John Spiers talks with Cage about his hot new album out on Def Jux, developing as an artist, getting political and authority figures.
If you have heard of Cage you probably know him as an emcee with a psychotic persona, violent, often misogynistic lyrics and constant references to drugs. Given that one of his most famous songs, 'Agent Orange', was produced by Necro (another emcee with a reputation for general anti social behavior), contained samples from 'A Clockwork Orange' as well as that freaky kid from 'Shogun Assassin' saying "People said his brain was infected by devils", the assumption would not be unfounded. That is who Cage was. It's not who Cage is now.
His upcoming album, Hell's Winter on Definitive Jux records, will take many by surprise. Cage has done away with the shock horror style of his past and embraced an intimate, revealing and far more disturbing style. The result is one of the best albums you'll hear this year, an album that is easily as good as anything Definitive Jux has ever put out.
"I'm trying to pick up the pieces" – Hell's Winter
Hell's Winter is really a new direction for you. What inspired the change?
Life inspired the change. I felt like I was stuck in a box with everything that I had done prior to this album. I was on a downward spiral in my life. It was time for a change. With (former record label) Eastern Conference I felt like I had hit the ceiling with them, that my career was going nowhere. I was stuck doing the same songs over and over again. I got tired of the super persona. I woke up one morning feeling like I was in someone else's skin. The interviews all became about people expecting me to say something crazy. Nine out of ten times when I was in the public eye I would be on some sort of dust or whatever it was. This time around it's completely different. I don't do drugs. I smoke weed and that's it. With signing to Definitive Jux I really wanted to try something completely different from my first album ('Movies For The Blind' on Eastern Conference). I jut didn't know what that was. I wanted to do a concept album. I thought, "What if he concept is me trying to fix my life? And not be this misogynistic asshole on every drug in the book". As a result the record changed my life.
"If I spit pain I know how to relieve it" – Shoot Frank
The cartoonish ultra-violence of your past work seemed to function as a defense mechanism. Now that you have lowered that shield do you feel more vulnerable?
It wasn't even a question of vulnerability. I just didn't care anymore. I just didn't want to be looked at as some asshole or some monster that didn't care about anything and didn't care about himself. I have a daughter and I was a horrible father. My whole life, my career, everything was in shambles. My career wasn't getting any bigger. If anything it was getting smaller. I was completely stagnant. If I was in a still pond of water, I didn´t wanna make waves, I wanted to take it to a completely different body of water. I felt like I was catering to a small group of people who were in the same boat as me. With this new record, I wanted to make something that someone of any age could pick up and relate to. It was a pretty selfish record for me to make, but it's also generous in that people can listen to it and cope to it. I feel that if I have fifty to sixty minutes on a piece of plastic that's going to be distributed worldwide, why not say something? I don't want my last words on the planet to be about some rendez-vous with some chick or a list of descriptions of drugs. I do not want to glorify drugs constantly when they're not something that should really be glorified. A friend of mine just died of a heroin overdose.
"If the opposite of 'pro' is a 'con' then look beyond this. The opposite of congress must be progress" – Grand Ol' Party Crash
The DJ Shadow produced track, Grand Ol' Party Crash, is the only explicitly political song on the album. However, there is consistent socio political content throughout the record. What impact, if any, did you hope to have in a broader social sense?
I hate it when people make political songs and they think that they're going to educate you when they have an eighth grade understanding of politics. I don't want to preach. I'm not trying to educate anyone. I was just venting. The record is about life. The stronghold that the United States government has on the United States public as well as the world is something people can relate to. The way the United States is viewed by the world, anyone can relate to that. I'm not dropping any jewels. I was just trying to make a dope record.
The song also features former Dead Kennedy's front man Jello Biafra. How did that collaboration come about?
Through mutual friends. Every guest on the album is either a friend of mine or a friend of (Definitive Jux label boss and producer) El-P's. I grew up listening to the Dead Kennedy's, Black Flag, The Misfits as well as EPMD
You were born on a military base in Germany. You come from a family that has a long history in the military…
Yeah, I'm the first member of my family to not go into the military. My great grandfathers, both of my grandfathers were in the Second World War. Both of my uncles were in Viet Nam, one was in the marines, the other was in the army. My father was a Military police officer in the United States army.
Given that in our society the father represents the leading authority figure in the familial structure and the United States military represents the leading authority figure in the world, do you feel that your familial background has affected your relationship with authority figures in general?
I've always had problems with authority figures. I don't have a problem with law per se. I think it's more a matter of people who feel the need to tell you what you need to do. And that is something that we go through as Americans and I'm sure anywhere in the world is the same thing. I don't have a problem with authority figures that are just doing their job. I have a problem with authority figures, or people like the Christian Right, that feel the need to tell people what they need to do with their lives. Or that try to impose their beliefs on every one else. The world is in fucking shambles . The system is obviously not working. But, for those on the other side it's working perfectly.
"Until the eve of destruction paints the town black. And anarchy ensues, you'll have the soundtrack" – Good Morning
Cop Cage's new album, 'Hell's Winter' on Definitive Jux records, on September 20th.
Biggups to Dom for sortin the interview.