Everlast has nothing to hide. Literally. As the 42-year-old Grammy Award-winning rapper/singer born Erik Schrody in Valley Stream, N.Y., sips a cocktail at a SoHo cafe on a recent afternoon in New York, gray hairs cover his stout face and he's clearly comfortable in his own tatted-up, grizzled-veteran skin. Yet when it comes to the current state of the world, Everlast is not so content.
On his sixth solo album, "Songs of Ungrateful Living," due Oct. 18 on his own Martyr Inc. with distribution through EMI, the bold MC-who first made his bones as the bruising frontman of Irish hip-hop trio House of Pain before going on to win a Grammy for his performance on Santana's 1999 album "Supernatural" ("Put Your Lights On") and deliver the theme song to TNT's crime drama "Saving Grace"-unleashes a two-fisted sequel of sorts to his guitar-driven 1998 revelation Whitey Ford Sings the Blues (Tommy Boy/Warner Bros.). The new album is packed with protest songs denouncing and dissecting the collapse of the American middle class, rampant housing foreclosures and soaring unemployment. Even President Barack Obama isn't safe on the collection.
Billboard recently sat down with Everlast, who underwent heart surgery in 1998, to find out why anger can indeed be good for the soul.
Is "Songs of Ungrateful Living" your most political effort to date?
I didn't set out to make a political album. I come from a hardcore, blue-collar union family. All of my people are still working-class folks. I still see it when my sister comes to me because the check that has been covering everything for so long all of sudden isn't covering everything, or a friend has to humble themselves to ask someone for something. You feel their pain. I'm hearing a lot of the fans tell me, "Thanks, man, for making something real."
Would it be correct to say that your first single, "I Get By," speaks on your disillusionment with Obama?
I'm waiting on that change, too. You didn't come in office and gangsta it up the way you acted on [your campaign]. You came in and tried to play the field so that everybody would like you. And you can't do that. Ain't nothing changing except the average person's bank account. I'm still pulling for him. I'm just sitting around waiting for the next Chuck D or the next Zach de la Rocha... the next artist that's really going to say some shit. Then it dawned on me, "Well, I got a voice."
There seems to be more of a harder hip-hop feel on the new album. Were you itching to flex your MC skills?
First of all, everything I do in my eyes is hip-hop. I can sing a country ballad and to me it's hip-hop if I'm doing it. I just brought that knock back a little bit; the boom-bap is a little more present. I just feel like people don't get it sometimes. They think that I abandoned hip-hop. Last night I had Busta Rhymes wanting me to spit on a record, which is an honor to me. I'm still an MC.
What goes through your mind when you perform House of Pain's "Jump Around" almost 20 years later?
It's different now, but before "Whitey Ford" came out I wanted to separate myself from "Jump Around." I just didn't want people coming to the shows just to hear that song. I sold way more "Whitey Ford" records than I did with House of Pain. [According to Nielsen SoundScan, Whitey Ford has sold 3 million units, while House of Pain's three albums have sold 2.7 million collectively.] So once I had that success beyond "Jump Around" I was able to re-embrace it. But you know what's going to happen when "Jump Around" drops in a club [laughs]. You know shit is about to go crazy.
Did facing death after your emergency heart surgery in 1998 compel you to become more introspective as a songwriter?
It was all of the above. The weird thing is, the whole "Whitey Ford" record was written and in the can when all that stuff happened to me. Literally the day I went into surgery was the last day of recording. Dante Ross mixed the record while I was in the hospital, and I noticed the songs had a lot to do with death. I knew it was coming subconsciously.
In the end, what are you trying to say to that Everlast fan who has grown up with you since your Rhyme Syndicate days with Ice-T?
The object of every album is... trying to find the common denominator in everyone's soul. That thing that when they hear your song they can say, "I feel the same way." Even people that like songs about Maybachs and private jets once in a while want to hear something else. I would rather if people love or hate my music. The only thing I don't want is indifference. If you are not stirring shit up, then what the hell are you doing?