Underground Report: B-Real
After releasing a series of Gunslinger mixtapes in the past few years, B-Real finally readies to drop his first solo release in February, Smoke N Mirrors, an album he meticulously created without demands and interference from labels. Perhaps what makes Smoke N Mirrors even more interesting than B-Reals complete creative control are his beat-making skills, which will be showcased on three of the albums tracks. So kick back this harvesting season, as DX and B-Real rake up the expectations of Smoke N Mirrors, unionizing Hip Hop, and ending the search for the next Big Pun.
HipHopDX: Smoke N Mirrors has been anticipated for a minute now. Why the wait?
B-Real: I had to take my time to get it right. Like with Cypress Hill, I take my time and make sure that Im satisfied with the end result before I just put it out there because Im not trying to rush for anything. You put out a record, you gotta be satisfied with it because that shit lives out there forever. If you put out there something that youre unsure of, or that you dont like, youre gonna have to live with that out there forever. And I dont want to look back at my career and say, Damn I shouldnt have done that, or I should have done it this way. Do it right or dont do it at all. So I took my time and when I was satisfied in what weve done, I said, Okay, lets turn the record in.
DX: When you talk about getting it right or not getting it right does your standard revolve around lyrics, delivery, flow, or does it revolve around the content?
B-Real: Everything; it has to be everything. If all those things are great, thats what makes a great song. If it lacks one of those things, youre always gonna say, Fuck I should have done it like this, or Maybe I should have tried this. All those elements have to come together, at least for me. I dont settle just for one of them; its gotta be all of them. You cant show weakness; if you show weakness, youre pretty much done, you do yourself in. I try to make sure the concept is right, the flow is right, the beat is right and my delivery is right. It all has to come together; otherwise, its just practice. [Laughs]
DX: Great point. You wrote and recorded the entire album before talking to labels, meaning, you put up your own budget. In what ways does setting your own parameters emancipate you as an artist?
B-Real: It gives you more freedom because you dont have anyone breathing down your neck to make this kind of track or that kind of track - or we need it by this time or that time; you go at your own pace. You make yourself comfortable in doing your stuff rather than when youre worried about a deadline, worried about these guys coming and telling you they want an X amount of singles and shit like that. This way, you finance your own thing and you do your own album; and they either see your vision or they dont. If they see the vision then you go and try to make it work; if they dont see the vision, if they want you to change a bunch of shit, then you go somewhere else who sees your vision. At the same time, if they make great points about certain songs, then you have to put your ego aside as an artist. Say Let me look outside of myself and see what it is about these songs that they dont agree with, or that they might want to change. So you have to be open to do that as well.
DX: What can be expected from the album and why the title Smoke N Mirrors?
B-Real: I tried to create an album that had a lot of substance as opposed to a lot of the stuff out there right now, just bragging about the cars, women, jewelry, money. Theres a lot of that shit out there, didnt want to fall under that line. I wanted to talk about some things, provoke some thought, inspire and bring people to have a good time. What an album should be: good times, bad times, funny times and the meaningless times, because in life, there are all those things and thats what I tried to capture in the album.
Smoke N Mirrors, its a concept where people got this preconception and misconception that when you become a rapper, or when you become a signed rapper, then automatically you become rich. Because they see these rappers in the videos in all these mansions, driving these expensive cars with all these girls and they think that life is automatic when you sign a record deal. And thats not what you get. A lot of people dont know about the hard work that goes into becoming an established artist; to have a little bit of success and fame theres a lot of work that goes behind that - it doesnt happen overnight. But people have that conception because of the way MTV pops these videos on of all these materialistic fucking songs and some of the shit thats on radio right now that portrays the same thing. And its not reality its reality for some. Jay-Z [click to read] lives like that, Eminem can live like that, Snoop Dogg can live like that, T.I. [click to read] and Lil Wayne [click to read] can live like that but a lot of rappers under those guys, they front like they live like that but they aint really living like that. Its like a fucking charade because there is a record deal but they dont really have all that shit, you gotta work to get all that shit. And thats what Smoke N Mirrors is: its like a big faade. Lets dress these rappers up, make em look successful and when the video is over, all those fancy cars, all these jewels and all those hot women, theyre all going to different places, they aint going home with you. Unless youre those guys like Lil Wayne and T.I. and Jay-Z and 50 Cent [click to read].
DX: Does one really want those girls going home with them?
B-Real: Some people do. Some people, thats what theyre in it for. Theyre in it for fame, success and money. Some people want to say something to people, inspire people and some people just want to be artists but theyre fortunate enough to be successful and have all these things if they want them. Some people [have] a humble life and some people fall into what that life becomes. When were young we want all that shit; when we get older, we realize we dont need half of it.
DX: Where do you stand with all of that?
B-Real: Shit, Im married so theres no taking a whole bunch of girls home with me. [Laughs] But with the fancy cars and the mansions, I live well. I dont live in a big blown out mansion, I dont got six cars cause I dont see the need for it. if Im like 60 years old and Im a billionaire, then maybe Ill collect a car or two, Ill have property here or property there; right now, Im pretty good. Thats due to the success weve had with Cypress Hill. And were trying to continue that just so we have an established place for our families and we can provide for our families and live the way we want to live not beyond our means, but well enough to be comfortable. You can have all these millions of dollars and not have the craziness some of these people have. It would be good to afford all that shit but if you dont need it, why be frivolous?
DX: That is true. Youre a producer, which many people are still unaware of. Have you done any of your own production for this album?
B-Real: I did maybe like three or four songs. I started off doing more, but as we got into the end part of the album, there were beats from other people that I really liked a lot. So I sacrificed more of the stuff that I did at the beginning to get these beats because I didnt want to have an album of twenty songs; that shit gets boring and people get tired of it. So I basically sacrificed, and did three of my songs and kept them on the album. Had guys like Scoop Deville, Soopafly, my boy Jake Turner who did at least a good portion of the album. We kept it simple; I didnt go get a bunch of producers, I got people we consider family to come and contribute to this record.
I think with this album, people will hear the style of my production, and when the next Cypress Hill album comes out, I have a few songs that I produced on that record too. People will slowly but surely start hearing about my production. Thats what I want, I didnt want it to be like, Oh, its B-Real, lets go get a beat from him because its B-Real. I want to earn my way as a producer just like the way I earned my way as a rapper, as an entertainer, as a writer; as Cypress Hill. We pretty much earned our spot in this game and as a producer, I have to pay my dues and earn my way up to be considered as one of the top producers. I have a long way to go but Ive had a good head start.
DX: On Dont Ya Dare Laugh with Young De you describe a certain aura of California from the way you see it while stating that the rap game is in shambles and you came to boost it back. Were you referring to California and the west coast, or the entire Hip Hop scene in the US?
B-Real: Both, really. Im from the west coast so I have to represent that first and foremost. West coast rappers dont get a lot of love and dont get a lot of airplay pretty much anywhere else with the exception of the stable groups like Black Eyed Peas, Snoop Dogg and anything [Dr.] Dre puts out, occasionally us, and Ice Cube [click to read] and Mack 10 [click to read], The Game [click to read]. Thats just two handfuls of groups that get love around the country. Other than that, there aint too many groups out here or artists in the west coast to get a decent shot at making something good unless youre endorsed by Dr. Dre or somebody like that.
Im trying to bust the door open for west coast rappers out here. Theres a lot of talented rappers, its just that A&R people here on the west coast, and the labels here in the west coast, theyre full of shit and they dont know anything. They dont know where to look for these artists, they dont know what kind of artists to look for and they dont want to fucking hire the right people to look for these artists and to break these new artists. Theyre always depending on what New York is gonna break or what the south is gonna break. We got artists here, were one of the fucking centers of entertainment and they aint signing shit that means anything. The only guy thats ever signed anything good is Dre because he knows what the fuck to look for; all these other douchebags dont know what to look for so you dont really hear too many great west coast artists that are coming out the up-and-coming coming guys. These west coast labels got their fuckin' head up their ass so that was one reason why I had to rep it like that.
The other reason is that I love Hip Hop and I see the way that Hip Hop is put as a genre of music on a map. Its basically at a low point because you have all this materialistic shit out there and thats not knocking that stuff because rap has evolved and grown and it has so many faces, theres something there for everybody but it needs to have more substance. Theres a lot of shit out there thats getting played on MTV and on radio and on BET, and it has no substance at all. They need to have a balance. People need to open their fucking eyes as far as these labels and radio people go. Theres more to Hip Hop - more to this music - than what theyre displaying, portraying and playing.
DX: Many rappers address that same topic, and even BET who is a large perpetrator of rotational junk even held panel discussions on mainstream Hip Hops obsession with violence, materialism, exploitation of women, etc. Though it continues despite all the outcries. Why?
B-Real: Well, heres the thing. They [radio and television] have control of what theyre playing. We have no control over it. And its not like theres a union that you can boycott them. Rappers are soI mean a lot of us are united but as a whole, everyones on their own; theres no fucking union. [Screen] Actors Guild has a union: actors are getting fucked, they all go on strike and they shut down the industry. Theres no union for musicians to be able to have that power. Lets say so and so is coming out with a new record and its a great record but no radio stations will play it, MTV and BET wont play the video and theyre doing that not just to this rapper, but lets say to ten or twenty rappers that have a chance to be successful. Rappers dont say, Lets fucking shut this shit down till they get it right. Theres no union, and thats why we get fucked in our record deals, thats why we get fucked out of radio airplay, rotation on video outlets. Thank God for Internet radio, thank God for satellite radio, thank God for YouTubes and all that because now, theres an outlet for what they dont want to play.
I look at it like this: we can complain about that shit all day which is not gonna get us nowhere. But we can speak on it and let people know that it exists, that this fucking cock-blocking that they do on a lot of us because we dont fall in line to what all these little popular rappers are doing, we get blocked from having our shit out there. We can complain about that or expose it and then use the tools that are out there that we didnt have before. Like if you got a video and MTV and BET ain't gonna play it, then you go put that shit on your MySpace, you put that on YouTube, and then you mass email everybody and let people know that your video is out. Then maybe these people will start requesting it at these stations - and same thing with your music. You gotta use these tools and if you dont, its your own fucking fault.
DX: Lets touch upon your delivery. Its not a cookie cut shape of what we see today, the almost generic laid-back Nas, Jay-Z and all the many imitations that came after that. What do you say to rappers who are starting out and who are afraid to utilize their natural delivery, natural flow and many times, their natural voice because it doesnt sound similar to what has been commercially acceptable, and expected, especially from east coast rappers?
B-Real: What those rappers need to realize is that theres people who have done it before them and done it better and theyre recognized for it; youll never be recognized for it. You might be here for a time where your record has a little bit of steam but they wont remember you because youre not distinct, you sound just like this guy. And you have to be distinct, you have to have something that makes you stand out, and your voice is that instrument. You can sound like Jay-Z but youre just gonna sound like Jay-Z, you aint never gonna be him, and youre never gonna get the respect he has. If you want to stand out and you want to make a name for yourself, you want to have longevity, then you have to do you, you have to be who you are and be different than anybody else. Real artists dont do music to be that guy. You want to have the success he has, you want to have the opportunity he has, you may want to live the life he has, but you dont want to be the replica of this guy because youre always gonna be in his shadow.
DX: Latino rappers are often compared to Big Pun merely for being Latino. Is there a necessity for Latino artists to have the next Pun?
B-Real: There should never be a next Big Pun. There should be the next whoever the fuck you are. Thats the whole deal. Pun is Pun; theres always gonna be one Pun, just like theres only gonna be one Biggie, one Tupac, one Eazy-E, one Jay-Z, one Eminem, one 50, one Nas. You shouldnt want to be the next guy, you should want to be the next you. Fuck all that, because youre living in their shadow.
DX: Cypress Hill brought attention to gang violence in L.A., as well as other issues like policy brutality. Have the conditions changed in the past decade, and if so how, and how do you see the new president-elect addressing such issues, if at all?
B-Real: In L.A., its basically swept under the rug. Pretty much when you have the gang violence on the news all the time, it brings the value of the city down. Theyre constantly trying to get people to come out here and buy property in California, most importantly in Los Angeles, downtown, and they dont want people to be afraid to come and invest out here so they keep the shit under the rug. But gang violence will always exist out here, its just something thats part of the culture in Los Angeles; gangs have been here for decades, and theyll never stop. You may put one neighborhood down and disband them but another one pops up somewhere else. Sometime itll be crazier than others; some years it will be really violent and other years not so much. Right now these guys are just trying to get money as opposed to worrying about who theyre going to go kill. I dont know how he [Barack Obama] would address that, I dont know if its even on his radar to change it, but thats definitely something that needs to be addressed.
As far as police brutality, this has been under the microscope for now because there are so many things after the Rodney King beating that were exposed as far as corruption goes. They're [cops] pretty much looked at from every angle so its not as bad as it used to be but it still existstheres always gonna be corrupt cops. When you have that much power, some people can take it and some people cant. People that can take it, they do their job as best as they can, trying to cope with what they deal with because cops deal with a lot of shit, lets just be real about it. They deal with a lot of stuff that psychiatrists dont even fucking deal with; they see things and hear things that pretty much you gotta go through therapy to get over. Theres those guys and theres guys who take it over the line; they know they have power and theyre gonna take advantage of that. Theres always that balance unfortunately.
DX: I was surprised to see the label partnership with Duck Down Records. Maybe because of the geographical stretch and not to mention the difference in sound between the east and the west coast. How did that collaboration come about?
B-Real: They heard that I was doing my solo record and we reached out to each other and told them what direction I was going in; they heard some music and they liked it. But the thing about it is that like Cypress Hill, my record doesnt sound so much like the west coast record entirely. I have songs that sound like east coast-driven stuff because I was very much influenced by east coast Hip Hop more so than west coast, and its like that with Cypress Hill. When we first came out as Cypress, we were signed to Sony in New York, and we were a west coast based group but our sound was not west coast and the way that we delivered these songs, they werent so much sounding like west coast. So when we got into this deal, I just felt like I was coming full circle because here I was signing to another east coast based label who understands what Hip Hop is, and who knows how to push it, and who were excited about my record. Yeah I got a lot of people telling me, Wow you signed with Duck Down, how did you manage that? and I thought it was a perfect fit; I dont do things normally like other west coast artists do so I thought it was a perfect place for me to be to release my record.
DX: Who are some of those east coast influences?
B-Real: I was very much influenced by groups like Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, KRS-One [click to read], Boogie Down Productions, LL Cool J, Rakim, all the classic artists that came out in that time. Us in the west coast, we got it late, but when we got it a lot of us that loved Hip Hop appreciated that, me being one of them. And when we started this group, Cypress Hill, DJ Muggs [click to read] happened to be from New York, he was from Queens, New York and what he did was he brought east coast flavor in his sound over to our west coast concepts, slang and flow and we just basically tied that together so all of our first records were very east coast driven.
DX: Favorite LL Cool J track?
B-Real: Hes got a few of them. I would say Mama Said Knock You Out [click to read].