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... And They're Canadian: Swollen Members battle addiction, stereotypes and end up with a damn good record 

Swollen Members battle addiction, stereotypes and end up with a damn good record.

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Canada's hip-hop contributions may not have been as respected, as say, the country's contribution to curling and ice hockey or its French-fry-and-gravy culinary innovations. Artists like Snow (of "Informer" infamy) have given our northern neighbors a reputation that was hard to shake. These days, however, a solid Canadian underground hip-hop scene has materialized and legitimate groups like Kardinal, Drake, Sweatshop Union and Swollen Members have helped to eradicate past indiscretions.

Fresh off a summer tour with Kottonmouth Kings, Swollen Members returns to the Domino Room this Friday to promote their sixth studio album, Armed to the Teeth. This four-time Juno Award-winning (that's a Canadian version of the Grammy) threesome is a stalwart of the Canadian hip-hop scene and has enjoyed success since the mid-'90s. Comprised of Vancouver natives Mad Child, Prevail and producer Rob the Viking, who joined the group in 2002, Swollen Members have endured much over the years, including legal battles, changing members and the collapse of their former record label. Swollen Members recently overcame the most difficult hurdle of their career when Mad Child fell into a deep painkiller addiction. For three years, he battled a costly addiction to Oxycontin, during which he estimates he spent about half-a-million bucks on drugs.

"In the first nine months to a year, Rob and I didn't have any idea," Prevail says about Mad Child's addiction. "We were going over to Mad Child's place, recording maybe two or three times a week, if that. You know, I always knew Mad to wear sunglasses at night, so that didn't really throw me off."

But soon, the problem came to the surface.

"It wasn't until we moved up to Kelowna [British Columbia] to record for Armed to the Teeth that he really let us know how deep the addiction had gotten. It was something I had never been through before with a friend, so it took me for a bit of a surprise. The thing about making music that Rob and I quickly realized was that being able to be creative and have that outlet of the studio was probably the best way to show him inspiration. Looking back, part of the healing process for him was knowing we were still by his side and working hard on the music to shine some light on that dark path he was walking down," says Prevail.

But if the turmoil impacted the group's creativity it's not evident on the just-released Armed to the Teeth, which very well might be the most powerful musical statement of their career. The album handles the subject matter of drugs and addiction with refreshing honesty. Tracks such as "Funeral March" and "Lonely One" are raw, intense, and an unfiltered glimpse into the group's personal struggles. And although the themes might be dark, fans have responded, giving the record some strong early sales.

"The momentum has built up quite rapidly, a lot quicker than we anticipated, which is more than we could have wished for," says Prevail.

Prevail realizes that the hip-hop game is not just about the music anymore. In addition to their albums, Swollen Members have broadened their horizons with business collaborations with Skullcandy headphones and DC Shoes.

"I always have a lot of respect for Jay-Z," says Prevail. "I look at the game today as you have to be like a hydra. You've got to have your hands in the music aspect of things and be an entertainer. You've also got to have an outlook as a business person and look at doing clothing lines and cross collaborations and one-up projects. You have to do everything these days to make it a viable income stream."

Their hard work and talent is paying off, not just for the group, but for Canadian hip hop's reputation. As proud Canadians, this has been a long time coming for Swollen Members.

"For a long time, it was like, 'They're good - for a Canadian,'" says Prevail. "Now, it's just straight up, 'They're dope, and they're Canadian.' It's almost like it's a bit of a bonus catch phrase at the end."

Swollen Members, Big B, Common Market,
Dirtball, Bliss N Esso

Show: 8pm Friday, November 6. Domino Room, 51 NW Greenwood Ave. $18/advance, $20/door. All ages.

In store meet and greet: 4pm Friday, November 6. Ranch Records, 831 NW Wall St.


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