Swollen Members emcee Madchild isn’t living up to his name, and that’s a good thing. After years of struggling with an addiction to Percocetand Oxycontin, the madness is over for Madchild, who succeeded in kicking his habit. It wasn’t easy, and the world is a lot different from when he started using, as he notes “it’s like coming back from jail after five years,” but he’s now 23 months sober, and applying to get his US ban lifted so he can tour America.
To say Madchild has been leading an eventful life would be a bit of an understatement. He went from being a Canadian hip-hop hero, to a drug addict, to what he is today – a ferocious emcee who is incredibly open about his life, and speaks at high schools counseling the youth. “Things that I used to think were cool,” he explains, “I’ve realized are completely the opposite of cool, and completely bullshit.”
Madchild’s frankness about his life is on display on his just released solo album, Dope Sick, and RapReviews caught up with him to find out more about the project and everything that inspired it, including his fall into addiction, and his recovery. Madchild also discussed his unique take on song structure, and how he sees his new music affecting listeners.
Adam Bernard:You overcame a potentially deadly drug addiction. Before we get to how you beat it, how did it start?
Madchild:Back in 2006 was when it started. From 2000-2006 we, Swollen Members, had quite a wave of success, especially in Canada. We had worldwide success as an underground group, but in Canada shit popped off.
AB: You were winning MuchMusic awards and things of that nature.
MC: Yeah, like four Junos, seven MuchMusic awards, three West Coast awards, platinum and gold records. It was quite a ride, especially when Swollen Members was just intended to be an underground rap group. We made Balance and Bad Dreams with no intention of ever thinking that kind of stuff would happen, so when it did it was kinda like fly by the seat of your pants with the whole thing and adjust as you go. It’s a pretty fast paced life when you’re doing shows in front of 20,000 people and doing up to 200 shows a year. We worked really hard for those years and in 2006 I guess you could say the wave was coming to a crash. Management dropped us because of people I was hanging out with. We had a deal with Virgin in America, it was gonna be our first real push in America, and we got dropped before the record even came out. I was like you know what, we worked super hard, I went from like living in my grandma’s bedroom, slangin weed, to being a millionaire and owning my own houses. I owned 11 properties at the time, cars, money, you name it. I was like you know what, I’m just gonna take a year off and enjoy life. BAD IDEA.
AB: Why was that a bad idea?
MC: It’s a bad idea for a workaholic like myself to take too much time off. Idle time is the devil’s plaything. I was hanging around with the wrong groups of people and got really immersed in partying, going to mansion parties and strip clubs and hanging around with groups of people that weren’t productive for what my lifestyle SHOULD be. No disrespect to anybody, and I’m not blaming anything on anyone, but I was definitely making bad choices, at least for myself. Going to these mansion parties I mixed Percocets with beer for the first time. I was like whoa, this is crazy. I started doing that more and more often. It went from a weekend thing to on a Wednesday night at home, and then it went to Percocets without drinking the beer, then it went to like 20 a day. A year later a friend said “you know that shit is like synthetic heroin, right?” I honestly, at that point, a year into my addiction, had no idea that shit was as serious as heroin. As soon as I found out I said I gotta quit, that’s it, and I experienced being dope sick for the first time. It’s the worst shit I’ve ever gone through and hopefully ever will go through. I went through five days of being dope sick, then I jumped on a plane and went to the Dominican Republic to try to get over it and move on with life, but when I was there, the whole two weeks all I could think about was coming back and popping the pills again. It had already gotten its claws into me. I came back and immersed myself deeply into the addiction. Percocets turned into Oxycontin because one Oxycontin can be like 8-10 Percocets, and that addiction spiraled into a really dark, terrible place of doing 20 Oxycontin 80s a day four years later. All my money was gone, and I just became a complete drug addict. I spiraled down about as far as you can go.
AB: Twenty a day? Did you feel ANYTHING at that point?
MC: When you become a dope addict, with heroin, or Oxycontin, or Percocets, or any opiates, after a while you’re not taking the pills to get high, you’re taking the pills to maintain, you’re taking the pills so you don’t get sick. You’re more afraid of that feeling of being sick, and it can happen within, easily, half a day if you don’t get your pills. So do you feel anything? At the end of it I was taking seven Oxycontin 80s before I could even get up and move around. I would spend the first few hours on the couch watching movies. Was I getting high? I was high 24/7. I was high for four years, but I think it was only the first year where you’re actually really getting stoned and enjoying it.
MC: As soon as someone told me what it was. Keep in mind I was in a cloudy, opiate induced state. I was a walking zombie by then. It seemed harmless. This was back in 2006, when there wasn’t much awareness about this epidemic. I thought just popping pain killers didn’t seem like a big deal. You can get em prescription. It’s a typical thing to see in parents’ medicine cabinets. If someone gets surgery they have them. It just didn’t seem like a big deal. Pain killers. It sounded kinda innocent. It didn’t seem like I was really doing drugs, but of course I was, and of course it is extremely dangerous and serious, but at the time there was not that awareness. This is what I’m trying to get at, I’ve tried everything under the sun once or twice, here and there, and I could always take it or leave it. I wasn’t supposed to become a drug addict. This caught everybody by surprise, including myself and my family and my group because, like I said, my whole life I tried this, tried that. I could do it once and then not even think about it, and maybe do it again six to eight months later. I always had that personality, and I was never gonna stick no needle in my arm, so I would have never ever tried heroin. It just wouldn’t happen. I’ve seen Basketball Dairies, I’ve seen Trainspotting, I’ve seen all the heroin addicts walking in the East part of the city I live in, and you see what they look like and you see the after effects and these poor souls walking up and down the street looking like zombies. I just knew that I was never gonna do that. The ironic thing is the same thing almost ended up happening to me, but by taking something in a pill form without having an awareness. I fell into it. Now, in 2012 there’s lots of awareness and hopefully kids have the information before they make the wrong choice of trying it.
AB: You mentioned your friends and family being concerned. Who helped you the most in beating this?
MC: Absolutely my family. My group was (also) extremely supportive and stuck by my side the whole way. I’m really blessed, brother. I’m blessed to have the family that I do, my group, my girlfriend, I got a couple real close other friends, I’m real blessed to have the people in my life that I do. I did have to walk away from about 99% of the people I hung out with when I made the choice to get clean. That was just a lifestyle choice, it wasn’t anything personal against people, but I literally walked away from hundreds of people that I knew. I moved and changed my number, said that’s it, I’m done. I don’t think, looking back, too many people probably took it the wrong way. I think they understood I had to save my own life.
AB: Your new album, Dope Sick, chronicles some of the trials and tribulations that you went through. A lot of times artists say writing these things out is cathartic, but after that catharsis, is it difficult to then go out and perform these songs night after night?
MC: No, because I do it in sort of a celebration type of a way. Yes, my music is my therapy, and I self reflect in my music on the things that I’ve gone through, but, for example, let’s take a song like “My Life,” I talk about my addiction through the whole song, but I do it in an upbeat, fun way, and any song I do I’m gonna focus on the wordplay. That shit is really really important to me. That’s what excites me, and that’s what inspires me, and keep in mind a lot of my songs are sort of abstract expressionism, I don’t just touch on one topic, I’ll touch on twenty topics throughout a song because I’m very much interested in the wordplay and I very much like expressing sort of scattered thoughts. They’re all my own thoughts, and when you put em together, those pieces, the puzzle maps out a picture of me and my life, but I like to do it my way. I don’t do too many songs where I go from start to finish about one thing and keep it completely coherent and understandable the first time you listen to it. That’s just not what interests me, and it’s not what I like to listen to, and it’s not what I like to do. To me, writing like that is simply too easy. There’s no challenge to it and it’s not gonna be fun if I can’t challenge myself. To me you really have to put everything you’ve got into, not only what you’re saying, but the way you say it. To me that’s everything.
AB: What do you hope fans get out of the listening experience?
MC: I hope they can see the difference. I hope they can see the sharpness and the preciseness and the fierceness of my lyrics. Not in every song, of course. Not in the songs where I’m talking straightforward about just one topic. I hope they can enjoy those as one piece and take those songs for what they are, but I hope they can really see the difference when they hear a song like “Devil’s Reject,” for example, or “Monster.” I hope they can see the time and effort and the focus that it takes to execute them.
MC: Yeah! Hell yeah! That’s a huge part of this whole thing for me. So many times young people, or people closer to my age, have come up to me and shared their experiences, and through emails and Twitter, and all that stuff, have told me how sharing my experiences have helped them in their life experience, to get off drugs, or make the choice to stay off drugs, and it helped give them strength to stay on a better path. I can understand that because I have been influenced by artists in such ways in my life, and I can very much appreciate it, and to be straight up, without sounding too emotional, for real, that shit fills my heart with joy, on some real shit. It really really really pushes me and keeps me going. I don’t feel like I’m preachy about it. I don’t feel like I’m constantly talking about it. I feel like it comes up when it comes up naturally and I’m just living life. I don’t sit and think about sobriety every day. I don’t even like calling it sobriety, I just call it being normal. I call it going back to being when you were 12, before you knew what drinking and drugs was like. Once you stop it, and live life enough without it, it’s not like you think about it anymore, you just live life and realize life’s great without all those bullshit substances.
AB: Do you consider yourself a success story?
MC: I consider myself on the way to becoming a success story. I think that things are moving in the right direction. I feel a buzz in the street when I go out. I see that people are now coming up to me when I’m just going about my regular day. I think they’re putting the name to the face again thanks to the internet. I’m rebranding myself because I don’t look like that young kid with the golden locks, the young kid in Swollen Members, anymore.
AB: You grew up.
MC: Yeah, I grew up, so when I moved back and got sober two years ago nobody was coming up asking for autographs because nobody knew who the fuck I was and we weren’t doing anything at the time. People are now putting the face to the name again and there’s music for people to decide whether it’s for them or not, so that feels like success, and getting over what I’ve gone through, and changing my life and sticking with that path and feeling very comfortable on that path, and walking under God’s light a lot more than I was, and making right choices a lot more than I was, appreciating things in life that I didn’t appreciate before, like family, and like the fact that you want to do an interview with me, that’s petty cool. Out of all these artists and all this music and all these songs, people want to talk to me about what I’m doing. Yeah, I would consider that the beginning of a success story.