Inside Slaine’s Rocky Rise [via bostonglobe.com]
Rapper-actor is working through conflicting life experiences
“I got enough rage for every page in the book.’’
George “Slaine’’ Carroll, who performs Friday at the Middle East Downstairs with Action Bronson, is sitting in the corner of the comfort room at a cigar bar in the North End, taking puffs as the Monday Night Football game flickers on a small TV mounted to the wall in front of him. “I don’t feel like my demons have been exorcised. I’d be happy if they were to tell you the truth. I feel angst like a [expletive] teenager still and I’m 34 years old.’’
Fresh off winning a Boston Music Award for best hip-hop artist in November, the veteran rapper and burgeoning actor looks relaxed and in good spirits on his last night in town before heading out for a European tour.
But two weeks later, those demons have resurfaced. He sounds exhausted and stressed over the phone, still reeling from an incident in Milan, where he was detained by authorities at the airport and repeatedly invoked a homophobic slur while venting frustration with police to his 8,000-plus Twitter followers. In the subsequent fallout, his statements have been condemned by the gay community (he has since apologized, arguing that he wasn’t using the word to attack homosexuals) and cast a shadow over his recent successes. Despite solidifying his place as the city’s biggest homegrown rap star this past year, the internal conflict that has fueled his most powerful music hasn’t subsided.
“I feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place right now, and I don’t like it,’’ he says bluntly. “I’m stuck in between these two realities. My reality that I grew up with and that I rap about, that’s really my life. And this person that I am is who I’ve always been: I have sympathy, anger, empathy, I’m violent, whatever it is. Now because I’m in movies, am I supposed to change? Am I supposed to be fake from now on and be the politically correct Hollywood dude and not talk the way I was raised and act like I never sold coke or saw my friends overdose or see people murdered? Am I supposed to just put that in the past and be Hollywood Joe from now on? Because if I am, and that’s the only thing that’s going to keep me in movies, I don’t think I can be that guy.’’
Even now, after establishing his acting chops in the Boston-based thrillers “Gone, Baby, Gone’’ and “The Town’’ and releasing his long-awaited debut album, “A World With No Skies 2.0,’’ this past year, Slaine still identifies with his hardscrabble Boston roots. He tells stories about his early career, like when he gave his CDs to local drug dealers to package with each sale, or how the master tapes from his first-ever album were stolen at gun point when the friend he was recording with at the time couldn’t pay the $10,000 bill for studio time. When he got a call in 2007 to read for the part of Southie thug Bubba in “Gone, Baby, Gone,’’ he was living in a warehouse without running water or electricity.
Fast forward to today and Slaine has established himself as a Boston entertainment ambassador in film and music.
“In my opinion, he’s become the best MC to come out of Boston of all time,’’ says Ned “Leedz’’ Wellbery. He and Slaine broke into the Boston hip-hop scene together in the mid-2000s when Leedz helped distribute Slaine’s first two mix tapes, “The White Man Is the Devil’’ Vols. 1 and 2. Since transitioning to concert promotion, he’s watched Slaine’s audience expand.
“He’s been relentless and he’s still on top of his game and continues to get better, in my opinion,’’ Leedz said. “To me, what makes him a great artist is that he’s got that need to create in him. He’s just natural artist.’’
But this year has been a lesson in adjustment to the demands that accompany Slaine’s higher profile, including getting recognized in public and spending more time on the road touring, which means less time spent with his 3-year-old son. While his financial and professional prospects were improving, he suffered the end of his marriage to his longtime girlfriend, battled to rid himself of a dependency on Xanax, and courted controversy when a video of him slapping a rapper who had challenged him to a battle outside a venue spread across the Internet, an incident he regrets with some equivocation.
“I have a hard time looking at myself as different from anybody else that I grew up with,’’ Slaine, whose sister is gay, says in reference to the airport incident. “I’m a kid who had a [messed] up family and a [messed] up way of growing up and I was really hurt by it. Using the word the way I used it is the way we all used it growing up. I’m having a hard time realizing that I can’t talk like that. Am I violent? Am I ignorant at times and do I lash out without thinking? Yeah. But I don’t hate nobody. It hurts me to my heart to see my sister or people affected by something I said.’’
What emerges from speaking with Slaine is a study in conflict; between his responsibilities to himself and to his community, and between his artistic integrity and his increasingly prominent public persona. Looking ahead, he’s confident in his forthcoming film “Cogan’s Trade,’’ which stars Brad Pitt, and he’s already begun work on a second album. But regardless of where his career goes, his inner conflicts will continue to dictate the path ahead, positively or negatively.
“I don’t believe in ‘rock bottom,’ ’’ he says, looking back on his roller coaster year. “It’s not a rock bottom because I have a beautiful son and I have all this other stuff working for me. It’s just the ups and downs of life, and I happen to go through extreme ones.’’