Featured in Freestyle Volume 08 2009. Interview by Jason Jaram. Photography by Estevan Oriol.
When it comes to hip hop it’s all about ‘keeping it real’. Now that may seem somewhat ironic in this age of studio gangsters and correctional officers turned drug kingpins (we still love you Ricky Ross!), but every once in a while you’ll come across someone that is the embodiment of authenticity. B-Real is that hip hop rarity.
Firstly, congratulations on the new album. What’s the feedback been like for the new album?
Thanks. The feedback has been very positive so far. People seem to be enjoying the LP.
Can you tell us a bit about the meaning behind the album title Smoke N Mirrors? At first I saw it at its typical meaning being creating illusions/deception but there also seems to be a subtle drug reference. Could you explain?
Well, of course people are going to assume the word ‘Smoke’ in my title is a reference to drugs because let’s face it - I’m the Buddha Master… ha ha! But the title is more about the illusions that you see in everyday life and even more so in this rap game.
I read an interview where you said with your solo album you wanted to explore some new concepts and ideas. What were some of the things that came out in this album that you were unable to explore in a Cypress record?
When it’s a Cypress record we all need to compromise on what topics we can touch on and what the overall sound is going to be. With the solo record I explored family values, gang life, how the music industry is today and of course partying and smoking.
What differences, challenges, and positives did you notice working solo as opposed to the usual group dynamic?
There is definitely a lot more pressure. When you’re working in a group mentality you can bounce ideas off each other and turn to the next lyricist to fill in gaps. This solo record, much of the emphasis was on myself to turn in quality music. I had support from Audio Hustlaz crew whom I worked with passionately to present the final product.
So, what’s good with Cypress Hill? Both you and Sen Dog have both released solo albums so what’s up next for the Cypress Hill collective?
We are currently in the studio and very close to wrapping up our next album. It is coming out very nicely. Expect that for late 2009.
Why did you decide to release your album through Duck Down Records? How was it working with the likes of Buckshot?
Duck Down understood what I wanted this album to be and they were not forcing me to change certain aspects of it. They have worked very hard, probably some of the hardest working dudes I’ve met, and it’s been a pleasure so far.
Buckshot is a class act. It was exciting to get him featured on the album and I think he turned in a stellar verse.
You did a bit of production on this album. Have you been producing for long? How did you get into that side of the music? Was it through picking up things from (DJ) Muggs?
I learned much of my production skills from watching Muggs. He’s a pure genius when it comes to creating instrumentals. I’ve always wanted to fine-tune my production skills and I ended up including three tracks on the new Smoke N Mirrors album produced by myself (‘Fire’ with Damian Jr Gong Marley, ‘One Life’ with Sen Dog and ‘Mal Verde’ and ‘Dr Hyphenstein’ with Snoop Dogg).
Speaking of Muggs, was there any particular reason why he didn’t feature on this album? How was it working with other producers?
I didn’t want to blur the lines between my solo album and a Cypress Hill record. It was great working with other producers. Alchemist delivered one of my favourite tracks on the album for the song ‘6 Minutes’.
Last year you received an award at Hip Hop Honours. How did it feel to get such recognition?
It was a great feeling and I truly appreciated the recognition. It’s nice to know that Hip Hop as a genre has had an effect on people’s lives. So much so, that we can take pride in these national awards.
In ‘6 Minutes’ you seem very critical of the music industry chewing up and spitting out new talent. How have you managed to maintain such longevity? Do you, yourself, try to help and guide upcoming talent?
I am blessed with a loyal fan-base and I think a lot of that has to do with staying true to your style and sound of music, and offering more to the fans than just an audio file. Labels aren’t organically growing artists’ careers anymore. It’s about a quick dollar and high-powered single, which is great for the right now, but doesn’t mean anything for potentially sustaining the future career of that artist. That is mainly because a single is here today, but gone tomorrow. Classic albums will stand the test of time.
I read recently that musicians who are making the most money are not the ones selling the most albums but the ones who are constantly playing live and touring. Having spent many years doing tours and festivals, how true is this statement?
There is still a lot of money that can be made from selling albums and if you are selling a good amount of albums, it should mean that your touring is doing well too, so not so sure how true that statement is. However, for a veteran like myself with a deep catalogue, I have been lucky enough to be able to tour world-wide and do well from that.
Okay, a few of these questions we also asked Sen Dog but it’s always interesting to hear a different perspective. So... which country has the best weed?
I am loyal to my California KUSH. Canada has some good weed too.
Being such a veteran on the live scene you must have seen some crazy shit in your time. What’s the craziest thing that you have ever seen at a show or festival?
One night after a show, we were getting on the tour bus to move from San Francisco to LA. Los Angeles is always one of our craziest shows, being that it’s our hometown. These groupies from the San Fran show were begging us to get on the bus from San Fran to LA but we weren’t having it. Turns out the girls got resourceful and climbed into the luggage compartments on the bottom of the tour bus. For some reason, one of the guys needed to grab something from his bag as we were about to roll out. He opens the compartment and finds the girls inside. Too funny.
Do you get into your rock music? Who are you a fan of?
The first album I bought was Van Halen’s self-titled, so I’m definitely a rocker at heart. I’m a big fan of Queen and of course, Rage Against the Machine, who I’ve toured with before.
There is a perception out there that rappers are living in huge mansions driving Bentleys etc, etc but I saw the DVD Infamy a couple of years back, which showed you just chilling out like a regular dude with notorious LA graffiti writer TLok. Is the whole rapper lifestyle a misconception or are you just keeping it more real than most?
Yeah, I think that comes back to the true meaning of my Smoke N Mirrors album title. You may see one thing on the screen, but when those lights are turned off and the crews are gone, so is the fake shit. With all the success I’ve achieved, I have always remained humble and true to my roots.
Joker Brand has recently made its way into Australia. We are also big fans of Mr Cartoon and Estevan Oriol. How did you get down with these guys? Do you still work with them?
I work very closely with them. All my press photos and album shots showcase myself in the Joker clothing brand. Estevan was my photographer as well, so it made sense. Glad to see the brand starting to garner world-wide exposure.
Here in Australia we share very similar weather to you guys out in LA, and during the summer it’s all about kicking back with a barbecue, a few beers and some good music. So, what does a perfect summer day in LA involve?
My wife, a fat joint, some good music, and fun conversation.
You guys are about to head into your summer. What are your top five summer jams for when you’re kicking back?
1) Snoop Dogg - “Ain’t No Fun”
2) Dr Dre - “Nuthin But a G Thang”
3) Cypress Hill - ‘Hits From the Bong”
4) Ludacris - “One More Drink”
5) Eminem - “Crack a Bottle”
We like to talk about cars here at Freestyle and LA has a massive lowrider scene. Do you get into your cars over there? What cars have you got in your garage?
I’m a big fan of the car scene in LA. Right now I’m just pushing my BMW M5 Sedan. I had to give the lowrider up when I got married. Ha Ha!
To find out more about B-Real, visit www.brealonline.com
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