View more photos in the “Beyond the Stage: Cage at House of Blues” slideshow.
It's another Friday night in Hollywood and the Sunset Strip looks like a war zone. Cars inch forward and break hard, some get stuck merging and block traffic, everyone is honking, and some people shout at each other through bullhorns. Definitive Jux rapper Chris “Cage” Palko stares quietly at the chaos from the outdoor patio at the House of Blues and takes a long drag off his cigarette. Across the street, cops have dropped in to break up a massive labor union protest at the Andaz hotel and there is a faint smell of manure coming from the parking lot. The night is shaping up rather dramatically but the only thing distracting Cage from his upcoming performance in a couple hours is the way he and his crew are being handled by the House of Blues staff.
“It's been a very long time since I've been treated like this,” he says evenly. The House of Blues won't let them sound check and it won't let them use their video projection backdrop. Not to mention, the only thing in the fridge backstage is beer and half and half. Cage is annoyed. His DJ Chauncey is pissed. And tour manager Todd Westphal is trying to track down the guest list which has miraculously gone missing.
Admittedly, the vibe tonight is much different than it was the last time we saw Cage in July at the El Rey during the first run of his Depart From Me tour with label mate Yak Ballz. That night the performers exuded a infectious energy and showmanship on stage, only further enhanced by the tour mates' rollicking closeness off stage. But this time around things have changed. Rather than headlining, Cage is opening up for Less Than Jake, a seemingly odd pairing that was arranged via their respective agencies to “cross pollinate” their audiences.
Somehow, the one thing people weren't talking much about at the House of Blues was the news that Cage is teaming up to collaborate with Kid Cudi on Cudi's new album. L.A. Weekly met up with Cage backstage to get the scoop…
L.A. Weekly: So, you said you've got some cool new news to tell me.
Cage: Kid Cudi. I'm going to be doing a song on his next record.
Cage: Isn't that weird? That's how he found out about me. There was no issue or anything. It was just weird and coincidental because I was in an airport reading a magazine with an interview about him where it says he was trying to reach out to Shia to get him on his record. I was like, “Yeah right.” He wanted Shia to narrate all the parts that Common did on [Man on the Moon: The End of Day]. Anyway, come to find out he saw my video [for “I Never Knew You”] a couple weeks ago and loved it. He got at me and we just started talking a lot about music and shit and he's like, “I want to get you on my record.” I was like, “Cool.” I live in SoHo and he lives in Tribeca so we live close. It hasn't really surfaced yet.
L.A. Weekly: When will the collaboration start?
Cage: After touring. Probably in January. He's cool as hell. We're trying to basically get to that next level. It will probably be some sort of middle ground between what we both do. We've just been on the phone and texting back and forth trying to figure it out.
L.A. Weekly: How did you get paired up with Less Than Jake? Was it like an arranged marriage?
Cage: Yeah, it was an agency thing. We're trying to figure out some cross pollination thing and trying to open up to new fans. So here we are. The first two shows were canceled, there was something with the promoter, but the last two shows were good. There were a couple hundred people there and we had a following. There were definitely kids that had never heard of me before that came up after and were like, “Ah, I love your music and I wasn't expecting to get put onto something I would actually like.” That makes it worth it. It's the only reason I'm taking the biggest pay cut of my career to do this.
L.A. Weekly: There has been some rumoring by fans on the Internet that you're only playing songs off Depart From Me and not Movies for the Blind or Hell's Winter on this tour because of Less Than Jake.
Cage: Really, is that what people are saying? Holy shit. I don't read any of that stuff anymore so I'm never up on anything. People tell me things I'm like, “What?” I download movies and music on the Internet.
L.A. Weekly: So it's your decision which songs you do or do not play on this tour?
Cage: Yeah. I'm playing songs off Depart From Me because that's the album I just put out [laughs].
L.A. Weekly: Especially with a tour like this where you only have limited time for a set, it's not like you have the time to go down memory lane.
Cage: Especially going down memory lane with, like, four kids out of 30 that might be here for us. It's interesting. When we were doing the solo shows before the Less Than Jake tour started, we would play older stuff and the majority of the audience wouldn't be going crazy for “Agent Orange.” But then we'd play “I Never Knew You” and the newer songs and a majority of the crowd would go nuts, which I like because it showed that they're just new fans.
L.A. Weekly: Congratulations on the Spin nomination for best rapper of 2009.
Cage: Thanks. Yeah, they got my back. It was really cool. If you go look at the poll results I'm also up there for best song, best video…
L.A. Weekly: How has the press been treating you?
Cage: Well, Pitchfork hated my record.
L.A. Weekly: Pitchfork hates everybody. They were the ones who leaked the wrong song off your album earlier this year, right, like sabotage style?
Cage: Yeah, they leaked the wrong song. From the beginning there was something going on and I was screaming at my label like, “Why are we leaving it up to Pitchfork what they want to leak off my record?” I was like, “Fuck Pitchfork, I'm sick of this shit.” Then of course when the review came back I was like, “You gotta be fucking kidding me.” Not that I cared [about the bad review] but I had spent so much time dealing with them. I'll take a Spin over Pitchfork any day of the week.
L.A. Weekly: Well, and it's not about always wanting positive reviews. It's like you said, wanting to invest your time with people that are going to do their homework at least.
Cage: Exactly. Not investing your time with someone who is already planning on just shitting on you. I didn't care about the review. I was like, whatever, I get it. The minute MTV embraced the album, and Spin, Pitchfork was like, “Fuck him.”
L.A. Weekly: Are you going to be doing another music video for this album?
Cage: That's the plan. The plan is to do another video, hopefully soon. Shia and I are working on the movie. We've gone through five scripts and hate them all. There might be one or two things in a script that we think are cool but so far it hasn't been it. So we're working with a new writer now and after the tour I have to sit down and do a lot of talking with him. Hopefully that goes well. We're talking about turning it into a graphic novel. I'm still working on the Stoney Lodge diaries. I was hoping I'd be able to get a lot of writing done on the road but it's hard.
L.A. Weekly: The cool thing about your situation is that you do seem to be involved with a diversity of projects and have the ability to really branch out, whether it be writing, graphic novels, films, short videos, etc. You're not making work in a vacuum…
Cage: That's the part the I enjoy, that you can make art and you can reach other artists and collaborate just be creative. That's all I really care about is just doing creative stuff, even though this business makes you want to go postal sometimes. Like, Kid Cudi reached out and said, “I love your record and want to make music with you and I want to make people aware of who you are.” That's awesome.
L.A. Weekly: What do you think about his music?
Cage: I like a lot of it and I think his record is, aside from mine and a couple other records, probably the most original stuff I've heard. He's got a Kanye vibe a little bit but when we were hanging out and both listening to each others' music and trying to figure something out, his approach had me thinking differently which I got excited about because I met someone that I could make music with that has a completely different perspective. I've heard half of his new record and its got some crazy shit on it. It has this song that is like Weezer but with club drums and I heard that and I was like, “Why didn't I think of that?”
L.A. Weekly: That's cool though, because sometimes it can get too incestuous if you're collaborating with somebody that you are really similar to, creatively. Cool shit can happen when you're not compatible on paper but then you get in a room and your strengths and weaknesses motivate each other. That can be exiting.
Cage: Totally. It's cool to be hanging out, then we left and both went on tour around the same time, but we talk like every day.
L.A. Weekly: Anything could happen.
Cage: Yeah. I'm lucky. It's stuff you wouldn't expect and stuff you can't plan on but I'm fortunate in that regard.
Check DefinitiveJux.net for current tour dates.