Release Date: August 18, 2013
Critically acclaimed coke-rap twin act the Clipse hit a major snag in 2009, when Thornton brothers Malice and Pusha T’s one-time manager, Anthony Gonzalez, plus a host of their friends, got swept up by a police investigation into a multi-million-dollar drug ring. Pusha appeared to take it in stride, sliding effortlessly into Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music machine, but Malice descended into an extended sabbatical from rap, which we’ve since learned was spent nurturing a burgeoning commitment to evangelical Christianity. The new full-length, Hear Ye Him, marks the rechristened No Malice’s return to hip-hop. But where his output in the Clipse trafficked in grandiose Pyrex dreams, this new material is charged with a resolute focus on leaving all that behind.
It’s a pity that the result here is often crotchety sloganeering designed to set him at loggerheads with popular hip-hop culture. He trumps the geriatric finger-waving of Jay Z’s “I don’t pop molly, I rock Tom Ford” clunker with the Seinfeldian “What’s with all this swag?” riff of “Smoke & Mirrors”; and he bests Lupe Fiasco’s patronizing, patriarchal “Bitch Bad” when he tells a troubled woman, “Bitch, you a queen” on “Unforgettable.” Elsewhere YOLO practitioners learn that “You only live once if you choose to.” Such cloying rhetoric is further exacerbated by an audible rust stilting Malice’s flow: He barely pulls off the attempted swing of the title track, and what should’ve been a spitfire assault on “Bury That” comes out robotic.
The album flashes vital signs only when he eases up on the proselytizing to examine the fallout from a life spent in and around the drug game. The lingering pride that haunts “Bury That” and “Unforgettable” undercuts his moralizing by positing the reborn rapper as a work in progress who maybe misses the trap. Jeremiads about Gonzalez’ shattered family illuminate the impetus for Malice’s rapid shift from coke-rap menace to Christian-rap luminary; “Still Got Love,” the album’s masterstroke, employs a clutch sample of the O’Jays’ “Loving You” to address the question of whether his family and friends are cool with the conversion. The answer is a resounding yes, though it’s really the staid, affable charm of the telling that’s the true revelation. It’s one of only a few reminders throughout Hear Ye Him that the humble, genteel No Malice still has some juice left.