Gene Elliot Thornton, Jr (a.k.a. Malice)
By Ashley Andrews, 700 Club Interactive
CBN.com For nearly a decade, hip-hop fans have known Gene Elliott Thornton, Jr. and his brother Terrence as "Malice" and "Pusha T," the duo hip-hop group Clipse. In 2001, they knocked elbows with The Neptunes' production team and eventually signed to Star Trak Entertainment. Later, in 2002, they released their first album Lord Willin', and it became clear that the co-rapping brothers had a future in the hip-hop industry. Their album opened at #1 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Album chart and #4 on the Billboard Hot 200. Their first two singles "Grindin'" and "When the Last Time" peaked at #30 and #19 on the Billboard Hot 100. Then, only a month after its release, Lord Willin' was certified gold by the RIAA. Soon after, the brothers dropped rhymes for Justin Timberlake's first solo single, "Like I Love You" and were opening up for 50 Cent's "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" tour. From the looks of it, "Malice" and "Push T" had everything going for them. But as Gene admitted in his newly released book Wretched, Pitiful, Poor, Blind and Naked, his life, behind the scenes, was anything but glamorous.
RAP AND RELIGION
Now, rap and religion aren't two things you generally see together, but for Gene, it was how he was brought up. "I was raised in church- my parents and my grandparents all took me to church. So, I was always in or around church." But, going to church did little to change his lifestyle. Growing up, he hung out with the "wrong crowd." He got into drugs and alcohol. In 1992, Gene and his brother started making their own music, and then, four years, Gene accepted Christ as his Savior. He and his friend were celebrating the release of another friend from prison - "five years for drugs and guns." They sat on the street throwing back one beer after another, when a young woman approached them and asked if they knew Jesus. As she continued to minister to them, they began defending their lack of faith, asking her questions while trying not to slur their speech - "What kind of God lets bad things happen to good people?" "How can a virgin be pregnant?" and "How can a man walk on water?" And after each one of them turned her down, she changed her tone. "YOU DON'T HAVE SOME OTHER TIME!" she yelled. "YOU MIGHT DIE TONIGHT! THE ALMIGHTY GOD IS CALLING YOU NOW! SHALL YOU NOT ANSWER WHEN GOD CALLS?" After hearing this, Gene and his friends quickly changed their tone as well. And at that moment, on a street corner, somewhat shocked and completely drunk, Gene and his friends joined hands and asked God into their hearts. The young woman then gave them each her card. Gene took the card, intending to never use it. But, little did he know, just how important this card would be.
The months following that day on the street corner, Gene's life began changing. On the music front, things were looking up for the duo hip-hop brothers. Studios began noticing them, particularly Teddy Riley's studio. There, the two brothers met Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z, Heavy D., Foxy Brown and others. The potential for getting signed was in their grasp, and it was all that the brothers could think about, especially Gene. While Gene and Terrence fought to get singed, Gene was fighting his own personal battle. He became depressed and lost an unhealthy amount of weight. Every night, he would wake up soaked in sweat. And everyday, he had a fever and constant diarrhea. Gene knew what this meant. Everyone knew what this meant. He was HIV Positive - he knew it couldn't be anything else, but what he didn't know was how. He was happily, faithfully married, and he never used needles. He couldn't imagine how this would happen, but he believed, without a doubt, that he had AIDS. Then suddenly, he took on all new symptoms - his habits changed. He began hating what he once loved. "I couldn't stomach hearing any profanity, and nudity was a definite 'heck no..." So, he began cleaning house. But still, the depression ate away at him. He lost all of his zeal, all of his motivation. All he was left with was "zombie-like feeling." He refused to be tested - he didn't want to acknowledge the fact that he had AIDS. As he shares, "I just wanted to get signed so that my brother would have his foot in the door, then I could get some satisfaction knowing I at least helped Pusha land a deal."
But, six months after that day on the street corner, Gene pulled out that card the young woman gave him and dialed the numbers. He was surprised that she remembered him, and he was even more shocked that she knew why he was calling. Their next conversation took place at his home with his wife Tonya. The young woman immediately asked, "Now, why is it that you believe you have AIDS?" Gene listed off all of his symptoms, and she simply nodded her head. She then asked, "Well, why don't you just go to the doctor and get tested?" This question, Gene admits, "was a sure-fire way of getting kicked out of my house with the door slammed behind you." But instead, he continued to listen to her. She spoke about the different between human nature and divine nature. She convinced Gene that "Our bodies do not belong to us. We want to mature our divine nature by doing what we know to be right in our hearts. Living by faith, trusting in that which we cannot see. We must believe there is something bigger than ourselves, which is the ever-faithful Almighty God. We do this by spending time with Him, praying to Him and reading His Word."
By the end of the night, Gene "felt like a scholar." He was no longer afraid of his future or his symptoms. And, he was thirsty for more of God. That next week, Gene and Tonya joined a Bible study. He grew in his faith, but his symptoms were relentless. As he remembers, "Each day grew longer and longer. For every four hours, I might have found a half-hour of peace - when I managed to numb my brain to my on-going anguish and agony by either praying or sleeping. With every toss and turn, I awoke to find myself in a living hell. But sleeping was the best remedy. I had no fear then. Sleeping was like my novocaine, my morphine. Prior to this plight, I knew how to enjoy a good blunt...but even that did not help me. I found out quickly that AIDS and weed do not mix."
Eventually, his dreams began to haunt him and reading Scripture proved to be his only refuge. He began with the book of Job. Reading his story, Gene couldn't help but think of today's world and how, "By today's standards, this (Job's wealth and health) would earn him an appearance on MTV Cribs." But as he read on, he received a different revelation. He and Job were one in the same. "Job lost his home just as I did. He lost his wealth, just as I did. He lost his health, just as I did. He even mentioned how his bones protruded through his skin...and when he tried to sleep he had nightmares...just like me." Finally, Gene went in for testing. And two painstaking weeks later, Gene got his results. The results were negative. "I dropped the phone and fell to my knees thanking God."
In 2002, Gene and his brother released their first album Lord Willin'. Everything seemed perfect - Gene and Tonya had two beautiful children, and The Clipse was taking off. "I knew only God could change this situation the way that He did. I was so grateful that in my off time, I would go to my church and voluntarily clean the toilets, because I knew that 'faith without works is dead,' and I had a God to serve." Then came their second album Hell Hath No Fury, and as their fame increased, so did their temptation. "...Where there are rappers, there are groupies...and many times I served as the voice of reason for my crew...I was known for walking a straight line. But gig after gig, and tour after tour, Gene began backsliding. "I found myself becoming 'of the world.' The lifestyle I once detested had enveloped me. I stopped paying attention to my Christian beliefs," he confesses. "I did whatever I felt like doing. And if anyone asked me if I believed in the Lord, I simply said yes - but was I practicing the principles, the statutes, the decrees and the tenants of the Bible? No. I wasn’t doing any of that. I wasn’t paying it any mind..." Then came their last album 'Til the Casket Drops, and Gene's life began falling apart - his grandmother passed away, his parents filed for divorce, bills started piling up, his crew members and even his manager were imprisoned, and his music career was steadily declining. The Clipse's contract was in jeopardy and a get-out quick court case dragged on for four and a half years. Gene was at a loss, and he turned back to what he had loved years before. It wasn't until he read a tattoo on the back of a girl he was "getting to know" that he got his wake up call. It was a tattoo of the girl's sister who had passed away from cancer - and the date of her sister's death was the same as Gene's death. "I was instantly sober," he shares. But it wasn't as easy as that.
A rumor began surfacing about Gene - a rumor that claimed he had infected a girl with AIDS, that she had just given birth to a child, and that her brother put a hit out for Gene. Suddenly, all the fear and symptoms that had plagued him years before came back. He began praying like never before. "Yes, Lord! Have your way with me. Not my way, but your way! My way don't work! Let Your will be done! This is exactly what I deserve, only you know what's best for me. It's an honor and a privilege to surrender for You. Father God, I need correction, I surrender to You for I have no idea what to do with myself. I am a mess!" He knew that prayer and confession were not enough. He had to be tested again. And so, he submitted to another test, and waited yet again for the results. The answer would change his life forever.
RAP ARTIST TO AUTHOR
With Wretched..., Gene simply wanted to share his heart. “I make no bones about me being a Christian," he shares. "Without a shadow of a doubt, I know who saved my life - Jesus Christâ€¦My focus is not to make anyone believe what I believe or pattern after me. All I'm saying, all I'm telling everybody is that this story happened - this is my story. And I feel I have to tell MY story. What they do with it is their business - it is up to them. But when I tell someone my story and what happened to me, I don't see how they cannot be changed." Frankly, Gene never thought of himself as much of a writer. "I was trying to be a rapper, not an author. I never imagined that I would share a story so personal and of such magnitude with the entire world. Wretched... tells of my highest highs and my lowest lows. It speaks of my childhood, family life and life in the entertainment industry. Most importantly, this book tells how my life was saved by the Lord Jesus Christ. Truly, my life has changed," and he prays that the same will happen for his readers. With his story, Gene hopes to encourage others in their walk with God. “I want people to take whatever they can get - that this book will help redirect their thinking, any thoughts that might be keeping them from having a better life...the one main thing that I would love for everyone to get from this book is Christ.”
Gene didn't know what to expect from his fans. After all, his book is unlike anything he has ever written. But, luckily, his book has been well-received. "It’s been phenomenal how the fans have had my back...I haven’t lost any of them â€“ they’re still right there with me...A lot of people tell me that they didn’t get different parts of the Bible until I explained it. Some say they never had an interest in Scripture until I applied it to things that happen in present day life." For Gene, that is incredible feedback, and all the more reason for him to continue his work. As for the future, Gene promises his fans a name change. The name "Malice" doesn't fit his new belief or perspective. As to what that
name will be, Gene says that "It hasn't come to him yet." But he ensures, "It will be whatever I am." He is also currently working on taking his book to the big screen. "The film is absolutely going to happen...We’re going to try to just stay true to my vision...Like I said before, this isn’t about money. I believe that it’s suppose to do exactly what it’s suppose to do. And, I promise the fans that they will definitely get the Wretched, Pitiful, Poor, Blind & Naked film. If I have to do it myself, they are going to get that."
What's more, he hasn't given up on music. "I definitely support hip hop - I love hip hop. I think the biggest thing is the content - everybody knows the content...everybody knows The Clipse - what we talk about and our experiences. I’ve just come to a realization that just because it’s real, doesn’t make it right. And I think we did it so well that it became attractive. But now when I have to go visit my manager (in prison), and when I see his family, his kids looking at him from behind that glass, I can’t help but think of everything I have ever said, and every show I have ever done. And everybody believed the hype...the videos and songs on the TV and radio reach so many people, and so many people love and enjoy it. Some people can listen responsibly. But there then are some people out there who buy into it - that music is raising them." Knowing that has made Gene more cautious than ever. "I’m at point now where I’m just more aware about what I say and how I present things."