If you’re a person who asked the question “Whatever happened to Cage?” then this is the review for you. If you’re not then I’d still encourage you to stay tuned anyway because it’s an interesting tale. The rapper born Christian Palko back in 1973 first hit my radar in the late 1990’s off the unique song “Agent Orange”, thematically and musically referencing “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess — though more would know the movie directed by Stanley Kubrick starring Malcolm McDowell as the anti-hero Alex. Utilizing a synthesizer sample of Henry Purcell’s “Funeral March of Queen Mary” from the film adaptation, the song and its scratched hook “people said his brain was infected by devils” (a kung-fu sample previously used by GZA) made for a horrorcore hip-hop hit.
Cage would capitalize on that sudden burst of underground popularity with a slew of projects starting with the Smut Peddlers in 2001 and “Movies for the Blind” in 2002. You could reliably expect Mr. Palko to release an album every now and then throughout the first decade of the century, ranging from solo projects like “Hell’s Winter” to team-ups like Leak Bros (Cage and Tame One) on “Waterworld“. Despite the critical acclaim most of the work received, Cage’s output would decrease following 2009’s “Depart From Me“, leaving a full four years to go by until “Kill the Architect” dropped on Eastern Conference Records in 2013.
“All hail the defiant one” announces Cage on “Merry Mithras”, warning listeners in his typically gritty and nasal delivery of what they’re in store for. “I’m a problem now, ‘specially if I got a crowd/Don’t want me to do it? Then don’t tell me that I’m not allowed”. Unfortunately for many people who originally purchased this album “Merry Mithras” was nowhere to be found as Cage made it an iTunes exclusive. Of the songs that listeners did get on the regular edition, 11 were produced by DJ Mighty Mi and Slugworth, with “Fuck This Game” and “You Were the Shit (in High School)” being handled by Mr. Bomb Camp. The latter is one of album’s best tracks. It’s a methodically slow paced, piano laced track with a chopped and screwed chorus that sounds as medicated as the refrain professes.
Subsequent releases of “Kill the Architect” have merged the regular album with the digital iTunes exclusive, increasing the album’s length from 42 to 54 minutes and improving the overall presentation in the process. If you’re familiar with Mr. Palko it’s what you’d expect from his work. Cage’s reputation wasn’t built on bragging about his wealth and cars, doing remixes with popular mainstream artists, or giving you an upbeat outlook on life. “My Dog Is Dead” comes as close to HAPPY as the dour Cage can ever be, with a chorus where he raps “Middle fingers up ’til they put me in the ground/Stay fucked up ’til they put me in the ground/I’ll drink ’til I drown or they put me in the ground/My dick is getting sucked ’til they put me in the ground”. I don’t think I could recommend him to the clinically depressed.
There’s an appeal to the darkness of Cage though. Just as Alex is the anti-hero of “Clockwork Orange” you root for despite his despicable actions, Cage is the protagonist of drugged up deadly despair who proudly proclaims “Why the fuck should I care?” on songs like “Don’t Know”. His seemingly reckless nihilistic rap persona can be a cathartic experience for a listener tired of life’s endless stream of insufferable bullshit. Perhaps a song title like “Watch Me” sums up the appeal perfectly. “The day I tuned out is the day I tuned in” quips Cage, referencing both Timothy Leary and his own penchant for mind-altering chemicals. “Let them watch me doing what I want to do … get your popcorn out and watch me” as Mr. Palko proudly ingests and consumes what he wants like a libertarian drug czar.
So with a successful long-awaited follow up to his last drugged out rap album, what happened to Cage in the seven years that followed? It’s a story that is even crazier than the one he raps on “Cursed”, which turns out to be a more accurate title than he intended. After being hit by a truck on the freeway in 2015, Cage was left with a traumatic brain injury that caused temporary amnesia and made resuming his rap career incredibly difficult. After a couple of years he managed to return through appearances with the Insane Clown Posse on their own tours and at Gathering of the Juggalos, and he released a new album under the alter ego Sam Hill in 2018. It’s a remarkable comeback for a rapper who almost became “Road Kill 2”.
The dark humor of Cage’s raps may be too much for some people. “I know it’s mundane/I’m pharmaceutically lobotomizing my brain”. In fact I’d go so far as to say if you weren’t a fan of Cage’s tormented raps going in that “Kill the Architect” isn’t a good place to start. Even by his own standards this release is brutal albeit in a way that I personally find enjoyable. The beats and rhymes are unrelentingly morose and heavy, so while it’s a head nodding joint in its own way, it could quickly numb you with just a few doses until you’re as medicated as Mr. Palko himself. I can’t imagine that the lifestyle he raps about would be healthy long term if he lives it like he talks it, but having already cheated death at least once it’s equally hard to argue with his personal choices… unless you think about Juice WRLD and Mac Miller for a minute. Maybe it’s better to live vicariously through his raps than to take anything on “Kill the Architect” like it was good advice.