Madchild – Switched On [Review]
Los Angeles, CA – Madchild dropped his new, much anticipated album Switched On with a massive 17-track listing. Lyrically Madchild’s signature fleshed-out and spaced-out rhymes prevail. He tackles many personal issues on the album, which is an honorable creative step. Technically, Madchild gives his fans the very best on this album. There are ample shout-outs on the record to his hometown, Vancouver, which although he no longer resides, remains a great source of pride.
The album opens with “White Knuckles” where Madchild addresses his trying times with drug addiction and introduces the passion he has for rap, “I literally eat from what I speak”. From the get go we know that tackling his weaknesses in addiction is not off bounds for Madchild and he wants to beat his critics to the punch. The track has a dark eerie piano playing in the background, which is reminiscent of the playful gothic quality on so many of the Swollen Members’ tracks. “White Knuckles” is the perfect music for Halloween.
Madchild elaborates further on his addiction and the rising phoenix of his career in “Amadeus”, accompanied by catchy beats. He ruminates on the path that his career has, or more specifically, has not taken. In “Switched On” he refers to himself as the white rapper who “almost made it”. With Madchild’s honest recognition of the off-centre trajectory of his life and career, a degree of genuineness attaches itself to the record. He speaks often of the acceptance of the smaller scale of musical commerce that he has shifted to, and how fulfilling that decision has been for him. Madchild displays maturity as an artist on Switched On, both lyrically and ethically.
“Iran” turns out to be a little misleading. An addictive beat in the background that doubles as traditional Arabic rhythms and video game background music, keeps the head nodding. The song is about Madchild’s return from the darkness and betrayal of friends. One would have hoped, however, that given the title of the track, it would have gone deeper and perhaps drawn parallels with politics. Too much? Yeah, maybe. Madchild’s maturity rears it’s head in the existential thoughts he has on songs such as “Never Die” and “Broken Mirror” – they are the “memoirs of a troubled soul.” His rejection of fame and the moral decay that comes with it, is uncovered in “Hellbound”. Beautiful piano in the background with a “the devil’s got a Bugatti for sale” chorus bring home the point effortlessly.
The Gothic circus slash Jack-in-the-Box music is strong on “Act My Age” where it lends light-heartedness to the gravity of the record. Madchild describes himself as a “modern gnome spitting out a lotta poems” and wishes to rap forever, even if the rap lifestyle is set to strap him into adolescence indefinitely. His self-deprecating humor endears the listener to Madchild. The vibe shifts to love and dating on “Tom Cruise” where he talks about girls who don’t know his real name and asks, “just ‘cuz I’m famous, I don’t feel pain?” That is as romantic as this record gets. No surprises there.
“Drugs in My Pocket” is a wonderful track that is supported with a sitar playing in the background, which I believe, is to hint at spirituality or the loss thereof. The chorus “I’ve got drugs in my pocket/and I don’t know what to do with them” expresses the banality of a dangerous situation. Another great line off the track shows Madchild’s desire to keep it real under all circumstances–“I don’t care how rich I get/I’m never flying business class.” And that is exactly the kind of stuff that makes you want to like Madchild. He sneaks in that Canadian egalitarian ethos when you least expect it. Mental illness and depression are not topics Madchild shies away from. Mid-album, in “Black Belt”, he recants the experience of a person ridden with self-doubt who is positive that he is going crazy. “Out of My Head” follows the same vein. The craziness- the madness, is part of this rapper, and of course, is quite literally part of his name. Madchild’s madness is essential to his existence and although he seems distressed by it, it sets him apart. The track sounds a lot like Eminem’s style, which is a cool homage as Madchild cites Eminem and Lil Wayne as idols on another track on the album.
The album comes to it’s conclusion with “Under A Spell”, which takes on Madchild’s being banned by the US government from entering the US. With “Happy Halloween!” as it’s chorus, the song could not have been released at a better time, right on the heels of October. “Good Crazy” wraps up the album on a serious note. Here Madchild signs off with pride in his uniqueness, scars and weaknesses. This is a strong track with great lines, “Nobody wants a problem with the man that’s got nothing to lose with bad substance abuse.” Unlike other rappers, Madchild is honest about personal issues such as his depression and substance abuse, which you can be sure that every rapper has experienced to some degree. Madchild is down with poking fun at himself and can oscillate between serious and humorous moods. He has the mettle to carry off a 17-track album on his own minus the Swollen Members. There is definitely more weight and introspection in his raps now than the early Swollen Members days.
Lyrically he is without a doubt one of Canada’s top rappers, with fresh words and rhymes. While some of the songs sound slightly similar, each track has a unique message, while words and metaphors are hardly ever repeated. The album is packed with poetry. Madchild brings with him the professionalism and international production qualities accrued from his Swollen Members experience. But one does wonder when listening to him, about the evolving definition of authenticity in hip-hop. How much of hip-hop is about struggle? We listen to the greats because they boast of gun wounds, unemployment and making drug deals to stay alive. This state of affairs appears to be changing. Is hip-hop shifting from being primarily the voice of struggle to being more about highly technical storytelling? The rapper who tells an average story spectacularly is listened to more than the rapper who tells the more shocking story? Hip-hop worships Drake despite the fact that he had the cushy life of a child TV actor. Changing times indeed.
Props to Madchild for keeping it thoughtful and deep with his personal stories, when he could’ve just rapped about bitches and hoes, and kept making references to his hammer. It sure must be challenging to be a frustrated rapper in a country where you have excellent healthcare and no significant police brutality. Canadian rappers have been forced to become great storytellers to compensate for the lack of shock value in their life stories. Or so it seems. Listening to international-level production values and sharp-edged rhymes on Switched On, and knowing they were birthed in the city whose air I breathed as I wrote this, is no doubt surreal. Madchild has produced a solid record that has sick beats, and a solid, introspective and honest conscience. Plus all the cool references to rain bring the record right home to the 604.
Written by Prachi Kamble for HipHopCanada