Words by Khalid Strickland
At the crack of noon the other day, I rose out of bed, lit a pre-rolled spliff and set things off with a wake-and-bake session. Once that marinated, I was ready to interview B-Real of Cypress Hill. Our chat was via phone so we couldn’t have a smoking session in the physical. But I refused to chop it up with the dude who penned songs like “Stoned Is The Way Of The Walk” and “Hits From The Bong” without getting toasted first.
The word legend gets kicked around a lot, but in B-Real’s case the title is deserving. From the time since they dropped their self-titled debut album in 1991, Cypress Hill has sold 18 million albums worldwide; 11 mil in the U.S. alone. They’re the first Latino rap group to have platinum and multi-platinum albums. Rapping about marijuana is customary now, but it was Cypress who got the ball (and blunts) rolling with their THC-laced lyrics. VH1 acknowledged Cypress Hill’s place in history by presenting the group with a Hip-Hop Honors award in October 2008. After all of those accomplishments, B-Real is adding another notch to his belt by releasing his first solo album, Smoke N Mirrors. Spark up a fatty and peep the conversation between the Crew’s Khalid Strickland and the Stoned Raider, B-Real.
TSS: What is Smoke N Mirrors going to add to an already stellar catalog?
B-Real: That’s hard to say. It remains to be seen, you know? I’ve done a lot of work with Cypress. Significant work at that, with some decent amount of success. It’s hard to follow that up. The best I can do is make the best album possible and just put it out there and see what the people think about it. Hopefully what they get from it is that they find something they can connect to, whether it’s a thought that was provoked or anything, man. ‘Cause people find different things to cling to in songs, whether it’s taking them away from whatever stressful situation they got for that moment; or whether it’s something they’re going through and maybe you say something in the song. And they get the feeling like, “Damn, somebody thinks the way I think or feels the way I feel.”
Another thing is that they see what the capabilities are of me as a producer and stuff like that; just my versatility as an artist, writer and producer and what not. And just the overall feeling of the album because I don’t think it’s like anything else out there. It’s not groundbreaking or anything like that, but it’s traditional Hip-Hop with a lot of substance behind it.
TSS: Why is the time right for a B-Real solo jump-off?
B-Real: Well, for me everything is about timing, man. In the course of our career, I never really had that much time to focus on something solo because I’ve been so dedicated to Cypress and I didn’t want to fuck that up. At our last record with Sony, which was Til Death Do Us Part, we had a significant amount of time that we could pull off all of our solo projects because there was really no deadline for another Cypress Hill album since we had fulfilled our deal. So it was perfect timing for us to go off and do whatever little solo ventures we wanted to do. Muggs had wanted to do the Muggs Vs. GZA, Muggs Vs. Sick Jacken, Planet Asia & all that stuff. Sen Dog had a couple of records he was working on; doing his Diary Of A Mad Dog and his Reyes Brothers record with his brother, Mellow Man Ace. BoBo has his Meeting of the Minds album.
For me, my whole thing was…I got some advice from Busta Rhymes a long time ago, probably like in ’97. We were on the Smoking Grooves Tour and he said to me, “Man, you need to one day just break out and do a solo record. Not break away from the group, but just to show your versatility and show motherfuckers that you got heat outside of that.” And I always thought about it but like I said, I never really had the time. So when this time came up, there was two things I wanted to do specifically: Work on my production to develop my sound and to make this record. So it took me the better part of three years to really get the sound down for the record and for me to develop my sound as a producer and stuff.
TSS: What did you see in Duck Down Records that made you want to collaborate with them?
B-Real: Well, I saw something that reminded me of Ruff House Records. It was an East Coast-based independent label. Ruff House was fairly new when Cypress Hill signed to it but the difference between Duck Down and Ruff House was that Duck Down was one of the first independent labels doing straight Hip-Hop and that has survived all this time because they know what the fuck they’re doing. They see what they’re supposed to do with this Hip-Hop shit. A lot of record labels have gotten it twisted and some of those labels ain’t around no more. Or maybe their artists ain’t making that much noise and shit like that. Duck Down, they get it. They saw my vision. They didn’t want me to do what Cypress Hill does. A lot of labels that I tried to shop my shit to wanted me to do what Cypress does. They wanted me to do the Rock/Rap shit; they wanted me to talk about the herb all over the fuckin’ place.
If I was leaving Cypress Hill and there was no more Cypress Hill, maybe I would consider that. But Cypress Hill hasn’t broken-up. Cypress Hill isn’t going away; we very much still have a lot of momentum going our way. So I couldn’t piggyback off the sound or the image or style, you know what I mean? So I wanted to make something distinct and Duck Down got that. The other labels, they were trying to bank off of the success of Cypress Hill. Duck Down, they wanted to pull some of that momentum but they were totally willing to let me gamble and make my own brand. You know, extend to a different thing and branch out and shit instead of pretty much recycling what I’ve done before.
TSS: How did it feel to win a Hip-Hop Honors award?
B-Real: It was great, man. I know what we’ve accomplished in the game. I know the trends that we’ve set in the game and the influences we’ve had, but all that comes and goes in the eyes of many. I just never expected it, so when it came it was a great surprise and a great honor to go in with the class that we went in with. We started off with Naughty By Nature so it was good going in with them. De La Soul, we’ve been really good friends with them forever. We’ve done many shows, tours and what not with them and we’ve developed a bond with them. And for another West Coast legend like Too Short to be going in, it was just great. Then Slick Rick, the greatest storyteller of all-time, man. It was a fun night, a great time and when people ask me what’s the thing that you can be most proud of in the game aside from our obvious successes with our records and stuff like that, I would say (the Hip-Hop Honor) because it’s something that we never thought would come about.
TSS: Unlike other forms of music, like Rock for instance, new rappers and some fans are quick to usher out the O.G.’s. Some people say that the veterans need to retire when they’ve got plenty left in the tank. Do you have any thoughts on that?
B-Real: The whole deal is this, man: There’s a gap between the bridge of the old school and new school. The old school cats, the veterans, they feel slighted because a lot of these young cats didn’t pay the dues that the vets had to pay. Just to get on, let alone have a major deal and this video and radio play. So a lot of vets probably think this shit has just been given to these cats and they haven’t really earned it. And they don’t really know the history of the cats that got there before them and opened doors for them…there’s maybe only a handful that will acknowledge that.
And at the same time, the young cats are like, “Shit, we’re just trying to do what we got to do, man. We’re trying to earn our living; we’re trying to get ours. Why are these old school motherfuckers hatin’ on us?” And really it’s perpetuated by the record companies, the radio stations and shit like that because they’re the ones who allow the shit to happen. It’s one of those things, man. And Hip-Hop is obviously a highly competitive game where the vets that still feel like they have fire, and still do have fire. So they’re gonna be going at these young cats. The young cats are gonna be like, “Aw, y’all should retire.”