August 20th, 2002: two street poets from Virginia Beach released their debut album, telling the tale of the journey of young hustlers from poverty and crime-infested neighborhoods. With the assistance from two highly respected hip-hop producers, who happened to be childhood friends of theirs, the two southern rappers created lyrical theatrical visuals of the good, bad and ugly sides of the route of a gangster.
That timeless hip hop album is known other than Lord Willin’ based on the life of The Thornton brothers Pusha T and Malice better known as hip hop duo Clipse.
“You mistook me for a rapper huh? / Well that makes me an actor because I would rather clap a gun”
It’s obvious that Lord Willin’ wouldn’t have made a huge impact as it did without the assistance from Clipse childhood friends/production duo Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, also known as The Neptunes. If Lord Willin’ can be described as a dope autobiographic crime film, then The Neptunes take the role as the composer creating the original score. Their production creates the setting for each track; a song like “Young Boy” fades in on the 70’s as the two men recall the moment they lost their innocence as children while gaining access to the underworld.
Even in their second hit single, “Cot Damn,” loud funky horns and drums can viewed as explosion from gun powder as the Virginia outlaws arrive on the scene. The great thing about Lord Willin’ was neither the production from The Neptunes nor the lyrical ability from Clipse overshadowed one another, instead the two fused together to create accurate images of the thoughts and lifestyle of the American dope boy.
“Whether the price is up or down / I keep a mound to pitch from, you don’t have to shop around”
To many, Lord Willin’ was their first introduction to Pusha T, the young wild one of the Thorton brothers. Whether he was smooth as Nino Brown from the movie New Jack City or as brash as O Dog from the film Menace II Society, Pusha T was able to create poetic portraits to show just how the drug world could make anyone become ruthless, especially with lines from “Intro” like “Ignorant fool, views ignorant, too / Got a lot of money keep militant tools.” His wicked perspective is the same reason while during his podcast OTHERtone, Pharrell talked about how Pusha T’s ability to chase the dark emotions out of a beat then come up with dark things to say over those beat interests him: “to me that’s fascinating, that where I come from there.”
“Some say Pusha’s the coldest / Money is my morals other than that I’m soulless”
While Pusha T chose to ignore his conscience, Malice, now known No Malice, was the one who couldn’t help notice right from wrong. During his own documentary The End of Malice, Pharrell talked about how he could always sense that his friend’s conscious conflicted with him whenever he did something that he felt was wrong. That guilt could be sensed throughout Lord Willin’ for instance on “Virginia” lines like “Ironic the same place I’m making figgas at / That there’s the same land they use to hang n****s at,” showed that even though he was a product of his environment, No Malice was well aware of the role he played in disturbing his product in is his environment.
“And with this in mind, I still didn’t quit / And that’s how I know, that I ain’t shit”
Throughout Lord Willin’ both Pusha T & No Malice articulated the lifestyle of a drug dealer so well that anyone was able to see the verbal images that they sketched whether they were familiar with the lifestyle or not. It’s the same reason why their debut single “Grindin'” is their most impactful record to this day.
During his interview with Nardwuar, Pusha T acknowledged that contrary to popular belief, “Grindin'” took nine months to break after doing shows for drug dealers across the country. By the time they got back, it became the phenomenon that is loved to this day. In a couple weeks, Pusha T will be performing this year’s Made In America Festival on Labor Day weekend, reminding us why 15 years later Lord Willin’ is still loved from ghetto to ghetto to backyard to yard. Get tickets and more information here.
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