Pusha T's got a bop in his step.
He's just returned from an exciting, yet exhausting trip to South Africa. While he enjoyed performing overseas, Pusha is glad to be back in his motherland called Virginia, the rich soil where he was bred and raised. He jumps out of a lush, ebony Benz, and walks into Kincaid's restraurant in Norfolk with a smile, seemingly knowing something epic lies just over the horizon.
Why wouldn't he be smiling? Fortune has already favored him. He's a part of one of the dopest crews from the Kanye West-led G.O.O.D. Music, he's got bars of fury and a blushing waitress, who should be taking his order, is waiting patiently for his autograph. Then there's the album and a mixtape on deck too. [Read: All Hail The Caine: Track-By-Track Review of Pusha T's Wrath of Caine]
His older brother, No Malice, is nowhere in the immediate vicinity, but he still manages to be a focal point of the conversation.
"I know. I know. [No Malice] knows that I know," Pusha, 35, says between sips of his drink. "He knows that I know that isn't even right to say. Even to toy with the level of being God. Everything else, but not God. He knows that I know that's not even right. But its the music business that I'm a part of…"
Pusha really said it. "I believe there's a God above me / I'm just the god of everything else / I put hoes in everything else / New God Flow, f**k everything else." Ahhh, such an ill line by Hip-Hop standards, but virtually blasphemy based on Christian standards.
The standard was different once upon a time. As the story has been told, The Thornton brothers - Gene and Terrence - grew up in the streets of Virginia Beach. Urban lore says they ran in the streets and indulged in the illegal hood trappings, which lead to their style of Hip-Hop, often called "coke rap." As a group they would go on to record three heralded albums (Lord Willin', Hell Hath No Fury, and 'Til The Casket Drop, the last being released 2009. They have scars to prove their authenticity, both seen and unseen.
Pusha-T is still in "the world," as Christians are known to say, and he's looking to dominate his surroundings. As he should, being that he's a high-ranking gladiator in the competitive Hip-Hop arena. He won't be beaten. And, he asserts, can't be beat. He's fired cannons at Lil Wayne ("Exodus 23:1") and defended Kanye's honor to former friends like Consequence [Read: Pusha-T Disses Consequence].
There is one thing, his big brother is a born again Christian now known as No Malice. And, Mal doesn't much care about Pusha's Earthly parts of Hip-Hop.
No Malice speaks slowly and methodically.
"I'm very sensitive when it comes to lyrics about God," he says in a southern drawl normally reserved for preachers. "But, what I have come to find is…I'm not even worthy to be mentioned in the same sentence as God. God, to me, is not Santa Claus. If I am not giving Him the glory, then I will stay away from even mentioning His name."
On this particularly rainy December day, the day before Pusha laughs over sacrilegious lyrics, No Malice, 40, seeks refuge in his new studio in Virginia Beach. On the largest wall, there is a crown of thorns being painted that clearly will end up being a huge mural of Jesus. On the adjoining wall, there is the logo of The Clipse's crew, Re Up Gang, but with a twist. Above the logo it says "Rebirth."
While his baby bro competes with other so-called warriors, the man once known as Malice of The Clipse, wages another war. He's fighting Satan on behalf of Christ and he hopes his looming album, Here Ye Him, is a weapon for the cause. And he prays for his brother. Pusha is, at best swimming with sharks, and likely doing the Devil's tango in the music game. He knows his brother is well adept to such Earthly folly, but he still prays hard.
Saving souls is difficult work, but its quite possibly an easier than maintaining long-running relevance in the rap game.
Can a hardcore Christian and a thoroughbred Virginia D-boy make an album? More importantly, should they?
Chad Horton, who runs the Christian Hip-Hop site rapzilla.com, answers "highly unlikely" and his retort is rooted in Bible scripture.
Horton quotes portions of Ephesians 7-21. "It says, 'Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them."
Horton continues, "So it may be possible for No Malice to do another Clipse album with his brother, but would fans want to hear No Malice dropping bars that are contrary to everything that Pusha-T is spitting? Some yes, most no. There can definitely be some guest spots on each others albums or maybe even a final EP, but a whole album of Cain & Abel? That would be a hard sell."
Ab Liva disagrees. Liva, a Philly-bred lyricist, has known both brothers for over a decade a lead member of the Re-Up Gang. He is also featured on No Malice's current underground hit "Smoke And Mirrors" and also Pusha's Wrath of Caine.
"It seems like they are polar opposites now, but when they are together, its cohesive," Liva says. "People say [Malice] switched up, but if you listen you can hear the references. That dynamic has always been there."
Despite the perception, both brothers aim to record another album.
"I personally want me and Malice to do a Clipse album," Pusha says with a very pregnant pause at the restaurant. "I don't even want people to hear us without us being us."
Emphasis on "us being us." But he reference the classic mantra of another Southern duo that has been successful as opposites.
"We've seen the dynamics of groups that are on two totally different planes that have been extremely successful. Big Boi, the pimp, and Andre, the conscious one. I'm talking about don't even rap on topic together. And we've watched them become darlings," Push insists. "I'll be damned If I can't do that with my brother."
No Malice wants to go back to the lab as well, but he hedges on the type of content on a new Clipse excursion.
"The status of The Clipse is, my brother and I are always gonna be brothers. I can tell you right now that the music that I once did, that you know me for, Clipse and The Re-Up Gang, content-wise, you will never see that again. From me," he says frankly.
"I'm not going to promote or push forward anything that is detrimental to any one's life. If its something that's for the betterment of a young child listening, or any adult that's acting like a child…If it leads to death, then I can't do it." "
He repeats: "If it leads to death, then I can't do it."
Still, Mal previews songs rom his upcoming solo album that feature his brother. At the time of this writing Pusha had not laid down his verse.
The older Thornton, a father who has been married for over 20 years, insists their differences have always been an asset.
"[The contrast] has always been the dichotomy of The Clipse," Mal says authoritatively. "He's come from an angle, I've come from a different angle. Together, that makes The Clipse. I've very excited myself to see what we come up with. And its going to be all the way right."
On the other side, Pusha is shoring up the industry heavies to get the project right in a different way.
"I want to do a whole album with my brother, because I already see the movie. This is something I've talked about with 'Ye (Kanye West), I've talked about it with Pharrell…man this is gonna be so crazy," he promising, getting visibly excited. "I want to title it "As God As My Witness." People say, 'I see Malice and he's on his spiritual way.' And I'm like 'I've seen Malice and he's been spiritual for so long, y'all. What's wrong?' Was y'all not listening? He writes too well. We ain't ignorant rap. We ain't never been ignorant rap - especially not him. I don't think [No Malice's being saved] affects the music at all.'"
There's no way it won't affect the music, all respect to Pusha's reasoning, but it may affect it in a way that will improve upon The Brothers Thornton. One of the main criticisms of the group was that they always and primarily talk about cocaine. The infusion of spirituality free the pair of this notion and also opens the the possibilities content-wise.
Mal thinks the best is yet to come, especially from Pusha.
"My brother knows how I feel about this music. I've always known him to be exceptionally talented," the 40-year-old asserts. "When he starts to operate in his gift, that's when I am really going to get excited."
Pusha and No Malice are not Cain and Able, despite the urge to make the obvious deep religious connection. Maybe Caine and Is Able, but not the sordid tale of brother killing brother. They have genuine love for each other and its real as the topics they respectively rap about.
"You know, my brother prays for me every day. He got me," Push says looking upward. "He got me."