Somewhere, right now, there’s a child taping up a poster of their hero on their wall. It’s part of growing up, perhaps. Even Notorious B.I.G. was hangin’ pictures on his wall long before Ready To Die hit. Somehow, it would seem, those Scotch-taped posters bring us closer to those we look up to, those who influence us. Picture yourself, as a kid, putting posters up on your bedroom wall. Now picture yourself growing up and working with those heroes, standing next to them, as a respected peer. Sound like a dream come true?
That might be how Slaine felt. He grew up in Boston, a fan of House Of Pain, heavily influenced by the group (composed of Everlast, DJ Lethal and Danny Boy) and a fascination with Hip Hop. He had their posters on his wall, as he told us in this interview. His appreciation for the music deepened, and he became a fan of Cypress Hill. His first Hip Hop concert featured both groups, planting a seed within that would eventually allow him to put his own pen to paper to express himself, inspired by those heroes on his wall. Now, flash forward a few years and he’s working in DJ Lethal’s house, surrounded by B-Real, Everlast, Danny Boy and several other esteemed emcees. He’s standing next to them, as a respect peer. Dreams come true.
That rings true in more ways than one for Slaine, one part of La Coka Nostra (which also features DJ Lethal, Ill Bill, and Danny Boy). Outside of his underground accolades as an emcee, he has a burgeoning acting career. He’s already locked down a few film roles including the Ben Affleck-directed film, 2010’s The Town. He’s now gearing up to release a film, Killing Them Softly, next to another hero of his, James Gandolfini (famous for his role as Tony Soprano in The Sopranos), Brad Pitt and Ray Liotta. He never acted as a kid, but he studied movies he rented, not realizing he’d eventually be able to find himself on the big screen next to such highly acclaimed names in film. His dreams just seem to keep coming true.
Here, Slaine spoke with HipHopDX about La Coka Nostra and their recently released Masters Of The Dark Arts album. He shared his take on the process behind the disc, working with (yet another hero) DJ Premier and how this album compares to their first. He also discussed his love-hate relationship with social media, his intriguing road from music to films and why he’s got a bit of a chip on his shoulder sometimes. Slaine also opened up about his growth as an emcee and how he plans to continue growing as an actor; likely making even more dreams come true in his journey.
DX: What was the initial goal for the group when you initially formed La Coka Nostra?
Slaine: When we first started, it was me sleeping on Danny Boy’s couch. [DJ] Lethal signed me. He was still doing his Limp Bizkit thing but he signed me to a production deal as a solo artist. Lethal signed Danny to a solo deal. Then he signed this other kid to a solo deal. But then, instead of recording solo projects with me, Danny and the other kid, we ended up recording together. It was always a collective of emcees. Danny raps but he’s more of a graphic design, concept/idea guy than he is a write-raps-everyday kind of guy. As things went on, the other kid was a different artist and it wasn’t meant to be. So, Ill Bill came into the fray. Bill came up in the hardcore scene in New York but we had kind of a similar background. Then Everlast started coming around. We started recording stuff like that. It was a lot of fun and before we knew it, we put some stuff out on MySpace. Back then, MySpace was poppin’ as far as the Internet and shit. That’s kind of how the group formed. It wasn’t like a preconceived thing. We were just kicking it and everybody we were cool with ended up coming to the studio. B-Real came through but he had stuff going on and couldn’t tour with us. Sick Jacken came through. But the guys in the group-group, were Everlast, me, Bill, Lefty [Big Left], Danny Boy and Lethal. That was the beginning. That story is through the course of three years.
DX: How was it for you to come up being influenced by those around you but then kind of be put in a place where you became a peer with them?
Slaine: Early on, I wasn’t really feeling like a peer. Even when I started doing shit with Danny and Lethal, early on, I was like, “Wow.” You know? I had nothing, man. At the time Lethal signed me, I was living in South Boston, at the height of my fucked-up-ness as far as drugs. I was like, “Wow! DJ Lethal signed me to a production deal!” Those dudes were heroes to me. House Of Pain…Put it this way: The first Hip Hop show I went to was when I was 14 or 15. It was House of Pain, Cypress Hill, Funkdoobiest, and Alchemist’s group when he was young, The Whooliganz. That was the first show. House Of Pain…I love that style of music. All the Hip Hop music was dope in the ’90s from both coasts, but I especially liked Cypress Hill and House Of Pain. They were from the West Coast but they were Irish-American and that’s where I’m from. I always liked them. You know? I had their posters on my wall. So, it was surreal to be in a group with those guys. It was like a dream come true.
DX: Do you finally feel like a peer now?
Slaine: Oh yeah, yeah. That was 10 years ago when I went out there so I think that initial “Wow” set in. I still have that respect for them. They were a huge influence on me before I even knew them so I still have that respect. But those guys are my boys now. They’re my friends beyond music.
DX: On that note, I know you were a DJ Premier fan. What were you thinking while working on your verse for “Mind Your Business,” the song he produced?
Slaine: When I was writing that verse, the theme was “Mind Your Business.” Basically, the first penny ever made in America said, “Mind Your Business” on it. It was called the fugio penny. Basically it meant “mind your business” from both perspectives. Now, everybody wants to get behind the scenes. Everybody’s talking about Ill Bill and [Necro] or Non-Phixion breaking up. At this point in time, it’s, “What’s going on with Everlast?” With social media nowadays, everybody can ask you anything at any time. You might answer a question 30 times or 50 times but it’s never enough. You might put out a public statement but there’s always somebody who wasn’t on the Internet that day or didn’t read the article. You literally have to answer the same questions over and over. So, it’s like, really, mind your fucking business. There’s a gift and a curse to social networking stuff. Even now, it’s been like six or seven months since we put out the press release but there have been countless times where we’ve had to talk directly to people about Everlast not being on this album. Every day, someone is like, “What happened to Everlast?” Pay attention, man. It’s not just that, though.
What I wrote my verse on was gossip, snitching and people not really having to stand up for who they are anymore. People can just be bitches on the Internet. Not to sound like an old man, but in my era – and I think the era before me – if you had beef with someone, you shot the fair one. You won or you lost. I still have that mentality. I still do that. Sometimes you take the L in a fight. So what? But you handle your business. It’s not about talking shit on the Internet with an alter-tough-guy-ego because it’s the Internet. Part of it stems back to a clip that didn’t even have the beginning of what happened. Supposedly it’s me battling a kid but that wasn’t really what happened. So anyway, I slapped the kid. [WorldstarHipHop.com] put it up and fuckin’ got a million hits. It was just a portion of what actually happened. Everyone’s saying, “Slaine is this,” or “Slaine is that,” or “I’ma beat his ass when I see him.” Oh yeah? Well, I just went around the fuckin’ world in 80 different cities and not one person stepped to me with something like that. But on the Internet, it seems to be okay. That snitch shit is cultural now. Somebody can take a piece of a video, post it up on a fuckin’ website and turn it into something that…Basically, someone can take a video of me, edit it from one part of it, make it look a certain way, then fuckin’ identify who I am, basically committing a crime, then put it out there publicly. I don’t know about you but where I’m from, that’s called snitching. There’s no way around that. So to me, Worldstar is a snitch site. Whoever fuckin’ put that video up is a snitch. Everybody who watches that shit endorses that. Hip Hop is not supposed to be with that but Hip Hop is that now. So, Hip Hop went from being one thing to another, in my eyes. That’s where my head was at. Also, it’s so mainstream now for people to have neck tattoos. You know? That shit used to mean something else. Now, it’s like any fuckin’ bitch, any fuckin’ pussy kid who watches too many videos can put on some neck tattoos and act like a fuckin’ tough guy. That’s what I was talking about.
DX: There’s an interesting balance because the Internet does allow your fans to connect with you. I’m sure your fans have been connecting with you but at the same time, there’s that other aspect. So, you kind of have to balance it, right?
Slaine: Yeah, it’s a double-edged sword. I mean, I’m not saying social networking is terrible. It’s a great way to reach out to fans. I get messages from people every day about how I’ve affected them. It’s touching stuff too so there’s a way to connect personally with fans. There’s a great way to market your stuff, too. You can connect and market to people who already like you or who might be interested in you. But at the same time, you have the other side and you have stalkers and weirdos. I’ve put out less personal stuff than I used to. I put something up one day like, “I have to go on tour. I’m gonna miss my son.” Something like that, right? Somebody replied on Twitter to me like, “I hope he dies.” My son is three years old. That’s the kind of spineless shit I’m talking about. It’s weird because one or two people like that will really sour you. Shit like that is enough to make you want to fuckin’ kill someone.
DX: It’s probably especially frustrating because it leaves you helpless since you can’t really do much about it.
Slaine: Yeah. I don’t mean to go off on it, but it’s come to a point now where it doesn’t really…Like, that was the last straw for me when somebody wrote that. I kind of just blocked them and put it out of my head. It’s a made up name and it’s just some fuckin’ kid or whatever, just trying to get under your skin. It’s like a crank call, I guess. You can’t really let it get to you. At this stage in the game, I’ve come to the point where you can’t read that shit, the good stuff about you, the bad stuff about you. You kind of just have to come to your own opinion about what you’re doing and just do what you’re doing for you. You have to know who you are and can’t let the negative stuff steer you in any other direction at this stage in the game.
DX: Switching topics a bit but staying with technology, what was the difference between doing the whole album in person and doing it with e-mailed verses?
Slaine: We did [A Brand You Can Trust] in person. We did some of this one in person and some of it was back and forth. It took us a long time to get that first one done. But I think if you already have that bond with people, you can work both in person and over the Internet. When we finished this record, we were all in the studio and making decisions. I think it’s alright to combine the processes. It would be difficult to do a whole project without having any interaction with others. But you can combine them. Me and Bill and Danny, we sent stuff back and forth to each other. It speeds the process along and makes it easier. But in general, I like working in the studio. At this time, it’s just hard to do that, especially in this group because we’re all in different states.
DX: For you, I know acting has become an important part of your life. How was it for you to make the transition from music to film?
Slaine: The biggest thing for anyone in this business, once you get to the point where you’re working with legendary people, very famous people or talented people, you have to be comfortable enough to know you’re there for a reason. You have to knock down walls of any intimidation or, the “Wow, I can’t believe I’m in the room,” type of feeling. For me, when I started acting, I didn’t have that anymore. Like I said, early on, I had Lethal, Danny, B-Real and Everlast and DJ Premier. I worked with those people before I was ever in a movie. First time I was in a studio with Premier, I was like, “Holy shit! I’m in the studio with DJ Premier.” The same happened with Lethal, DJ Muggs and those guys. So, by the time I started acting, I had already rocked stages with those guys and proved my talents among those people. So, by the time I got onto my first movie set, even though it was a different medium – I never acted In high school or anything – but to be on the set with Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Ben Affleck directing, Casey Affleck. It was for Gone Baby Gone. By the time I got there, I was completely comfortable because of what I went through with music. That was important because at least I had that comfort zone. I had no experience acting. It’s a different medium completely. You need to be powerful and project on stage but acting is much more subtle. Even though more people watch a movie than listen to the music, it’s just you and the camera, and the crew or whatever. But it’s such a subtle art form. Just moving your eye a certain way, or just anything on your face, the slightest look or movement can say the biggest thing in a movie. It’s much more dramatic. Subtlety is much more dramatic whereas on stage, it’s completely different. With acting, I love it as much as I love Hip Hop.
DX: It’s a subtle art form but it’s complex. A lot of people go into it and then crash and burn. You’re not going into these super low budget films. You’re doing movies with big names. What allowed you to learn the craft, being that you had no formal training?
Slaine: Ben really mentored me and took me under his wing. For Gone Baby Gone, he took a lot of people off the street. He wanted it to be really authentic. He wanted the accents to be real and he saw that I kind of fit the bill for that. He kind of pushed me to do what he wanted me to do. Really all I had was two scenes but I had a really big scene in that movie. He made me feel comfortable and let me do my thing. I kind of modeled my character after a few people I knew. It was where I grew up so it was easy for me to see the neighborhood characters and just be that. The same with The Town. The Town was not too far from where I grew up. I was familiar with the area, went to high school with kids from there so it wasn’t a huge stretch for me. I’ve always been a fan of films. I’ve also kept my ears and eyes open and watched other people. I was a student of film since I was a kid. I was the dude who went to rent every video. It’s the same as I was with Hip Hop. I feel like with acting I’m where I was as an emcee when I was 18 years old. There are things I can do really well and things I’m still learning how to do. That’s why I’m really excited about my acting career. I have this new movie I got coming out with Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta on October 19. I’ve got another film where I’m like the second lead in it. I’m just trying to grow as an actor and get better at it. It’s the same way as what I did with Hip Hop. I know how much better I’ve become as an emcee from when I was 18 to now so I really want to do the same thing as an actor.
DX: What can you say about your role as Kenny in Killing Them Softly?
Slaine: A lot of people might look at it like, “He’s a gangster again?” I talked to Ben about it, actually. He was like, “Dude, you can do ten fuckin’ gangster roles in a row. Just make the characters different.” If it’s an interesting script –and I’ve been lucky to be a part of some good movies – then it’s gonna give you room to invent your own character. Kenny is much different. He’s semi-retarded. I play a semi-retarded hit man. I get a lisp. It’s just a different character.
DX: Did you have to research a bit to play the role?
Slaine: The way the screenplay is, it’s based on a book by George V. Higgins. He wrote The Friends of Eddie Coyle which was a classic Boston movie back in the day. He’s from Boston. This movie doesn’t take place in Boston but…He was Elmore Leonard’s influence. Elmore Leonard wrote Get Shorty. Elmore Leonard influenced Quentin Tarantino. So, basically, the dude who wrote this is the OG of all that Pulp Fiction type of shit. So, really, I just got creative with it. Andrew Dominik is this great fucking brilliant kookie director. He just gave me a lot of liberty to be weird with the character so I took the opportunity to do that.
DX: You also have Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta to build off. Those are some big names next to you.
Slaine: Yeah, man. Gandolfini, to me, is like, I love Gandolfini. The Sopranos may be the best TV show ever. He’s an overweight guy too so he gives me hope, as an actor, that us fat boys can get on. [Laughing] Just playing. Nah, but…Yeah, man. I mean, shit…Dude, Brad Pitt’s in the fucking movie. That’s what I mean. To tell you the truth, with the first two movies I was comfortable. With this one, the first scene I shot was with Brad Pitt. I meet him at the diner to talk about this job. I was like, “Man, I’m gonna be really fuckin’ nervous when I get on the set.” But then, I wasn’t. It was mad cool. I was focused on creating what the director wanted.
When it really kind of hits you is when you see the title, when you’re driving around and you see the title up. Once in a while, I’ll be driving around and the movie theater and I’ll see that and I’ll be like, “Fuck it.” I’ll drive into the thing, pop up in the back of the theater and watch it. It’s cool. You know what I mean? Everybody grows up watching movies so to actually have one in the theater with you in it, it’s the biggest thrill I’ve experienced, more than – We just did a show in Switzerland in front of 60,000 people. I mean, there have been a lot of landmark moments in my career, where I said, “Wow, I can’t believe this.” But that’s still the biggest thrill. It’s to drive by a movie theater and see a movie that you’re in.
DX: Did you ever have a moment like that with Hip Hop?
Slaine: Yeah, man. I’ve had a lot of moments like that in Hip Hop. The first time I recorded with Everlast…Shit like that. When we recorded “Fuck Tony Montana,” B-Real was in the studio, Sick Jacken, Everlast, Lethal, Danny Boy, Ill Bill…We were in Lethal’s studio in his crib, just outside of Hollywood in Studio City or whatever. We had booze. The bar-barbecue was going in the back. We were all smoking trees. I was just absorbing it like, “Wow.”
Actually, when I got the offer to be in Gone Baby Gone, I was in the studio with Lethal, recording a solo joint. When I got that, I was living in a warehouse with no electricity or hot water. Even though I had a relationship with Lethal and had the audition for the movie, my career hadn’t made me any money yet. Also, I had a performance with Special Teamz, which is my other group with Edo G and Jaysaun. Jeru The Damaja came out and did “Come Clean.” We also got “Jump Around” with House of Pain, all on the stage the same night in New York. That was a crazy moment too, to be a part of classic Hip Hop that I grew up on.
DX: A lot of emcees that go into other ventures, some of them back up in their music because they want to focus on their other endeavors. What’s your current stance on the music?
Slaine: My music remains. Talking about the show I did, I’m part of so much classic Hip Hop. I’ve been schooled and molded by it. Now, I’ve been made part of that legacy, not originally, but kind of like an offspring to what those guys have done. I’ve been co-signed and stamped by those guys, from Primo to Muggs to Jeru to Edo G. to Soul Assassins, to Everlast and all that. Hip Hop has changed so much but that’s still the kind of Hip Hop I love and the kind of Hip Hop I make. It’s not exactly what they did. I have my own style. But I’m not gonna become a platinum Rap star doing the music I make at this stage in the game. I don’t make the shit that’s on MTV right now. Whatever. So what? I’ma keep doing what I do. I do have a chip on my shoulder a bit because I know I’m a much better emcee than I am an actor at this stage in the game but it seems my acting career is picking up more steam and has bigger potential than my music career. I’m not mad at that. I’m happy about that. Like I said, I enjoy acting as much as I love Hip Hop. It’s just weird to me. I’m repped by a major talent agency on the acting side of things. They don’t rep me musically. I’m like, “Really?” I look at some of the acts they rep musically and I know I can rap circles around at least 70% of their roster. It’s just strange to me to walk through their Music Department and they’re like, “What’s up, Slaine?” I’m like, “What’s up?” They don’t rep me but they also rep people who I consider to be trash.
DX: How do you reconcile that? How does that fuel you?
Slaine: Um…It pisses me off a little bit, man. [Laughing] I don’t reconcile it. The only thing I can do is do both. I love to act. I love to make music. So I’ll continue to make both the best that I can so I can catch up on my music. I never did that. I probably could have. I think I made that decision ten years ago. I had chance for major label deals. I just couldn’t go back in the studio where they were like, “We want to sign you but could you try to do it like…” I just couldn’t do it, man. It wasn’t in me. That’s not what I do it for. Hip Hop has always been very personal to me. It always has to be about my life. It has to mean something to me. That’s why music is so much harder than acting to me. The acting stuff is fun, man. It’s easy. The camera comes on and you just jump into a character. With music, I have to bear the burden of it. It’s my therapy. It’s my escape. It’s my oldest friend. I’ve been writing rhymes for like 26 years. I don’t have any friend of more than 26 years, except my mother. Music means more to me than anything in the world, except for my son. But that’s also a painful burden sometimes. That’s how I feel sometimes. I feel like, the climate of the music business is so weird. When people think of Hollywood, they think of it as being fake. I think of Hip Hop being fake, more fake than Hollywood ever has been. That’s just been my experience. In the Hollywood scheme of things, I’ve been allowed to play characters in movies that express a reality. I’ve done my music like that and I’ve been rejected for it on a mainstream level. That’s kinda how I feel. I know that’s gonna sound bad in print but I don’t give a fuck. The way I just said that, people are gonna be like, “He’s just fuckin’ hating because his music ain’t poppin’.” But I’ve been there. I’ve seen why certain stuff is poppin’ off. I see who’s making those decisions, the kind of dudes who make the decisions on what pops in Hip Hop. The reason shit pops is because some little kid who raps, who’s not even a good emcee, it’s just how he looks, how he wears his clothes or are the girls gonna like them. The people who sign these kids are sons of multi-multi hundred millionaires. They’re the rich Beverly Hills kids who get into the entertainment industry and they are the ones who make decisions on who to sign, what blows up and what’s hot. You can’t tell me that the best Hip Hop and the best emcees who are really what this culture is about is what’s poppin’ right now. What’s poppin’ right now is because that’s where the money is, where media corporations are putting their money in. That’s why that’s poppin’. It’s not because that’s what people want. What people get is what the fuckin’ corporations give them. They don’t decide what’s on the radio. There are eight songs on the radio all day long. How did they get on? They got paid for. It’s that one percent that owns all that shit. That’s what Hip Hop is now. That’s not me. Slaine don’t make music like that so Slaine ain’t gonna be in that position ever. That’s what La Coka Nostra is. That’s what Ill Bill is. That’s what I am. That’s where we’re at right now.