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Off the Record

Don't Call Him Country. Everlast is Hip-Hop, Dammit.

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Tue, Oct 18, 2011 at 7:00 AM

click to enlarge BRANDON TURNER
  • Brandon Turner
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.

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.

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