If you’re anything like this writer, when you think of Canadian hip-hop artist Shane Bunting, a.k.a. Madchild, you think of him the way he appeared in the video for Steppin’ Thru, the 2002 hit single by his acclaimed group Swollen Members: standing poolside in the summertime, tufts of blonde hair spilling out from under his ball cap, the sun shining down on him as he spits rhymes without a care in the world.
Ten years later, Madchild’s image in photos and music videos is decidedly darker, more somber— the result of a four-year addiction to the painkiller oxycodone that consumed nearly $3 million of his finances and left him 55 pounds overweight, his left arm numb and his lips purple.
Now sober for nearly two years, Bunting raps about all of it on Dope Sick, the debut solo album he released at the end of August. He performs in Winnipeg this Sunday, Sept. 16 at the Park Theatre as part of the cross-Canada tour he’s on to promote the album.
Speaking by phone from his tour van in between shows, Bunting says he became addicted to drugs when Swollen Members took a year off and his partying lifestyle got the best of him.
“You could say I was escaping from reality or I just wanted to find another source of happiness,” he says, before stopping himself: “I want to make it clear: I’m not ever saying, ‘Oh poor me, boo hoo, look what happened to me.’ I made my own bed, I gotta sleep in it, and it’s up to me to change the bed now, right?”
Part of changing the bed has included Bunting throwing himself into his work with renewed passion. Creating Dope Sick over the course of the last year-and-a-half was cathartic. The album’s 16 tracks chronicle Bunting’s rise, fall and recovery in gritty detail.
The sixth song in particular, Wake Up, tells the story of how Bunting went from experimenting with Percocets one night to regularly consuming over $500 of oxycodone a day.
He went from working hard on his music to staying in all day, getting high and watching movies. Bunting says that part of his recovery included forcing a positive addiction into his life— an addiction to work. In order to avoid going out where he might be tempted to use, Bunting forced himself to hunker down in his studio and create.
“I stayed in the studio every day— I’d fall asleep at the computer— but I just kept my butt there, working,” he says. “Now I work on music all the time and I love it. If I go too long without it, I get the craving to get back in the studio. It’s an awesome thing, and my work ethic is back where it should be.”
The hard work has paid off. Dope Sick is a solid, compelling disc that debuted at #3 on Billboard’s Canadian Albums chart.
“I can’t tell you how many times people have come up to me and said how me sharing my story has helped them get on the right track, or want to get on the right track, or help them stay on the right track,” Bunting says.
Being sober has reminded him of what’s important in life— his family, his friends, his three dogs and his music.
“The things I thought were important (when I was on drugs), I realize now are a bunch of bullshit,” he says. “That’s probably the best way to put it.”
“Monster” by Madchild.
“Devil’s Reject” by Madchild (NSFW).
Published in Volume 67, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 12, 2012)