Everlast's new album, Songs of the Ungrateful Living, which is out today, sounds like the kind of record a good ol' boy might play in Alabama while sittin' on the porch and sippin' beer. The former house of Pain frontman is in working-class-hero mode, singing in a gravel-road bass about fooling around with his woman and barely gettin' by over boot stomps and jangly guitars. The bluesy, whiskey-soaked album features fiddles and country over- tones, but according to Everlast, it's hip-hop nonetheless.
"I think that's one of the biggest misunderstandings about me," he says, sipping from a glass bottle of Coke in the Studio City motel room he converted to a studio about a year ago. "Everything I do is hip-hop. I don't care if it sounds like a country ballad; if I'm doing it, it's hip-hop." Just as he's used soul and rock samples for his rap music, for example, he's culled rap bits to incorporate into this new work.
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Indeed, even "What It's Like" -- the big single from his second solo album, Whitey Ford Sings the Blues -- has the unaffected shrug of a rapper. The twangy guitars and blue-collar themes, though, are bread crumbs that lead to Songs. His voice now has a deeper register, and a thick drawl lengthens his vowels. Still, lest anyone forget his rap allegiance (or that he's a serious art collector), his studio is covered by graffiti and includes original pieces by Banksy and Shepard Fairey.
It's no stretch to call Everlast, now 42, a West Coast rap O.G. The DJ Muggs-produced 1992 hit "Jump Around," after all, is a seminal song of its era. But he remains hard to define. With a father who worked in construction, he came from New York to L.A. as a child, and by the mid-'80s was ditching school in the Valley to graf write. He originally wanted to be a painter, but ended up making rap tapes with some buddies who knew Ice-T. He was briefly signed to Warner Bros., and a couple years later he and friend Danny Boy formed House of Pain.
After three albums, Everlast quit House of Pain and went on to record solo records as well as a duet with Santana, "Put Your Lights On," that won him a Grammy. In the mid-'00s he reteamed with House of Pain crewmates to form La Coka Nostra. He even recorded the gospel-tinged theme song for the show Saving Grace.
But forget all that. Though he dabbles in different genres, he asserts everything he does has an element of hip hop. "My songs are like Playboy covers: each one supposedly has a bunny hidden somewhere on it. Every song I've ever written has something from hip-hop in it. Probably one of my biggest challenges is to get people to understand that. Then again, I don't care."