The Clipse make coke rap cut straight out of Virginia. But Pharrell’s favorite rapping brothers, Malice and Pusha T, have a discernible New York streak running through their rhymes. Which is no surprise given that they were born in the Bronx and grew up smitten with the aura of golden era MCs like Big Daddy Kane and Rakim. Further boosting their VA-to-NY connection, their grandmother played family matriarch from the stronghold of her Bronx building, a time later immortalized by Malice in the song “Young Boy”: “Spoiled the grandkids, each one she would treasure/Said she kept two guns and to do so was a pleasure/The cigarette dangle, 45-degree angle/Still every bit a lady but you don’t wanna tangle.” Pusha also traveled up to New York to spend his youthful summers under her watch, as he recounts here. In advance of the duo’s two shows in NYC this week–at Baruch College during the day tomorrow, and at the Highline Ballroom that night–we asked Pusha for a guided tour of his childhood haunts.
“I was actually born in New York, in the Bronx. My family were the ones who migrated first to Virginia, and eventually all my family did, but we’re from New York originally. My grandmother lived in the Bronx and my sister lived in Harlem. I don’t remember too much about being there then cause I was young. But Malice, who’s older than me, has definitely mentioned seeing and hearing hip-hop everywhere at that time–like coming from the park through everyone’s apartment windows.”
“I went up to stay in the Bronx every summer as a child after school was out. My grandmother lived in Silver Towers on Gun Hill Road in the Bronx. My mother would send me up there to go since I was young. You know, my brother might beat up on me all summer so she’d rather have me up there staying with family while my parents worked. I loved being there.
“My grandmother was a very independent-minded woman and she liked to instill that same independence in me. So she’d basically let me do anything in the world and when you’re in New York City as a kid it’s like, ‘Wow, I get to run around with my friends all day in this city where there’s just so much stimulation around you!’ Even though I was among such chaos, my grandmother didn’t have a worry in the world about me.”
“As a kid, I used to go to this place called Rambo’s pizza. It was a great pizza shop in the Bronx that had all this Sylvester Stallone memorabilia decorating it! I don’t even think any of it was for sale – it was just posters and toys and memorabilia all over the place. I used to buy slices there to eat, then wash them down with shaved ices with a flavor in them. You eat that all day long, then go over to the basketball courts – that was a day for me over the summer.”
“It’s always been a sneaker thing with me. In New York back then, I’d go down to 125th Street in Harlem and just hit up the stores there. Not even one specific spot, just whole blocks. There were certain things that New York was very hip on and very quick on with fashion. Like Starter jackets, I remember they were the big thing at one point and I was the first one to come back to Virginia on that. But Virginia is more Southern, so as far as winter coats, they don’t always translate, you know, or you might only have those couple of months you can wear them. What’s the worst fashion mistake I’ve made in the name of hip-hop? Ah, it’s gotta be Cross Colors!”
“Coming to New York, all you’d hear would be hip-hop. Totally hip-hop everywhere. That was the soundtrack. I’d come up and see my cousins, who’d stayed in New York, and I’d be talking about how Run-DMC was the best. They’d hit me back like, ‘What? Are you serious? Rakim is the best! You ain’t heard that, huh?’ New York was always so far ahead of what was hot in hip-hop. Then, you know, of course I’d go back to Virginia and go around telling everyone how Rakim was now the best! It always opened my eyes to things.
“Even later on when we were a little more up on things, I remember calling up my cousin, Snapper, who lived in the Bronx and just talking about things like the new record by Big Daddy Kane or Kool G Rap and going over and over the lyrics. I guess those days are definitely instilled in the way that me and my brother rap today.”