No Malice Keeps It Real About Jesus Christ on ‘Let the Dead Bury the Dead’ Album
"Am I boring you?" It's a question veteran rapper No Malice directs toward his entourage while rapping up an answer during his XXL interview. At the time, the rapper was engrossed in a conversation about current events, but the topic quickly shifted to his faith in God and the impact that religion can have on one's life. He speaks with a fervor that belies a belief that has been strengthened over the course of decades and has spilled over into his music like never before in recent years.
While No Malice's verses as one-half of seminal coke rap specialists the Clipse were always littered with references to biblical characters and delivered with the command of a prophet, since the two decided to go on a hiatus and pursue solo careers, religion has become more of an overarching theme in No Malice's music rather than a subplot.
Originally known as Malice, which literally means "the intention or desire to do evil," No Malice announced his name change in 2012, a move that was symbolic of the rapper retiring his kilogram-filled entendres for more spiritual fare. Releasing his solo debut, Hear Ye Him in 2013, No Malice's subject matter may have been altered, but his heady flow and steely demeanor remained in tact, calming any worries of his conversion coming at the sacrifice of his lyrical guile.
After dropping his solo LP, No Malice took a few years off to film and release his Netflix documentary, The End of Malice. Then he plunged back into the music world with Let the Dead Bury the Dead, a sophomore solo album that marries the sinister undertones of his previous work with gems inspired by the bible and his new lease on life. Songs like "So Woke," with its equally compelling video, support his message.
No Malice stopped by the XXL office and chopped it up about his new album, the specter of White supremacy in Virginia, delving into podcasts and film, and more.
XXL: Although you've been active on various fronts as of late, it's been about four years since your last official solo album, Hear Ye Him. Was the hiatus a conscious decision or was it more organic?
No Malice: It's organic. These days, bro, I pretty much go as I'm led. It's really not so much for me about albums and the promotion. When I feel it's something I need to say and I feel like I have something I need to share and I'm properly inspired and motivated, then I'll really get on my grind. In the meantime, we've been visiting prisons, doing podcasts. You know, I have a Netflix documentary. You know, speaking with the youth, YMCAs and things of that nature. So I guess to a lot of people it may seem like I'm inactive, but I'm doing things these days that's more near and dear to my heart.
Earlier this summer, you dropped the track "Fake News," which took rappers that front or fabricate about their lifestyle to task. What spurred the making of that song at that particular time?
And it's pretty much, I wouldn't even say so much as it is rappers, but I would say people in general. And we can all be fake sometimes if we choose to be, you know what I'm saying, but I just feel like in entertainment, daily life, you see when social media especially kinda exposed a lot of things, I think people forgot how to be themselves. We don't have to put up a front, we don't have to keep up these facades and I think that would cause for better relationships between people and we all can just be real because we all go through things. Nobody's superhuman and always on top and always feeling good all the time, you know what I'm saying? I think sometimes it's aight to take your cool off.
You also just dropped an intense visual for your song "So Woke." How has the response been to it?
The response to "So Woke" has been good. If nothing else, people have been intrigued by it. I can definitely say when we were out there and we saw the guys hanging, it even created an emotional atmosphere to know that this kinda thing at one point definitely did take place. Not even at one point, currently today. And it may not be as prevalent as the noose, but there are other ways of killing people, you know? And it's been a lot of unarmed Black males getting killed by the police, so just to be able to bring attention to that, bring light to that and bring an awareness to that, I feel like "So Woke" was very necessary at this time.
You also co-directed the video. Was that your first time stepping into that role?
Let me tell you something, man, I've been directing videos since the Clipse, bro, you know what I'm saying? Not only that, but sitting down with the edits, while everybody chilling, they leave me with it to make sure it gets done right. I'm a perfectionist. Major shout-out to Jay McCord and also Sergio Lorenzana they did their thing with that, but I'm like a hands-on kinda guy, you know what I'm saying, with everything I do.
So has that always been your thing or an interest to you, as far as the visuals?
I have my own idea of what I wanna see and how I want things to be. Concepts, I usually give birth to the concept, so it's hard to just tell somebody and leave it in their hand. They might do their kind of job and do it to the best of their ability but these things are really birthed in my mind and if I have an idea I wanna share and wanna put out I gotta be hands-on, but that's not to take anything away from the people that are with me ’cause I definitely need their help too, so it's a collaborative effort, you know?
But you just want the vision that's in your head to translate.
It has to be.
Is that something you plan on taking more of a hands-on approach with in the future?
Actually, I have a company, its called REinvision and what we do is, we do a lot of video. My son runs it and he's pretty much hands-on. Shouts out to Marcus [Thornton], he really gets my vision. He really knows how pops wants to see things. So REinvsion, he shoots the podcast, the REinvision Radio Show, and it's on YouTube, iTunes, Stitcher. You can definitely check us out and it's been instrumental to the campaign releasing my music.
How did REinvision start, with you and your son?
Well, actually, you know, it's crazy ’cause I had always heard this term podcast, right, and I didn't know exactly what a podcast was. I just heard the term podcast. And I have a good friend of mine, we call him The Ice Man and he's also in the documentary, and we talk a lot about God and we talk about the Lord and we talk about the word of God and how it relates to life and how it relates to life and how it relates to everyday living and the relevancy of the bible.
And one day it was dark in my house, I had just came inside and I was walking up the steps, and I got this room, it's like a man cave and all of a sudden I knew exactly what a podcast was, out of nowhere, I don't even know. I was like, Me and Ice Man, we gonna sit in here, we gonna talk about God and we're gonna share with the people and it's just gonna be a great thing. And it's definitely proven to be.
So, what's your plans moving forward with REinvision?
You know, the second we stop shooting podcasts, like if we have something going on and it slows up, people are always asking about the podcast, they always let us know how it affects their lives and the messages that they get. They tell us how timely it is, so we definitely wanna do more podcasts, definitely wanna shoot more visuals with the music and just become more active.
I work with my man Bat Man, and he's head of Dark Entertainment and they have really been instrumental in promoting what it is I do. So I think with REinvision and Dark Knight Entertainment working hand-in-hand together, we're gonna bring a lot of awareness to the message I'm trying to share.
There's a lot of racial strife with the alt-right March in Charlottesville, Va. and the subject of White supremacy recently. What are your thoughts, feelings and reactions to those events, especially with you being from Virginia and Charlottesville being close to home?
You know, V-A is known for being a huge slave port. I'm talking historically, you know what I'm saying, when the slaves came and landed in Jamestown, so it's like a generational thing [there]. You can't go too far from it because it's tradition and those people have children and their children have children and it goes down. Not to say it's everyone ’cause Virginia is a beautiful state and I love my hometown and of course you can't say everyone everywhere [is] like that. But racism is definitely familiar to me and it's a black eye to America any time it rears its ugly head, you know what I'm saying, but we definitely have to learn how to have compassion for one another and love one another, but racism sucks.
Have you ever been through Charlottesville or had any experiences with racism there?
I mean, I've been through there, but it's not like I was gonna go through their and have an encounter with racism, you know what I'm saying [laughs]? It can happen anywhere. It definitely can happen anywhere. I think one of the things that's kind of—I hate to use the word frightening, I guess it can be frightening if you're a fearful type of kind of person—but just to know those people that you see there that are filled with so much hate are in everyday society. From police officers working in your community, you know what I'm saying?
Bagging your groceries.
Whatever, your bank accountants and all of that, and just to know that's out there. And of course you know it, but when you see the faces, it kinda does something different.
Donald Trump put out a statement accusing various sides of sparking the march, which ruffled a few feathers. What was your reaction to that?
Well, here's the thing and what I will say to that is I don't know why we keep trying to talk him out of what he's saying. He means it. Out of the mouth the heart speaketh, so he means what he's saying. Why should we have to say, "Hey, you shouldn't say that, say this, say this," like, this man is talking, you know what I'm saying? And like my man Ice Man says, you identify a rattlesnake by its rattle and it's good to know what we're up against. Take him for what he says, and I appreciate the fact that he don't bite his tongue and that's how we know exactly what we're up against so I consider it a plus.
And you got your new album, Let the Dead Bury the Dead.
My album title is crushing dudes' albums!
What's the meaning behind the album because that title is really dropping the hammer on ’em?
It's a scripture, it comes from Luke 9:60, when one of the followers asked Jesus if he could first suffer him to go home and bury his father and then he would come and follow Jesus, and Jesus said, "Let the dead bury their own dead, as for you, you go in and preach the gospel," and how it translates to me is there's nothing more important than sharing the word of God, and I find this to be true.
And even more literal than that, if you take that scripture, literally this guy was actually talking to God in the flesh, so it means you're gonna talk to the creator of this world and tell him, "I'll be back?" Nah, nothing should come before the word of God. And I also say with that title, Let The Dead Bury The Dead, we've been fighting, rallying, marching and fighting for legislature and we've been doing this for years and years and years, and decades from now, it's gonna be the same exact thing. And I think that it should cause people to look within themselves to say we've been trying to put out this fire and it's never going anywhere. It's time to try something that you may not tried. And for me, it's God.
What was your mind state during the making of this album?
Well, what I can say is last year when I did a 16-city tour for the documentary on Netflix, The End of Malice, and I was promoting then the album, Let the Dead Bury the Dead, but what people don't know is all I had was the album title [laughs]. I didn't have no songs done or in the cut, I just knew that title was gonna be the name of my album and it wasn't until, I think it was the end of January, beginning of February, March time frame that the body of the album was down, between February and March, right around then.
It came to me and I was inspired and it was thoughts I just had to get out concerning my belief in Jesus, concerning the community, concerning the social ills going on. You know, relationships. Relationship with my brother, people always trying to make it something it's not, it's always been 100, always will be 100, you know, stop tripping. You know, just me.
What was the period when the title popped out to your or that particular scripture, and what made it stand out enough to become the title of your album?
And I spend a lot of time in the word, reading the word. I'm not trying to present myself as being overly pious and all I do is read the bible, that's not the case, but I do spend time with my lord, I definitely do that. And when I saw "Let the dead bury the dead," I felt like that summed it up. To me, it was like, you don't have to get involved in every issue because these issues are ongoing and ongoing, this world is gonna eat itself. It's gonna take care of itself.
I just want to be who God created me to be and do what he's called me to do to the best of my ability, share my gift with the world. I don't have to be like anybody else or follow what the trend is and I think everybody owes it to each other to be who God created them to be. I need to know who God made you to be so I can learn from what he want me to learn from you and everybody in here. Everybody trying to be like everybody else and that's causing me to miss out, like, I need to know who is you, who you are, ’cause we all should be like family and love our brothers and sisters and have a lot of compassion for each other and I think we're missing.
Are there any collaborations fans can look out for?
No features. Me from top to bottom, absolutely no features. I would like to mention the guys I think really brought the best out of me with the music that I got. Profound Sounds out of Virginia, they're responsible for "Fake News" and "Sky Crack." Ray Baker and Lee Major, also out of Virginia, Richmond area, those dudes, they did "So Woke," "Shame on Me" and "Jesus Christ." Also, another dude named Stupid Genius, coming out of Norfolk Va., he did this crazy joint, he threw up a "Hail Mary," it's called "Lu 4:5," that's crazy. And also Tee-Wyla out of Philly.
So you got a lot of fresher faces this go-round?
Well, they've done work with other major artists but they would be more apt to tell you who, I don't know whose the who's who no more like I used to, but they were willing to work with me and it's A-class production, definitely.
What are three songs from this album that stand out to you the most and why?
I'm gonna say the intro to the album because it really sets the tone for the whole album, lets you know from the door I'm not coming to play. I feel lyrically competitive with anybody out there. Also, I would have to say "Sky Crack." I like "Sky Crack" ’cause it's just a different flow and once again, Profound Sounds took me out of my comfort zone and I had to go to a different place. It's a real aggressive track, aggressive lyrics, real spitting up there. And I'ma say, "Let's Die," the end of the album.
Now keep in mind, it's not fair to ask me this question, but I just had to give you three ’cause you asked for three [laughs], but the the last joint, "Let's Die." It's just very personal to me and I think it's a real dope end.
How does this album differ from your last and in what ways do you think you've grown as a person and an artist?
I believe when I did Hear Ye Him, I was in a transitional period where I knew that I was not gonna hail the same things in the same regard as I did at one point, I knew that for a fact. And I guess with and to me, I feel like Hear Ye Him was incredible, I still feel lyrically-inclined on that album, but I was still trying to find my ground and to let people know this is how I feel and I just wanna share it with people.
The bible says, "Whom the son sets free is free indeed," and I feel that I found all kinds of liberty and freedom in Jesus. And when I got loose on this album, he let me know, "Yo, it's OK, you know, go there. Let them know what's up, get loose. You was going ham for the devil at one point, now give me the glory."
So this one is just way more aggressive, I say what I mean, mean what I say kinda thing, don't care who like it. And put me in the ring with any of ’em out there.
What do you hope to accomplish with this album?
What I hope to accomplish, I want people to know that for me, the album is nothing to do with me. It has nothing to do with ego or I'm this, I'm that. This album is definitely to introduce you, if you don't know already, about the good news of Jesus Christ. I can't nickname it, I can't soften it up, I can't even try to, like, put a cool spin on it and try to feed it to you slick, I'm telling you what's real. It's life and I feel like when people hear these stories, they're going to be able to identify with it and I feel the music I have made and God has given me the creativity to do. I don't think it's ever been done before.
See New Music Releases for September 2017