In the 21 years since Clipse released “Grindin’”—a definitive snapshot of 2000s coke rap—brothers Pusha T and No Malice have lived a thousand lives. After they spent decades mastering their particular brand of surgically precise lyricism, Clipse went on an indefinite hiatus in 2010. Pusha T got busy cementing his place in the pantheon; No Malice initially renounced rap altogether, before releasing a couple of underrated albums of his own. And all the while fans clamored for a reunion, setting the internet aflame with every hint of the duo’s return.
Then, this past June, Pusha T and No Malice landed on one of the largest, least likely stages of their careers: the runway for Pharrell Williams’s debut as the creative director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear. It was a remarkable full-circle moment—as one-half of the Neptunes, Williams was responsible for securing the duo their record deal and producing virtually all of Clipse’s classic tracks.
This week the trio reunited again, this time for the benefit of a different Pharrell endeavor: Billionaire Boys Club, the seminal streetwear label he cofounded with Nigo in 2003. Today marks the debut of BBC’s collaboration with the Italian luxury brand Moncler, another frequent star in the creative polyglot’s galaxy-colliding orbit. Who better than Clipse to front the campaign?
By his own admission, Pusha has been in the game for a minute, which makes him uniquely suited to weigh in on the future of a genre whose look and sound he helped define in the lead-up to its golden jubilee. In anticipation of BBC’s collaboration with Moncler, GQ called up King Push in the Netherlands, where he’s currently on tour, to discuss getting back in the studio with his brother, Pharrell as the Allen Iverson of fashion, and what today’s new guard of rap talent can learn from its predecessors.
GQ: First off, the entire collection looks killer. Any pieces in particular you’re feeling?
Pusha T: There were some knit sweaters, like cut-and-sew sweaters. The actual jacket itself, the puffer with the astronaut emblem on it, is super hard too. Man, just watching the maturation of BBC, this is like…where are we at, 20 years now?
Our love of the brand is so organic. To be collaborating with Moncler, it was really a full circle moment for us.
You preempted my next question there. It’s mind-boggling to me how long you’ve had this relationship with Pharrell, so I imagine his involvement on the BBC end makes it really special. Did his presence seal the deal?
Oh, for sure. I mean, we’re team players. It’s Pharrell’s brand, but we’ve been very instrumental in pushing it. The brand has been very supportive of us in so many different ways throughout our career. So it’s like a no-brainer. It’s a relationship. It’s a family. Some things you don’t even have to question.
Has the dynamic between you and your brother changed as the decades have passed? How often do you talk?
We talk daily. The dynamic hasn’t necessarily changed much because we’re in the studio together. As we’ve been cooking up and working on some of the things that you’ve heard—whether it was the Nigo project, whether it was my album—that brotherly competitive spirit is still there. I think that my brother not being in the game as much, he’s coming in with a chip on his shoulder. He’s coming in with the chip on his shoulder on some like, Wait a minute, I’m the bigger brother and I’m nicer. That energy is definitely felt within the room.
Please tell him he has nothing left to prove. Neither of you guys do.
Nah, man. He wants to prove it. And he’s watching the game change. He’s watching the rules change. He’s noticing. He’s noticing everything. So it’s great to watch him in a student capacity, just not taking for granted that, Hey man, I’m really nice. I think we know that. Just like you said, he has nothing else to prove, but his thing is, no, not only am I nice, but I can be nice at the frequency of the actual listener today as well. We don’t have to reminisce over how good he was because he’s here now.
Do you feel like you have a chip on your shoulder in the same way? Are you listening to any young guys who really motivate you?
No, nobody really motivates me. I hear good music all the time and I love a lot of the music in certain spaces. But as far as lyrically and things like that, I’m not necessarily moved. I love that hip-hop is where it is, but I think what I do is very special and I don’t think people can just do it.
When you hear certain people shooting their mouths in a way that they shouldn’t be, do you have to bite your tongue not to respond? Do both of you guys immediately start blowing up each other’s phones saying we should acknowledge this in some way?
No, because you have to look at who’s the talker. When you look at who’s the talker and you look at what they’ve done and who they are and what they offer to you, it’s funny. I’ve been in this game for a minute, and I’ve watched the game, and I’ve watched people at their highs and at their lows. And, mind you, most people are chasing things I’ve never chased in hip-hop. I’ve never chased hit records. I’ve never chased anything but having incredible albums. So I’m not even surprised at the way people speak about me or whatever the case may be right now. It’s like I’m watching these guys panic. You know what I’m saying? They’re all panicking and then they’re trying to figure out, Wait a minute, how is this guy turning the corner and I’m not?
That’s a healthy perspective.
Oh, man, listen, it’s amazing. It’s funny to watch. It’s my reassurance that I’m doing everything correctly.
Because you’re in their head.
Oh, my God. Think about it. I’ve never been the guy to pal around and take the pictures with all the guys. I’ve never been the guy to collaborate with such and such and so and so. I’ve only collaborated with the best of the best. I’ve only produced with the greats of the greats. I’ve never chased a trend. I never tried to look like this or act like that or do this and that. I’ve only been consistent with what I do. They can’t say that. None of them can. That’s why they’re panicking.
Talk your shit, man.
I’m not even shit-talking. It’s like the real truth, man. They’ll do things I’ll never do.
It happens a lot in fashion too—brands hop on a trend because it’s the hot thing to do, instead of committing to what they do best and trying to iterate on that until they do it better than anyone else. Pharrell’s almost an outlier in that regard. He’s always been an innovator, but he climbed the mountaintop by staying true to who he is.
He’s the strongest individual. Because when I think about him and I look at him, he’s not only my friend, but he’s always been a fashion icon to me. He’s always been this guy who was forward-thinking. I mean, he actually was with Louis Vuitton back then. He had us going crazy over the Millionaires [the sunglasses Pharrell and Nigo released with then Louis Vuitton designer Marc Jacobs in 2004], and so on and so forth. He was one of the first guys with the campaign. He could have gotten this creative director title a couple of different times. The strongest part about him is he patiently waited his turn. He’s been deserving five times over.
And he did it with such humility and grace.
With grace! Listening, being helpful, being an inspiration. This is real shit. Guys can’t fuck with him in that fashion lane and that innovation lane. It’s 2023 and people just stopped mimicking jewelry that he’s made. That’s crazy. It’s kind of like the Iverson swag. Allen Iverson’s look and persona and his swag is just now not being the swag of the NBA in the past few years. How long have people been jacking his swag or just emulating one individual? It’s been the same for Pharrell.
If you talk to the young hoopers, Iverson is a constant reference.
Of course, of course.
Just not bar for bar.
Yeah, not bar for bar as it was for so long. You know what I’m saying? It was bar for bar for many years. Now, just recently, yeah, they reference it, but look how long it was bar for bar. It’s the same thing with Pharrell. Look how long it was bar for bar.
It takes people a really long time to come around to the influence of Black entertainers, especially in industries as white as fashion. In the ’90s, did you ever anticipate the relationship between hip-hop and fashion evolving to this degree?
I always did. That’s the thing: I’ve never separated hip-hop and fashion. I’ve never separated it. And that’s the problem with today. My favorite rapper had to rap good and he had to dress good and he had to be swaggy and I had to cut my hair like him and I had to cut my eyebrows like him, and I had to beg my parents for the Adidas tracksuit like him. MTV Raps was my fashion tutorial. I begged for numerous outfits that were on that show depending on what artist was there. I never separated hip-hop and fashion—never. I wanted to be all things. Today, you don’t have to rap good, but you can have on the newest and the freshest Dion Lee cargoes and you the man, you know what I’m saying?
It’s funny how that happened.
And I get it. I respect it because fashion is such a big part. You got ill flow, but if the swag ain’t there, then I’m not necessarily sold all the way. And you may be saying some great things, but to me that’s what hip-hop always was. It was you admiring your favorite rapper, you seeing what he wore, and then you going outside and saying, man, Y’all ain’t get these yet. I got them. I beat y’all. Hi, look, I’m outside. What’s up? That was hip-hop.
Is the way you dress in conversation with your music, or do they feel totally separate?
It’s definitely in sync with my music. I think that the people are listening. I think the brands are listening. They’re showing me every day. Me and my wife were just invited to Switzerland for Van Cleef [& Arpels, the heritage jewelry company]. Just like, Hey, come here. Come see how this is. We noticed the spikes.
I imagine pulling up to the Van Cleef in Switzerland feels pretty crazy.
Yeah, it just shows you the power of hip-hop. And that’s something that I care about. I care about checking off some of these boxes, you know what I’m saying? Some of these cultural boxes. It’s dope to see how far your music cuts through and who it reaches—the fashion houses and the brands and the jewelry houses—and everybody that it reaches. Everybody’s taking notice.
To be honest, you also got to be one of those people that can actually make that type of statement. Not everybody can name drop a brand and people be like, Oh, wait a minute, what’s that? Hold on a second. He said this, da-da. Not everybody can do that. Not everybody can tell you, Hey, don’t fuck with this brand, or That’s kind of wack. And that brand actually see a dip. Some people haven’t earned that.
[Laughs] No, they can’t. And this is a long time. This has been infused in my raps forever. This isn’t new. A lot of people don’t know what you’re talking about for a long time. And that’s where you’re developing your niche fan base, because those who do are, like, Wait a minute, he’s talking my language. And it’s only three of us. Oh, my God. That three turns to 30, 30 to 3,000, 3,000 to 30,000. And it grows small. It grows small, it takes a while, but when it’s just organically you, it’s what you do.
Is your brother on that wave? Do you put him on to new shit, or is he kind of above that in some ways?
No, I wouldn’t say he’s above it. I just think that his messaging is different. He feels like his messaging is something that hip-hop needs all the way and the things that he chooses to discuss. When it comes to fashion and just the racks and combing through them, he’s definitely not putting on anything he’s not comfortable in. And he’s very, very vocal about what it is that he wants to look like. But he just has a whole nother messaging, a whole nother messaging that he feels people need to hear. Especially in hip-hop today.
Is it helpful to have that perspective around you?
Just to be all the way honest, ever since I went solo, I heard the cries from the fans of what they were missing from the Clipse in my solo albums. And I’ve tried to mimic and infuse, and tried to cater at some points, but it’s never enough. And I had to come to terms with that. He actually brings a level of introspection that’s like, man, I can’t dial into it and do it the way the people and the fans want to hear it. And I’ve taken that L.
I don’t know if that’s an L necessarily.
I’m just saying it’s an L because I’ve tried, because I know the issue and know that I couldn’t honestly check that box off. The people have already sipped the Kool-Aid, right? They already know how it’s made. They already understand the amount of sugar that’s in it. It doesn’t taste the same when I make it, and they know that. So I couldn’t necessarily always check that box off and I was trying to, no lie.
Are you guys back in the studio making music consistently?
I wouldn’t say consistently, but we definitely have been messing around with a few ideas. I’ve been working on a couple different projects at one time, in between touring, and he’s definitely been around and been there to be a part of it. So I think he has been finding the fun in it as well. I don’t be pressing it, but it is always fun to watch him have that fun again.
Do you guys still surprise each other in that capacity?
Yeah, for sure. It has been a problem with me finishing my verse and then him finishing after me and me feeling like, Hey man, this is not fair. Something has to give. I guess I haven’t heard that level of intellect and common sense in rap in a minute. So it’s a breath of fresh air.
What was it like to perform at Pharrell’s Louis Vuitton debut? Tell me that song is dropping soon.
Oh, man, I want it to. Pharrell needed a record for the fashion show. First, he asked us to be in the show, and then he needed a record for the show. And I was like, Okay, well, shit, we might as well knock one out. And we did that. Man, it is honestly a dream come true. It is a milestone. And in my career it’s a milestone to watch P achieve his dreams and to know that this was the most watched fashion show ever. Bro, that stat alone is crazy. And then to watch those people in the audience, as soon as the music starts hitting you, see what they’re doing. You see the heads nodding. They know what that is. They know that that’s that work. And even on a Louis Vuitton fashion runway, you still getting that work.
Did the two of you sync up at some point and write your respective verses knowing what that moment would be like? Did you cater it to the crowd or did you come in and say, I’m going to do what I’ve always done because that’s what P wants to hear?
The beat spoke to the energy of a fashion show, and the lyricism was exactly what the Clipse do. Again, for us to compromise at this stage in the game, it would be a travesty. We’re compromising nothing. You’re going to get exactly what you’re supposed to get from us and what you expect to get from us. And that’s always been East Coast, hardcore, lyric-driven hip-hop. It’s never changing. I don’t care what platform, I don’t care what arena, that’s what it’s going to be.
Where do you think fashion goes from here?
I think we’re going to watch the evolution of the streetwear invasion in high fashion. We’re going to watch that evolve into another level of sophistication. What Virgil did was groundbreaking, and it set the tone for the full-fledged high fashion streetwear fusion, right? But I think we’re about to see all of that taken to the next level just because of where the key players are. When you have Pharrell Williams at the helm, when you have the likes of the Martine Roses, there’s a few key players that are super talented that know that the Virgil path was just the first step, and there are many more steps to go.