In the back lounge of venerable Mid-Wilshire Irish pub Tom Bergin's, West Coast hip-hop supergroup La Coka Nostra members Daniel "Danny Boy" O'Connor, 43, and George "Slaine" Carroll, 34, take their seats at a table covered with creased white linen.
"I'll take a Jameson on the rocks," Slaine tells the waitress. Meanwhile, Danny Boy stares at the shamrocks splayed across the ceiling walls in an adjacent room. Next to him sits a cop friend and Slaine's girlfriend, porn star Cadence St. John. Danny Boy, seven years sober from alcohol and meth, orders a 7UP. He sips it slowly while perusing the menu.
"I'm so glad you chose this place," he says. "I haven't been here in 20 years. It's like walking onto a movie set of your childhood." The bar, in fact, was the location for the back-cover photo of the 1992 debut album from House of Pain, Danny Boy's former crew.
He says he feels blessed to be alive and creating music with La Coka Nostra, which also includes members DJ Lethal and Ill Bill. The crew formed as a loose affiliation in 2005 and came to include others including Everlast, who left earlier this year to care for his daughter after she was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.
Despite the turnover, La Coka Nostra are poised to drop their second album, Masters of the Dark Arts, out on Fat Beats today. Musically and lyrically, it's a change in direction from their previous, posse cut-driven output. The production team, including Statik Selektah, Lethal himself and others, creates a hazy, narcotic sound that employs downbeat loops and layers of spoken-word samples. The vibe often recalls East Coast hip-hop like Wu-Tang Clan and Mobb Deep.
The rhymes concern themselves with violence, drugs and despair, although there is a distinct contemplative, spiritual bent. The single "Malverde Market" tells of a paranoid cocaine trafficker haunted by visions of drug-war casualties and dreaming of peace, whether in this life or the next: "Division in the distant haze, the pistol plays like hellfire/Bullets whistle by like voices beyond the grave in the dead choir."
The group members know all about drug-fueled chaos. "I used to be worried about where I was going to get my next fix," Danny Boy says. "I would run out of drugs and spiral out of control."
Slaine abused PCP and cocaine throughout his life, and spent the better part of 2006 living in a Roxbury, Mass., warehouse owned by a drug dealer friend, with only intermittent electricity and running water.
He clearly still enjoys his whiskey, but he has cleaned up his life significantly. "Before, I didn't give a shit if I lived or died," he says. "Dozens of my friends have died from drugs and suicide. I feel like I would be spitting in their faces to attain this level of success and throw it all away."
The waitress returns with the check, and Danny Boy figures out how the tab will be split. He admits, "This music isn't making me stupid rich, you know?"
La Coka Nostra's Masters of the Dark Arts is out today.
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