Madchild has been in the hip-hop game for eighteen years. This Canadian rapper found great success in both the United States and his home country. He is a former member of the group Swollen Members and began his solo career as Madchild back in 2012, after hitting a low point battling his addiction with Oxycontin. For him, music became a steady creative outlet and touring a therapeutic practice.
He released his latest album,The Darkest Hour, on July 28 and posted new, unreleased music every Monday prior to the album's debut as part of the Madchild Mondays initiative. Since the record took two years to produce and he usually puts out a new album annually, he began the initiative to keep fans up to date with what he was doing.
We spoke with Madchild about facing his addiction, what changes he has observed in the industry over his many years within it, and how he keeps it real in a technologically saturated age.
Westword: Did having a weekly deadline for Madchild Mondays keep your creative momentum going?
Madchild: The artist side of you wants the album to come out right away because you want people to hear it, but the business side of you knows that a record has to be set up properly. If you just throw it out there, it gets thrown into the world of the Internet, and it could be completely oversaturated by a million other things and go by without people noticing. So there’s a process for setting up an album, but for the people that are constantly in tune with what I’m doing, let’s give them some music to tide them over.
When you hit the initial low in your addiction and lost a lot of money, do you feel that renewed your appreciation for your craft?
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The appreciation for music definitely came back tenfold. Being able to do what you love and make a good living out of it is a blessing and a gift. Sometimes we take those things for granted. Everything happens for a reason, and I value everything so much more [now] than when things were kind of given to me on a silver platter. I respect and am thankful for every fan that I have, every interview I do, every show I do: It’s a blessing. I’ve been doing this for eighteen years, and to have longevity like that and still be relevant is something I give thanks for every day.
I feel like that’s commonly an artist’s fear — that they’ll hit some success, and then it’ll be over.
Especially in the way the world is today! The good thing about it is a lot more people get to live their dream now. Though maybe a short-lived dream that only lasts about a year and a half, they still get to live their dream. Not as many people could live their dream eight or nine years ago. Now a lot of people are getting to see what it’s like to go viral and do a bunch of shows and live that experience. That’s the positive side of it. The negative side is [since] there are so many rappers now, and it is so easy to put out music and videos, there are a lot of people popping off, but their careers are unfortunately short-lived. But the ones that are really good will stick around; it’s just as simple as that.
How have you seen the industry change and remained relevant within it? If you’ve been doing this for eighteen years, you’ve seen a lot of technology come into play, like smartphones, within the last eight or nine years.
I [find] a balance in it. I don’t buy into the whole thing of letting everybody completely into my world. I think at the end of the day, I’m going to have more self-respect for that. But you have to let people in a certain amount, because that’s what’s expected. When we were selling platinum records and gold records, everything was more of a mystery. There’s never going to be another Jim Morrison, there’s never going to be another Jimi Hendrix, there’s never going to be another Kurt Cobain…where everything was more mysterious. It’ll be interesting to see in fifty years if people who are the biggest artists now will still be on posters on kids' walls, or whatever people will be putting on their walls fifty years from now. I’m not certain it’s going to have that same power. But I'll bet you there will still be big murals and posters of the artists I just spoke of – Jim Morrison, for example. So that’s changed, for sure.
Letting people into your world — you mean in terms of social media, right?
Look, everybody is partying, right? They’re in the club and they’ve got bottle service, girls…I’m speaking from a guy’s point of view. They’ve got girls around, they’ve got the homies, they’ve got two bottles of champagne or vodka, and then somebody’s like, “Stop! We’ve got to get this on Snapchat.” And they’re not really enjoying the moment. Like if you’re going to a show and you’re filming the whole thing on your iPhone, are you actually enjoying the show? Are you really going to go home afterwards and watch the show again on your iPhone? I’m not really sure how that works. The whole thing of being in the moment is kind of gone. I’m sure people are having fun when they’re out in clubs, but it’s set into everybody’s way of living that you’ve got to stop and show everybody how much fun you’re having or how glamorous your life is at the moment. That’s cool, no problem, but it’s not really real, either, is it? Everything comes in waves and comes in cycles, and this is what entertains people now. There may be a time where people may ease back on using social media, but I don’t think it’s any time in the near future, so you’ve just gotta roll with whatever it is. I like the music that’s happening now. I like having a smartphone. It’s really helpful in a lot of ways. With the new generation of kids, that’s just what they’re born into. You just roll with whatever is going on and try to look at the good points.
Tell me about your new album. Why do you feel this one is different?
This may be the first time I’ve done an entire album with one producer, to be honest. So that’s going to change the vibe, for sure. We went over to Evidence’s house every day while we were working on the album, and it was a new environment. I make a lot of music in my house and from another studio I work in. The album is called The Darkest Hour. It definitely reflects on the time that I was going through a rough patch in life. I didn’t get specifically into detail about anything that happened in that time, but I’m speaking more about the moods I was in and things I was going through. I’m kind of a dark artist as it is; my art usually has a dark edge to it. I was definitely digging deep and telling the truth, not really thinking about what people are going to think. I wanted to get it all out on paper and out into the music…I focused on wordplay, which is a strength of mine as an artist. I also got real messages across that are very coherent and pick up the vibe of what I’m talking about. I’m an abstract expressionist with my music, so I might talk about four or five different things in one verse. Where on this album, I threw out a whole verse or a whole song speaking on maybe only one or two topics in particular. Still doing it in my way, where you have to read in between the lines for some of it, but a lot of it was very up-front and very easy to understand.
What do you think facing your addiction did for your creativity?
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I think I’m always honest in my music. When I got off of drugs, I was sober for a few years. Since then I have relapsed a few times, and I didn’t really want to put that out there because many, many, many people have told me how my first or second album have helped them in some way while recovering from whatever substance was ruining their life. I think that’s a really big responsibility and a big honor. I was very honest about my drug addiction and the losses that I had. When I had relapsed, I had hinted about it in music, but I didn’t want to yell it out, because I didn’t want it to have a negative effect on people who were using my story as strength to stay on the right track. Eventually you’ve got to air it out and be honest. Yeah, I’ve relapsed a couple times, and I’m not a 100 percent sober person. I do drink now, but I don’t do hard drugs anymore. I think a real artist will talk about whatever is going on in their lives at the time, and that’s going to constantly change. People can’t expect your fifth album to sound the same as your first album because time has gone by, life has changed, and you’ve hopefully evolved as a person. So the topics you speak about may be different, but you’re still you, so there may be some similarities. But it has to keep changing and evolving and growing, or else it will become stagnant.
I used to think about that when I was younger. I’d really like an artist’s particular album, and then they’d come out with something completely different, and I used to be confused by that. Now I understand how it’s impossible for us as an audience to expect them to maintain exactly what we like from them. Because it could get stale and old and even hinder them from making music.
[Laughs.] It’s so funny, because if you don’t switch it up, people will say, “You’re making the same music over and over again.” Then if you do switch it up, people will say, “Why doesn’t your album sound like your last one?" All you can really do as an artist is be your best. As you get older in life, that becomes more difficult. People get married; they have kids and car payments. Life gets more complicated.... You’ve got twenty people with hands out that expect you to help them or people that want to roll with you for whatever reason. To really get into that zone, you have to have tunnel vision. You have to shut that stuff out and go back to when you were younger and working on music ten hours a day. That’s how you’re going to make your best art. The message might change a bit, and there might be growth. But when we hear an artist, and we love their first or second album but hear their third or fourth album and think, “What the hell happened to this person?” [Life probably] just got in the way. So I try not to let that happen and be sure I’m the best Madchild I can be, no matter what stage of life I'm in.