Knock, knock, knock. It was the Devil. And he was coming for his stuff back.
Imagine achieving your musical dreams of commercial success, stardom and wealth, only to find that the all of the glory associated with it are not enough to ultimately fulfill you.
Gene “No Malice” Thornton was one-half of the acclaimed Virginia Beach rap duo Clipse, alongside his brother Terrance (aka Pusha-T). After over a decade of generating both income and critical acclaim for Clipse’s ‘coke rap’ releases, ‘Malice’ (as he was formerly known) felt there was more to strive toward.
In a brand new documentary, The End Of Malice, production company I Am Second takes a deep dive into No Malice’s conversion to Christianity and shows the depth of an MC who was left struggling to find purpose while looking back at a turbulent career. It premiered on REVOLT TV on March 27th and you can watch it streaming here.
Enter Brandon Ricks: one of the producers of The End of Malice and the man tasked with executive producing the soundtrack, titled Movin’ Weight: A Story From the Streets. For a film that captures the important story of a 2000’s hip hop legend, conceptualizing the soundtrack could be considered as important a duty as getting the right shots.
Brandon discussed with us the process behind the collaborative soundtrack, recent evolutions in hip hop, and licensing for film and TV opportunities for independent artists:
How did you get involved with I Am Second? How would you describe the movement?
Brandon Ricks: I began working with I Am Second in the Fall of 2010. I was brought on board as a radio consultant. My role was to act as liaison between the organization and several local radio stations for a major event later in that year. However, my first discovery of I Am Second was through a billboard campaign. I kept seeing advertisements with Brian “Head” Welch’s (guitar player from Korn) image on them and the phrase I Am Second next to him.
I thought he had a new album out. I had no clue what the phrase actually meant until I began to inquisitively search the internet and I came across a website with a variety of different video shorts. The videos were extremely powerful and impactful. They were story vignettes of people’s life experiences and the different issues people go through. The films are created to show how we can find purpose and fulfillment by putting God at the center of our lives. I really resonated with that truth. I was drawn towards the authenticity and the genuineness of each story. It wasn’t preachy or forced. It was very natural and I respected the professionalism of the cinematography and the overall presentation of the films.
I would describe I Am Second as a change in perspective. It’s a different way of seeing ourselves. There are so many things fighting for our attention in today’s world and we have a tendency to mis-prioritize what is really important. I am Second Media is designed to tell stories of real people across various walks of life who all share a certain truth. A truth that has helped them deal with whatever they are facing in life.
For people less familiar with Clipse and the hip hop game in general, what kind of story does End of Malice intend to tell?
The End of Malice tells the story of an individual who possessed all of the fame, wealth, and celebrity that we are told will give us happiness and peace only to find that it didn’t provide him with any fulfillment at all. He was still empty inside, and the emptiness he felt was a result of his suffering spiritual relationship with God. He had neglected the most important things in his life to pursue riches and found that it was a wasted pursuit.
He ultimately had to reflect on his life and all the things he was representing and glamorizing. He began to feel an overwhelming sense of guilt from the music he was making and the lifestyle he was living and he had to make a change.
We’ve seen hip hop as a genre take on many different personalities in the name of commercialization over the past 30 years. What are some important changes you’ve been seeing recently?
I think like all genres of music there is a natural ebb and flow. The over-commercialization of American music pushes the creation or birth of new genres that are less influenced by big business and less inhibited by specific genre norms. I am looking forward to this shift.
I think the art form of rhyming to a beat or rhythm and poetry will always be present, but the genre of hip hop as we have known it is evolving into something outside of the genre norms, which makes it a challenge to label or identify. Traditional rap is fading into the annals of American music history and a new non traditional expression of hip hop is emerging. I’m excited to see where music creation in the new age takes us. My hope is that new unidentifiable genres that speak more accurately to the human condition rise to the forefront of relevancy in the next decade.
You mentioned that the creation of this album was a true collaboration. How else does it differ from typical film soundtracks?
A large majority of soundtracks are essentially compilations. They are a gathering of individual songs by completely separate artists that have submitted their work to a placement company to be selected for TV and film. This project is a true collaboration of hand-selected producers, writers, and performers that were tasked with capturing the essence of a film and translating that essence into musical expressions.
They spent time together, they laughed together, they had deep conversations about life and spiritual matters and they got to know each other over the course of a three-day recording session. This makes the music more intimate and less like a business transaction. Music is most powerful when it has deep emotional connection points and there is more than a monetary exchange taking place.
Tell us more about the three-day session that went into recording this album.
Each writer and producer was asked to watch the film in it’s entirety a couple of months before the scheduled session. Upon watching the film they were tasked with submitting ideas to a concept folder that was shared with the entire team.
This folder allowed preliminary themes and concepts to be considered long before they met for the recording session. They were also asked to come ready with two to three concepts they created that captured the essence of the film. We flew everyone into Dallas and before we even stepped foot in the studio we all met together, had lunch and discussed how the film impacted us.
We asked questions, we clarified, and expounded upon aspects of the documentary we found to be compelling. Once we all felt good about the direction we wanted to go in as a team we began laying down concepts. The concepts that everyone vibed to rose to the top, and they went from concept records to completed records over the course of the three days.
As an Executive Producer, what were you hoping to get out of the writers and artists? Similarly, what surprises arose from the album’s outcome?
My main objective was for them to really feel the story and find synergy with it. I wanted them to draw from the emotions of No Malice but also from their personal life experiences. I wanted them to be able to communicate the emotion of the project through the instrumentation, the writing, and the vocal performances.
I don’t know if there were too many surprises per se. There is a bit of uncertainty when you engage in organic creation. There are always going to be unknown variables that you are unable to control along the way. These things are simply just apart of the process and you plan and project running into these types of things in advance. I think if anything, I was surprised to see how well all of the artists bonded together.
There were no silos or clicks in the studio. I knew they would get along with each other based on how I selected each person individually, but I didn’t plan on them connecting and truly enjoying each other’s company as much as they did.
There’s a lot of emotion in the writing on this record. What was it like organizing the music on behalf of the film’s director when it comes to such a heavy subject?
The director and I worked cohesively. I was a co-producer on the film so it wasn’t difficult to capture the emotion of the film and translate that into the music because I was intimately involved with the creation of both pieces from their inception. Our director was aware of the soundtrack recording and we already agreed that we would select certain cuts from the session that could fit well into the film.
The soundtrack team did such a fantastic job fitting the music perfectly in the film’s narrative. I think there is a benefit to having music that is specifically created for a film.
What kind of an impact has the film been making on viewers so far?
We have seen a phenomenal response from the film thus far. We have been able to show the film in a few different settings and the the feedback we have received is encouraging. We previewed the film in theaters in 15 different cities and accompanied the select screenings with a moderated talkback panel with a Q&A session. We also showed the film in seven different prison facilities and inmates in each facility were moved by the piece.
The film had its television debut on REVOLT TV a couple of weeks ago and we have seen great responses from social media and direct messages through our website applauding us for the project. It feels good because the feedback has been strong in multiple areas from the storytelling to the cinematography.
What inspired you to work with such an array of people – from better known artists to up-and-comers?
The mainstream music industry has become too complicated and too impersonal. I long for more intimate connections with people and to see more consideration for the overall growth of a musician.
I find independent artists great to work with. They are hungry, passionate, willing to make sacrifices, and less consumed with monetary gain. They are more excited for the opportunity to be involved with something special. I think it’s important to have a good mixture of commercially known and unknown talent on a project because the experience can be humbling for everyone. A veteran can see the dedication and passion of a younger artist and gain some motivation and inspiration; and a younger artist can see the professionalism and wisdom of a veteran and be pushed to create greater work from simply being in the presence of someone who has been where they are trying to go.
If you have too many big name artists you often find too much inflexibility and too many advisors and companies speaking into the decision making process which begins to make the creation of art more like a business transaction and less like an artistic pursuit. I desire to create good art first and then make good money.
Unfortunately, as the number of commercially known acts increase so does the amount of individuals who see the music industry from an entirely different paradigm.
What kinds of opportunities do you think are out there for independent artists when it comes to working in film/TV?
I think there are several different options for independent artists in the current landscape. I don’t believe there is a shortage in opportunity, but a shortage in access to knowledge. I think the problem lies in the accessibility to the right tools and resources to identify those opportunities, and having clear direction on what options to consider.
We need far more transparency and sharing of information in the music industry overall. Independent artists are left to fend for themselves and to “just figure it out”. It is very difficult to know what opportunities to take advantage of and how to specifically access them when this mentality exists.
Artists and beginning music professionals need wise counsel and guidance. I think blogs like this are helpful and I am most certainly attempting to provide more opportunities for independent musicians but there is much more that needs to be done in order to bridge the gap between independent talent and real career progressing opportunities.
Be sure to watch the moving film The End Of Malice on REVOLT TV here!