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09 November 2007

Exclusive: Clipse Q&A

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Clipse are hip-hop’s Internet kings. If there was a way to track illegal downloads, their ’06 masterpiece, Hell Hath No Fury, would have long ago hit multi-platinum as opposed to the 194,000 units SoundScan claims they’ve moved. Then again, the Internet was only one bump that brothers, Terrance “Pusha T” Thornton and Gene “Malice” Thornton, hit on the road to following up their ’02 debut, Lord Willin’. There was also a four year-struggle with label politics and maneuvering, that kept getting Hell postponed, and which reached a level of animosity high even by today’s industry standards. Yet that period also helped cement the Virginia natives’ legend, via a pair of mixtapes -- We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, recorded as the Re-Up Gang with Philadelphia’s Ab-Liva and Sandman -- that made them every hipster’s favorite MCs. (Hence, Internet love.)

With Hell...solidifying their reputation for authentic coke raps, Clipse found themselves in the enviable position of being label free agents, parting ways with the Pharrell-operated Star Trak and Jive earlier this year. Rick Rubin and Columbia reached out immediately and the result is a joint venture for Clipse’s new imprint, Re-Up Records. Plans for next year include Re-Up Gang’s We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 3, and the first Clipse album not to be solely produced by the Neptunes; Danja and other producers will contribute. Pusha T and Malice talked about it all, when we spoke to them in late October.

Rhapsody: What were you looking for when deciding what label you’d sign with?
Pusha: A different way to secure our futures in this music industry. I was also looking for the ability to put out as much music as I wanted. We haven’t been able to come out with a consecutive amount of music. If [Columbia] or any other label was going to give us a label situation, I wanted it to be reminiscent of the Suave House Era or the No Limit era.

How much is your deal actually worth?
Pusha: The deal in its entirety is worth $1.8 million with different bonus options, [and] also the retaining of our masters on everything under Re-Up. We don’t get to keep masters on Clipse.

How did you guys go about telling Star Trak that you were going with Sony?
Pusha: Pharrell knew the whole way that there were other options on the table. We kept them in the loop because ultimately we always try to keep it a family situation. I was actually on the phone with Pharrell and the rest of the heads of Star Trak up until 11 [the night before we signed]. I made my decision with them on the phone. They were breaking down their deal for me, and I was breaking down my deal for them. At the end of the day, they were like, “Your deal’s better.” The 50-50 joint venture aspect of it, and monetarily it was definitely better.
Malice: There's nothing to talk to Pharrell about. I wasn't in on that call, though. That s**t is not rocket science. This deal was the s**t and that one was not. We with the Re-Up Gang and it was a situation that was suitable for them as well. [Columbia] just moves with the sense of urgency that made me feel like there was some interest there with Clipse. Solo rights is a big thing to me. As far as the situation we got into [at Jive], without having the right to do solo projects, we couldn’t do anything. That happened one time and it’s not gonna happen again. Pusha and I were stuck in a situation that had nothing to do with us, [and] if we would have had our solo rights, we could of went elsewhere and still did a Malice or Pusha solo album.

Are you planning to do solo projects?
Malice: If it comes to that. Right now, my focus is the Clipse and the Re-Up Gang. I feel like a solo project could be dope because you have to have freedom to do you, period. In the future, that might be something I want to entertain.

Did you feel like not having Star Trak involved with the deal with make things run more smoothly?
Malice: Not all at. We never left Star Trak. We were left at Jive. If we had our choice up until this point with this kind of deal, we would have been with Star Trak. We rolled with Star Trak through four years of waiting and paying lawyer fees out of our own pockets. That’s loyalty and friendship right there. There comes a time when you got to do what works for you. And I learned that clearly from Pharrell. He’s always taught us this is business. He's damn sure about his business. All his moves we respect and never challenged. We just took it as “That’s Pharrell.” I’m sure he has nothing but respect for our business decisions as well. If you take it as something personal, then you’re just wrong. But we both know better.

Did that strain the friendship with Pharrell at all?
Malice: Nah, I think that we have a certain etiquette that we’ve always followed as friends and as business partners. You don’t have expectations of people. This whole industry is madness. If something went wrong, I couldn’t blame Pharrell. Nobody don’t care about your hardships. People just wanna see a victory. It ain’t even about friendship, Neptunes, or Star Trak. This is real people with real families tryin’ to provide a better life and that’s what it’s about. That’s what I’m in it for, not to have an attitude or be pissed at anybody.

Why did you guys decide not to have Neptunes produce the next album?

Pusha: I think it’s just the growing thing. I think we made definite classic albums with the Neptunes. I’ll miss The Neptunes, but creatively we have to grow. I’m extremely happy about the music that we have now. It’s helped me, because I’ve never had to sit down with 50 beats and do the tedious work of trying to find the one beat. At the end of the day we’re still gonna be doing music with the Neptunes
as well. P called the other day saying he had four beats ready right now. [He and Chad
] were together actually when I got that call.
Malice: It’s not [just] about wanting to change, it’s business as well. You don’t want to spend your whole budget on super-producers. That ain’t always smart business. Me and my brother, we rap. That’s what do. We just need a hot track. It doesn’t matter who it’s from.

But Danja is a super-producer. He’s not cheap.
Malice: It’s not always about cheaper, it’s about if you got what works. If you got that fire then that’s what makes sense.

A Wall Street Journal article quoted his prices at $50-100,000 per track. So is he giving you a hometown discount?
Pusha: I could never put Danja out there and put him under that type of pressure and tell you if he gave me a discount.

Were you guys holding off releasing We Got It For Cheap Vol. 3 because you didn’t want to take the chance of Jive holding on to you if you got hot again?
Pusha: We do mixtapes in that era of like ‘94, ‘95, ‘96, or ‘97. A lot of mixtapes today are original records, whether they’re half-a** or whatever. We don’t do music like that. We do it in the spirit of rhyming over what’s already hot in the market. We used to hear Jay-Z rhyme over “Who Shot Ya.” How it is right now, I can’t personally rhyme over “This is Why I’m Hot,” “A Bay Bay,” or “Soulja Boy.” So we’ve been waiting for different albums to come out. The whole Re-Up Gang is in Virginia
right now doing Volume 3.

I heard someone bought the ReUpGameRecords.com URL just to work with you?
Pusha: Yeah. He bought it and tried to bribe us into working with him. We offered to buy it back from him, and he was like, “No, I wanna be the one to take your press pictures, and be in business with you guys.” It just shows you how desperate people are.

Tracking back a little bit, do you guys have any regrets about putting out “Wamp Wamp” as the second single off Hell Hath No Fury?
Pusha: Nah. We get money from these shows so you need that upbeat energetic record that will dictate the mood of the crowd. We knew this album was gonna be a fan album anyway.
Malice: You can’t tell me nothing about “Wamp Wamp.” The steel drums in that s**t is crazy to me! But looking back, I think I would of went with “Nightmares.”

MTV’s Mixtape Mondays initially published that Malice would be open to working with Lil’ Wayne. Is that true?
Malice: Yeah, what is that about? Who said that? They said they fixed that though. The only thing he asked me is if I had a problem with Lil Wayne. I was like, “Nah. I don’t even think that way.” I felt like Wayne talked a little slick about the Clipse in his interview. We addressed that. To me it’s over.
Pusha: That was an editorial mistake. I don’t got a problem with Wayne, anyway. Wayne puts out a lot of music, and I think he should get credit for that. I ain’t never gonna talk to him. The guys I rap with, they talk the language, he talks a lot.

Did going back and forth with Wayne mess up your relationship with Baby?

Pusha: It is what it is. The only people I’m cool with is my family, and the guys who are out here. I’m from Virginia and I know how to be cordial with everybody. Is any rapper out here my homeboy? Hell no. Well, Baby ain’t either. Me, my brother, Gillie, and him wrote a great song together.

You guys were the first street rappers to work with Justin Timberlake. What did you think when Pharrell came to you with that idea?

Pusha: At that time, P could do no wrong. So when he came in here and talked about doing a record with Justin, I thought it was a great idea. Pharrell is probably one of the most credible producers ever. All at one time, the street hit was “Grindin,” and he had the Justin Timberlake record, the N.E.R.D record and the Nelly record. He covered every level of listening. He was the link that brought all that together. So I definitely never hesitated on that one.

Does it bother you that some people consider you guys to be the most downloaded hip-hop group of all-time?
Malice: I’m honored to be the most downloaded. From what I understand, we were second only to Jay-Z. I wish we could account for all those sales, but what can you do? It’s like that for everybody. The game ain’t just pickin’ on the Clipse, so you can’t take it personal. It also serves as a good promotion. I guess when I say that it makes me feel better about it. [Laughs]
Pusha: I feel so damn personal with our fans. It’s funny because we go to the same places and see the same faces. We’re like, “Damn, you still f**kin with us?” It’s personal because cats haven’t been seeing us in videos or hearing us on the radio consistently. So when they come to our show, it’s because they really are down with us and enjoy our music. I see the passion on their faces. They even remind me of how dope some of the lines are. It’s real personal with the Clipse and our fans, and that’s all internet junkies.

I was interviewing T.I. and he was saying he doesn’t know how much longer he can see himself rapping because he thinks hip-hop is getting to be really dumb. What do you think of that general sentiment?
Pusha: I see where he’s coming from. When you’re passionate about this game, sometimes you begin to see it through different eyes. Like, I don’t see music the way my niece sees it. I can’t say anything wrong about a lot of people to my niece. She thinks it’s the greatest thing going. I might even take her to see Soulja Boy. I don’t trip, ‘cause I feel like there’s always been dance hip-hop. So what are we going so crazy for now? I just think it’s an abundance of it, but whatever.
Malice: It’s a sign of the times. I have respect for all artists because to take something you feel personal about and share it with the world and have everybody judge it, takes a lot of balls. This is definitely not the hip-hop that I know and love or that I listened to coming up. But I do take an interest in it ‘cause my kids listen to it. I kind of look at it through their eyes. They seem to have a good time with it. So, in that aspect, I’m cool with it. But as far as sparking my intellect or just feeding my mind, you’re not getting KRS-One’s “Black Cop” right now. At the end of that song you learned something. I ain’t saying it’s always about learning something. It’s entertainment. But I feel it’s my duty to slip a jewel in there some kind of way whenever it’s fitting and when I can. It’s definitely a distinct difference between us and them. The dummies gravitate toward that, and the hipsters and everybody that’s just cool gravitate toward us.

What are your kids listening to?

Malice: Soulja Boy. I’m into it too. Can’t leave me out. My daughter likes “A Bay Bay.” My son likes Kanye. 50 as well.

How old are your kids?
Malice: My daughter is 11 and my son is 15. He knows the difference. He knows what’s special about the Clipse. I took him through who we are to the game and what we represent. He gets it, digs it, and respects it. He’s definitely into his dad and his uncle. I bought a whole bunch of old-school and played it all throughout the house. They really like Run’s House. And I tell them, Yo those dudes are the reason I was even into rhyming. I tell them you gotta respect the old school because this is the reason you get to wear all that BAPE and Ice Cream stuff right now.

What’s their favorite album of yours?
Malice: When Hell Hath No Fury was out they played that, and when Lord Willin’ was out they played that. I think Lil Wayne gets more burn than the Clipse in my house [laughs]. I can be honest about that.

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