From the streets to the church

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March 28, 2011

11:18 PM

__This article was co-authored by Jared Foretek__

Gene “Malice” Thornton — one of the two Thornton brothers who make up the rap duo Clipse — has traveled a long, treacherous path from the streets of Norfolk to making critically-acclaimed big-label rap albums. Thorton visited the College of William and Mary Tuesday to talk about what he says has been the biggest part of his journey: putting God above all else.

Malice arrived at the Sadler Center Tuesday to discuss his new memoir, “Wretched, Pitiful, Poor, Blind and Naked,” which describes the way in which he wove his way through the rap industry, peddling rhymes about his drug-dealing past to listeners while grappling with his relationship with God.

He said that at a certain time, three critically acclaimed albums beyond his humble beginnings, he came to a realization regarding his music.

“I think the thing about Clipse is even though our stories are true, we made it look too good,” Malice said. “We made it very appealing … It’s not about the money all the time. You have to look at the fruit you’re bearing, and what it is that you’re doing.”

Malice said that particular moments led him to put his rap career temporarily on hold in order to pursue the publishing of his book and to tell the story of how he discovered new meaning in his religion.

Drama has never been something new to Clipse, whose second album “Hell Hath No Fury” was delayed time and time again by their record label Jive Records, ultimately leading to an ugly split between the label and the duo. The album was ultimately released to overwhelming critical praise, but also to limited commercial success, something the rappers have blamed on the delay. But nothing compared to when, in April 2009, the artists’ manager was arrested for operating an expansive drug ring in Virginia Beach, Va. When all was said and done, their manager was sentenced to 32 years in prison and a number of the brothers’s closest friends were also indicted.

“I believe that my brother and myself are here by the grace of God, and that’s the only thing I attribute it to, and I know it in my heart to be true,” he said.

When talking about how the group’s music played into the background story of the people and their associates, the rapper was brutally honest.

“I do feel like at one time I had a lot of blood on my hands,” he said. “And I say that because the people we came up with, I’ve seen so many die, I’ve seen so many go to jail and I don’t mean jail for a little while, I’m talking 32 years … It makes you think about everything you’ve ever said.”

He added that when the duo’s rap career started, he was not considering the different ways his words could mislead some of his listeners.

“That music feels good — you put it in your car and you cut it up and you’re jamming to it,” he said. “But there are kids out there who are listening to this and they’re idolizing this.”

To illustrate his points, Malice showed videos from his website, some narrated with excerpts from his book. An especially poignant vignette was a video that featured Malice reading parts of the Book of Job against re-enactments of the day he was told of his friends’ arrests, when he — like a modern-day Job — felt like he had lost everything he ever had. Parallels between his life and biblical stories like these, he said, drove him to make a much bigger commitment to his Christianity.

One audience member asked him about preaching about his new commitment to Christianity, to which the rapper responded, “Am I a preacher?” When the student confirmed the question, Malice seemed to take the student’s perception as a compliment.

“I’m not mad at that,” he replied. “I’m not trying to force my views, the greatest thing is that I can just share my story and say, ‘this happened to me.’”

Ultimately, Malice promised fans that they had not seen the last of Clipse, and that the break from music was temporary, but something he needed to do.

“I just felt like it was my obligation and my duty to paint both sides of the picture and give it the full spectrum and not just one side,” he said.

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