Thomas Gerbasi, UFC - No, you weren’t imagining things. If you were at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on July 5th and heard a familiar voice screaming “Forrest Griffin” throughout the former Ultimate Fighter winner’s championship fight against Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, yes, it was rapper and singer/songwriter Everlast, who went hoarse cheering Griffin on to victory.
No, you weren’t imagining things. If you were at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on July 5th and heard a familiar voice screaming “Forrest Griffin” throughout the former Ultimate Fighter winner’s championship fight against Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, yes, it was rapper and singer/songwriter Everlast, who went hoarse cheering Griffin on to victory.
It was a good night for Griffin, who won the UFC light heavyweight title in the UFC 86 main event, and a pretty good one for the voice of such classics as ‘Jump Around’, ‘What It’s Like,’ and ‘Ends’, who made a few bucks betting on Griffin with friends.
“They had him a crazy underdog,” he laughed. “I owe Forrest a dinner or something.”
So what was it about Griffin that made him disregard the odds?
“I’ve just seen almost everybody he’s been in there with drop everything but the kitchen sink on his chin and he shakes it off,” he said. “Even Rampage dropped everything he had on the dude. He caught him flush so many times on the chin and I was like ‘oh my God’. But I knew it all day. I’ve been rollin’ with Forrest since The Ultimate Fighter, man.”
And Everlast has been with the UFC even longer, going back to the early days of the organization in 1993-94.
“I was watching back in the Dan Severn days and back when Royce Gracie was runnin’ things,” he said, recalling the early UFC tournaments, a couple of which saw winning fighters sidelined by fatigue and injury, allowing alternates to sweep in. Things have changed considerably since then, but the New York native remains a fan of the sport.
“Every UFC that I’m within a three hour radius of, I’m there,” said Everlast, who is currently on a tour supporting his latest album ‘Love, War, and The Ghost of Whitey Ford’. “If I wasn’t on the road I’d probably be going to this Chicago one coming up. But I’ll definitely be at the (Randy) Couture fight in November. I love it.”
The current tour, which runs through late October, is his first since 2004, and he’s enjoyed getting back to the clubs to get the word out about the album.
“We’re looking to shake the rust off and get the word back out,” he said. “I am independent now so I don’t have the multi-million dollar machine behind me to get the word out.”
In some ways, returning to his club roots suits Everlast just fine. One of the founders of the seminal rap group House of Pain, you couldn’t go anywhere in the early 90s without hearing ‘Jump Around’, and even today, the multi-platinum smash hit is a staple at sporting events and on the radio. But pigeonholing Everlast wasn’t going to work, and after House of Pain broke up in 1996, he released his second solo album in 1998 – ‘Whitey Ford Sings The Blues’ – and stunned the music world. The album was a mixture of rap with acoustic guitars and top-notch songwriting that yielded hits like ‘What It’s Like,’ and ‘Ends’, and not only sold more than three million copies, but also made believers out of critics.
Two subsequent albums – ‘Eat at Whitey’s’ and ‘White Trash Beautiful’ – continued to push the musical envelope with solid beats, clever wordplay and storytelling usually confined to other genres of music. But in an industry that rigidly adheres to certain formulas when it comes to music, Everlast was sometimes left on the outside looking in.
“The hardest thing about my music is that it’s hard to categorize,” he said. “When you look at the way the music business is run, you’ve got radio stations, those stations have a format, and that format has a style of music that is the core of its base. You can fit me into a lot of these categories, but at the same time I’m not really any of them, so it makes it hard to get radio guys on your team sometimes because they’re not sure where you’re coming from and how to define you. But at the same time, almost what I strive to do is to stay undefinable. I don’t ever want you to say ‘oh, a new Everlast record is coming out, I know exactly what it’s gonna be.’ Hopefully you’ll know that it’s gonna have some sweat and some blood in it and it’s gonna be a quality piece of work, but style-wise, I’m always trying to take whatever influences me and put it into a big, huge musical pot of gumbo.”
By the end of the tour for ‘White Trash Beautiful’ in 2004, Everlast was ready for a break from a career that had been going almost non-stop for 16 years.
“I’ve pretty much been going hard since 1988 and really hard since 91,” he said. “The funny thing was, I said ‘all right, I’m gonna take a little time off,’ and the next thing I knew, it was three years.”
He didn’t disappear entirely though, making guest appearances on records, and writing and recording the theme song for the TV series ‘Saving Grace’. And when it was time to come back, he came out firing with ‘Love, War, and The Ghost of Whitey Ford’.
“I’m glad I did it (took the time off) because I got a chance to reflect on a lot of stuff, it made for a good record, and I can only make records when I feel ‘em, and honestly, had I felt the music sooner, I would have been in there making a record. I don’t ever force it.”
One listen to the new album, and almost immediately it makes you wonder how music got along for the last four years without him. The beats and lyrics are as biting as ever, and considering everything going on in the world today, the songs are more than timely. Everlast insists that he’s not using the album as his own personal soapbox though.
“As much as I think I’ve made some political statements on this record, I’m also of the same mind that most of the time when I see a rockstar or big actor get up on TV and try to talk politics, I’m always like, ‘what a jerk,’” he said. “But the songs came out, I had to record them, and I felt good about the songs. But I’m never gonna get up outside of the music and get on a pulpit and try to tell people how to act or vote. I think even though some of the songs are really out there, statement wise, they’re still songs and a person can still interpret their own meanings into that. I know what it means to me, but the idea is that I’m like a painter – I might paint some crazy, abstract image that to me is something totally different than it is to the next person. That’s how I like to keep it.”
But while the themes of love and war are easily explainable just by listening, what about the ghost of Whitey Ford?
“Ever since I made the Whitey Ford record, people always called me an acoustic artist, which doesn’t really bother me or anything like that, but I feel like I do a lot more than that, and especially on this record, I chose to be a lot more aggressive soundwise and have a little bit of the acoustic sound,” he explains. “But the influence and the spirit of that whole style I do is there, so that’s kinda what I mean when I say ‘The Ghost of Whitey Ford.’”
Tracks like “Kill The Emperor”, “Stone in My Hand”, and “Letters Home From The Garden of Stone” hit particularly hard, especially lyrically, but what may be the crossover hit of the album is a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”. The cover mixes a faithful rendition of the classic with the rhythm track from Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain” for a mash-up that is hard to describe but masterfully done.
“People just all-out love it or all-out hate it,” said Everlast of the reaction to his version of the song, but as he explains, the Cash family gave him a green light to put the song on his album.
Me and DJ Muggs (Cypress Hill) were doing live shows together, where he would just play breakbeats and I would sing songs and play guitar over them,” said Everlast of the origins of the cover. “We were doing that song live, and after doing it a bunch of times, I was like ‘I love it, I think this is great, let’s record it.’ And being that I am a Cash fan and respectful of his family, I went down and talked to John Carter Cash, Johnny’s son, and said ‘I’m gonna play you this record. If you guys hate it, it’ll disappear. I think it’s good, I like it, I want to put it on my record, but I don’t want this to be like some surprise.’ And they loved it and they’ve been really helpful in getting the video done, so it was fun.”
It all goes back to that musical pot of gumbo for Everlast, whose website lists influences from Cash, Muhammad Ali, and Hunter S. Thompson to Public Enemy, John Wayne, and Frank Miller’s Sin City. It’s probably not the type of list you’ll find on the blog of your average pop star these days, and not being ‘mainstream’ enough can hit you in the wallet sometimes. Everlast won’t give up his integrity though.
“For your regular musicians just trying to grind out a living, it’s gotten a lot tougher in the last few years, but luckily I’ve written a bunch of songs that the publishing money is nice on,” he said of trying to compete with the Hannah Montana’s and Jonas Brothers’ of the world. “But as far as keeping integrity, the only reason I do what I do is for the art of doing it, musically speaking. I could very easily make a lot more money than I’m making now doing things.”
Life wouldn’t be the same for him though if he couldn’t make the music he wants to make. It almost explains why he follows mixed martial arts, a sport that has seen fighters put friends, social lives, and more aside to train and fight. Everlast, who trains “sporadically” at Beverly Hills Jiu-Jitsu, understands this sacrifice and admires those who do whatever it takes to compete in the Octagon.
“I’ve got the utmost respect for anybody that steps in there,” he said. “You’re proving everything about who you are. It’s really like the ultimate test. I’m a boxing fan too, but mixed martial arts is like if it was just me and you and there was one scrap of bread left in the world, let’s see who would get it.”