How hip-hop’s best sibling group lost and found their way.
With the turn of the millennium looming, it was widely thought by many Christians and secular individuals that some sort of horrendous natural disaster was going to occur that would lead to the end of the world, (this was one of many theories that never actually happened). One that stands out in particular relevance to this story was that the turn of the millennium would mark the second coming of Jesus Christ, as he was expected to return to earth after almost 2000 years.
Now, to go as far as pigeon holing Gene & Terrance Thornton as the modern day Jesus Christ would be a little bit extreme, however the pair played a huge part in the coming of a new and refreshing wave in rap music as they formed the duo Clipse, becoming the first big sibling act in hip hop and taking over the world with their incredibly unique style.
Gene and Terrance Thornton, better known as Malice and Pusha T respectively, were born in The Bronx, NYC in 1972 and 1977 and re-located to Virginia Beach with their family shortly after. Growing up as a young black man in the 1980’s and early 1990’s unfortunately provided a very limited career path. Though the pair were raised by both their mother and father in a middle class neighbourhood with a pool in the back yard, something not seen often in rappers of this era, from a very young age they saw their friends at school turning up in impressive cars sprayed in candy colours. Ultimately the brothers realised that there was only one way to obtain the luxuries in life and they turned to the common trap of becoming crack cocaine dealers on their block. Pusha embodies this stereotype spitting, “I’m From Virginia, where ain’t shit to do but cook” on the ‘Lord Willin’’ cut ‘Virginia’.
Older brother Gene once described a time when he was coming home with $700 a day at the age of just 15. Now 41, he sighted greed as the pivotal factor that kept him driven to make such large amounts of money. One day Gene educated Terrance on how to turn their skills as shotters into an art form through rap music. Gene chose to be called Malice, a word that’s definition is to inflict injury, harm and suffering on another being. Whilst Terrance went by the name Pusha T, Pusha being an abbreviation of the name typically used by drug dealers in the ghettos. These names represented who they were on the streets of Virginia at this point in their lives.
Shortly after taking up rapping, the duo caught the attention of a certain Mr. Pharrell Williams, who at that time was one half of the hottest production teams on the circuit, The Neptunes. Soon after, the fellow Virginia Beach resident suggested that Malice and Pusha should form a group, the brothers didn’t like having to write more than one or two verses for each track, so Clipse was formed. It is widely believed that The Neptunes producer has an ability to see something in artists that no one else in the world can see, in his eyes Malice and Pusha clearly possessed some very unique attributes. In 1997 Pharrell managed to secure Clipse a recording contract with Elektra Records, under this label the pair set about recording their debut album Exclusive Audio Footage with The Neptunes handling all the production duties. The release of their first single, The Funeral, did very little but capture the attention of a small fan base which ultimately led to the album being shelved and forgotten about, whilst Clipse were released from their recording contract.
Fast-forward to 2001 and Malice and Pusha are back moving drugs on the streets of Virginia, it’s at this point that Pharrell signs them to Arista Records through his recently established Star Trak Entertainment imprint. On the 20th of August 2002, Clipse released ‘Lord Willin’’, their debut album produced in its entirety by The Neptunes. The album charted at #1 on the Billboard Top R&B / hip hop album chart after it sold 122 thousand copies in its first week. Stand out singles such as ‘When The Last Time’, ‘Grindin’’ and ‘Gangsta Lean’ caught the attention of many.
One person that was particular impressed by Clipse and their debut album was the world renowned pop star Justin Timberlake, who teamed up with the duo on another Neptunes produced beat for ‘Like I Love You’, one of the biggest crossover radio hits of the decade. Later in 2002 came the opportunity for Clipse to perform at the MTV awards with Justin Timberlake as he performed ‘Like I Love You’. For many this was the defining moment in their career, with the world watching the pair held their own on stage taking a particular swagger in their stride and an air of confidence that could be challenged by no other. This was it, Gene and Terrance Thornton, born in The Bronx, NYC had made it.