By Gianmarc Manzione
Originally published on Culturespill.com
“I hated every record company I was ever on.” — Everlast
It’s a lesson learned by many before him, and often far more painfully: You sign what seems to be a phat deal with some big-wig label like the storied Island Def Jam, bust your ass on what you think is the best damned piece of music you’ve ever put to wax in an attempt to conquer the music world once and for all, and hand it over to the powers that be, only to find that the names and faces in those high offices changed over night, and that they neither recognize nor need you. Too many great bands, most notably the unsung Vulgar Boatmen, identify this very narrative as the circumstance that crushed their dreams, condemning great talent to hopeless obscurity. Such is the case with Mr. Erik Schrody, AKA Everlast, and his elusive “new album,” Love, War, and the Ghost of Whitey Ford.
“I turned in what I thought was one of the better albums of my life when I was signed to Island Def Jam with Lyor Cohen,” Schrody explains in an embittered recollection of what happened to his last LP, the brilliant White Trash Beautiful, “But a couple weeks after I signed, Lyor got his offer from Warner, and the new team that came in basically couldn’t give two shits about me.” Cohen, a behind-the-scenes hip-hop overlord responsible for the development of such talent as The Beastie Boys, Foxy Brown, LL Cool J, Nas and Run DMC, also endures the nickname “Lansky” after the Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky.
There’s a reason for that: Cohen’s storied career as CEO of various big-time labels is not without incident, as he has publicly tussled with the likes of P Diddy, TVT Records, and the FBI and the NYPD, who raided his Murder Inc. Records offices in 2001 “as part of a federal probe of label founder Irv Gotti’s ties to drug lord Kenneth ‘Supreme’ McGriff.” It was only business when Cohen left Island Def Jam to join Rick Rubin and former cohorts on the board at Warner Music Group. But it left Schrody out of business, kicked to the curb in unforeseen anonymity with perhaps the most devastating LP he’d ever made dumped back in his lap as the newbies at Def Jam washed their hands of him.
White Trash Beautiful, the album Def Jam’s new faces promptly ignored upon entering the company, is a stirringly merciless musical document of heartbreak and loss laced over one irresistible beat after another. Whatever Schrody began with his megahit “What It’s Like” found its fullest expression on WTB, and it made, quite simply, for the finest music of the man’s life. Now, though, he had some real heartbreak to sing about, and no one was about to tell him that he didn’t know what it’s like. “I swore I wouldn’t sign another deal like that again,” Schrody vows, “I found new management that saw what I wanted to do and found a deal that was tolerable. Now the pressure to sell millions isn’t on me. I can sell modest numbers, have fun and make good music, and still be successful.” But if Schrody thought the hard road he’d been walking ended there, he was sadly mistaken–things wouldn’t quite turn out as easily as all that. As anyone who’s lived a few years knows, they rarely do.
Not long after signing this “tolerable deal,” Schrody morphed into AC/DC’s Brian Johnson, gushing from the mouth time and again about the imminent arrival of a new album that turned out not to be so imminent after all (AC/DC’s long-rumored new album, coincidentally, just got some serious street cred in a recent announcement by the band’s own label–yes, it’s finally upon us. Like, for real.) First Schrody’s new LP was due by St. Patty’s Day, then sometime in April, then sometime in May, and then given an allegedly hard date of June 24th that was quickly replaced by another hard date of September 23rd. So in other words, Everlast fans, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.
“I have opened my mouth one too many times about the release of the album,” Shrody conceded this past March, “to the point where I feel like the boy who cried wolf my damned self.” After shipping off his new single, “Letters Home From the Garden of Stone,” to about 200,000 email addresses with an unlikely mash-up cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” on the way, Schrody’s striking back against oblivion in the kind of grassroots campaign you might expect of an upstart rap dreamer. Orchestrating the album art and, apparently, the street team himself, Schrody says he “took for granted the amount of work that goes into releasing an album . . . now that I’m doing it myself I’m realizing how hard it can be to get everyone and thing lined up.” Translation: “Holy shit, this is fucking hard.”
“It’s been 3 1/2 years or so since I put out a record,” Everlast reminds fans who are all too familiar with that sad fact, “so I am just trying to take advantage of every opportunity to make an impact of some kind in a world with very little attention span.” If that’s all he’s going for, then so far, so good, as the “Letters Home” single is making waves on local radio by force of its own indisputable strength, gathering 1,000 downloads on iTunes in just 48 hours. It’s no simple song and dance putting out an album on your own after relying on the boundless resources of major labels like Def Jam for most of your career. “If you hear it on your local station call and request it again,” he says of “Letters Home,” a hard-hitting and funky expression of empathy with soldiers fighting in Iraq that serves as the album’s debut single.
Though Schrody plans to release the album on his own label, he explains in a particularly forlorn post on his blog that he must “still rely on marketing money from my partners and distributors, and they felt that June 24th was too soon for them to set up the record properly.” The post goes on to reveal an inevitable and apparently irrepressible fit of resignation, helplessness and anger. “I don’t know what else to say . . . I have been waiting to put this record out for five months now and the stress is wearing me down a bit. I don’t know what or who to believe at the moment. I don’t feel very empowered . . . if they don’t release then I just might give the fucking thing away.” Exactly. Culturespill memo to Schrdoy: go the Brian Jonestown Massacre route and put the damned thing up for free online, abandon the new songs to a hopeful fate in radio land, and rake up the cash you lost on tour instead. If ever a case was made for using the web to eliminate the middle man and bring your music directly to your audience for free on your own, this is most certainly it.