, definitely. And that comes from just having The Neptunes. They was opening up all those doors, and we really had it great.
DX: So what point did you step back and say that life needed to be re-evaluated? Or what point did it hit you, because you said it hit you unexpectedly?
No Malice: Yeah, well you know, it just happened when I had a chance to be put in a box where I couldn’t look left, right, front or back. I had to be focused, or I had to re-evaluate my relationship with my family. I had to re-evaluate my relationship with myself. I would do whatever we did out on the road or—you know, party or whatever. But it was like at nighttime man, my soul was not intact, and I would have night sweats. I just wasn’t comfortable with myself and the lifestyle I was living. It’s funny, because during the day we were at the parties, and you might be drinking, or smoking some weed, and you’re the life of the party. But then, when you go home and it’s quiet, it’s like utter torment. That’s how it was for me. It grew to the point where I knew something different needed to happen…that God was trying to get my attention. I actually wrote a book about it called Wretched, Beautiful, Poor, Blind and Naked. And I go into great detail, step-by-step, everything that led up to my life change.
No Malice Compares Authorship To Rapping; Avoids The Term “Fans”
DX: When you look at writing rhymes versus writing in a book form, what do you see as the biggest difference for you?
No Malice: Well the biggest difference for me was, there was no trying to be cool. There was no trying to be creative except for when you’re really trying to make the reader understand what you’re going through. So at times, you really have to be very descriptive. But it was no trying to see what word rhymes with this and pull of the complete idea that you’re trying to pull off. When you write the book, you just bear your soul and it’s no being cute. It’s just telling people what you want them to know, and it just so happens that the story in itself is extremely captivating. That would be the biggest difference.
DX: So do you see yourself continuing in writing in that manner?
No Malice: Man, I can’t wait to get back to writing books, because its still a lot of things that I’m seeing. There’s still a lot of things I’m experiencing, and its still a lot of things to share with the… I don’t like saying fans, because it makes me feel kind of funny. I guess it’s the audience, listeners or people that support my music—that’s what I would rather say. But there’s still a lot things that I want to show them and share with them.
DX: What makes you uncomfortable with the word fan?
No Malice: I don’t know. I guess it makes me feel like a pedestal kind of feeling. I remember being on stage, and I would see people going crazy. They’re falling out and just reaching for you. And the whole time I’m on stage, I want tell them, “Just enjoy the music, man. It’s music.” I don’t like to being made to feel I’m some sort of god or something, and that’s real. Even before my life change, I just wanted to say, “Calm down. We going to do this show, and y’all going to enjoy it. Enjoy the music and the raps and stuff.” But when I saw people losing their minds, it kind of made me uncomfortable. And I’ve seen that quite a few times.
DX: So now you just prefer to call them supporters?
No Malice: Yeah. I’ll use fans just because that’s what people understand. Now that Twitter is out, I’ll say followers or friends. But the thing is, [fan can be short for] fanatic, and that’s a little scary to me.
DX: Long time listeners of the Clipse might have been either surprised or just really interested in the new developments in your life. What would you tell them about Hear Ye Him?
No Malice: That I am still busting. I don’t know what they thought or what kind of pigeonhole people tried to put me in. I don’t know if they thought that because you try to do more positive things that now the music is corny. Man Hear Ye Him couldn’t be anything further than that kind of typecast. Hear Ye Him is real, and it’s fussing; it’s lyrical-driven Hip Hop. And It’s just crazy man…it’s crazy. So whatever you thought it was, you owe it to yourself to come get a piece of it, ‘cause this is real.
DX: Do you worry about that…being typecast, being pigeonholed?
No Malice: No, no, no, no, no. I don’t too much worrying these days. I feel like I did what I was supposed to do. I told the stories that I was supposed to tell, and I was honest about it. I was truthful about it. What else can you do? What else is in your power? Nothing else is in my power, so I refuse to worry about it. I did what I needed to do, and I did it. And now, you know, it’s out there.
DX: And now you’re still doing it, it just happens to be a different kind of truth.
No Malice: Definitely…definitely.