Imagine this: You grow up getting abused by a psychotic father that leads you to numb your pain with drugs. After spending time in a mental institution as a test subject for fluoxetine (an antidepressant), you trade the straitjacket for a microphone, and begin a critically acclaimedif commercially overlookedrap career.
That would be a quick glimpse at the life of Chris Palko, better known as Cage, a Definitive Jux-signed artist whos experienced a long-winding, strange career for the last 16 years. His latest release, Depart from Me—a hip-hop-influenced experimental follow-up to the highly acclaimed Hells Winter—has garnered criticism from both fans and critics. (Not to mention the comments on the new emo look hes been rocking.) But, despite a hint of irritation in his voice, Cage claims hes not annoyed. I dont really care, he says. Everything is trivial to me right now besides music, family, and friends.
A calmer, gentler Cage? Well, overall hes in a better place both mentally and physically. The long-awaited Weathermen album is in the works, and his biopic project with Shia Lebouf is still happening. Although the death of Camu Tao has damaged his spirit, Cage says he hasnt consoled himself with drugs. I just got sick of doing that shit, he says. People change you know? And change, at least for Cage, has been good.
AllHipHop.com: Hows the reception for the new album so far?
Cage: I got one shitty review from Pitchfork, but its not like I care about what they think. I got 4/5 in Spin. That means a lot to me than getting a 10 from Pitchfork. I mean I didnt even know what Pitchfork was until they reviewed it so I could care less what theyre thinking.
AllHipHop.com: Dont you think they had a point? The album received some negative feedbacks from the hip-hop crowd.
Cage: I dont live for anyone else. And I damn sure not live for a bunch of f**king-s***ty-dirt rags, f**king newspapers, and f**king blogs. If you add up collectively, all these reviews, and all these opinions add up to like 40 people. Theres a bunch of Hip-Hop blogs saying, Oh, this isnt Hip-Hop. I dont give a f**k what some dude who doesnt make rap records thinks of it. If you dont even write music, or make music for a living, why do you publicly critique music? I mean I dont think Hip-Hop music needs me or anyone else to expand it bigger than what it is already. And if you loved Movies for The Blind, and Hells Winter so much more than this, well, where the f**k was you when I was making them? I rather have a 16-year-old who found out my music two months ago and loves it than kids who loved my music for 10 years, and hate it now.
AllHipHop.com: What lead to this type of music in the first place?
Cage: I just got tired of making the same s**t as everyone else. What was I supposed to do? Use auto-tune?
AllHipHop.com: Were you happy with Jay-Zs response?
Cage: Yea, good for him! For not f**king going the same route as everyone else.
AllHipHop.com: Obviously, the record is very rock-influenced. Can you tell me certain rock artists that you were influenced by?
Cage: To correct you, its a Hip-Hop-influenced record. Its just a very different Hip-Hop record. I kind of wanted to take what I was doing as a rap artist, and turn rap on its side and kick it in the balls.
Cage – “I Never Knew You”
AllHipHop.com: Ouch. But I recall hearing that Nine Inch Nails was an influence.
Cage: No, not at all. People who are writing rap articles or whatever; their point of reference is so fucked up. What we said about the Nine Inch Nails influence was for one song called “I Found My Mind In Connecticut.” We had been listening to Nine Inch Nails a lot that week and there was a sound that was stuck in our heads, and we said, This sounds so much like Nine Inch Nails! Im going to write a Nine Inch Nails-style hook. Yea, I grew up listening to them in the early 90s and I still like them, but its not my sole influence. I grew up listening to Slick Rick. Thats how the record is inspired. I wanted to write visual stories, didnt want to dress like a bum, and look different from the rest like Slick Rick.
AllHipHop.com: Hes definitely one of the pioneers who brought those factors out.
Cage: Yea, from angel dust, storytelling raps, being institutionalized, and caring about the appearance—I have a lot in common with Slick Rick.
AllHipHop.com: Tell me about the latest projects Cardboard Citys been working on.
Cage: Were working on the new Weathermen stuff. I know theres a song that leaked with Breeze, Yak, and El called Reports Of A Possible Kidnapping. The main project Im working on right now is with me, and Shia. Hes in New York and working on the new Oliver Stone film Money Never Sleeps [Wall Street 2] and were going to be getting a lot of work done going towards the Cage film.
AllHipHop.com: Since you mentioned The Weathermen, can we expect an album?
Cage: Yes, were putting music together for an album, and the lineup is: myself, Tame One, Aesop [Rock], Breeze Brewin, El-P, Yak Ballz, and Camu Tao whos also on the record also look out for Camu Taos record King of Hearts, which is an unfinished album.
AllHipHop.com: Did Camu Taos passing affect the creative process of Depart from Me?
Cage: I just kept going in the direction that we had been going in, which was a more rock approach. It seems like rap went to a more R&B route, so Camu and I decided to go onto a different route. Originally, it was supposed to be Sean doing the guitars, and Camu doing the drum programs, like a hybrid throwback.
AllHipHop.com: Whats Camu Taos album like?
Cage: Its a hard record to describe. Theres almost like a Buddy Holly-vibe to certain songs mixed with electro-futuristic rap. When he passed, a lot of us were really sad because he had all these materials back in 04. You hear his music and you hear how insanely brilliant, and catchy it is. Its going to sound really current like it came out right now.
AllHipHop.com: What is Camus involvement in The Weathermen album?
Cage: It wasnt until Camu got sick. When we got around wanting to do it, he was too sick to even finish his own records. Instead of getting checked up when he felt ill, he wrote songs about thinking he was dying and how ill he was. Instead of going to the hospital, he wrote music. This kid literally died for music. He would write songs like, Death, where have you been all my life before he was diagnosed with cancer. He was out on the road performing, and tumbling over in pain every night, and it just adds creepiness to the story. The Weathermen project is something we unfortunately didnt get to do when Camu was alive.
AllHipHop.com: Is there a specific theme that The Weathermen project is trying to approach?
Cage: Originally, people expected more of a political-type record, and I feel like politics will be a major tone of the record, but not necessarily government politics, but more politics of life, and corporate rule.
AllHipHop.com: Can the fans expect to hear you rap again?
Cage: Pretty much, I still love doing that music. I write that shit all the f**king time because its where I came from, but I know that its not going to get me anywhere.
AllHipHop.com: Can you expand?
Cage: Its not challenging to me anymore, and to be honest with you, it was doing absolutely nothing for me. You wouldnt read a review about me in The Source or XXL, see me on BET, or listen to me on Hot 97. That world rejected me and doesnt want anything to do with me. Im going to make and write music that challenges me. Thats not a challenge; its impossibility.
AllHipHop.com: Good point.
Cage: I dont know, I think again its politics; Eminim just opens the door for everyone and just shuts it upon entering it.
AllHipHop.com: Why do you say that?
Cage: Because everything after him is going to be [considered] fraud. Everything after him is killing other artists of similar backgrounds rather than making a credible doorway for those artists.
Cage – “Shoot Frank” feat. Darryl Palumbo
AllHipHop.com: Are you saying it wasnt his skills but the support he got from people like Dr. Dre that made him successful?
Cage: I think its a matter of skill. Its definitely clear now hes very talented. But of course, you dont see too many artists that come out and be successful in the mainstream without some sort of co-signs involved. Maybe my music just wasnt for the masses at the time, maybe it still isnt.
AllHipHop.com: What were your thoughts on a former member of The Weathermen—Copyright—doing a song criticizing Asher Roth?
Cage: I dont think thats moving forward, I dont think it either affects Asher Roth one bit, or Copyright. I dont think anythings going to come from it. In this insane-f**king business, where peoples lives are just destroyed, I dont wish anyone ill.
AllHipHop.com: I see. I feel like, compared to the Cage in the past, youve changed—from your music to the way youre conducting this interview for example.
Cage: I think it was about 03 when I just stopped doing all the angel dust. Once I cleared my head up a little bit, I realized that I was completely unhappy. I couldnt pay my bills, I was doing shows for little money, and you just have that moment of clarity and think, How many pies in the face are you going to take? Its a culmination of a lot of things, and if Im more aware during interviews, its because Im not f**ked up every day, and looking to say stupid things and be an idiot.
AllHipHop.com: Did you quit drugs completely?
Cage: I mess around with weed, and alcohol. Everything else I have no time for. No time for pills, never was into cocaine, no heroin, no narcotics of any sort.
AllHipHop.com: Lets talk about the video that Shia just directed for you.
Cage: It was interesting. He was on “106 & Park,” and he shouted me out, and the entire audience clapped and cheered, as if they knew who the f**k I was, and I thought it was amazing, because I realized that was the first and the last time I would ever be on BET. [Laughs.] Yea he shot the video, we wanted to make it something different, since its not your typical single.
AllHipHop.com: Any naysayers?
Cage: There are people who hate it, or say, Its a disgrace to Hip-Hop! Thats coming from the mouths of people who have never done anything for Hip-Hop. Like, you write a f**king blog, youre not doing anything but giving your f**king opinion. Go out and f**king create rather than sitting there and critiquing things, and expecting the world to give a f**k about what you think.
AllHipHop.com: You dont like bloggers?
Cage: Suddenly, music fans have become some sort of business-savvy-opinionated writers or A&Rs. Like whenever you get way-over-the-top criticism, just the fact that there are so many pseudo-writers popping out with faux journalism like, I have a blog, Im a journalist! No youre not! Whats crazy to me is to all those self-proclaimed idiots were all a bunch of f**king clowns at the end of the day. So when people are critiquing my music, Ill have you all know, I make silly-ass-fucking music so the only thing thats sillier than my music, is some f**king retard whose f**king a** hurts over listening to my silly-a** music.