Since releasing Balance in 1999 on their Battle Axe Records imprint, Swollen Members have maintained a loyal fanbase and expanded their sound beyond their stomping grounds of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Like many Hip Hop fans in the ‘90s, Madchild, Prevail and Rob the Viking found they needed to relocate to the US in hopes of gaining more traction.
What most—other than the most devoted Battleaxe Warriors—don’t know is the trio established many relationships in California while courting fans stateside. Over the years, their Battle Axe Records label released projects from Planet Asia, Defari, Moka Only, Joey Chavez and others. A series of personal and legal mishaps kept Madchild, and the rest of the group, from touring in the US. That changed in 2013 when Madchild was granted reentry and joined the Vans Warped Tour. While reconnecting on the Left Coast, to shoot their “Brand New Day” video, Swollen Members talked about their various West Coast connects.
How Madchild & Prevail Met In California
HipHopDX: We got a taste of the what’s to come on Brand New Day with this video. Can you describe the treatment?
Madchild: Well basically, I’m honored because I got an incredible actor, Robert Miano playing an older version of myself. We’ve got actors playing Prevail and Rob as well. Sorry I don’t know everybody’s names, but basically it’s gonna be a fun video that’s got some comedy to it. Danny Brown did a video [“Grown Up”] where the little kid is him in the video, and we just flipped it and had older versions of ourselves in the video. So it’s kind of the opposite.
DX: You guys are from Vancouver, but there’s a California connection that predates you being in Venice Beach today. Can you guys break that down a bit?
Prevail: Mad and I met in Cali. Originally, Mad was living in San Francisco, and I had been living in San Diego. When we met, Mad was still working with the X-Large store in San Francisco—the Beastie Boys store. And we only talked for about five minutes, but I think there was a real communal sense there, because we both had been [British Columbia] kids who came down to Cali to follow our passions for being emcees. At the time—especially with Mad working at X-Large—we’d have Del the Funky Homosapien and cats like that rolling through the store all the time. It was that instant for me living in San Diego with Cut Father and our original DJ Zodak from back in the day.
Cali was just so vibrant with Hip Hop and Rap music at the time. But it was a learning ground for us, and we ran into each other in a house party in Vancouver about a year-and-a-half later when Mad had moved back from San Francisco. It was real quiet in a room full of 300 people, and we were rapping face-to-face to each other…non-confrontational, just to show our skills. We had the whole room quiet, and then we decided, “Yo, we need to start talking about making some music.” And about a week later we started to form.
Madchild: And another thing with California, we used to come down to the B-Boy summits. That’s where we started meeting the guys in Rocksteady Crew, our longtime friends and counterparts, Dilated Peoples, and to this day we are still great friends with Evidence, Rakaa, and Babu. We’ve made great music with them over the years. And through Evidence, we met a lot of people from L.A…a lot of rappers and producers like Alchemist, of course. We’re still good friends with him and Jason Goldwatch—who I think is the dopest video director on the planet. So it’s pretty incredible coming from back where we started and having guys who are my lifelong good friends, but who I also look up to and respect their craft and skill.
I mean Evidence, Alchemist and Jason Goldwatch—these guys are all geniuses. From those connections in our first album, we got to work with guys like Aceyalone, Mix Master Mike, Saafir, you name it. So we had to come down south from Vancouver because the Hip Hop scene was very young. It’s a great culture now, and it’s caught up, because the whole world has caught up with the Internet. But at that time Hip Hop was a young culture, so we had to come where Hip Hop was happening. And obviously, we were gonna stay on the West Coast.
Rob The Viking Calls “Brand New Day” More Lighthearted
DX: The general consensus is that Rob has a pretty heavy hand in your production. What type of sound are you aiming for this time around?
Rob: In the last couple albums, we’ve been messing with this other dude C-Lance who’s a very talented, up-and-coming producer as well. He does a lot of stuff with Jedi Mind Tricks and that whole camp. But I generally record everything, produce a lot of the beats, and with this album I actually mixed the whole record as well.
DX: This particular song, is this you as well?
DX: Can you speak on that? The track has a very light vibe to it compared to some of your early material.
Rob: Well, as a lot of our fans know, we focus on dark imagery. Our music is very dark and aggressive, and sometimes on our albums we try to switch it up and have something a little more lighthearted and feel good. It’s a summer release, Brand New Day…
Madchild: That chorus really reflects the trials and tribulations of what I went through with my own personal life and substance abuse problem that affected the guys in the group an extreme amount. When I put my life on hold, I put their lives on hold as well. So with that chorus, if I’m not mistaken, it was inspired by [a feeling of], “We hit the ground, but we got back up…got back on our feet. It’s a new day; it’s a new chapter, and life is great again.” When you get a new positive path, positive things happen.
Rob: As artists, I think we’re reinvigorated and it shines through on this album.
DX: You touched on coming down from B.C. Is this album leading into the tour?
Madchild: The first leg is in Canada, then we go west to east then east to west in America. Then we’re heading back to Canada, west to east again, and then we go to Europe.
Swollen Members Talk Global Hip Hop & Battle Axe Warriors Growth
DX: You mentioned not being able to come to the states because of different situations. How did that work for you guys collectively as far as having to go globally as Hip Hop got global?
Prevail: We’ve been lucky too…before we even toured as far as the second province over in Canada to the east of us, we had already toured Japan with Rocksteady and Tribal. We had already toured Europe twice at the time, and we had already toured the States pretty good. We had that push, and not only that, we were encouraged and inspired by our fanbase. It helped us really develop our show, and when we finally started getting some traction in Canada, we had an element of surprise for people. They didn’t know what a group from the West Coast of Canada was going to sound like, because at the time it was very centralized. We were able to bring that energy dynamic to live shows, and it sort of gave us this barometer to work from feedback from around the world
DX: Switching gears a bit, how have things been going growing the Battleaxe Warriors?
Madchild: It’s been going great. It’s gone beyond our expectations in a short period of time with over 6,000 members worldwide. The difference of our movement is every member is documented. It’s getting more and more organized with division leaders in certain cities or surpassing 200 members in their city. It’s getting big in places like Philly, Boston, and New York. As far as Canada, [we’re expanding to] places like Edmonton, Winnipeg and Vancouver. It’s a brand new thing, but it’s really getting some traction. We have some foundation, so we’re just working on developing the clothing brand. It’s going really good, and the online sales have been going off the hook. We’re just trying to be a positive influence, and this year we’re really focusing on our tier three members: for example Slaine is now a Battleaxe Warrior Tier Three member.Jason Goldwatch is now a Battleaxe Warrior as well. We just sent out DJ Lethal a varsity jacket. We’re going to start focusing on more faces of the family, so it’s just on our shoulders. We want to have a bunch of talented, incredible, positives artists that the kids can look up to and aspire to be like.
What Rob, Madchild & Prevail Have Learned Over The Years
DX: You have a long history some people may not be aware of. During the whole time in the game, what is your biggest takeaway?
Prevail: Being an alternate emcee in a group with Madchild has been uplifting, motivational, completely positive—even when we were going through those trials and tribulations. What I think what we’ve done really well, times like these are where you look inside as opposed to looking inside out. We’ve always had that boosting system for each other. If you need to get on my shoulder and climb a little bit, that support system is always here for you. And even through the thick and thin, we’ve always been able to talk to each other, whether it was about platinum record sales or why a certain album didn’t stick. We’ve always had each other’s back as far as the bullshit and the good stuff too.
Rob: I never thought I would be a performer on stage. I always wanted to be a producer and stay in the background, but I learned from these guys, because their energy was so crazy. I’m still in the background, but it’s great. It’s been an awesome experience.
Madchild: For myself, this group, Hip Hop, and now being a solo artist, building that brand, it really saved my life twice. Unfortunately, I got on the wrong paths when I wasn’t focused on music. Having an addictive personality when I do focus on music, it’s great. When I’m not focused, my personality can get quickly wrapped up in other things. I think one of the things I can take away was to be comfortable in my own skin.