You probably don’t even remember this this singer, but you keep hearing his biggest hit. Jump Around from House Of Pain, the hip hop group he fronted, was massive. Energetic, strong drums, aggressive mosh-pit sound that hasn’t aged, so even though it is not charting any more it still appears (insomuch as a a song can “appear”) in TV shows, commercials and movies, not only as a kind of standard clip-art easy-referencer of wild-and-free energy, soundtracking everything from frat parties to redneck demolition derbies, but it also works as a signpost for the nineties. This was one of the landmarks of that time.
It was and still is a great song, but House Of Pain themselves were not as great. Everlast was not as great a rapper as Jump Around was a song.
Usually when a hip hop song crosses over into the mainstream, if the artist has any true talent, after the pop crowd has forgotten him or her, this artist will just return to their audience of hardcore hip hop fans and carry on with their career. That is why you will often be surprised to find out how many albums people you thought were one-hit wonders actually have on their discogs.
But Everlast was not one of these and after Jump Around, House of Pain fumbled, crumbled and eventually broke up. DJ Lethal went on to join Limp Bizkit, a band that would prove to have barely more staying power than House Of Pain. Danny Boy went into business and Everlast? Everlast suffered a heart attack at 29 years of age, converted to Islam, picked up a six string guitar and came back a completely different dude from the “crazy white peckerwood” of 92.
It was a fucking gorgeous song he came back with. It sounded like he had kidnapped a blue singers’s guitar and held it in a hip hop garage and left it there to just wallow in the dark until finally it began to sing.
It is not a blues song. It is not a hip hop jam. But you can hear both those things in it and when you do you realize that they really are not that different. Hip Hop and the blues are spiritual sisters and have a lot in common. Hard core, old school hop hop and classic blues come from the same place, historically and thematically. In fact, the worst aspects of hip hop are mirrors of the same in blues history. It is just that there wasn’t a million-dollar media industry to amplify them for all of us to see, so when we idealise old blue eras it is because we never saw the old blues gangstas and misogynists and thugs.
What it’s Like was four verses of four bars telling four simple stories of hardship with flat, blunt, lyrics Lucky Dube-style, that asked us not to be quick to judge when we have not walked a mile in other people’s shoes.
It was sung in the rough growl of, well, Everlast would never manage in a duet with Luther, let’s just say.
But it sounded like the sadness it had and it felt like it and you believed it and you saw the loser win and the sad man grin and heard the honest man cry and you understood it all.
The industry rewarded Everlast for this with platinum plaque and a Grammy award and the respect that enabled him to follow up Whitey Ford Sings The blues (The album that gave us What It’s Like) with an album that could call on collaborations with Ceelo Green, N’Dea Davenport and Carlos Santana.
Now, this second album was really really good. There was far less rapping—and that was a good thing because even after all those years, Everlast was still kind of weak on the raps—and more assuredness, more confidence with the guitar.
Also his writing was maturing into something else. Everlast had developed a facility to craft couplets of sparkling detail that just nailed what he was trying to say and, at the other end of the song, couplets that would capture a vast idea in just two lines.
And that growl of his, that dark, stricken growl that delivered those words. Then the guitars… Eat at Whitey’s had songs that were stories and told things and showed things. It was a work not of entertainment like Jump Around, but of art.
It sold badly. It took ages to go gold, which is fine for an experimental fusion album, but not good for a guy whose last CD went three times platinum.
Maybe it was because the lead single was not a What It’s Like.
The lead single was a song called Black Jesus which was a pretty keen examination of the contradictions that make us but could have sounded to a market looking for the direct blows of What It’s Like like just a list of opposites. I think he went hard of Black Jesus, and every time I hear it I mouth along to ever word. There are lines from Black Jesus that have settled permanently in my inner dialogue as the best way to describe my events and circumstances when I land in them. He is right there with Larkin, Springsteen, Shakespeare and Tupac. That company.
But they didn’t buy the album. They didn’t buy the one after that either, White Trash Beautiful and by the time he came to drop Love, War and The Ghost of Whitey Ford, he was doing it on his own label, having been released from the major.
Now this album, Love War and The Ghost of Whitey Ford is the best Everlast Album I have heard yet. Everything he did right on Eat At Whiteys he does even better here. The music is tighter and the lyrics have found greater depth and resonance and the singing is more impassioned and just… Everlast is just better.
I wonder if he could have made this if he had stayed on top, if he didn’t have to wake up every morning after all these years still struggling to prove himself.
This is Anyone, a song from that album that is the finest in a list of fine songs from this singer.