Even for a rapper, Gene Elliot Thornton, Jr., a/k/a/ Malice, a/k/a one-half of critically acclaimed Virginia rap duo Clipse, has talked about the drug game and all its perks incessantly: money, women, cocaine, intimate knowledge of the metric system. Often credited with fathering the “coke rap” genre, he famously said, “If all I talk about is coke, let that tell you something.” But now when he gets up in the morning, the first thing he does is pray. And while the emcee insists his rhymes always showed a balanced view of the drug game, he wants future Clipse material to inspire his listeners to live fuller, more focused lives. His Christian faith, he says, is now riding shotgun. But what spawned such changes?
At the tail end of 2009, Clipse released Till The Casket Drops, the coke rhymes and luxury-brand shout-outs all accounted for. Ending that album, however, was a tune called “Life Change.” Malice was obviously going through some things, balancing family-man issues with an entertainer’s workload, and watching former manager Anthony Gonzalez get sentenced to 32 years for drug trafficking. With his rhyme partner and younger sibling, Pusha T, tucked safely under Kanye West’s G.O.O.D Music wing, Malice subsequently found the time to self-publish an autobiographical account of his experiences, Wretched, Pitiful, Poor, Blind and Naked (Thor10 Publishing), and produce several “video excerpts” from the book to promote it; one shows Malice dealing with his dream cars being repossessed after he’d missed several payments. [NOTE: Malice clarifies that he never missed payments — his lease was up and he didn’t have the credit score to refinance.]
A coke rapper copping to financial problems? This isn’t your garden-variety street tale. Here’s what Malice had to say about his new platform for expression, his brother venturing off, his complete embrace of Christianity, and his sense of if his cocaine-and-Porsche rap days are indeed over.
So what exactly did you see that made your life change?
Well, without giving too much away about the book, it was an emptiness, really. I remember sometimes I would be in the club. It’d be sooo popping. Everyone’s smiling, shaking your hand… so much going on, but so little genuineness. It felt like a circus act. Just empty. Different aspects of my life started to feel similar.
How is your life different now?
There’s a lot of clarity now. I know for a fact I’m more focused. A lot of clutter is forever removed from my life. My perspective on things that I once deemed important and trivial has changed. A lot of what I tried to attain was like chasing the wind. I have a good grasp on what’s important now. I was chasing all these material things, money, women . . . just looking for fulfillment. Ultimately though, my fulfillment came from my faith.
Are you concerned that people will look at you as some born-again religious fanatic?
Can’t nobody doubt me. I’ve always made mention of my faith. Even on our first album, Exclusive Audio Footage, we had a song called “Watch Over Me.” A better example would be the cover for our second album, Lord Willin’: We got Jesus riding with us. I’ve always tried to give a balanced outlook on dealing drugs and the spoils that come with it. I’ m not pretending to be better now or something. I’m not better than anybody; I’m just speaking on my experiences.
So are you trying to shepherd the weak through the valley, like Jules in Pulp Fiction?
This book isn’t an attempt to get heads to believe what I believe. I just want to share this
miraculous story. I think it’d be such a disservice to show one aspect of the game. We always paint the victor’s picture, when in actuality sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. We rarely show the latter.
Why the choice to publish it yourself?
I knew this was something I had to do, so I went ahead and did it. I didn’t have time to wait around and shop the manuscript to other companies. I reached out to two publishers, and they expressed interest but started dragging their feet. So I started my own publishing company with John Spruill. No ghostwriter, just me. John edited me, but I wrote it.
Back to music: Do you think this may spawn a sub-genre of sorts?
Sub-genre? Maybe. If it comes from the heart, it may make great music. Usually I’ve found that when something is genuine and original, lots of people can relate to it. Especially hardship. It’s like, “Oh, you went through that too? Wow.” It helps to deal with hardship when you know you’re not the only one.
Do you feel any jealousy toward your brother, who now gets to share the stage with Kanye?
I think it’s great for P to be off on his own. Any blessing for my brother, I’m happy. Especially because now it’s only gonna get bigger for him. And at the end of day, if I need to borrow a dollar, he can loan it. We’re still doing Clipse music. It’s just . . . I told him I have to write this book. He understood. I couldn’t do rap right then. I let him read the book. He thought it was phenomenal. He encouraged me to move forward with it. How can I do anything less for him?
The video excerpt you posted about having your Hummer and Porsche repossessed was really noteworthy, because rappers rarely show anything even remotely suggesting they have financial woes. What made you put yours on blast like that?
Like I said earlier, it’s a disservice to only show one side of the game. I wanted to show how reckless I was at that point. I was reckless doing whatever I wanted. “Wealth of the wicked is laid up for the righteous.” That quote spoke to the next person getting my Porsche for the remaining 50k left on it. I’m a firm believer in “You get what you deserve.” I didn’t deserve the Porsche. Maybe I did but I just placed too much importance on it. I had to get my priorities in order.
Let’s talk about Anthony Gonzalez, your former manager, and the other guys behind the wall. How did that play out?
The Porsche stuff hurt my pride, but that wasn’t even that serious. The thing with Tony
Was, it was so surreal. You always hear you’re going to end up dead or in jail if you sell drugs, but I don’t think any of us thought it would happen to our fam. I thought we knew something the rest of the world didn’t. Ironically, in a weird way though, I literally seen it about to happen . . . it was intuition I guess. We were all in Miami. Out of nowhere I ask my man Tony if he’s good. I told him it would break my heart if he were ever in jail. He reassured me he was good. Everything was fine. The whole crew went down the next day. Our homies were supposed to come back on a later flight than us, but they got word that the authorities were waiting for them at the airport. They never made it back to Virginia. At least not as free men.
Are they acting funny about you writing a book?
Well, it’s more based on my experiences but they support the book. They support my vision. Their kids are talking to their dads through that glass, you know? I had to put that perspective into the art. Tony and I got a book we’re working on. It’s called 32, in reference to his prison sentence. It’s a good behind-the-scenes take of the game, before the music and during the music. It’ll be a great piece.