The House of Pain MC is back with a new outlook and a new album

By Tom Sinclair
Updated February 19, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

What do you know — people do change. When I last interviewed the rowdy rap trio House of Pain in 1994, Everlast, their head MC, was one hard case, a sour tough whose surly arrogance was only slightly tempered by a modicum of gruff affability. Five years later, the sea change in his attitude is palpable even over the phone.

After disillusionment with the music business prompted him to quit House of Pain in 1996, he went through a long period of soul-searching, culminating in his conversion to the Islamic religion. Now Everlast, 29, whose real name is Erik Schrody, says he has traded a life of booze, broads, and blunts for one of spirituality, sincerity, and social awareness. And I believe him.

His new outlook is evident on ”What It’s Like,” the flagship single from Everlast’s hit solo album Whitey Ford Sings the Blues. Set to a moody acoustic guitar and embellished with an understated string section, the song tells the stories of three luckless individuals — a homeless alcoholic, an abandoned woman seeking an abortion, and an ill-fated wannabe gangster. ”God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in their shoes,” runs the somber chorus. ”It’s about empathy,” says Everlast. ”It’s saying, don’t judge the next motherf—er, because you’ve got just as much dirt under your fingernails.”

Everlast had intended Whitey Ford to be ”a straight-up hip-hop album,” but he wound up recording the atypical ”What It’s Like” at the urging of his producer, Dante Ross. ”I’ve been playing guitar a long time, but I never thought of putting guitars on a hip-hop record. But I was in the studio strumming that song one night, and Dante said, ‘Yo, that’s dope. We’ve got to record that.”’ Once ”What It’s Like” was in the can, Everlast decided to record a few more songs with guitars for an album that often evokes Johnny Cash channeling his inner homeboy.

One year ago, Everlast underwent emergency open-heart surgery to repair a torn heart muscle. That intimation of mortality reconfirmed his belief in the transitory nature of existence: ”I’ve formed this detachment to those things — houses, cars, money — that I’d been so attached to. The ironic thing is, I’ve got a bigger record than I ever had with House of Pain.” Peace of mind, health, a hit album — the reformed roughneck has everything but the girl. ”I am hoping to meet the right woman and have kids,” confesses the ex-sinner. ”If God wills it…”