White rappers are quite plentiful these days, between Eminem, Asher Roth, the Beastie Boys, El-P, Aesop Rock, Bubba Sparxxx, Buck 65, and Classified. But another white rapper that tends to fly under the radar (until now) is Cage, signed to El-P's Def Jux label.
Most critics compare Cage to Eminem since both are sadistic, depressed (white) rappers with a penchant for violent and disturbing lyrics. This unfortunately led to a feud between the two back when Eminem released The Slim Shady LP. And while most young Americans know Eminem's story, through his autobiographical film 8 Mile or through his incredibly personal lyrics, few know Cage's even more frightening and horrific story. Def Jux calls Cage's story "one of the most insane, crazy, tortured and triumphant stories you could imagine."
Born Chris Palko in Würzburg, Germany, Cage was born to a father in the military. When Cage was four, his father was dishonorably discharged for selling and using heroin. The family returned to upstate New York, where Cage's father continued using heroin, even at times making his son pull the tourniquets around his arm as he shot up. When Cage was eight, his father was arrested during a police standoff. His father was threatening his family with a shotgun when the state troopers arrived. Eventually, Cage was kicked out of high school while living with his mother and abusive stepfather. His stepfather beat him repeatedly, so violently that he left a scar above Cage's eye. Like his father, Cage began using drugs, including LSD, mescaline, weed, and booze. His mother sent him back to Germany to live with his uncle, where he was often beaten.
Returning from Germany after only a year, Cage fell into trouble frequently, getting arrested multiple times for drug possession and violent altercations. By the age of 16, he found himself on probation. So, when he was arrested again, his mother argued that he was mentally unstable and had him sent to the Stony Lodge mental institution.
Cage stayed at the mental institution for a total of eighteen months, where he became a guinea pig for a drug that was eventually released as Prozac. As with many kids misdiagnosed with depression, Cage was put on Prozac and became suicidal. On multiple occasions, he attempted suicide, first by trying to hang himself by his shoelaces, and then by trying to overdose on his lithium medication. Due to his so-called mental instability, he was often confined to a straitjacket for up to 13 hours.
When he turned eighteen, Cage was released. However, due to the effects of all the medication and "treatments," Cage had developed into a bi-polar young man. Nonetheless, while at Stony Lodge, he became a fan and student of hip-hop. While locked up at "The Lodge," Cage focused inwardly on his storytelling and lyrical delivery. So, when he got out, he began rapping under the name "Alex," as in the character from A Clockwork Orange. This book, being so relevant to his life, goes on to be frequently referenced in his lyrics and artwork, especially in the track "Agent Orange." With his tortured imagination and grotesque imagery, Cage made a name for himself on the New York underground circuit. Through his contacts with Pete Nice (3rd Bass), Bobbito Garcia, and DJ Stretch Armstrong, Cage began performing at the late night mix shows. Around this time, Nice and Garcia were contracted with major-label Columbia Records and had an imprint, Hoppoh Records. Since they both respected and understood Cage's style and delivery, they were near signing him to their label. Unfortunately, every time Cage was set to record, he was too high to spit anything decent.
He lost the Columbia record deal and eventually moved back home and got deeper into drugs. He also found out that he was having a child. in 1997, after 3 years away from the game, Cage released a 12" of "Agent Orange" on Bobbito Garcia's newly formed Fondle 'Em Records. After a few more singles and a successful attempt at a hip-hop group (Smut Peddlers), Cage signed to Eastern Conference Records, the precursor to Def Jux. Soon, he releases his first solo LP, Movies for the Blind, which sold over 15,000 copies in the first two weeks. The world tours came soon after.
Teaming up with his fellow Eastern Conference rappers, Cage created the underground hip-hop collective known as the Weathermen. Camu Tao, El-P, Aesop Rock, Yak Ballz, Tame 1, Breeze of the Juggaknots, Vast Aire, and Cage all came together to create a collective supergroup and released a mixtape in 2003 entitled The Conspiracy. After leaving Eastern Conference over alleged non-payment, Cage joined El-P's recently launched Definitive Jux Records, where El-P helped Cage to create his even more personal and introspective album, Hell's Winter in 2005. While Movies for the Blind was essentially Cage playing the role of a drugged-out, bitter, misogynistic, vile character, Hell's Winter was devoid of drug references and the visceral imagery that made his first album such a cult classic. After losing all the major underground rappers to Def Jux, Eastern Conference Records has, for all intents and purposes, folded.
Recently, Cage has been working on his third solo album entitled Depart From Me, which should be released June 29th. In anticipation of this release, Cage offered a free EP today that contains five new tracks. You can pick that up here. Or download the tracks below (from MTV2). And honestly, I'm a fan of Cage's early work, but the new tracks are so much better. The development and movement away from his tortured soul has led to much more emotional and evocative tracks (see "I Never Knew You"). Also released today was the video for "I Never Knew You," which features cameos from Shia Labeouf, who directed the video, Aesop Rock, El-P, Yak Ballz, and artist Alex Pardee, who did the art for Cage's new album. In it you can truly see how deranged Cage actually is, yet also how far he's risen. He went from an abused child to one of hip-hop's most praised underground MCs, even being featuring on MTV2. But, in the video, Cage still appears to be a man defeated. Check it out below:
To summarize: a junkie father, violent standoffs, abuse, drugs, arrests, mental institutions, failed suicide attempts, drug testing, losing a major record deal, having a child...that's Cage. Spence D of IGN writes, "That Cage was able to turn an abusive childhood, not to mention time spent locked down in a mental facility, into a money making creative endeavor is a testament to his tenacity and will to survive." It makes for a much more compelling story than Eminem's life, which is why Cage's good friend Shia Labeouf (of Transformers fame) has claimed that he would like to star in and possibly direct a biopic of Cage's life. If Eminem got to make 8 Mile, then Cage deserves to make his movie too.
Recently, El-P, Cage, Yak Ballz, and Aesop Rock have been working on the first official Weathermen album. Keep an eye out for that by the end of the year or early next year. Also, Cage recently performed at SXSW and on the Paid Dues tour in late March.
I Never Knew You EP
1. I Never Knew You
2. Follow The Bleeder
3. Tongue In A Sharks Mouth
4. Hell Oh
5. It’s The 80’s Again
(via MTV2's Subterranean blog)