Madchild comes back from the brink

Canadian hip hop legend opens up on his solo debut, Dope Sick

The rags-to-riches story is a familiar one for even the most casual of hip-hop listeners. The typical rapper will not only remind you of all the pitfalls he's overcome to get where he's at, but will also describe in vivid detail all of the fame, money and women he's amassed along the way.

The reverse narrative - the fall from grace - is not something we hear about as often, even though there's no shortage of examples within the genre to choose from.

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Madchild, one third of Swollen Members, Canada's bestselling rap group of all time, is bucking that trend with the release of his first solo album, Dope Sick, a deeply personal and thoughtful record that's extremely rare to come across in mainstream rap these days.

After reaching a level of success in the early '00s that was unheard of for Canadian rappers, the platinum-selling Swollen Members were relatively quiet following the release of their fourth studio album, 2006's Black Magic.

It turns out Madchild, né Shane Bunting, battled a $500 a day drug habit in the years that followed, which he attributes to the more than $3 million dollars he's lost to the addiction.

Now, almost two years sober - although Madchild prefers the term "normal" - the Canadian hip-hop legend is proud to have something to call his own.

"(Dope Sick) kind of means everything to me. It's my therapy, it's my passion, it's what I love to do and I feel real thankful and real blessed to come back to life and have something that I love to plug myself back into," he said. "A lot of people, when they come out of a situation like I was in, don't really have something like this to embrace and jump back into."

He admitted that some people still see him in a negative light - Swollen Members' management team dropped the group in 2006 due to his well-documented affiliation with the Hell's Angels - and he's happy to work towards changing that perception.

"I think it's going to take more time to completely change my image and that's cool," he said. "I made my bed, I gotta lie in it, but it's also up to me to change the sheets and change the bed and change the whole outlook."

His first solo LP is a departure from the more street-oriented commercially-geared Swollen Members releases from when Mad Child was dealing with his addiction- notably Black Magic and 2009's Armed to the Teeth - to form a more artful, inspired album that avoids some of the trappings of most rap records.

"To be honest with you, that whole gangster thing is dead. People are tired of hearing about 'Oh I've got a great car and a hot girl in the club drinking champagne, I carry a gun and got a pocket full of money.' How many times can we hear that over and over again?" he said.

In a genre where "keeping it real" is an oft-cited but rarely followed mantra, it's refreshing to see an artist like Madchild being truly genuine.

"I think the world appreciates honesty more now," he said. "Everybody sort of realizes, on a conscious or subconscious level, that we need to inject some love back into this world because things have been going real sideways in the last five to 10 years."

With four Junos, seven Much Music awards and two platinum albums, Swollen Members were instrumental in putting the Vancouver hip-hop scene on the map. Madchild, long a supporter of up-and-coming Canadian artists, wants to see more West Coast artists achieve success in the country.

"I was a walking zombie for five years and no one really took our spot so no, I'm not super happy with the progression (of West Coast hip hop) because I came back and took our spot again," he said.

Since the group's seminal 2001 release, Bad Dreams, there have been several Toronto-based rappers - k-os, K'naan and multi-platinum superstar Drake, most notably - that have managed to reach or (in Drake's case) surpass the group's mainstream acceptance. The same case can't be made for rappers in Western Canada.

"Obviously, the music industry is in Toronto, so that must attribute to why so many artists are having success there," said Madchild. "I know there's lots of people in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary that are working hard, but what I'm saying is: there's some kind of problem with these people working so hard and it not paying off."

There's no way you could question Madchild's tireless work ethic. He recently wrapped up a 20-stop tour and recorded 10 songs in the span of two weeks before heading out on another cross-Canada tour that will see him rock 43 shows in all.

"It takes a lot of work to make this shit crack off," he said. "If I would have put this much work into what I was doing in 2006, I'd already be on the cover of every magazine, on Much Music 24-7, MTV 24-7."

Hearing him talk about rolling quarters to buy a pack of cigarettes fresh out of rehab, it's hard not to root for Madchild. Even with all that he's achieved, it's still easy to see him as an underdog. His rags-to-riches story is enjoying a renaissance of sorts, and he's more than happy to share it with the world.

Madchild performs at the Pemberton Hotel Saturday (Nov. 3) at 8 p.m.

Swollen Members newest album, Beautiful Death Machine, is slated for an early 2013 release.

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