Swollen Members (with Moka Only) talk Bad Dreams, Monsters In The Closet & more
West Coast rap group Swollen Members connected with HipHopCanada right in the midst of their growth to becoming one of Canada’s most successful acts. Monsters In The Closet was on the verge of being released, Moka Only was still part of the group and they were out in the East coast on. Here’s how it went down:
Q&A: Swollen Members
HipHopCanada: I always forget to ask this question, so I’ll start off with it. How did you pick Madchild as your artist name?
Madchild: At the time, when I came up with the name, I was a harder person to deal with than I am now. I used to have a lot more anger in me because I actually came up with the name Madchild before Prevail and I hooked up. Going off topic, the cool thing about hooking up with Prevail is that he sort of made me an easier person to get along with, as well as a happier person. And I think that I gave Prevail a harder edge, which brings us to the reason that our first album was called Balance. Madchild just sort of popped into my head. I liked the fact that the initials of it were MC, which is what I am. It just sounded like something that I wanted to use and stick with.
HipHopCanada: And [to Prevail] why did you pick Prevail as your alias?
Prevail: Prevail was a gift given to me by Moka Only when I was just really early into my emceeing career at a barbeque.
HipHopCanada: And Swollen Members, does that have the double meaning that I think it does?
Madchild: Actually, Moka Only was responsible for that name as well. We were drunk at Deny’s after a club one night. We were joking around, trying to come up with possible names, most of which were funny. Then Moka came with the name Swollen Members and we all started laughing. But, then I said, “wait a second, that’s a dope name,” because it means phat crew on the west coast and it’s a name that would stick in people’s heads. It started out as a joke, but we decided that it had more meaning than just that.
HipHopCanada: So, is this your first time in New Brunswick?
Madchild: No, we did an all ages show at a skateboarding event in Moncton. So this will be our second show. It was in the summertime.
HipHopCanada: How do feel eastern Canadian hip-hop compares to that of the west?
Madchild: Hip-hop wise, I think it’s the same thing. It’s a cool vibe everywhere. We’re proud to be Canadian. We especially appreciate the way our country has embraced us, throughout all of Canada. We get good vibes everywhere we go. Besides hip-hop, each city has its own beauty and it’s nice to experience all that as we move from place to place. Now after touring around so much in the last couple years, what prompted you to do an east coast leg of a tour and hit Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, …
Prevail: Shit man. We have to tour the entire world to spread our music as far as possible. That’s the ideology behind touring regardless of where you get an opportunity to go first. Hopefully you get an opportunity to go other places as well and utilize what you have.
HipHopCanada: So, then do you feel the East coast of Canada is important?
Madchild: Of course we do. We think it’s as important as Japan, Australia, UK, Europe, United States or any other parts Canada which we have toured extensively as well. The borders and boundaries of hip-hop have been broken all over the world. There’s a great scene everywhere you go, so obviously we want to go and play our music for everybody that appreciates it.
HipHopCanada: Are there any emcees from the East Coast of Canada that you guys are feelin’?
Madchild: Definitely Saukrates. We’re doing a remix with him for ‘Fuel Injected’ and we’re excited about that. There are other artists that we appreciate on the East Coast, and hopefully we’ll get to work with them when time allows it.
HipHopCanada: At what point do you feel you switched from being underground and having to dig for your music, to being mainstream?
Madchild: We haven’t. We’re still an underground group, just now more people know about us and our music is more easily accessible. Underground hip-hop is dope. There is a formula to making music that can be played on the radio. We have figured that formula out, but it’s still Swollen Members or Moka Only when we make those songs. We don’t make our lyrics less potent or put less substance in the song. There is just a formula that you can follow that will generate music that is easily accepted by the ear. At the same time, we’re maturing as a group and we’re becoming more experienced. If we like the song, we put it out. If we don’t, you’ll never hear it. But that never happens… (laughing)
HipHopCanada: You said that title of the Balance album was chosen because you both balance each other out. So, what does the title of your new album, Bad Dreams, mean?
Prevail: Bad Dreams is basically the thing that makes us balanced and the thing that we bring out in each other is that we are able to speak about things that everybody thinks about, but may not necessarily address in their everyday lives because it’s their shadow. We present material to which people can relate. They feel that they have the same elements in them too, and they think about the same things too once in awhile. So, when they are listening to our music and realize that we think about the same stuff makes it seem feasible to be able to have those thoughts. It makes it realistic. Bad Dreams is a darker album than Balance in texture. It’s a deeper album and it’s more layered. There are more levels ranging from dark gray to deep black. Balance lied in the middle of all these things, whereas Bad Dreams takes you through the whole scale.
HipHopCanada: So how important is Battleaxe Records to you?
Moka Only: It’s like Madchild said, it gives me absolute control of the situation. Whereas I had some opportunities before, that I could have gone off on, and I didn’t because I didn’t feel that I’d have enough control. I’ve watched friends sign deals and end up with their careers going down the drain. Not only is this a good situation, but we’ve known each other for such a long time. We trust each other and we’re flexible too. Right now I’m working on my new Moka Only Battleaxe record.
HipHopCanada: When can we expect that out?
Moka Only: I’d like to say sometime next summer. It could be earlier, could be later, but idealistically it will be out next summer. I’ve got a lot of blueprints for songs done. It’s definitely going to surprise people.
HipHopCanada: Who can we look forward to providing production?
Moka Only: Myself. Definitely some cats that we have in the camp, such as Nucleus, Rob the Viking, as well as Joey Chavez. I’d like to get Jermaine Dupri or Q-Tip. We’re really starting to expand, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be working with cats like that. Personally, I feel that the beats I make are most closely related to that of Tribe Called Quest or Slum Village. Nonetheless, we all work very well together.
HipHopCanada: Alright, Thanks! [To Madchild] Monsters in the Closet, is that going to be released?
Madchild: Yes it is. It’s not our third album and we plan to make that statement very clear. It’s an album in between albums for our core audience to enjoy while we’re making our third album. It’s a compilation of B-side and unreleased tracks, as well as early early recordings and we’re going to have a few new hot singles on there as well.
HipHopCanada: How surprised were you when you won the Juno this year?
Madchild: We were just as surprised as you were and everyone else was. The greatest thing about it was that we were watching it with our families. I watched it with my Mom, Dad, brother, sister and grandma. To see the looks on their faces was incredible. It was something that they could relate to as being a success. To me, that was the most incredible and best part about winning the Juno. I know there was a little bit of controversy in the East Coast. It seems like everybody’s cool with it now. I wasn’t upset by the controversy. At the same time we definitely weren’t about to apologize for winning. We’re glad that we won. I also understand what some of the people’s beefs were. Since then, we’ve hung out with those who did complain, and had a great time. So we’re all good now.
HipHopCanada: Some people feel that the time that you’ve spent in the game and the number of units that you have sold should be a measure of your success. Is it true that Swollen Members is more about the love of hip-hop?
Prevail: The bottom line is that it’s about making music that we feel happy about and getting it out to as many people as possible. That’s it. Plain and simple. If you don’t do that as an artist, you’re cheating yourself out of your creative potential.
Madchild: How can you argue with that shit…
HipHopCanada: Alright, I guess that’s about it…
Madchild: Thank you. Good interview.
Prevail: I appreciate it. Thanks.
Written by Troy Nielson for HipHopCanada