Clipse began their career with a funeral announcement: their own. I think that’s what drew me to the brothers from Virginia Beach. With dollars and drugs swirling around them (Malice and Pusha T had started dealing coke in their teens), they looked into the grave and saw themselves. “The Funeral,” their first single, remembered death with humor, anger, the specificity of experience. As memento mori go, it was the opposite of a similarly titled, much more successful release.
And boy was it dark. Here’s Malice imagining his wife (Tonya—they’d been married eight years) as a widow:
We love sinning but now I answer for that
Apologize to my fam I got you all dressing in black
A long line family and friends they signing in
My niece singing solo organs and violins
Wife in her black veil hands flooded with diamonds
Remaining calm under each arms my children
Clipse got death, but they got resurrection too. It’s rare in pop cultural contexts—it’s rare even in the pews—to hear the afterlife described as anything but an assembly of ghosts in the clouds. For Clipse, though, the resurrection was utterly, grittily real—no phantoms here, but human flesh transformed: “brand new physical frame with no flaws, on my throne that’s guarded by angels with 4-4’s.” Or, as Cyril of Jerusalem put it, “This body shall be raised . . . by putting on incorruption, it shall be altered, as iron blending with fire becomes fire.”
Eleven years after the 1999 release of “Funeral,” Clipse finally died. The group broke apart, but we didn’t quite know why until the release last month of a brilliant CNN documentary by Bill Weir. Weir uncovers that somewhere along the way—maybe after Grindin’, or Mr. Me Too, or their Justification—the two brothers started to see things from different angles. Tired of autobiographical rapping about selling drugs, buying stuff, garnering sexual homage (they were too committed to cash to believe in something called “free love”), Malice told Pusha T he wasn’t interested in a big anniversary tour:
When I think about my infidelities . . . the heartbreak that I caused my wife, that I caused myself. When I think about her forgiveness, how the Word of God repaired us and nothing else. When I think about that; to me, it’s a no brainer. I can’t return to that lifestyle and that kind of way. I don’t have a choice.
Gone were the juvenile dreams of bereavement bling. Unwilling anymore to curse or to rap about drugs, he had disqualified himself from performing his entire back catalog. So Malice changed his name to No Malice and began performing something called Christian rap (a category apparently named so as to repel everyone). Meanwhile, Pusha T climbed aboard one of the biggest rap singles of 2010 to proclaim “Plenty hoes in a baller-nigga matrix . . . the Rolex is faceless. I’m just young, rich, and tasteless.”
The two threads in that first single—earthly glitter and heavenly glory—had come unraveled. No Malice, his face twisted, tells Bill Weir that hip-hop is “the only genre that eats its own babies,”
That money at one time was out for my life. They can’t invent a dollar amount to get me out there. Look at what’s at stake. I can’t tell anyone about selling drugs any more. I can’t even make it look cool anymore. There are people that are dying . . . It’s like what I said earlier. Your race can enjoy it and laugh, and joke, and enjoy, and then get back to business. . . . But I’ve got enough blood on my hands. Enough.
Pusha T, to all appearances more balanced and sane than his brother, sees it another way: “I came up on the same music. And I can say to this day that music has never made me do anything.” He sounds reasonable. Certainly I know that when it comes to consuming violent media and proneness to violence , statistics (or at least the libertarianish young men who wield them) would agree.
Still, I find myself siding with No Malice. However silly his refusal to rap lyrics no one else takes so seriously might seem, I see in it something admirable. Here’s a man who has stared squarely into the grave and come away with the hope that even those with blood on their hands can have bodies made anew. It’s a hope I share: that all us estranged brothers will be reunited, all pulled close to the heart of Christ. As another performer once said:
I’d rather be in a deep dark grave
And know that my poor soul was saved
Than to live in this world in a house of gold
And deny my God and doom my soul.
Matthew Schmitz is deputy editor of First Things.