Madchild Points Out Hip Hop's Reluctance Discussing Mental Health
Exclusive: Madchild checks in from the "Vans Warped Tour" to speak on his Battleaxe Warriors family & balancing a social drink with the responsibility of being honest about past addictions.
Madchild is at a crossroads. For the last three-plus years, he’s been sober while facing a ban from the United States that both limited his reach as a performer and kept him from some of his favorite visiting spots. With the ban lifted, Madchild finds himself stateside again while also dealing with the responsibility of not sending mixed messages to some of his fans.
“I’m drug free now for three years still, and I plan on never doing drugs again,” he explained during a brief stop while on tour. “But I’ve had a couple beers here and there on the ‘Warped Tour’…how do I go about that with the fans? I don’t want fans that are younger getting the wrong idea.”
Even if you temporarily ignore all the complications associated with branding your music as “abstract expressionism,” it’s safe to say these aren’t the kind of issues the average rapper yelling, “Turn up” has to deal with. None of which should lead you to believe there’s a good versus evil thing happening between Madchild and the molly-popping ratchets. He says he finds many of them entertaining. But it is to say that things are different now.
Those aforementioned fans seem to genuinely get it. Madchild speaks of them frequently, and he says over 2,500 of them have been documented as Battleaxe Warriors. Aside from buying Swollen Members’ retail projects and tickets to live shows, they recruit new fans. In turn Madchild thanks them, hangs with them, gives them exclusive access and calls them “friends and family.”
These are clearly good problems to have. No one really knows how this story is going to end for Madchild. But for someone who admits to sleeping on pizza boxes as a teen while working sub-minimum wage jobs in hopes of becoming a rapper, things are looking up. For now, regardless of the direction Madchild goes in, his next few moves—both as a businessman and as an artist—should be fun to watch.
Madchild Talks Returning To America For The Vans Warped Tour
HipHopDX: How’s “The Warped Tour” treating you?
Madchild: It’s awesome man…really, really fucking cool. I’m just so happy to be back in America, and being on something like this is pretty incredible. I’ve never been to one before, so just meeting great people and having good shows is awesome.
DX: That’s what’s up. “The Warped Tour” has this kind of headbanger, Rock perception…have you found that to be the case?
Madchild: Well, I’m on a stage called the Spotify Stage, so that’s where the rappers, EDM DJs and the more alternative groups with catchy hooks and drum and bass production are. So I think people kind of gravitate to our stage, because it’s something different than the rest of “The Warped Tour.” It’s almost like it’s one of the favorite stages of everybody that’s on the tour as well as it gets a good turn out in terms of the kids showing up. Of course, it’s not the same as performing on the main stage, but it’s pretty dope.
DX: True. Aside from the obvious perk of more show dates—which theoretically equals more money—what’s been the best part of touring in the States again?
Madchild: Like you said, the first thing is building the brand of Madchild and getting to come and build the Swollen Members and Battleaxe brands. That’s obvious. Connecting with the Battleaxe Warriors family that I haven’t gotten to connect with—because I’ve only been able to connect with Canadian members—is really exciting to me. That was one of things I was looking forward to most, and meeting the members who come out to these “Warped Tour” shows is amazing.
I’m also just excited about the fact that I can go to LA, get an apartment and go back and forth from Vancouver to LA. I’m excited about reconnecting with my friends in the music industry. I’m excited about the fact that I can go to Hawaii, Las Vegas or New York if I want to. Those kind of things bummed me out over the last three years, because I couldn’t just take off and go to some of my favorite places in the world. My favorite places all happen to be in America.
I’m also excited about going and recording in different studios in different places and making music. When you go to new studio environments, new energy comes into the room.
Madchild On The Organic Growth Of The Battleaxe Warriors
DX: You mentioned the Battleaxe Warriors. I thought that was a pretty innovative concept given the state of the industry. Can you go into how and when you came up with that whole system of recruiting more fans?
Madchild: Thank you…I appreciate it. The concept of Battleaxe Warriors was always something we shouted out since the beginning of Swollen Members. It was like that’s our clique or our crew, since I owned the label Battleaxe Records. When I got sober, I thought, “This Battleaxe Warriors thing could be so much more.” I was definitely inspired by Insane Clown Posse’s movement, the Juggalos, Tech N9ne’s movement with the Technicians and the Suburban Noize Soldiers. I thought it was definitely really cool how all the fans came together organically, consolidated and stood up for the artists they believed in. I thought, “This is so much the same kind of fans that Swollen Members has always had.” They’re the same kind of fans that I have now as a solo artist. We’ve got this same, crazy loyal fan base, and I’d really love to get to know who everybody is. So why don’t we start the same kind of idea but make it different? What’s different about it is we document every single one of our members.
When a member becomes a Tier Two Battleaxe Warrior—I’m a Tier Three member, which is as high as you can go. But you have to work your way up to that. But when a person becomes an official Tier Two Battleaxe Warrior, they purchase a package. They get a six-foot Battleaxe Warrior flag, two exclusive Battleaxe Warrior t-shirts, dog tags, a skull bandana that shows they’re a part of the family, a patch for the front of their jean vest, and they also get an ID card. I think I’m missing something…they get something else.
That ID card is their membership card to prove that they’re officially in the family. So we’ve got over 2,500 members now just in over a year, and every member is documented. So these guys can all get in touch with one another. What’s been really awesome about the whole thing that I love that’s happened organically is…look man, I’ve been through a lot in life. I’ve had lonely times, and I’ve had the blues as well as incredible times when life was great. But for people who may feel a little bit lonely or differently than what everyone else—and let’s face it, if you’re into Underground Hip Hop, that’s a little different than what’s going on in the mainstream—people can reach out and meet each other online. People are getting together on their own, having barbeques, sending pictures, going to movies and going to clubs together. So I love the camaraderie that’s happening, because not everybody is lucky enough to have a great family at home. But people want to be a part of a family, so for some people, this is their family.
The fact that that’s happening and we’re still growing means the world to me. It’s really exciting, and it’s all based around positivity, but you definitely sort of have to be a fan of Underground Hip Hop to start. We’ve got MMA fighters, snowboarders, graffiti artists, boxers, rappers, DJs—you name it. We’ve got one main rule: don’t do anything to embarrass yourself or your family. If you can kind of keep that implanted in your brain, it’s going to make you think before you act sometimes, like, “Did I have one beer too much tonight? Am I embarrassing myself and the family right now? Do I need to fall back a little bit?”
So that’s kind of the main rule, and the second rule is to treat other people how you wanna be treated. That’s a very important but simple rule. We want people to always focus on being positive as much as possible.
How “Lawn Mower Man” Fits Into Madchild’s Three-Album Plan
DX: I think that’s dope considering what’s going on online. The overall level of snark on the Internet is pretty high, and it’s kind of turned into one big circle jerk as far as which artist’s get exposure from whom.
Madchild: Yeah, thanks man. I’ll be honest, I think more people need to speak up about exactly what you just said. With these comments on the Internet—it’s not okay to be talking in the way that these kids are talking. You don’t walk down the street and be like, “Hey, you’re a fat fucking goof!” You just don’t say that to people. But people feel like they can say terrible, hurtful things on the Internet because it’s accepted. [They rationalize it] by saying, “Oh that person is just a hater,” or “That’s just the way the kids talk on the Internet.” Kids are committing suicide over this shit. On Facebook, there was a girl—rest in peace—where I’m from that committed suicide. I know that it’s happened other places as well, and that is not cool. I’d really like to start seeing Hip Hop artists, actors and people that kids look up to start speaking up. It’s just a slight transition, but if we all get together and say, “Listen, this is not cool…this has to change,” eventually people will fall in line.
DX: As someone with a bit of experience on DX’s comment section, I can relate. I want to kind of transition a bit into this latest album. Why the title Lawn Mower Man?
Madchild: Of course, the concept is based on the Stephen King work. But it’s this idea of the real dumb guy who has experiments done on him, and then he became too smart for his own good. So you get to this point where he’s superhuman, and that’s kind of an underlying reason of why I called it Lawn Mower Man. I thought it was a cool title. Dope Sick was me talking about what I went through when I was high, coming off the drugs and the struggle of the first year dealing with loneliness, depression and losing focus. You get me walking away from everything I knew, being banned from America and this and that. The next album after this is going to be called Superbeast, and that’s when I’m gonna be lyrically the most razor-sharp I’ve ever been.
So, to me, this album is the transition. All the negativity is behind me, so let’s celebrate. I’m not going to keep dwelling in the past and talking about the same thing over and over. I’m living life now, and I’m breaking out of my shell. I think Lawn Mower Man is the same kind of concept. It’s the transformation between being “Dope Sick,” and now I’m moving forward and things are better. Things are building, and I’m doing better in all aspects of life, but I’m still moving towards being that “Superbeast.” I’m still working on being me times 10.
DX: Interesting. Looking at a song like “It Gets Better” definitely kind of reflects…
Madchild: Yeah, yeah, it definitely reflects, but it’s also very much a celebration too. It’s reflecting on what happens but in a positive way. It’s not like, “Oh, poor me.” It’s like, “Right on! Let’s move forward, and look at the cup half-full instead of half-empty.”
Why Madchild Thinks Mental Health Is A Taboo Subject
DX: The celebration aspect is definitely there. How much do you think mental health in general is a taboo subject among Hip Hop artists and fans?
Madchild: Well mental and physical health should be more important than money. But everybody always talks about money, bitches, the clubs and retarded shit because that’s what sheep fall in line with and follow. People wanna forget about their own problems and just celebrate life for that moment. But I think you can celebrate life and still make fun music that’s exciting to listen to. That’s what I try to do without always touching on obvious subjects.
I do talk about mental health, because I do have a chemical imbalance. Most of the time, I’m perfectly fine, but as an experienced human being, I know when to watch for signs. If I’m kind of getting in a darker place or something like that, I know what to do to make sure that doesn’t happen anymore. Thank God I’m in that space, which is why you hear that I’m in a good place. I know how to avoid that stuff now. But a 17 or 18-year-old kid doesn’t know how to do that. I know that I may need to start working out or go for walks…maybe I’ve been in the house too much and need to go socialize. Maybe I need to treat myself or go shopping if I feel like I’m getting the blues a little bit.
So you’re right, it is taboo, and people don’t really wanna talk about that stuff. But it’s real, and if it’s wrong to make real music and talk about real subjects, then what does that tell us about the society we’re living in? It’s a machine, right?
Madchild Talks Social Drinking Versus Chemical Imbalance
DX: That’s real. You mentioned being reclusive, and I read another interview where you mentioned how fans in the US really come up to you at events commending you for speaking on sobriety. How much does that change as you experience that day-to-day? I can’t imagine that’s something you really expected to deal with coming off of the last few projects.
Madchild: No, I didn’t expect this sort of responsibility. It definitely helps me, but I didn’t really realize it when I shared my story that at every show I’d have people coming up to me saying, “What you’ve gone through and your strength has helped me get on the right path.” That’s like an overwhelming, joyous kind of feeling. It’s really a responsibility I’m carrying now.
I’m just going to be real with you. I’m drug free now for three years still, and I plan on never doing drugs again. But I’ve had a couple beers here and there on “The Warped Tour.” I knew that I was ready, and I waited three years. I wouldn’t have had a drink last year, because I knew I wasn’t ready. But I’m a grown man, and I knew one day that I would probably drink socially here and there again. I gave myself some time, and I decided I was ready.
How do I go about that with the fans? I don’t want fans that are younger getting the wrong idea like, “Shit. Now he’s had a couple beers…he let me down. Now I’m gonna have a couple beers.” If you’re not ready to have a couple drinks, because it’s gonna be a gateway to going and doing some cocaine, then you shouldn’t be doing it. But I know that I’ve been sober long enough that I enjoyed the feeling or the experience of having an ice-cold beer. And I’m ready for that.
Now the cat’s out of the bag, because I’m talking to HipHopDX when I wasn’t even sure if I was gonna talk about it. I just feel like I should always be honest about everything in interviews and when I’m talking to people. I just feel honesty is the best outcome. So I hope that it doesn’t become a mixed message out there. But I also have to do what’s right for me while being happy and living my life.
DX: No doubt. We collectively appreciate your candor…
Madchild: So, if anyone is reading this and they sort of follow what I do closely, the point is, you’ll know when you’re ready to have a couple drinks socially. If you’re not ready, then like I said, definitely don’t do it. Only you’ll know the truth as far as if it may be a gateway to something else. Wait until you’re ready. Don’t just start doing something because I’m doing it.
How Abstract Expressionism Factors Into Madchild’s New Music
DX: True. Well since we’re talking about balance, let’s shift back to the music. How do you balance that dark, abstract expressionism people expect and want from you with the desire to do something artful and different?
Madchild: I think this album’s a good example of me not being so concerned with that. Abstract expressionism is almost something that I was the forefather of in Hip Hop if that’s okay to say. That’s always going to be a part of me. I don’t think you can pin down who started talking about wizards and warlords first, but we were definitely in the running for the first group of people doing it. So that’s always gonna be a part of me, and it wasn’t something that was necessarily decided. I’ve just always thought Conan the Barbarian was badass, and I liked talking about ill shit from movies. Prevail likes talking about dope things from books, and it’s just something we sort of clicked on. We never decided we were gonna be those type of rappers, but we knew we didn’t want to be…
We knew that we came from this kind of underground, backpack, Golden Era. And we knew that we stood for something and believed in something, and we didn’t want to be with the rest of the sheep making manufactured music to be successful. Mind you, I threw a few curveballs at the fans over the years because of obsessive substance abuse or just having my head in the wrong place. But for the most part, if you look at our catalogue, 80% of our catalogue is what our fans grew to appreciate and expect.
But I want to grow as an artist, and I enjoy relevant music. Just because I don’t want to make that kind of music doesn’t mean I don’t love French Montana, ‘cause I do. I love listening to his music, and I think he’s a dope emcee. I like listening to Drake in a certain mood, and I still think Lil Wayne is awesome. There are a lot of things people wouldn’t expect me to like, but I also love La Coka Nostra, Evidence and Alchemist, Danny Brown and Action Bronson. So I guess the point is, we’re artists and we need to be able to grow. So I’m not gonna put myself in a box where I feel like, “Okay, I’ve got to talk about wizards, warlords, castles and goblins.” But it’s gonna happen organically regardless.
I think on this album, I wasn’t as precise with each word and trying to fit as many words as possible into a verse. In a way, that was a new challenge to let the songs breathe a little more while still being happy with the word structure I used. The rhyme schemes I used still made me feel good about what I was doing. So to me, that was growth as an artist. Younger kids might look at it in a different way, but I feel that I’m progressing as an artist.
How Hip Hop Influenced Madchild’s Teen Years
DX: I look at your catalogue and the rest of Swollen Members, and there aren’t too many other artists who can sample Sarah McLaclan and then turn around and work with Slaine. What were the early influences that got you open to all those different genres?
Madchild: Well, my favorite artist is Willie Nelson. I’ve got him tattooed on my forearm, and I had the pleasure of my crew getting me to be able to hang out at his ranch and meet him. That was an awesome experience. My second favorite artist is Frank Sinatra, and I’ve got him tattooed on my stomach. Growing up with my step dad—who I consider my real dad…he’s the best guy in the world—he was always playing Willie Nelson. There was a lot of James Taylor, and that’s my comfortable music.
But Hip Hop is first and foremost. When I was a 12 to 13-year-old kid, I was in a skateboard crew called The Grimlins. We used to go to Punk Rock shows all the time, and I’d go see Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains and all these groups. So I have a taste of hardcore too.
After that, I got turned on to Hip Hop at the age of like 15. That was it for me; I had found myself…my music, and there was no turning back. From the age of 15 on, Hip Hop was always what I identified myself with. That was my music. I was a part of Hip Hop. I got in Rocksteady Crew, and I was the only Canadian member to ever get in Rocksteady Crew at the time. I ate, slept and breathed Hip Hop. I went to San Francisco in 1994, and slept on the floor of The Bomb Hip Hop Shop. I worked there for a year making pennies, and I slept on pizza boxes for six months. I was homeless delivering pizzas for a dollar an hour just to get my name out as an emcee. I’ve lived this life.
But through all that, I would get turned on to someone like Ben Harper by ex-girlfriends and whatnot. To this day, I still think he’s incredible. I also got into Dancehall, but I think that’s kind of an extension for people that like Hip Hop.
DX: One thing that sort of stands out about Battleaxe, is even though the release pace has been accelerated, you guys don’t put out filler material. How do you avoid that both as an artist and a businessman?
Madchild: I just have to thank the Battleaxe Warriors and the Swollen Army…all of our loyal fans, which I consider my friends and family. It’s really thanks to them for being there when I came back after a five-year struggle. And then we also have a whole new generation of 14, 15 and 16-year-old kids that know the words to our songs and come out to the shows. We’re fortunate enough that it’s transcended to a new, younger generation that is feeling what we’re doing.
I think there’s a bit of resurgence in younger people paying attention to the quality of lyrics again. That comes into play, since lyrics have always been important to us as a group and myself as a solo artist. It’s becoming more important in Hip Hop in general. I think it is, would you agree?
Madchild’s Vision For Brand Integrity With Battleaxe Records
DX: Yeah. I’m a bit biased, but the fact that there are all these sites listing and explaining the lyrics to songs supports that?
Madchild: I think people are excited to see the Battleaxe brand come back. For some older people, maybe it reminded them of a better time or a good time in their life. So we’ve just had this incredible support. I did 170 shows in Canada last year, and we filled clubs going back and forth. I went back and forth five or six times between myself and Swollen Members, in 12-14 months. And I’m still doing another 35-show tour across Canada right after this. It’s just a good time. I don’t really know how to explain it, but I think we’re very fortunate similar to ICP or Tech N9ne. We’ve got this awesome fan base, and we’re just super, super blessed.
I don’t put out music for free. I put out one mixtape when I was getting back on my feet, and that was it. Why do I do that? I don’t want to just have everybody used to getting my music for free. I put my heart and soul into it, and this is my job—how I make my living. Everybody thinks you have to give out mixtapes for free. Okay, you guys go that route, and see how it works out for you. I’m gonna stick to my guns and do it my way, and if I need to put out things between albums, I’ll put out EPs. I’m going to put my heart and soul into this EP, and I’m not trying to be greedy.
I’m just trying to be comfortable, happy, and successful and do well. This is the career that I’ve chosen for my life, and it’s my job. It’s not as easy as it was pre-2006. The whole industry is shrinking, and people are losing jobs left, right and center. Labels are folding, but I don’t feel like my art is worth something, who else is going to. If I don’t believe 120%, who else is going to? That’s why I stick to my guns and don’t do all the crazy mixtapes and stuff. That’s probably why we sell records.
DX: It can’t hurt.
Madchild: I’ve also got 30 people waiting to pay me for cameo verses. I know a lot of rappers make their money doing that. I think it’s distasteful, but I know a lot of rappers are always saying, “Yo, if you wanna buy a verse, hit me up.” I’m not with that, and I think it lowers your value. I think spreading yourself too thin is gonna take away from what you’ve worked to become as an artist. I would rather leave the money on the table, not do those 30 verses, and be selective about what I’m doing. There’s gotta be a reason to why I’m going to make music with people.
Sure, there’s a business transaction, but do I believe in this artist that I’m working with? Do I think he or she is a good person? I just don’t want it to be all about business.