No Malice, formerly known as Malice, built a career on cocaine. As one half of beloved 2000s rap duo Clipse, the Virginia MC, along with his younger brother Pusha T, painted grimy pictures of the drug game through intricate lyrics that were as creative as they were clever. Rapping about drugs was nothing new to hip-hop, but the brothers Thornton managed to make it sound fresh and inventive again, despite talking about kilos on almost every other verse. They created some of the best music to ever come out of the trap, which is saying a lot considering the talent that has tackled the topic before.
So when the older Thornton announced he had found God and was repenting his days on the corner, concerns arose over how this would affect Clipse’s music. As it turns out, we may never get to find out; both No Malice and Pusha T have decided to put the group on hold indefinitely and pursue solo careers. While Pusha finishes up his debut, No Malice has decided to release Hear Ye Him, an album that acts as both a declaration of his repentance and a look back at his life before God, from his days selling crack to touring the world as a part of Star Trak. The results are both compelling and trying to the listener.
The first thing that is evident on this album is that No Malice can still rap. His voice, a nasally drone, is unchanged and his flow is on point as ever. It’s the subject matter that’s different. Right off the bat, he addresses his new faith, rapping lines like “it’s my spiritual abortion” and “clearly Malicious is something I should have never been, here’s to the death of him.” The wisest decision No Malice makes here is that he doesn’t ignore his past. Instead, he gets more personal than ever before. He raps about how he feels responsible for his older brother’s drug problem on the album’s title track, his demons from dealing on “Unforgettable” and his regrets over the demise of his former manager Anthony Gonzalez, who was sentenced to 32 years in prison for running a drug ring, on “Different.” He uses these insights to explain why he had to leave his former life behind, which is fascinating at times. But elsewhere, his enthusiasm for change becomes repetitive, like on “No Time,” the album’s closer, when he raps about how he’s “in a different place” for seemingly the millionth time. Sticking to one subject is nothing new to No Malice, but he’s unable to describe his newfound faith in the bible as creatively as he used to describe his faith in the street. Lines like, “We all fall short of the glory that is God, but something about these rappers reek of a façade” don’t have the same bite as past lines like “The coke that I push is as pure as a child’s heart.”
Hear Ye Him is also hurt by its production. The beats, no longer full of the synth-laced bounce of Pharrell, are mostly carbon copy affairs. The lurking keys heard on “Bow Down No Mo” sound like they were ripped directly from an old Lex Luger beat, and the lively rhythms of “Unforgettable” sound too much like the material electronic duo Ratatat released years ago. The album’s most impressive instrumental, a dancehall-influenced thumper, comes on “Shame The Devil,” which features the album’s only appearance from Pusha T. On it, the brothers sound just like old times, and No Malice delivers his sharpest line, ironically about coke, when he spits, “Mozart never tickled this many keys.”
But moments like these are only brief lightning strikes of nostalgia. On “Still Got Love,” No Malice talks directly to all his former cohorts—Pusha, Pharrell and even Sandman—and announces with confidence that “everything must come to an end.” Unfortunately, this also could signify the end of the witty punch lines and captivating storytelling that drew listeners to Clipse in the first place. -Reed Jackson