House of Pain
House of Pain
House of Pain’s lead rapper, Everlast, told Melody Maker’s Andrew Smith, “There’s been a lot of people that have come up to us and said that we’re the first white rap group they can really believe in.” Aside from achieving an unusual fame within the confines of rap, the three men in House of Pain have illustrated that the initially African-American form of expression called hip-hop has grown beyond its birth in black neighborhoods to cross racial boundaries.
But Everlast learned that hip-hop didn’t cross over easily to white musicians. As with its African-American origin, it still needed the frame of a well-defined and easily characterized national identity. So House of Pain gave their hip-hop the character of the American Irish, the community that had taken root in American cities over a century ago and wove itself into the fabric of the country’s culture—much as emancipated African slaves did.
Erik Schrody and Daniel O’Connor, known as Everlast and Danny Boy, each made earlier attempts at the music industry before they discovered a pot of gold in their ethnic heritage. Born in the early 1970s, both claimed their Irish heritage from their grandparents’ immigration and both had some experience of cohesive Irish communities in Long Island and Brooklyn, New York. Everlast’s father was a construction worker; Danny Boy identified his as “a drunk” to Smith. “I’m not kidding,” he added. “He was a criminal, but I never really knew him, he was always locked up in one jail or another.” Through separate family moves, both ended up in the San Fernando Valley outside of Los Angeles around the age of 11. The San Fernando Valley turned out to be a suburban sprawl with points of reference—like the freeway and the mall—that have little to do with history or identity.
Everlast and Danny Boy became one another’s only significant white friend in high school; otherwise, they found themselves most at home with the black students at Taft High School. Everlast told Smith that rap “was just something you did where we grew up. You had to have a rap if you wanted to hang.” Several of Everlast’s friends knew Ice-T, one of the gurus of the genre known as gangsta rap, and one of those friends took Everlast’s rap demo to Ice-T. “Ice-T said he’d like to meet me,” Everlast told Julian Dibbell in an interview with Details. “Then they told him I was white, and he said he really wanted to meet me.”
Soon, Everlast was recording an album under the auspices of the Rhyme Syndicate, Ice-T’s subsidiary label on Warner Bros. Released in 1990, the album made little or no impression. Dubbing the effort “hip-hop lite,” Dibbell
Members include Danny Boy (born Daniel O’Connor), D.J. Lethal (born Leor DiMant), and Everlast (born Erik Schrody).
Trio formed by Everlast, 1990, following a failed solo rap album sponsored by Ice-T; debut single, “Jump Around,” and self-titled debut album released on Tommy Boy in 1992; Everlast appeared in film Judgment Night; Everlast and Danny Boy opened House of Pizza with actor Mickey Rourke.
Awards: Platinum album for House of Pain.
noted that “the rapper was packaged as a boxer with a Sean Penn pout and greased back locks.” Clearly, the generic white rapper image wouldn’t be Everlast’s ticket to fame.
Subsequent to that tepid recording effort, Everlast migrated toward collaborating with Danny Boy, who decided to try hip-hop after some work with a local punk band. Danny Boy, described by Details’Dibbell as “a [rap group] Beastie Boys-worshipping skate punk,” had become familiar with Los Angeles’s Mexican gangs after a stay in juvenile detention at 16, and he knew the inner-city culture well through that route. “Most of what I’ve learned has been from people, not books,” Danny Boy told Musician’s Smith, adding, “I always admired the slick talkers and the criminals, you know, people who’d beaten the system. People who worked their asses off and got away with it. I mean I’ve never had an honest job in my life: there have been lots of jobs, but none that lasted. I don’t mind hard work, but why work to make someone else rich when I’m getting nothing out of it.”
One of Danny Boy’s jobs included working in a record store warehouse; he simultaneously supplemented his income with stolen credit scams, which he shared with Everlast. Everlast expressed a similar feeling to Smith, though with a slightly more deliberate political edge: “How am I s’posed to appreciate the work ethic in a country that’s telling me I’ll make more money being a drug dealer or a mailman or a garbage collector than if I wanted to be a teacher?”
Everlast and Danny Boy teamed up with a deejay known as D.J. Lethal, or Leor DiMant, whose forebears came from nowhere near Ireland: his Jewish parents had emigrated from Latvia. Like Everlast and Danny Boy, his early years were characterized by rebelliousness. He didn’t last in Hebrew school to the age of five, since he put classmates in the garbage can and, as he told Dibbell, threw “their yarmulkes up on the roof like Frisbees.” Nonetheless, the trio began carving an image that drew on Everlast and Danny Boy’s heritage, and they had their first official jam as House of Pain in 1990.
House of Pain’s first single, “Jump Around,” succeeded at combining cutting-edge hip-hop fashion with abundant references to Irish-American tradition. The makeover worked. “House of Pain unabashedly borrow a pose from hard-ass rappers like Ices Cube and -T, yet claim their own gangster birthright as well—the shit-kicking, liquor-soaked, hoodlum stereotype of Irish-American urban folklore,” Details’ Dibbell wrote of the “Jump Around” video.
After an extended life on the college radio and underground rap circuit, “Jump Around” broke spectacularly into the mainstream. The reviewers raved, hip-hop fans took more than a million copies home from the stores by that fall, and a hardcore rap following in Ireland revealed itself. By the fall of 1992 the single was a common sight in the Top Five in Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles. Noting that the “song wasn’t ever intended for pop radio,” Everlast told Billboard’s Gil Griffin that “When I was watching MTV and saw our video as one of the top five, then saw our single in the Top Five on the pop charts, I bugged.”
When the debut album, also called House of Pain, was released in 1992, Dibbell noted that “everything is dosed incongruously with nods to corned beef and cabbage, Mickeys and Guiness [beer], the luck of the Irish, and assorted other too-ra loo-ra loo-ralisms.” “Jump Around” appeared in the midst of songs with titles like “Shamrocks and Shenanigans” and “Top O’ the Morning to Ya. “Rockpool’s reviewer declared the album “one of the best debuts out in a long time, not to mention one of the five best albums of the year,” characterizing it as “an extremely raw record that kicks you upside the head.” One of the few dissenting voices came from England, where Melody Maker’s Stephen Trousse panned the album at the end of the year. “Aesthetically paltry, morally repugnant,” Trousse declared, “little more than an ugly, pathetic emerald bile. One for the little people.” Nonetheless, the album went platinum.
A European tour in the fall took the outfit to Dublin, where they discovered the effect they had on Irish youth. “We played at a pub called the Dublin Castle Inn, in front of 200 people,” Everlast told Griffin. “Kids came up to me and said, ’Welcome home,’ and brought me gifts. One even handed me a small stuffed leprechaun. We got so many gifts I started to feel like a game show host.”
The trio pursued many other tours in the years that followed, one of which combined them with some of the other highly successful non-black rap bands: Cypress Hill, Funkdoobiest, and the Whooliganz. Danyel Smith, writing for Rolling Stone in 1993, noted Everlast’s live power: “his cartoonish crazed-convict look and demeanor honed to a science… fired up the crowd with his hoarse, desperate rhymes.”
Between the first and second albums House of Pain managed about a half dozen tours, sharing the bill with groups like Public Enemy and L7. The bandmembers also have pursued non-musical avenues. Everlast appeared in a role in the film Judgment Night and is involved in an independent film called Lowball, and he started a business venture with Danny Boy and actor Mickey Rourke: House of Pizza. Danny Boy is also scheduled to costar in a gangster film, Bullet, with Rourke, while DJ Lethal has been producing numerous up-and-coming bands.
House of Pain all have other interests, but they have continued to record with the band. Spin’s Chuck Eddy declared that their 1994 release, Same As It Ever Was, “feels more punk overall” than their self-titled debut, and Dimitri Ehrlich in Entertainment Weekly deemed the release “consistently more innovative—and funky” than the prior effort. And although the trio has been compared to another white rap act with a punk rock background, the wildly successful Beastie Boys, Vibe ’s Tom Sinclair noted that “while the Beastie Boys’ music has evolved into a more ambiguous sound, House of Pain have kept the hardcore beats that put them on the charts.” House of Pain’s second LP has its share of requisite rap topics such as guns and gangs, but it reveals a lighter side—also witnessed on the first album—with mentions of pop culture personalities as diverse as Ruth Buzzi, Phil Collins, and Henry Rollins.
The Irish theme in House of Pain’s lyrics and logo has been a source of debate. “They’re playing the Irish card to the full—the group logo is a shamrock,” Melody Maker’s Smith noted, adding, “and I admit to entertaining the notion that this might be a gimmick.” House of Pain’s success has been, as Griffin noted, “an issue for fans and critics alike.” The issue straddles two points of contention: the authenticity of the band’s much-touted “Irishness” and the appropriateness of rap as a medium of expression for white youth. “The media has questioned how Irish we are,” Everlast confessed to Griffin. “The Irishness is just something Danny Boy and I had in common and we just brought it out in our music. I guess we fit one major Irish stereotype in that we drink and get loud and rambunctious, but we don’t perpetuate that stereotype in our music.”
In an interview with Spin’s Jonathan Bernstein, Everlast confessed that “People always say, ’You guys are bringing a bad name to the Irish, you’re reinforcing stereotypes.’” Ultimately, House of Pain’s claim to Irishness may express a loss of any meaningful connection with ethnic identity, which is also part of their ability to appropriate meaningful African-American forms of expression. Details’ Dibbell attributed the phenomenon to Los Angeles, “the rootless sprawl, a postmodern exile from any sort of fixed identity, a place where kids like Everlast play with race like it was a box of Tinkertoys, reinventing themselves on the fly.”
Declaring that “House of Pain have broken the rules of engagement for white boys on hip-hop turf,” Dibbell argued that “While other wannabes have tiptoed softly around their own lack of color… House of Pain come on very hard and very white.” Everlast echoed the comment himself, telling Dibbell, “Well, I do have some white pride. I don’t believe in white supremacy or anything like that. But I have pride in what I am: I’m a white guy. A white, Irish guy.” In retrospect, Everlast argued that he adopted rap as his vehicle for expressing that ethnic identity. “It’s like when a regular kid from the Bronx is rhymin’, he’s talking about where his ancestors came from. That’s all we’re doing, letting people know what our background is,” he explained to Bernstein.
Carol Cooper, writing for the Village Voice, found some constructive possibility in House of Pain’s musical caricatures. “HOP know that if you want better transracial relations, you better straighten out intragroup psychoses first,” she argued, adding that “House of Pain is largely street-corner philosophy on the theme of needing to understand and love yourself before you can love others.” More specifically, she sensed that “they resurrect all the derogative epithets for impoverished Caucasians in ’One for the Road’ much the way Black rappers use ’nigger’ among themselves. By deflating and de-fanging the entire concept of being ’white trash,’ HOP invent their own form of remedial social work.”
House of Pain (includes “Jump Around,” “Shamrocks and Shenanigans,” and “Top O’ the Morning to Ya”), Tommy Boy, 1992.
Same As It Ever Was, Tommy Boy, 1994.
Billboard, October 31, 1992.
Details, November 1992.
Entertainment Weekly, July 8, 1994.
Melody Maker, October 10, 1992; December 12, 1992.
Rockpool, August 1, 1992; November 11, 1993.
Rolling Stone, October 29, 1992.
The Source, June 1992.
Spin, November 1992; January 1994.
Vibe, September 1994.
Village Voice, September 8, 1992.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Tommy Boy Records publicity materials.
—Ondine E. Le Blanc
"House of Pain." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/house-pain
"House of Pain." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved April 17, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/house-pain
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