This month marks the tenth anniversary of the release of Lord Willin’, the 2002 major label debut from Virginia Beach rap duo Clipse, comprised of brothers Gene “No Malice” Thornton and Terrence “Pusha T” Thornton. Produced entirely by hometown neighbors The Neptunes, the album—specifically singles “Grindin’” and “When The Last Time”—validated the duo’s brand of cocksure, cold-blooded lyricism following the shelving of their first album, 1998’s Exclusive Audio Footage.
As the 2000s came and went, the rap landscape changed dramatically. Yet, Clipse refused to compromise their styles in the face of label pressures, culminating in the 2006 classic follow-up, Hell Hath No Fury, as well as the prolific We Got It 4 Cheap mixtape series, which helped to transform the way artists approached online promotion.
Now, a decade later, life has extended beyond the Clipse, as Pusha T is set for a starring turn on the blockbuster G.O.O.D. Music compilation, Cruel Summer. Here, he catches up with Life + Times to discuss then and now, starting at square one: the making of Lord Willin’.
Life+Times: How was the cover conceived?
Pusha T: I wanna say that my brother came up with the cover. We were tryin’ to do something that represented the title really well, but we wanted to have something along the lines of the [“Sugar Shack”] painting in “Good Times.” That’s how we decided to do a drawing. Courtney Walter was our art directorat the time—she sought out the painter.
L+T: How did the literal meaning of the title play into your plans for the album?
PT:I know it’s said in Virginia a lot. It’s said by my family. It’s a saying that really means if it’s the lord will, then it’s gonna happen. Everyone says that it in regards to, like, “I’m gonna go to the store today and go shopping, lord willin’.” Or, “I’m going out to eat about 9 o’clock, lord willin’.”
We had already been through having to deal with not being able to put out an album. So, one of the themes was if it was the lord’s will for the album to come out, it was gonna come out.
L+T: Upon its release and especially after the failure of your first album, 1998′s Exclusive Audio Footage, what were your expectations?
PT:Oh man, we were never really expecting much. There was just a lot going on at the time. There was a lot going on in regards to our production team, The Neptunes. But we knew we had innovative music.
L+T: Let’s start with the intro track—it’s still devastating all of these years later. What was the intent there?
PT: Whatever you hear first sets the tone of the album. It was really about establishing identity, and, like, putting our flag in the ground. We basically wanted people to understand and know where we were coming from—no one had ever seen this side of Virginia before. We knew that this music was a bit newer. Even though we had The Neptunes on our side and they were everything at the time, our criteria for The Clipse was outside of what The Neptunes were doing. Our first record out was “Grindin’.” This was at a time when Pharrell was hot, the Neptunes were hot. He was on every hook from Nelly to Mystikal, everybody. And we have a hook where he’s actually not on it. The intro…it basically set the tone for all of those maneuvers and moves. It was just like, “This is what we are, we’re different. This is the streets, this is Virginia, this is new, this is risk-taking.” Playas, we ain’t the same. You know.
L+T: When you first heard “Grindin’,” did you expect it to be a staple of lunchrooms everywhere?
PT:I didn’t, but it was a record that I knew was gonna be way too innovative. I think it was probably the first time I rewrote a record—and a record that me and my brother honestly rewrote a couple of times—just because it was unorthodox, it was new. We were like, “Wait a minute, where does the beat start? Where’s the verse? Where’s the hook at?” It really threw us for a loop.
The way it was presented to me…I was actually home and Pharrell was in the studio and he called me and he was like, “Listen. Get up here right now. Get up here right now—I’ve got this record and if you’re not up here in 15 minutes I’m just giving it to JAY Z. I am. I’m giving it to him. If you’re not here in 15 minutes…I know you’re home. You’re home. You’re home. Your house is 10 minutes from here. That means you’ve got five minutes to get ready and get over here. If not, I’m giving it to Jay.” I couldn’t really deal with that. And I was there, needless to say, in 13 minutes (laughs).