“I had my eye on Pusha T, like, “What you think you gon' say on my record?”” At that No Malice lets out a laugh.
The rapper is speaking to Impose from his home in Virginia in the run-up to the release of his solo debut album, Hear Ye Him. The back story that prompted No Malice's comment about Pusha, his brother, is by now a well-told one: As The Clipse disbanded after a string of critically-acclaimed albums, No Malice pursued a life path guided by Christianity while Pusha plumped for the glitz of Kanye West's G.O.O.D. Music realm. They've temporarily reunited for the song “Shame The Devil,” which features Pusha acknowledging the perception of their relationship as he spits, “Gene found god/ They thinking we at odds.” But then comes the kicker: “Just opposite ends of two peas in a pod.”
This idea of No Malice continuing the Clipse's work through a spiritual lens is one that defines Hear Ye Him. Over 16 songs, which include production by Chad Hugo, Illmind and S1, he raps about regrets from his prior life and, in stark terms, points out that most times dabbling in the drug game results in death or jail. The album doesn't come off like a sanctimonious religious sermon though: No Malice raps with a combination of emotive determination and street-smart swagger. So as he continues the promotional push behind Hear Ye Him, we chatted it up with No Malice about the interplay between rap and religion.
Hear Ye Him was released on August 18. Was there any significance behind those numbers?
Yeah, there's a Bible scripture that really spoke to me and it's Romans 8:18. It states, “For I reckon that the sufferings for this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in you.” It spoke to me and it was my birthday as well, and it happened to be on a Sunday, so I was like this is definitely the day I'm going to release it to the world.
Will someone who's well-versed in the Bible pick up any hidden meanings as they listen to Hear Ye Him?
I feel like it's pretty straight-forward. I don't think I went in-depth as far as I'm going to lose people. But I'm in a very unique place, bro, and that is why that scripture really spoke to me when it spoke about suffering because the place that I'm in, I'm definitely a believer and for the hip-hop world and my core audience might think it's quote-unquote Christiany, if I can use that word, or too gospel. However on the opposite end of that, for a lot of people in the Christian world is it not gospel enough, you know what I'm saying? So it leaves me in a very unique place and the album speaks to a certain kind of person and listener who may be confused or not understand what the void is in their life. That's where I was at — I was speaking to a void in my life and I had everything.
Why is there that resistance from the hip-hop world?
That is the million dollar question because everyone wants to invoke the name of God! So you would think that maybe it would be accepted. I think that it's because I do it truthfully and that is where you would have the opposition. If you're playing with the name and all that, that's where the opposition is coming from.
Do you get angry when you hear other rappers playing with the name?
No. And the reason being is because I did it too; I did it for most of my career. I would always ride the coattails of the truth. I would say something so profound and biblical and then I would turn around and tag on my own opinion or my own thoughts and ideas to totally mess it up. So I can't get angry 'cause I too once did that.
There's a lyric on the album's title track where you say, “I offered death in almost every line I wrote.” Did you have any specific Clipse lines in mind when you wrote that?
No, there's no individual lines that come to mind, it was more the theories that I spoke about or how good I made a lifestyle that I was living look, you know? So when I say I offered death in almost every line I wrote, it was really nothing good coming out of it especially as I look at my manager who called me yesterday from prison and all of my entourage that's locked up in jail. We celebrated that lifestyle and I look at them now. If you were to ask any one of them about the lifestyle we were celebrating they would most certainly tell you that they would rather have not done it.
Do you feel lucky to be in a place to convey that message?
Yes because without having gone through it I would not be able to tell this story with any kind of credibility. The fact that I actually went through this, and my fans know my music and at least where I come from, it means I have the chance to go and tell that young hustler coming up that it needs to stop. It has to stop somebody. It has to stop somebody from getting killed. It has to stop somebody from going to jail. It absolutely has to.
So do you believe that music can change the course of someone's life?
Let's see. [Pauses] That's possible. You know, the music that people tend to listen to, it tends to dictate their lifestyle. That music as a kid that you bop your head to, you do want to emulate that, you do want to be a part of that culture that your'e hearing. So definitely what you're listening to feeds your soul. That's undeniable — ten out of ten people would have to agree that you're influenced by the music. Now you may not be influenced to the point where you go out and do everything you hear — although some people do! You see, I come from a two parent home so my dad, if he saw something that looked like it was stepping off or getting out of line, he knew how to get it back in line. I was fortunate enough to have that. But not everyone has that.
What misleading songs did you listen to as a kid?
Well I could get with N.W.A. but I wasn't going to go out and shoot somebody, ha ha. They definitely excited a kind of spirit I guess inside me.
The spirit of N.W.A!
Yeah, but I never wanted to go and shoot somebody because of that. I really was into hip-hop for the actual art form of putting words and lyrics together and the expression and the creativity and the analogies and the metaphors and the double-entendres, all of those things. For me, that's what rap was; that's really what I loved about it.
You have a reference to KRS-One on “Blasphemy.” Can you remember when you first heard a Boogie Down Productions song?
Yes! I was at junior high school and it was “The “P” Is Free.” Everybody from New York, my homies from New York that was in school, they was just playing that song and then it made it to underground radio in Virginia.
What was it about KRS-One's voice that struck you?
I think it was just the simplicity of hard rhymes, that boom-bap, it was infectious and I just caught on. You know, I used to live in the Bronx so it was that understanding of hip-hop culture. I have an older brother who was into break-dancing and I used to idolize him: I remember him in the Adidas suits and break-dancing on cardboard.
Did your older brother rap?
Yeah, he did, and that's another thing, I recall the boom-box where you'd have to push play and record and you'd have to talk into the speaker to record yourself. I remember watching him and his friends rapping and I just wanted to be like my older brother.
What was his MC name?
Cowboy, ha ha.
Did he have a crew?
Not a crew that I would know the name of, but his friends were always together. I believe I was rapping a little myself at this point, but it started off with me observing.
Was your older brother any good at rapping?
Yeah, yeah, he was good. He was good at rapping, at break-dancing and at fashion.
Why did he stop rapping?
Life, bro, just life.
Going back to the album, what's the most pleasing response you've heard about it?
That when people tell me I still got it. Or that the way I delivered my lyrics they were able to take it in and weren't put off by someone trying to force-feed them a message. Me coming to Christ, and me being strong in my faith, it did not come from anyone preaching to me or anyone trying to make me feel a certain way. It came from example, it came from God himself, it came from the things that I counted on and the things that I thought were everything from the cars and the jewelry and the money — those were the things that I thought if I had those things I would be fulfilled. And I achieved those things and I was not fulfilled.
How did you feel when you realized that?
Angry. I was angry and I spent a lot of time smoking weed and I did not understand where this was coming from. I was like, “I got everything — everything!” And it wasn't taking care of me emotionally. Everybody was happy to be around me and everybody was smiling in my face and I had all kinds of friends and all kinds of people wanting to do things for me but it was superficial. The people who were not superficial, you kinda put them to the side — or at least I did. I was spending all my time caught up in the whirlwind.
Was there one specific moment when you noticed this?
It's a gradual process and I'm still in the process. I don't want anyone to believe that I have it figured out 'cause I don't. If anything, what I have discovered is more of things not to do, more so than what to do. I guess it's like the process of elimination.
What are some of those things you learned not to do?
It's very important to be in your right mind at all times; it's very important to be in a sober mind at all times and next month I'll be going on my fifth year of not smoking weed. I used to smoke weed like day in and night, first thing in the morning and last thing before I go to sleep. But that was to numb the pain that I was in and for not being fulfilled. It's like with Re-Up Gang, [Ab] Liva used to always say, “Want for your brother what you want for yourself.” You got to treat people like that.
You reunited with Pusha T for “Shame The Devil.” How was that?
Man, working with my brother is second nature to me. With him knowing what I'm about and the way I'm doing things and the way I'm approaching my music know, he knew exactly what to do in a way that would compliment the record and be who he is. I had my eye on Pusha, like, “What you think you gon' say on my record?” I had my eye on him now, don't get it wrong. But it was good to let the fans hear us work together again.
Do you know if Pusha's listened to all of Hear Ye Him yet?
We haven't even talked about that! I haven't even asked him if he's heard the record or not. I think he did but I haven't asked him. We talked yesterday for a long time; it was my birthday at the weekend.
Did Pusha get you a present for your birthday?
Nah, we have this understanding where when you have kids, that's when I lost my right to get birthday presents! He always gives my kids the Christmas and birthday presents! But I still got to get him a gift.
You also have Chad Hugo producing the closing song on Hear Ye Him, “No Time.”
Man, Chad is crazy. You got to get Chad when you can get Chad! He's always joking and he's always doing something silly and it's like, “Chad, I need you to do something serious right now.” And then he'll go and cook up a beat in no time and it'll be great.
Which song on Hear Ye Him are you most pleased with?
That's hard, come on, that's not fair.
Were there any songs that you almost cut from the album?
No, because I still have the same work ethic that I had with Clipse — I don't make a bunch of records and start cutting them off. Every record I make, I know where it's going. From the beginning when I write, I know exactly what's going on.
So what's going to be the next project people hear you on?
You know, Illmind and myself have been doing a lot of talking about putting out an EP and I think that's going to be the next music adventure I do. That's something that we're really serious about, so that might be when you hear me again next.
How is Illmind to work with in the studio?
Illmind is a no-brainer! He's just cool. All I need for him to do is handle his music, you know? And he definitely does that. I've heard tons of music from Illmind and it's so many crazy tracks that it's like working with the Neptunes 'cause they really know what they're doing. One thing that really kinda gets under my skin is when a producer might say, “What are you looking for?” I don't know what I'm looking for! I'm a handle the raps, you handle the beat and you make it hot and make the people love it and then I'll come with the rap. 'Cause if I handle the whole thing, I'll probably mess it up. I know what music and what beats inspire me — when something touches me, that's when I just go in.