Once the world’s lone superpower, America has been in a state of flux for several years. The economy seems to weaken every week, while we are in the midst of several wars that have been going on for nearly a decade.
In the midst of this, Grammy-winning singer/songwriter/rapper Everlast has crafted Songs Of The Ungrateful Living, a masterful 15-cut collection that serves as a soundtrack for modern America. It’s an album that pulls from several seemingly unrelated musical and thematic corners of the country to poignantly highlight not only the bleak status of our nation and its inhabitants but also the untapped potential of both.
“I just wrote a group of songs and they all started to have the theme of darkness,” Everlast says. “It’s like the ‘80s again, almost, and I’ve always liked Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town and Billy Joel’s ‘Allentown.’ I feel it’s like that again, especially today. I woke up to 600-point losses in the market. I just tap into what’s around me, but I didn’t have a title for the album for a long time. One day I was just thinking that the ungrateful living is everybody. Anybody that takes a breath probably doesn’t appreciate how much that breath is worth. I see a whole lot of people taking life and the world for granted. It’s not even a slight on anyone. It’s everyone. Me too.”
To this end, the slow, brassy “Some Of Us Pray” recognizes that we can’t break everything we fix, while lead single “I Get By” documents how people try to deal with a sinking housing market, the need for employment and a lack of resources. Although the song’s protagonist barely gets by, the concept was inspired by the hyperbolic material excess celebrated in several rap songs and videos.
Then there’s the sobering “Little Miss America” chronicles a fatherless household, soldiers at war and friends being left behind. The latter, in particular, was the result of some intense soul searching, reflection and interaction.
“That song is a direct result of my trip to Iraq,” Everlast says. “I had written most of it in anticipation of going. I knew some cats that were soldiers and because on the last album I wrote that song ‘Letters Home from the Garden of Stone,’ a lot of soldiers have reached out to me. I’ve heard their stories so I think there’s a little bit of all of that mixed in there. It’s what America has become. She loves the paparazzi. America’s responsible for stuff like Snooki. Really? Everybody’s trying to sell their story. Say what you want to say, but when I was young, America did stuff. You could actually buy and live and eat and drive and wear everything American. It just doesn’t mean anything to anybody anymore. Now, the results of all that are starting to come in.”
The repercussions of mistakes made drive the acoustic guitar-driven “Long At All,” while the heavy “Gone For Good” examines how a patriarch battles to fight his own demons while providing for his family.
Though there is a definite somber undercurrent to much of Songs Of The Ungrateful Living, Everlast did not force himself to write songs. Instead, he let it come naturally. “My songwriting has never been something I buckled down and forced myself to do,” he says. “It comes in waves. It comes in periods and usually it ends up forming some sort of cohesive connection between all of them, whether it’s on different levels and different topics. There’s darkness, but there’s always this tiny little sliver of hope there somewhere.”
The album’s most optimistic moments come on the romantic “My House,” an inviting song where Everlast presents simple options for a perfect date night, the heartfelt “Sixty-Five Roses,” where a smile on his daughter’s face makes everything alright, and on his spirited cover of the Sam Cooke classic “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
In fact, a change is going to come would be the perfect way to describe Everlast’s musical journey. He got his first break in the 1980s when gangster rap pioneer Ice T discovered him and released his early material. But it was in 1992, when as the frontman of rap group House Of Pain, that Everlast enjoyed his first career-defining moment. The group’s bone-crushing single “Jump Around” became one of the decade’s biggest songs and is still used regularly in television commercials and movies.
After a successful run with House Of Pain, Everlast shocked the musical world in 1998 with the release of his solo album Whitey Ford Sings The Blues. A blues, folk, country and rap inspired release on which Everlast sang in a gravely voice, the collection was anchored by the smash hits “What It’s Like” and “Ends” and sold more than 2 million copies.
Since then, Everlast has become one of music’s most successful, eclectic artists, collaborating with legendary rock group Santana on the Grammy-winning single “Put Your Lights On” and forming the hardcore rap group La Coka Nostra with former House Of Pain member DJ Lethal, among others.
With such a diverse, disparate musical background, Everlast cites one source for his songwriting prowess.
“I’m an MC,” Everlast says. “When I sing, I’m MCing. It’s all hip-hop to me. I wouldn’t be in it and doing any of it if it weren’t for hip-hop. I feel like some sort of human mixer that just takes these musical styles and tries to spit them out over a beat somehow.”
And with Songs Of The Ungrateful Living, Everlast again shows that he’s one of the most talented people to ever mix musical styles.