Hear Ye Him (released August 18, 2013)
About a year or two ago, when Gene Thornton Jr. announced that he was stepping away from his career as one half of the rap duo Clipse to release an album about his conversion to Jesus, many fans were completely confused.
It didn’t surprise me one bit.
Undoubtedly, the Clipse was one of the greatest rap duos of all time. Their first two albums are stuff of legend, and their final album wasn’t too shabby either. Sure, their rhymes were 99.99% dedicated to drug dealing but unlike most coke rappers who brag about their supposed wealth (hi, Rick Rawse), the Thornton brothers put a more realistic spin on the game.
Reborn as No Malice, Hear Ye Him isn’t a self-righteous tome about how he’s now above his past life. Instead, No Mal bears his soul, placing his sins on the altar for all to see.
And don’t worry, Clipse fans, his lyrics are still blazing hot and his concepts remain thought-provoking.
“Smoke & Mirrors” opens with these words:
When I was a child
I thought as a child
I talked like a child
I even reasoned like a child
But when I became a man
I put away childish things
Then, along with partner Ab-Liva, No Malice goes on to deconstruct the fabricated rap images that have plagued listeners for years: “I ain’t selling my soul for no million/cause that dead-end rap can’t even crack it’s glass ceiling.” No Malice becomes an avenging angel, yanking back the curtain on those rap facades.
“We gave y’all truth, y’all ain’t want it/Y’all wanted spoof,” he spits on “Bury That.” “All hail the Clipse and their magnificence/but I cannot deny my deliverance.”
What has always made No Malice so compelling is that he’s completely honest with his listeners. No Mal may be redeemed but he hasn’t forgotten his past. “Bow Down No Mo'” serves as a reminder: “How could I meddle, all those years I peddled crack/I did it the best, I dare not call the kettle black.” And even when trying to provide direction to young women, he admits he still struggles with lust on “Unforgettable”: “Baby girl, don’t you give up on your innocence/For that Louis bag or Michael Kors/I myself included, who don’t love a filthy whore?”
No Malice also makes totally clear that’s he’s still his brothers’ keeper – his new direction hasn’t divided him from his former Re-Up Gang associates. “Still Got Love” is an open letter to the crew and the Neptunes, and we even get a brief Clipse reunion on “Shame The Devil,” bringing Pusha T back into the fold. “It’s two sides to a card/Just opposite ends of two peas in a pod,” Pusha spits. See, no beef here.
The production on “Shame The Devil” (courtesy of S1) is pretty solid but sadly, that’s not usually the case on this set. Hear Ye Him‘s one weakness is uneven production. “Bow Down No Mo'” sounds appropriately epic and “Smoke & Mirrors” is effectively eerie but many of the other tracks are plagued by weak beats or thin hooks. The organs on “June,” for example, add atmosphere but the over-the-top wailing on the hook is very distracting. They’re nowhere near the standard set by Clipse’s albums.
The beats might not impress but lyrically Hear Ye Him is an unbridled success. No Mal’s lyrics are soul-piercing. He’s still one of the game’s best wordsmiths. The album closes with “No Time,” a call for redemption, with No Malice reminding listeners that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Jesus never changes but thank God Malice has. His past only lends credibility to his message.
From dope peddler to God’s messenger, he’s got a story to tell. I hope you’re listening.
Best tracks: “Smoke & Mirrors,” “Bow Down No Mo’,” “Shame The Devil”
4 stars out of 5