|Slaine gives 'em the crazy eye|
Drugs and booze for years kept Boston-based rapper Slaine from shedding his reputation as a mixtape legend and taking his place among hardcore hip-hop royalty. The 34-year-old rapper admits he came late to the game, but he has redeemed the time, with a solo album hailed as one of the best true-school rap records of the new decade, and much-heralded collaborative work in Special Teamz and La Coka Nostra.
The Weekly caught up Slaine this week. He's in his hometown, preparing for the July 31 drop of La Coka Nostra's latest, "Masters of the Dark Arts," the day the group hits the Constellation Room in Santa Ana. He's as cool as his Boston accent is thick.
OC Weekly (Josh Dulaney): Before we get started, you know the Lakers are better than the Celtics, right?
Slaine: Not historically, but maybe now, slightly. Celtics just went to the Eastern Conference Finals and the Lakers were out in the second round. They got [Steve] Nash, but we still got one more championship.
La Coka Nostra produces records that hit hard, but have an old-school bounce and soul to them. Is that an accurate description, and what separates LCN from what other artists are doing today?
Yeah, I mean, I think everybody in the group has such a variety of influences that they grew up with, and just given the age range within the group. When Everlast was in the group it went from, at this stage, from 44 to 34. When La Coka started, I was 28, and these guys were 38. And everybody listens to everything from metal to hip-hop, and we obviously grew up on hip-hop. Basically our musical influences are all over the place. But I think it's rooted in that classic hip-hop. I think that's what we do, even though a couple members are from Cali, it's very kinda New York hip-hop.
The song "Mind Your Business" was produced by DJ Premier. How did that collaboration come about and do feel any kind of special pressure when you're working with a guy like that?
Yes, I do. He's probably the only person I feel pressure working with as a producer. I'm less relaxed working with Premier than anyone else because he's literally my favorite producer.
I'll tell you a funny story. Back in 1997, it may have even been 1998. I stood in line when [Gang Starr's] "Moment of Truth" came out, and I wanted to get my LP signed at the Tower Records. It was one of favorite groups, Gang Starr. Guru was from Boston, so he was a big influence on me. So Premier was just my favorite producer ever, everything from Nas to Biggie to Gang Starr, to you name it. So I stood in line, and it was a long line, and I got to the front and wished him well with the record. And I told him, "I'm gonna work with you one day man." He was like, "Oh, you think you got it like that, man? We'll see. We'll see."
So, fast forward six years, 2004. I was working with a group I'm in called Special Teamz, with Edo G, and we bumped into Premier in the studio. He had just moved into it. It used to be the old D & D and he renamed it The HeadQCouterz. So we go in there and he asks Edo, "Who's the young guy in the center?" And [Edo's] like, "That's Slaine." And he goes into the studio for about two hours while we sat there, and I was like, "I don't think he likes me, Ed." And he's like, no, it's fine. And another hour goes by, and he's like, "I don't think he likes you."
So anyways, we recorded a track, and it was the first single we put out, called "Main Event." When I'm touring, I'm in London and Premier is DJing at this club and we go over to check it out. We went backstage and Premier and Melle Mel come walkin' out. And Premier's like, "Oh shit! What up!" And he starts spitting the verse from my song. He starts spittin' the verse with the Boston accent, and I guess he likes it. He's like, "Oh man, come here, I want to introduce you to this new artist I'm workin' with." And then he introduces me to Melle Mel. And I was just blown away. And me and Premier have been friends ever since that, even though this is the first time I've worked with him since then. So I worked with him in 2004 and 2012, but have kept in touch, texted him and seen him around a little bit. He's a good dude, man. I have a great relationship with him, but he's someone I get nervous to work with. He has that persona. I used to have pictures of him on the wall when I was a kid.
"Mind Your Business" and "Malverde Market." Are those two songs similar to what people can expect from the rest of the record?
To tell you the truth, originally we were going to make an EP. Danny Boy was breaking down the history of Malverde and the whole culture that was going on down there, and we were going to do an EP based around that. And then we decided to make a full length and thought it was too much to go a full length, so that's when we switched it to "Masters of the Dark Arts." So that stuff is still on that album. So I wouldn't say the entire album is slow and dark like that. It's not. "My Universe" and "Malverde," the reason we leaked that first is because we thought it would be interesting to fuck with the fans, because people are used to hearing that rah-rah-rowdy shit from us, and we wanted to go in an opposite direction from what people were expecting. But there's still some up-tempo stuff on the album, and then there's also some storytelling stuff like on "My Universe" and "Malverde Market." It fits conceptually, but there's a lot of different records on the record that are up-tempo.
Can you talk about how much Everlast is on the record? I know he left the group to care for his daughter.
Yeah, Everlast isn't on the record at all. It's our first one without him. Everlast has been a mentor to me. I have a personal history with him. And he has the situation with his daughter, and it takes a lot of time to do this stuff and tour it, and he has his solo career too. I just think he couldn't make that time dedication anymore because he had something more important. Family first, you know? With that being said, from an artistic point of view, I just think the group, it's like any time a team loses a great player, the team changes. A-Rod leaves the Mariners, you don't try to plug somebody in who's gonna be A-Rod, cuz he's not A-rod. You have to use the strengths of the rest of the guys on the team. The team is gonna be different obviously, but you have to find a way to make the team a winning team, even without that guy. So we went in a different direction on this record because of that. And it's something we intentionally did, or it's something that happened naturally when we refocused the talent around a different core. I mean, I think people are gonna be really happy with the album.