The legendary Clipse may not have the most expansive catalogue when it comes to hip hip duos (three studio albums and a handful of mixtapes), but what they dropped in their time together has stayed in rotation for decades to come.
Born in The Bronx and raised in Virginia, Gene “Malice” Thornton and Terrence “Pusha T” Thornton were surrounded by musical talents from an early age – they grew up living near future production legends Pharrell and Timbaland.
With Malice getting his foot first into the rap game, it wasn’t long before his young brother followed suit, although it had to take some convincing from Pharrell for Pusha to leave the coke trade alone. From there, the Clipse duo was born.
“Making music was just so fun with early Clipse,” Pusha recalled in an interview with Red Bull Music Academy. “Just imagine discovering the music business with your friends, care-free, all day. Me and Pharrell talk every morning from nine in the morning already. So it’s nine in the morning, we’re talking, by 12, we’re together on bikes. Bikes turn to cars. Studio. I don’t even know if it was an aesthetic. I don’t know. It was competitive. We would work all day.”
After serving a brief stint in the army, Malice came home and started working on music together with Pusha and The Neptunes. Pharrell helped the duo get signed to Elektra Records in the mid-90s and they began working on their debut album, Exclusive Audio Footage. The duo’s first single “The Funeral” was released in 1999, and gave rap fans a taste of what would come in later years.
Pusha T: “The Funeral” was written at a time when a few of my friends had died. It seemed like we were going to an abnormal amount of funerals all at once. I wanna say it was probably around like four or so, but they were just really back to back. So we decided to make a song eulogizing ourselves. That’s essentially what ‘The Funeral’ was—two eulogies of myself and Malice. The beat was so dynamic though that it really caused a stir. It was just loud and chaotic and it sounded like the second line that they do in New Orleans funerals where they march down the streets. We shot the video with that in mind.Pusha T Breaks Down His 25 Most Essential Songs | Complex
While “The Funeral” was dope and hinted at the working chemistry between Clipse and The Neptunes, the single failed to chart. At the same time, Elektra rap acts like Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliott were taking off so the the record label didn’t have much time to prioritise the Thornton brothers. Exclusive Audio Footage was subsequently shelved and the duo were released fro Elektra not afterwards.
“Sylvia Rhone signed us to Elektra but [the album] didn’t go anywhere at the time because, at that time, the hot items was Busta [Rhymes] and Missy Elliot and all the focus was on them,” No Malice said in an interview with DJ Booth. “But I will say, on behalf of Sylvia Rhone, she played fair, didn’t keep us around, stuck and signed. She could have done that. She liked our talent and felt like we could go somewhere else and get another deal.”
However, it wasn’t long before The Neptunes came calling again. Thanks to their incredible commercial success on the charts, the production duo were able to set up their own record label, Star Trak Entertainment, partially funded by Arista Records in a joint venture. Guess who their first signed act was?
In 2001, Clipse and The Neptunes began working on their next album, Lord Willin’. Then on May 14, 2002, “Grindin'” dropped, and it was a wrap. The single was an instant rap classic with The Neptunes’ unconventional production and the Clipse’s cold-faced drug bars. “Grindin'” entered the Billboard top 40, and was followed by “When the Last Time” which peaked at number 19. Within a couple of months of its release, Lord Willin’ had sold over 500,000 and was certified gold.
In May 2022, after 20 years since the duo worked on Exclusive Audio Footage, the long-lost album was finally released to the masses via streaming services. For the first time ever, fans can listen to the Clipse’s official debut album.