Exclusive: The Los Angeles emcee explains how he was able to overcome addiction to heroin and other drugs and emerge with a new mentality and outlook on life, a theme throughout his latest album, "Grey Crow."
Living Legend Eligh has gone through the storm and he has emerged victorious. For years, addiction ruled his life and in many ways, it ruined it. However, when the Los Angeles emcee finally hit rock bottom, he was able to pick himself up. Today, there is a different Eligh that has risen, one with a clear mind and his creativity hasn't lost a step. This month, he released Grey Crow, a sober look into his life, his struggles and his reformed outlook on everything.
Recently, Eligh openly spoke with HipHopDX about his fight against addiction, his new found clarity and about parts of his new album with details. He also candidly shared his take on death, peace and what he's found to be the greatest part of sobriety. In part I of this interview, Eligh talks about the moments where drugs took away his motivation to make music, how he won the battles and how he now helps others through their difficult moments.
HipHopDX: On “Sad of Eye,” you speak on your perspective a little bit in rhyming, “I need to make time slow down for a minute.” What brought upon that type of perspective and that need for calming down?
Eligh: I would say that definitely comes from me being in recovery for the last five years. The whole thing about going to AA [Alcoholics Anonymous], NA [Narcotics Anonymous] or any of these recovery twelve step programs, is about living in the moment. It’s about slowing down and looking at what’s in front of you for the day. Because a lot of people freak out and start worrying about the future, what’s not happened yet or what’s happened already. They go backwards and they go forwards because they just want to avoid the now. Slowing down and taking a look at what’s in front of you is one of the ways that I keep from stressing myself out because I will stress myself out over stuff that’s five months away. Like, “Oh, I’ve got this tour coming up and I don’t know what to do.” It’s like, “Dude, slow down. You just need to slow down and take the necessary steps that lead up to the next thing and you’re going to be alright." As human beings, I believe we have to put in some footwork to get where we want to go. Then, God, or a higher power or the universe will take care of the rest. If you don’t put any work in, you probably will have a hard time trying to get what you want. One foot in front of the other, slowing down just helps keep me from going nuts.
DX: You talked about the recovery aspect of this album and how it’s helped you emerge from everything. I know you went through a lot in order to get sober and I think a lot of people can learn from that. Five years sober is commendable and you can almost see a brand new Eligh on this. What was the spark that finally led you to say, “This is it. I’m done using.”
Eligh: Well, I believe I had just moved out of the house that I had been using in a lot. I figured, “Okay, I’ll move out of here and move in with my boy who’s clean and who doesn’t do any of the shit that I do and maybe if I hang around him all the time, work out and eat right, I’ll get better that way and then I won’t want to do this shit anymore.” Well, I moved in with him and I just started disappearing from there. I would just wake up in the morning and I’d be sick, going through withdrawals the moment I’d wake up. I would just be like, “Dude, I can’t take this.” Physically, it hurts bad so I’d be out the whole day chasing. Then, I’d get what I wanted and I wouldn’t give a fuck. I got to the point where I didn’t care about making music. I had no desire. I was turning down tours because I was scared to go out on the road and get sick. I don’t remember the exact point. I remember the thought came where I was like, “Dude, I have to stop doing this or I’m going to die, not on purpose, but I might overdose or end up homeless or in jail.” I realized, "I’ve gotta stop doing this because it’s killing me." The thought popped up and I started finding out how much rehab was, what I had to do and then one day, finally, I found the help I needed. I found some people that could get me in somewhere without having to put down $30,000 for 30 days in a treatment center. There was no way I could afford that, dude. Only stars, movie stars could afford that. But, a friend of a friend had done it and had it paid for by some foundation. I found out what the foundation was. It’s called MusiCares. It’s actually a Grammy Foundation and it was explained to me that all I had to do was prove that I was a working musician and they payed for it, dude. I got a bed that day. I woke up in the morning. I was sick. I called my boy, I was like, “Help me get into a spot.” The next thing I know, I got a call from this foundation. They were like, “You need a bed? You want to go in tonight?” I was like, “Let’s do it.” I did the last of my shit and I went to the spot and that was October 12, 2005. So, I’ve been clean since then. Once I knew I didn't have to go through the withdrawals trying to do it on my own... [Pause] Because, getting through the withdrawals is what kept me from getting clean, basically. You do these drugs, these opiates, and you become physically a slave to them. So anyway, that’s what it was. The moment was knowing that I wasn’t even motivated to make a beat or make any music or do anything but get high.
DX: There’s something to be said about that personal realization because I’m sure other people, friends, fellow emcees, family members all told you, "You need to calm down and relax and stop that.” But that never really triggered it as much as yourself, right?
Eligh: Right! That’s what I learned later on. You can’t save somebody else. You cant save another addict. You can’t push them into the room. You can’t do any of that. People get clean when they’re ready to get clean. I’ve had experiences where I’ve convinced or drawn people into the rooms and they stay clean for awhile ad then they went out and then they came back. Once you get this program into your head and you realize what life can be without drugs, it’s hard to shake that. You can go back out and say "Fuck this!" You can go back out to drinking or doing dope or whatever but that program will always be in your head. It’s not going to go away.
So, of course I had my mom, of course, she was worried sick. She really knew what was going on because at one point, I was stealing shit from her, not like money or things. I was stealing pain killers. My mom has serious neck and back problems. So, she would take them as prescribed, the way she’s supposed to. She would come visit and I would empty her bottle in my hand and put Excedrin in there. I was just crazy with it. It all started with pain killers, man, and then it went all the way up the line. Anyway, nobody is going to stop unless they’re ready, until they hit their bottom, until they’re like, “I can’t do this anymore.” It’s real difficult. But, I put this out into the world and I have no shame of this at all. I’m super proud of what I’ve done. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done and like you said, it was not easy to do. I put it out there because I feel I have something to offer, especially to younger people who listen to my music. I can give them a different path. Some of these kids literally don’t know that there is a way, a different way. So, I get people hitting me up all the time, some of them will be talking about family members and friends and they’re like, “I don’t know what to do. I’m really worried about them. They won’t stop.” I give them the best advice I can, the same thing I’m saying right now. I’ve also had a few addicts who have hit me up and I’ve had a few that I’ve given advice to that have hit me up six months later [saying] “I’m six months clean!” That is the best feeling ever. I haven’t found something better than being able to help somebody else. It sounds corny but dude, I’m not even lying. That’s a whole high in itself, helping people find different ways.
DX: Obviously, we’ve all been to shows and you can smell it in the air, you feel it in the people, you know people are using one thing or another. Once you went sober, was it hard to go back on the road, just because temptation is there? How’d you overcome that?
Eligh: Yeah, well, let me tell you. My first biggest fear was not really being around the shit, it was performing sober. I had never performed sober. I always had a drink in my hand and it got worse as the years went on. I had four or five drinks in my hand and then you add other things and yeah, but that was a huge fear for me. I was in rehab, like I said, thinking about three months down the line, the first show I had set up, a G&E [Grouch and Eligh] show in Los Angeles. I did that show and once I did it, I just cracked a big ass fear barrier in my life. It was a whole different kind of feeling. Once I got on the stage, it was good but everything leading up to it had me with butterflies like a motherfucker. I wanted to throw up even though I had done a thousand shows before that but I had never done one sober.
As far as being on tour or in clubs and all that, I waited until I had five or six months clean until I did all that. Once I got out there, the most prevalent thing that’s in your face when you’re on tour and in clubs is alcohol and weed. Alcohol and weed are not shit to me. I’m not, “Ooh, I want a beer,” or “Ooh, I want to smoke weed.” It just doesn’t...It didn’t enter my mind then and it definitely doesn’t enter my mind now. But, as far as hard drugs go, if there are people on coke or any of those harder drugs around me, I can feel it. I can tell when someone’s on that shit, especially being clean, you see it with straight eyes. I don’t want to be around you at all. It’s not even that it tempts me, it just makes me uncomfortable and sick to my stomach. It’s gross and I’m like, “Dude, keep that energy away from me.” It’s that fake hyper energy that makes me sick. I soak it in. That’s one thing about me, I soak peoples’ energy in. If I’m in a room full of depressed people, I’m going to be depressed. It’s just the way I am. So, when people are high on that kind of stuff, it affects me. So, it’s not really hard like it tempts me, it’s just that I don’t want that energy around me.
DX: I saw you thank your sponsor on this album, too. How important is it to go through a program and get a sponsor and all of that to get clean? A lot of people, like you were saying, can’t afford it and feel like there’s no option but to go cold turkey.
Eligh: Anything is possible. I know, for me, I had to go to rehab to detox. The drugs and withdrawals were too painful for me. I was doing heroin so it all depends on what drug you’re coming off of but for me, the withdrawals were too painful and too horrible and it lasted too long to do it on my own. They put me in a safe environment, they gave me medicine that helped me get through withdrawals and let me be able to function and they took me off that slowly, in a controlled way. I was also getting introduced to the twelve step program and that’s like how diabetics need insulin, that’s what these meetings are to me. I’ve got to get my daily dose because it’s a battle. They put it as a disease of alcoholism or addiction. It’s all the same thing, but it’s a disease because it doesn’t go away. Just because you stop doing drugs, the disease stays there. I haven’t done drugs or alcohol in five years but the disease stays there in your thinking and in your mind. It’ll always be there so I have to always be battling that shit. Meetings keep me grounded and it keeps me connected with other recovering addicts.
Now, as far as doing it Rambo style, almost, without a rehab, that’s a question people ask me. People say they can’t afford it but there are a lot places, at least I know there are in Los Angeles, that are county based. There are places but if there’s nothing like that around, I always tell kids to look up online where the nearest AA or NA meeting is and just go sit in the back. Just go to a meeting and sit in the back. You don’t have to say shit, you don’t have to introduce yourself or shake any hands, just go. Start taking yourself to those meetings and eventually, somebody is going to shake your hand and you’re going to start hearing something that makes sense to you and you might just stick around. You might get it. The meetings, of course, are all free. They’re always free and they’re all over the world, dude, literally. I once went to a meeting in Australia on a tour a few years ago and what’s crazy is you get the same feeling from a meeting in Australia as the feeling I get from one I always go to all the time in L.A. and it’s the same shit so you always have a safe spot wherever you are, if you’re involved in it.
DX: What’s been the biggest positive difference that you have seen in yourself or in others around you since going clean?
Eligh: Oh, the most positive thing...[Pause] Well, I would have to bring it back to music. When I first went into rehab, I went in there thinking that I was still going to smoke weed. On the third day, I went in there to talk to the counselor and I was like, “I don’t want to do these hard drugs anymore. I don’t even want to drink anymore but I gotta have my weed because my weed is a part of my creative process and blah, blah, blah, blah,” and all this bullshit, right? And the woman is looking at me, just shaking her head ‘No,’ and she said, “What makes you think you can only smoke weed?” I just sat there and realized there’s no way that I could just smoke weed because eventually, I will go right back to all the other shit. Weed won’t be enough. When I realized, at that moment, that I could not even smoke weed anymore, I got scared. I was like, “Am I even going to be excited about making music anymore?” It was so engrained in my head that weed was a part of my creative process and what got me excited to even sit down and make shit. About five days in, I called Lucky.iam, actually, and I was like, “Dude, bring me my MPC,” because I was fiending to make a beat. Right then, I realized weed and all this other shit had nothing to do with my love for creating. So, the music took on its own high so to speak, and I feel like I’m just getting good at this shit. I’m just hitting my niche and once I complete something, like this album’s done, then I’m on to the next shit. So, okay, well I guess the most positive ting has been, like I told you earlier, the message that I have to offer people who listen. In general, what I have to offer the world, one person at a time, one out of a thousand may hear what I say and I can affect and help or lead them in the right direction. That’s the most positive thing for me.