One Hundred and Eighty Days
Interview and Photography by
Walking down Fremont to meet up with rapper and actor Slaine, I was thinking a lot about my days back in D Town, running my studio and producing rap tracks for Esham, Natas, Kool Keith and The Dayton Family, and hardcore rockers The Workhorse Movement, Universal Stomp, and 20 Deadflowerchildren; Fresh from playing “Gathering of the Juggalos”, I knew he’d have much to talk about, as I’d walked that road, touring with ICP in the ‘90s and experiencing some of the same things. I was very much looking forward to our conversation, so I opened our meeting with buying this Bostonian a slice and a Coke.
Coming up from the streets, Slaine, born George Carroll 37 years ago, is a very deep person. Rough and edgy in one sense, but open and soft in the other – a virtual Tony Soprano in person, his large physical presence is softened by his honest blue eyes as they speak the truth, baring his soul and revealing sincerity amid his tough-guy exterior. Known for edgy content, street credibility and his work with super rap groups La Coka Nostra and Special Teamz, and Slaine spreads his wings and pushes the envelope of the genre on his solo projects, taking risks and beating the shit up seriously. Not surprisingly, but surprisingly, Ben Affleck reached out to George to act in his 2007 film, “Gone Baby Gone”, taking him off the streets and literally throwing him into the fray of mainstream moviemaking. Later to come would be roles in “The Town”, “Killing Them Softly” with Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini, and his newest film with Harvey Keitel coming out this December: “By The Gun”. Who knows what’s next, but judging from the company that Slaine is keeping, big things are on the horizon for the man from the streets of Boston, and we sat down with him here in Las Vegas to discuss just that. —Santodonato
SANTODONATO: What year did you move to New York?
SANTODONATO: And you grew up in Boston?
SLAINE: Yeah, I grew up all over Boston, really. I was born in Dorchester, grew up there as a kid. But I moved around quite a bit, especially after my parents got divorced – grew up mainly in Dorchester, South Boston, Roslindale – three neighborhoods. They were blue-collar neighborhoods, depending on your viewpoint, but to me, they’re blue collar, tough neighborhoods, Irish Catholic. Dorchester is a little more diverse in race and stuff like that, but South D. is pretty much Irish Catholic.
SANTODONATO: Did you go to church as a kid?
SANTODONATO: Were you into drugs at that point as a kid?
SLAINE: I was just getting into drugs. I started doing drugs when I was fourteen. That was all around, but it was everywhere.
SANTODONATO: What was your drug of choice?
SLAINE: I tried it all when I was that age. I think I smoked weed for the first time when I was thirteen, and I had already smoked crack and fuckin’ angel dust, and fuckin’ everything else… done acid, mushrooms, by the time I was fourteen, fifteen. Cocaine and alcohol were my favorites. Those are the ones that stuck with me until about six months ago.
SANTODONATO: So you’ve been clean for six months?
SLAINE: Mm-hmm. Tomorrow – six months.
SANTODONATO: Congratulations, that’s fucking awesome!
SLAINE: Thanks. You know I had a lot of fun, man. You know like, I don’t have this story where like… Look I did, like to some extent… but… I had two-dozen friends die from drug overdoses, suicide, things related…
SANTODONATO: That many?!
SLAINE: Yeah, a lot. I always say, I didn’t fuckin’ lose everything before I had to get sober. I just had like a moment, where I was in the emergency room 10, 12-times a year and my body was giving up on me. I was throwing up 3 or 4 times a week… for about 10 years. It was just like, I was drinking two fifths a day, and I was doing coke every day, and I was doing molly, and fuckin’ different drugs would come in for like six months at a time. I just had to stop, man. I wasn’t gonna be the person I wanted to be. But you know, that being said, I don’t look down on anybody else for doing that shit. Like people I’m around still do it. I’m not like waving a flag for sobriety or anything. I need to do what’s right for myself.
SANTODONATO: So does it make it more difficult for you gigging and being around people like that?
SANTODONATO: Well that, to me, makes it way stronger. You gotta write about the things that you know. That’s what matters. That’s what makes it real.
SLAINE: Yeah, it still works, because like, I was talking a lot about the pain and the loss and the depression and stuff like that, and the only stuff that feels weird sometimes are the songs that celebrate. You know – ‘cause when you’re getting fucked up, you’re not fuckin’ miserable all the time. You’re happy, too. You have a lot of ups and downs. I think I chronicled like a lot of that experience. And this is another extension of what that experience is for me. Not that every song I make is gonna be about fuckin’ getting sober or whatever, but it’s all part… it’s a part of the completion of the story… The only other way to complete it is… die, and I ain’t tryin’ to do that.
SANTODONATO: A lot of creative people get fucked up – artists, writers… Have you had any anxiety about wondering: ‘Maybe, if I’m not high, I can’t write as many songs,’ like you said it. I know you said you shut it down, but is there another way you’re dealing with it?
SLAINE: I had to be ready to give it up.
SANTODONATO: So, honestly, you came to that point?
SLAINE: I had to come to that point, because it was a big hang-up for me. It was my main hang-up any other time I tried to get sober. I was like, well look: “Music is first to me, no matter what. And if I can’t fuckin’ do music sober, then I fuckin’ don’t want to get sober.” That would always be the hang-up. And this time I had to be able to say, being sober has to be No. 1 for me, because if not, I’m gonna lose… I’m not gonna… I don’t think I would have lost my relationship with my son completely…
SANTODONATO: You have a boy?
SLAINE: Yeah, I have a six-year-old son. You know, it was starting to become apparent to me that he was coming of an age where my lifestyle was gonna start affecting our relationship – one way or another. You know what I’m saying? That was the last straw. That was the thing that I wasn’t ready to concede. I could live with the pain of being sick and the anxiety, even though that was getting worse and worse. I could’ve lived with all that shit, because it was what I was used to in my life. I was used to fuckin’ people dying all around me. I was used to feeling sick all the time, and fuckin’ being a slave to that shit. I managed a life around it, but fatherhood was one thing that I couldn’t figure how to do that at the same time. You know what I mean? My son is the most important thing in the world to me.
SANTODONATO: And who else has influenced your flow and your style?
SLAINE: Early on, it was Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Eric B & Rakim, Slick Rick.
SLAINE: And then, as I got a little older, (when I say older, I was fifteen, sixteen): House of Pain, Cypress Hill, Nas, Biggie Smalls, Wu-Tang.
SANTODONATO: So you were already being influenced by House of Pain and Cypress, before you met them?
SLAINE: Oh yeah, before I met those guys, I had pictures of them all over my walls. I used to cut pictures out of magazines like High Times. They had the “Be Real. How to Roll a Blunt” on the foldout, middle page. I had a House of Pain tour poster. I had the album covers from the old cd’s that used to come with the big artwork. I cut those out. I had all those up. That was my favorite shit. The first hip-hop concert I ever went to was Cypress Hill / House of Pain in 1993.
SANTODONATO: Were you already recording a little bit at that point, or were you just rapping?
SLAINE: I wasn’t recording in the studio or anything like that. It was something I kept to myself, because my neighborhood, like when I was growing up, it was still very racially segregated and we all listened to hip-hop, but like, you were a wigger if you were like a rapper or something like that. It was something I kinda stayed away from. There weren’t a lot of outlets for me. I was more like running in the streets and doing drugs. I didn’t think about… I mean, I thought about it, like in the back of my mind, I guess, but I didn’t… I wasn’t like out on the corner rappin’ and shit. But I did record in my house. I had a two-player-like tape player and then a recorder on one side. So I would get the singles at Tower Records that had the instrumentals on them, and I would rap on them, and I’d put the blank tape on the one side, and then I would take the blank tape out, and put another blank tape in and take like my vocal track, and then I started overdubbing, which I didn’t really understand what I was doing, but I soon learned was overdubbing, and what was a technique that was used in the recording studio. Soon after, I had my first live gig.
SANTODONATO: How’d it go?
SLAINE: It went well. And I was in front, free-styling with some guys on the corner, and it was like I was immersed in this culture for the first time. But I had been doing it for nine years by that point, so I was good at writing. I had a lot of good rhymes. So I blew people away by the time I was spittin’ and the guys who were impressed were all these guys who were like, to me, they were somebody on the underground scene of New York, and they were impressed, and the rest is kind of history. I just started going into studios after that for the first time, and MC Shan (who’s kind of a legendary dude from the eighties), he started managing me, and I started recording with him. Eventually I started working with the Lordz of Brooklyn, and Brooklyn introduced me to Danny Boy from House of Pain. Years later that turned into Danny getting me a deal with DJ Lethal (this is kinda the fast version of it), and that ended up over a couple of years turning into me doing some solo stuff with Lethal that Everlast jumped in on, and Ill Bill and La Coka Nostra started. And things have taken their own progression from there – but it’s kind of a very fast version.
SANTODONATO: So you’ve got this whole other thing going on too: acting. You’ve been in some big fuckin’ movies – surrounded by some big fuckin’ stars – how did this all happen?
SLAINE: After I had the pre-production deal with Lethal, I actually went into rehab (not rehab – detox). Rehab is, I guess, for like people who have money. I went into detox. It’s like three days, a bunch of homeless people… I went to this place in Roxbury called The Dimock. I got out, I was sober for like three weeks or something like that, and then right back at it. But it inspired my first mix tape that was called “The White Man Is The Devil Vol. 1”, and it was kind of about my troubles with cocaine and stuff. I made Vol. 2 after that. I started to gain some steam in Boston, and people started to know who I was, and I got a buzz in the streets. I pressed up 50 cd’s (I didn’t have any money behind me or anything like that), and I gave them to different drug dealers in the neighborhood. So if you bought a $40-bag of coke, it was $50 to get my cd. If you didn’t want my cd, you didn’t get the coke. I gave them to my friends. So I sold 13,000 cd’s like that.
SLAINE: I knew my audience was going to be people that did drugs and stuff like that. And I figured that was the best way I could reach them, through drug dealers.
SANTODONATO: That’s a great story!
SLAINE: I imagine there’s probably some guy in Dorchester who has 75 copies of “The White Man Is The Devil Vol. 1” all covered with like fuckin’ white powder and shit all over it. (laughter) So I started gaining a little bit of notoriety, had a buzz in the streets, and simultaneously was working with Coka Nostra, and with this guy, Ed O.G., who’s kind of a Boston legend.
SANTODONATO: What a great fuckin’ story!
SLAINE: Yeah, I think everyone needs to find their audience. And I think that’s my audience – people who’ve kind of had the same experience as me. I probably have a bigger audience than that at this stage of the game, but it was definitely a way for me to reach the people who I knew would like the music. And it wasn’t just coke. It was heroin, ecstacy and stuff. My thought was like, you could have people who were coked out of their heads, like fuckin’ playing the cd, and if they like it, they’re gonna be “up” all the time talking about it. It probably contributed heavily to my buzz in Boston. Then the Boston Herald did a story about me. I started working with Coka Nostra right around the same time, and Ben Affleck was in town. He was in pre-production for Gone Baby Gone, which was his directorial debut. It was like the beginning of his comeback. There was a story about me in the paper with my picture, and I was livin’ in a… I hadn’t made really any money yet. I was making money just off the cd sales and stuff like that, but that was over some time that I sold 13,000 of them, and I also had a drug habit of my own. I couldn’t work anymore, because I was putting so much time into my music, so I was living in the… basically squatting in this warehouse that this guy was gonna build a recording studio in. But he ended up not – he ended up catching a case, and so I was like basically squatting in there. And there was no hot water or electricity, the guy hadn’t been paying the rent where he was gonna build or whatever. And I was just staying there, and at the time that that article was written, I was charging my phone up the street at this after-hours bar that had just been sold, didn’t have a liquor license anymore, but I knew the girl whose father owned it and we used to stay in there until like six in the morning. So I come home one night, and I went and stopped at the gas station, and I grabbed all the newspapers, ‘cause it was the first time I was ever in the newspaper. And I remember reading it, and I was just kinda laughing to myself. I climbed up this ladder to this place I used to sleep in, and I woke up on the mattress I was sleeping on with all the newspapers there, and I had 66 missed phone calls. Mr. Affleck had put out an APB on me, like with all the media outlets and everything. So I went in and I did the first audition. He had me in five more times to read, and I ended up getting the part for Gone Baby Gone. So that was pretty cool. I also worked with him on The Town, which I don’t think he envisioned casting me again.
SANTODONATO: So how did that go down?
SLAINE: A friend of mine worked in the casting office actually, and told me, ‘I don’t know. Ben doesn’t think you really can play a Charlestown guy. You’re a little too urban for him.’ You know, Charlestown is an urban area, but I think he thought I maybe talked too black, or you know, he kinda saw me as being like a hip-hop guy or something like that. It was great working with him on the first movie. We got along really well, and we stayed in touch and stuff like that. But uh, he was like, ‘Ah, I’ll find something for ya’ in it, but I don’t know if it’s gonna be one of the bank robbers,’ because that’s what I wanted to play was one of the bank robbers. So he was like, ‘Alright, well come in and read it for us.’ So I kinda went over the top with the scene that I had to read for, where I was being interrogated by the police. It said: ‘You got it all fucked up. I’m trying to make this sound authentic.’ But I went over the top with it and put in the “authenticious”, and just kinda white-trashed it out a little bit so it was like: “Yous got it all fucked up – I’m trying to make this sound ‘authenticious,’” and he gave me the part on the spot.
SANTODONATO: Fuck – that’s cool!
SLAINE: And they used that in the movie…
SANTODONATO: And you made all the trailers, too.
SLAINE: Yeah, it was cool. Even in Killing Them Softly, which I had a small part in… The first thing they released, actually, was when I throw Liotta through the window, and that was before the trailer came out. So that was fuckin’ cool.
SANTODONATO: What was that like working with that crew, and who directed it?
SLAINE: Andrew Dominik. He’s Australian and half the crew is Australian, too. He directed the movie, Chopper, and Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and he was great, man. And Affleck, to me, is just a great communicator. He’s an amazing director. And I think, 15-20 years from now, you’re gonna mention him in the same breath as Scorsese and Clint Eastwood, and guys like that. I can’t imagine doing a movie for the first time with no acting experience… you know, I got kicked out of film school, and I didn’t pursue film after that until Ben saw me in the newspaper. So I can’t imagine… I never acted in my life… I wasn’t in a high school play or anything. I couldn’t imagine going onto a movie set for the first time without the experience that he gave me. And I think he knew… he obviously thought I was talented and he saw something in me that I didn’t necessarily even see in myself. He kinda molded me, but also gave me the freedom to make my own choices and stuff like that, and to kind of build this character in a way that was authentic. It just gave me a lot of confidence. I can’t really explain like how important that was to me early on. To work with him first was amazing. And enter Dominik, who was just like very manipulative, but like in a good way, but like, you could feel him trying to get something out of you. I had this scene with Brad Pitt and he’s like: ‘Mate, I want you to tell him that you love him.’ And I was like: “That’s not in the script.” And he was like: ‘With your eyes, mate. With your eyes.’ (laughter) And then he would stay over there, and he would say something else to Brad Pitt. The way he worked with actors was very manipulative, but I feel like that’s a derogatory term for it. It was just kinda like he wanted to get two different motivations and see how it worked, and then you’d come back with a different approach after the cut. And then he’d be like: ‘Let’s try it like this this time.’ It was an interesting way to direct. It wasn’t quite as transparent, but it was a very interesting approach.
SLAINE: There’s a new movie called By The Gun that I did with Harvey Keitel. And it’s my first experience as a lead character in a movie. It was with me, Ben Barnes, Leighton Meester, Harvey Keitel, Toby Jones (who’s in a ton of stuff – he’s a great actor, too). It’s just a really cool cast. I was with that one from the beginning. My friend, Emelio, wrote the script. It’s kinda like a modern day mob story, but the mob is not what it once was. The lead character is Ben Barnes. He’s a kid who grows up in the “neighborhood” and he idolizes the mafia, and loves all the movies, and loves the whole lure of it. But in 2014, that’s not what it is anymore. It’s been ripped apart by all the different FBI… starting the laws… rats… and they’ve dismantled it, so it’s not what it once was. I play his best friend, and I play an Irish gangster, but I’m a lone wolf assassin type of dude. I don’t really fuck with the Italians, but he’s my best friend. We did time together, and he’s about to get made, and then it kinda goes from there. We shot that in December of 2012.
SANTODONATO: No shit – you’ve got quite a resume started! As you’re getting older, do you see yourself transitioning out of rap, or do you have aspirations to do more production?
SLAINE: My plate is full with the music and the acting, but in the future, like as I do less music, I want to write and direct, but I’m still a baby with the acting. I feel like doing this music shit independently has given me like a great education. I’ve learned so much. I don’t have a college degree, but that’s my college degree.
SANTODONATO: Hard knocks.
SLAINE: I’ve learned a lot on how to build my career – I’ve learned from the bad choices I’ve made – I’ve learned from the good choices I’ve made. And I’ve learned kind of that you have to do this shit independently. And when kids come up to me and they like want to give me a demo tape (not that it’s a tape anymore), and I’m like: “Listen kid, I can’t do anything for you. As a matter of fact, nobody can do anything for you anymore. You are the only person. You need to build your fan base. You need to take the project you feel passionate about and perfect it, and master your craft, and then bring it to the world – when it’s mastered. You want to go out and audition and be part of that system, but you also don’t want to sit around and wait for good shit to happen to you, because it’s never gonna happen. Chances are, you might get lucky here and there, but I think I need to create my own name, just like I did with music. And maybe that means that… I’m pretty sure that I’m never gonna be like of the caliber of a Brad Pitt, or somebody like that when it comes to a movie star. But I learned that with my music career. I’m just interested in being me – and being the best version of myself. And who knows where my art is gonna grow to – you know like, anything is possible, but I just wanna take the journey with it and give myself the right shots and right opportunities. “Give myself” being the key phrase there. You know what I mean? ‘Cause nobody’s gonna give me shit. I learned that from a very fucking young age. You know what I’m saying? In fuckin’ Boston, growing up in the streets, I learned nobody was gonna give me shit. In the music business, I learned nobody was gonna give me shit and I had to make my own bed. I don’t think that there’s any fucking thing different now that I’m doing the movie stuff, too. I think the same rule applies.
SANTODONATO: It’s a fucked up time – it’s weird. But it’s kinda good, too, because it’s like what you were saying: If you’ve got talent, and you can put your shit out there – maybe you can build a following, right? If you’ve got the shit. Like you said, just fuckin’ do it. So tell me about the new record – what you’re saying in it, what it’s about, and what your favorite tracks are.
SANTODONATO: (laughter) So he said it just like that?
SLAINE: (laughter) Yeah, and I started laughing when he said it. And I go, “Maybe that’s the name of my next album.” So this album is kinda just about that lifestyle where I’m just kinda like wildin’ out. You know, I finished the record before I got sober, pretty much. It took me like six months to put out, because I had to like reel myself back in and get my head back together and all that. This album almost killed me, but it was a picture of kinda where I was at. I mean, trust me, from a music standpoint, like it spans so much. I had problems with sample clearance in 2010 with “The World With No Skies” and I couldn’t put out that album as I originally wanted to.
SANTODONATO: So that’s why you remade it? It was a sample issue?
SLAINE: Yeah, that’s why like half the songs are taken off, and I had to replace it with another half, and another couple of them are remixed. So over those couple years since then I had to learn how to make music without sampling, because I couldn’t put shit out on Suburban Noize with the samples.
SANTODONATO: Run me through your working process with your producer, Lu Balz, in the studio.
SLAINE: You know, I used to write all the time. I used to write on napkins at the bar, write on my hand. I’d have lyrics everywhere. And I stopped doing that, and I started only writing in the studio, because I had started to learn how to write in the studio, like maybe in 2003. And I’ve become so good at it that I only wanted to write in the studio. I’d just live my life, and I’d just go into the studio, and I’d write about it. And that worked really well for a long time. And you know, I used to load up with the booze, get some drugs, whether it was coke… usually coke I’d have always. I didn’t do like tons of it, but enough to keep me drinking. It was more like to facilitate my drinking. I never did coke without alcohol.
SANTODONATO: Sure, to keep you awake.
SLAINE: Yeah, it keeps me awake working, my brain firing, and it keeps me from being like this (acting intoxicated, dangling his body over the chair) when I’m drunk. You know? So that, and over the past few years, molly, too. So I would have that, and parties at the studio. Depending on the night, like if I felt like being around people… Sometimes we’d go out to the bar and bring some people back to the studio, some girls, whatever. We just had a good time. So I would have ideas for certain stuff or maybe a situation that happened to me that week, and me and Lu would start going through sounds. And you know, he plays everything. So sometimes I come up with the melody. He’ll start playing it, and always makes it better than I had it in my head.
SANTODONATO: So how many tracks might you make to whittle down to what actually ends up on the record?
SLAINE: Well, you’d be surprised. I used to throw out a lot more songs than I do now. I rarely throw away a song now, because if there’s a verse and a hook in a song, and it’s just not working – then we just throw it away – start again. Start again and make it right!