Everlast Has a ‘Toilet Grammy,’ Recalls ‘Jump Around’ Success
For Everlast, writing music these days is quite simple: If you have nothing to say, keep quiet. It’s a mantra that the rapper-singer-guitarist carries unapologetically on his latest album, ‘Songs of the Ungrateful Living,’ due Oct. 18. For the man who once made millions of fans ‘Jump Around’ as a member of House of Pain, the bleak conditions smothering America — whether economic, political or social — are too devastating to ignore. He has to say something about them. The 42-year-old white MC is not afraid to tell it like it is, even calling out his hip-hop brethren for what he perceives as a lack of balls.
The BoomBox caught up with Everlast to discuss his 20-plus year career. While he may have parted ways with the House of Pain, hip-hop is still very much a part of his repertoire. Read on as he explains why many of today’s rappers have “lost touch,” his right to be hostile, his daughter’s fight with cystic fibrosis and the reason his Grammy award sits over his toilet seat.
There’s talk that ‘Songs of the Ungrateful Living’ has a more hip-hop feel. Is this a return-to-rap-form for you?
That hip-hop back beat is there on this album. I’m always hiding things in my music. Sometimes there will be a melody or a chain of events hidden in there that are from something that touched me hip-hop wise. I wanted to use the “got it good” line from Audio Two‘s ‘Top Billin” for my first single ‘I Get By.’ That was my idea. Milk Dee is one of my favorite voices of all time. I try to sneak something into almost every song. I produced this whole record. I had a little help with some co-producers, but this was the first one I took the whole lead on.
Does it bug you when people say that you left hip-hop behind for the more rock and blues guitar-centered sound that made ‘Whitey Ford Sings the Blues’ such a huge success?
Even though I may sing on some of my songs you can still break down what I do lyrically. It’s pretty much written in my same MC rhyme patterns. I spent the first half of my life digging through every kind of style of record you could think of — trying to find something to flip and make it into something else. In hip-hop, you wind up borrowing all this music and trying to make something new out of it. So there is no genre that technically isn’t hip-hop. ‘Songs of the Ungrateful Living’ is still hip-hop to me. It has that spirit. That’s all I’ve ever done.
There are a lot of political overtones on ‘Songs of the Ungrateful Living.’ You have songs about how the high unemployment rate is crushing the spirit and livelihood of Americans, class warfare and how politicians in Washington are seemingly looking the other way. Were you getting your Bob Dylan on?
I wouldn’t say that [laughs]. A lot of people considered my last album very political, but I was just angry. But the music I’m making now is more reality-based. If it ain’t my life, it’s something directly touching my life. I’m not doing anything new. This is what hip-hop used to be about. You had groups like Public Enemy saying the same things. But hip-hop today has become more about what I have and what you don’t have. It’s more materialistic.
It goes back to class warfare, right?
Right! How can you identify with someone rhyming about flying on private jets? I’ve elevated myself financially. I know rich people, but I don’t know if I can call myself rich. I don’t smash my success in people’s faces. It’s almost like Marie Antoinette’s “Let them eat cake.” It’s disrespecting the same fans that are struggling to get by. If I wrote a rap about having $8,000 on me, I would feel stupid. I have that money because I have to pay for something later, not because I’m trying to show off for people. These cats have lost touch. That’s why I made this album.
Is there a song that especially hits home for you on ‘Songs of the Ungrateful Living’?
I have a song on the album called ’65 Roses’ that’s about my daughter, who was born with a disease called cystic fibrosis. When kids are little and they are trying to say it, they wind up saying ’65 Roses.’ But the song is about me and my wife dealing with that knowledge, finding that out and learning how to accept it. Everything is good in my life. But that’s the kind of things I have to write about. I can write a fun song, but it has to saying something.
What’s the difference between the fans of Everlast that have been supporting you since you were down with Ice-T in the late ’80s as a member of Rhyme Syndicate and the fans of the guitar-strumming Everlast?
One is all these crazy knucklehead B-Boys that have been following me since I was a youngster. And then there are the post-’Whitey Ford,’ more adult, contemporary rock folks. I’m just trying to make them all understand — all these cats that don’t think they are hip-hop fans — if you listen to what I do today, you are a hip-hop fan.
Did you ever want to bury House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around,’ a song that threatened to make you into a one-hit wonder?
I never wanted to bury ‘Jump Around.’ But when I was making ‘Whitey Ford,’ I wanted to distance myself from that song. I still performed it live during that ‘Whitey Ford’ phase, but I did this really nutty, weirdo, live band version that wasn’t the song. But I’ve accepted it now. It’s just one of those things. ‘Jump Around’ is still big to this day. I can name five rappers that use ‘Jump Around’ during their show. Snoop [Dogg] closes his shows with that song. I know Slick Rick puts it on during his shows. I can’t even take all the credit for it.
What comes to mind when you think back to those years rolling with Ice-T?
Man, those were great times. I’m one of the luckiest cats in this business. I never chased a record deal. I used to run with this cat Divine Styler. He is still a good homie. I’m a son of Divine, that’s how I even got in the rap game. I used to want to be a graffiti writer and he was nasty and teaching me all these styles. He was rhyming and trying to get his career going and he was already dealing with Ice-T. I used to spit raps as jokes and make up funny s— while we were painting. And Divine and his buddy would say, “Yo, you should make a tape.” And that’s all it was back then.
Life was much simpler back then?
It really was. You had a Tascam 4-Track — a sampler and they made a beat and I made a tape. They played it for Ice and he was like, “Man, I like this record. I want to get him involved in Rhyme Syndicate.” But when they told him I was white, Ice lost his mind [laughs]. I was just trying to be like Rakim. I was stealing a lot of my style from him. I had Five Percenter terminology in my s— [laughs]. I was running with cats that were influencing me.
Did House of Pain come together in the same organic way?
It was the same thing. Like I said, I never chased a record deal. I ran into DJ Muggs [Cypress Hill and House of Pain producer], who I had known through his first group 7A3, who were close to signing with the Rhyme Syndicate back in the days. We were both messing with girls who were roommates. I wind back at this girl’s place and that’s where I met B-Real from Cypress Hill. They played me Cypress’ first album and this was eight or nine months before anyone had ever heard it. They popped that tape in and I was like, “What the f— is this, man?”
B-Real’s high, nasal voice had to be shocking alone, huh?
I still get goose bumps when I think about it. I knew Cypress was going to change the game. Me and B-Real started freestyling together and later we are in a car and B-Real tells Muggs, “Yo, you need to be working with Everlast.” Within a week we were working together on ‘Jump Around.’
Considering how huge of a departure it was musically from the House of Pain, were you confident going into the ‘Whitey Ford’ album?
I had no clue. When I quit House of Pain, I thought the record business was over for me. I was in a bad mental spot. The reason I quit [the group], besides some personal things that were going on in the band, I found myself going to gigs that I wouldn’t have went to if there wasn’t a check. I wasn’t having fun in the moment anymore. I was just about getting some money and paying the bills. I never really wanted a job. I watched my father break his back his whole life doing construction. A job is the last thing my father wanted me to have. He wanted me to have a career.
Did your label freak out when they saw the bluesy rock direction you were going in?
My label didn’t even want to put the record out. They wanted me to rap. They didn’t want nothing to do with ‘Whitey Ford.’ As much as they will take credit for it today, it was me and Dante Ross [legendary A&R executive] telling them this is going to work.
Around that time you had emergency heart surgery. You’ve even said in past interviews that you thought you were going to die. What was life like after facing death?
It was humbling. The first record I wrote after that whole ordeal was ‘Put Your Lights On,’ which was on the Santana album ['Supernatural']. I had to basically sale my home because I didn’t have medical insurance. I was a young man at the time, so I didn’t even think on that level. And the taxman f—ed me that year, so between the hospital and government, I owed around $600,000 or something. I was like, “F— it. Sell everything.” So now I’m in the city and I’m writing a song and the lights are coming on in the city and I’m like, “All you sinners, put your lights on.” That songs describes it all.
What’s the fondest memory of your career?
I love what I’m doing now with ‘Songs of the Ungrateful Living.’ And having a successful album with ‘Whitey Ford’ was great, but winning a Grammy with Carlos Santana was even cooler. To be able to tell him, “Yeah, I wrote you a song and it won a Grammy for you.” And this was the night he won nine Grammys. Now you are a part of history. I take pride in that when I go in my bathroom and I see the Grammy sitting there on my toilet.
Come on man, the toilet?
Yeah. I keep it there to remind me that it’s not that important [laughs].