The Clipse

When you think of hotbeds of hip-hop, the staid state of Virginia doesn’t immediately come to mind. But it should.

The state already boasts homegrown talent such as Missy Elliot, Timbaland and Teddy Riley and you can now add hot hip-hop duo Clipse to the list.

Brothers Gene (“Malice”) and Terrence (“Pusha T”) Thornton spent their youth soaking up the diverse influences that came with growing up near a naval base in Virginia Beach. After years of honing their skills on the streets with a little help from a then-unknown friend and producer named Pharrell Williams who is now half of the acclaimed Neptunes Clipse broke onto the national stage in a big way last fall.

Their Arista debut album, Lord Willin’, landed at No. 3 on the SoundScan current albums chart in its first week out, just behind Avril Lavigne, Nelly and Eminem. It didn’t hurt that the pair already had two charting singles, “Grindin'” and “When The Last Time,” burning up the Hot 100 in the weeks before the release.

If that auspicious debut somehow managed to go unnoticed, that all changed a few weeks later when Clipse shared the stage for the highly anticipated and seemingly unlikely pairing with Justin Timberlake for his solo debut at the MTV Music Awards in September.

Malice and manager Tony Gonzalez credit Pharrell with coming up with the idea of pairing Clipse with Timberlake, and said the combination of rap duo and boy-band idol wasn’t as incongruous as it might initially seem.

“Pharrell and Justin and Chad (Hugo, the other half of the Neptunes) all are close, so Pharrell always, when he’s doing a project, will try to combine us with who we think is the next big one,” Gonzalez told POLLSTAR. “So, actually, even though we’re different, when we came to know Justin we figured it was a business move. But he was cool. He’s just like that, basically. And it all panned out.”

Malice was quick to give the sometime *Nsync star props for the collaboration.

“That really came together. Justin’s really a fan of ‘Grindin’.’ He would tell people to get it at clubs and he knew how hot it was, and people got up to it,” Malice told POLLSTAR. “He thought the video was crazy, and got to the point where he even used the same director (for his own video).

“He knew every word. It was just crazy. Like, whoever thought that would have happened? Who was checkin’ for that?”

It wasn’t something that happened overnight. Malice said he was influenced toward hip- hop by an older brother, who grew up in the Bronx before the family moved to Virginia. Pusha, five years Malice’s junior, took a little longer to come on board.

The Clipse

“Basically, me and my brother just live totally different lives,” Pusha said. “But it’s one of those things where we just mastered this clicking. I learned everything from (Malice) as far as the music thing goes. It’s like hearing feet following your own footsteps. We’re kind of like the same; we mesh.”

The two brothers didn’t always aspire to such lofty heights, happy to show off their skills close to home for friends and local fans.

“We weren’t doing that all for the money,” Malice said. “I was always a fan of hip-hop and rap but as far as doing the deal, we never thought about doing anything like that until Pharrell showed us the intangibles.

“We weren’t out there trying to get a deal. Then he brought it so close to home … we couldn’t plan for anything better.”

A brief stint with Elektra Records was one of the things that wasn’t planned. A 1997 album was recorded but never released. The group left the label and eventually signed with Arista.

“We never popped with Elektra,” Malice explained. “That was way early in the game. We got a single and a video out of that deal, but our album got shelved and never got to come out.

“But we couldn’t have set it up better. Things had to come together at the right time. It was a blessing.”

Clipse has spent most of the last year on the road with Nelly, Jay-Z and on the Sprite Liquid Mix tour. The duo is preparing to head to Europe in January and February, before coming back to the studio in March to lay tracks for their next album.

“Their hard work has paid off,” booking agent Jesse Kirshbaum told POLLSTAR. “They’ve been touring nonstop since I met them in July. Now, when you see record results over 100,000, you see Top 20 singles, you see No. 3 videos on MTV and No. 1 songs on Hot 97 in New York, you just know it’s all paying for the right reasons and it’s all working out.

“They did a great job. And they’ve got so many more opportunities coming.”