Rap fans know they’re great. Critics know they’re great. The Clipse, themselves, know they’re great. But just when everyone thought their long-awaited, highly anticipated sophomore album was finally coming out, music biz fate pulled a Halloween trick on them. For Malice and Pusha T, it wasn’t a treat.

Words Thomas Golianopoulos

Images Kenneth Cappello

September 27, 2006. Malice really wants to talk. Two days ago, he learned that the Clipse’s sophomore album, Hell Hath No Fury, had been pushed back. Again. This time from October 31 to December 12. It’s a big enough deal that he’s returning a reporter’s call at 9:35 a.m. Yeah, six weeks is that big a deal. “Let me tell you what it is,” Malice barks into the phone…

Wait. Not yet.

Almost a month earlier, on September 1, 2006, Gene “Malice” Thornton Jr., 34, and Terrence “Pusha T” Thornton, 29, sat in a penthouse conference room in the Time Hotel near Times Square. It was a Friday night, but they had no desire to go club hopping. They’re not really feeling the City these days. “New York,” Pusha said, “it’s mostly business for us. I don’t sense any trendsetting or innovation.” Besides, it was raining, they were traveling to Virginia the next day, and the entire town was partied out from the previous evening’s MTV Video Music Awards.

That night had gone well. Malice and Pusha walked the red carpet. They had orchestra seats near their longtime friend and producer Pharrell Williams. They departed midway through the show. They hit Beyoncé’s party at the 40/40 Club. They didn’t last long at Pharrell’s shindig, however, because, Malice said, “It was too hot and sweaty.” New York was mostly business that weekend because Hell Hath No Fury was supposed to drop on October 31. They were sure of it. They’d received e-mails from their label, Jive Records, verifying October 31. Halloween. The perfect date. Fit the album title perfectly. They were excited yet still skeptical. “I don’t believe in any label,” Malice said. “I don’t believe in anything they have to do with.”

Okay. Now.