Tucked into the brightly lit elevator of the Soho Mews, a high-end apartment building on West Broadway, are two brokers, a broker’s assistant, a publicist, a road manager, a personal assistant, and Gene and Terrence Thornton, the thirtysomething brothers who make up the rap group Clipse. Known professionally as Malice and Pusha-T — that’s how they politely introduce themselves to the brokers, the fastidiously dressed Spencer, who arranged all of the day’s appointments, and the well-manicured Anne Marie — the two are in town for a day only, and are squeezing in viewings before a photo shoot and an early evening show.
The brothers are best known for two things: their unabashed drug rhymes, which heavily mine their self-proclaimed one-time employment as cocaine distributors, and their well-publicized feud with former label Jive, which left their 2006 album Hell Hath No Fury on the shelf for four years and branded them resilient industry survivors. Since, riding Hell’s near-unanimous critical acclaim, they’ve signed a generous 50/50 profit-sharing deal with Columbia Records, orchestrated by Rick Rubin. In the midst of promotion for Til the Casket Drops (out this week), the brothers — who live full-time, separately, in their native Virginia — are shopping for a part-time place in New York.
The two have a strong personal connection to the city. It was at a show at the (now transplanted) Knitting Factory where they first found out their career-rejuvenating We Got It 4 Cheap mix-tape series, released unofficially while under lockdown from Jive, was a hit. “We saw all the hipsters, and the college kids, and the streets as well,” Pusha recalls. “We’re thinking, it’s a mix tape, ain’t nobody really hearing this. But nah, they let us know, and they recited every word passionately. That was a big deal.” Those tapes were brutal and relentless, which is still Clipse’s popular image. But since, they’ve subtly evolved into a much sunnier act: On the chorus to Casket’s single “I’m Good,” the boys breezily croon “Even in a drought / my mattress is full, why shouldn’t I be out?”
That same anti-recession spirit is apparent while the crew checks out the Soho Mews apartment, a 1,240-square-foot, two-bedroom with hardwood floors and floor-to-ceiling windows. When Anne Marie announces that the rent had recently been lowered from $9,000 to $7,000 a month, Pusha blurts out “7, 9 … it’s two stacks! A purse.” Anne Marie, unfazed, continues to tick off the building’s selling points (“it’s in the historical cast-iron district, so nothing can be built above nine floors … there’s a 24-hour doorman, really unheard of around here”).
The brothers wander throughout the space, directing under-their-breath comments to the little flip camera their assistant Tuanh, a skinny college kid who got to know Malice while skating the half-ramp the rapper has set up in his garage, constantly aims at them. When Malice mouths “she’s been drinking,” Tuanh goes into a barely controlled giggle fit; then, when Anne Marie describes the bit of the Hudson visible from the apartment as a “sliver of the river,” the whole crew gets a laugh.
At the second location, 200 Chambers, the boys are more focused. Spencer introduces them to another broker and her spiel — “lava-stone countertops, sub-zero refrigerator, and there’s a farmer’s market in the neighborhood twice a week” — has at least Malice, who cooks, engaged. They both get a kick out of the security system for the building’s gym, which requires a fingerprint identification, and get playful around the narrow, sky-lighted pool, where Malice fakes shoving in his little brother.
Before the last tour of the day, at a Fort Greene brownstone that once belonged to Spike Lee, the group makes a pit stop at Junior’s. Pusha’s sick of talking real estate — “New York Magazine can know that I don’t give a fuck about this shit!” — but the new Clipse album has him gushing. “People gotta remember,” he explains, regarding the duo’s newly rediscovered pop sensibilities, “the Clipse were the first guys to rap with Justin Timberlake, the Clipse were the first guys to rap with Backstreet Boys.” (It’s true — look it up.) “And still give you the hardest, streetest, drug-infested music.”
Malice, perking up despite his steely calm, chimes in between chews: “The integrity of the works is always there, and that’s why we’re here right now. Still. Cause many other cats would have died.” Before the check arrives, the conversation meanders over to whether or not Tuanh should go to grad school. The consensus is no.
Spike’s former place is an immaculate three-story, 5,000 square foot house, going for $2.7 million. There’s a hot tub adjacent to the master bedroom, a tidy balcony, a spacious back patio, and a steam room. It’s by far the nicest place of the day, but Malice is underwhelmed. “My crib bigger than this,” he says, “and you ain’t getting robbed outside.” Then he calls his brother over to check out the hallway bathroom.
Back outside, the crew piles into their chauffeured Denali. The brothers, while listless, remain courteous, at the ready with “thank-yous” and “good-byes.” Right before they drive away, we tell them how much we’re anticipating the new album. Malice perks up again: “Yeah. It’s a goddamn classic, man.”