“I’ve done the platinum records, I’ve done the gold records, it would be great for it to achieve that. Am I expecting that? No,” B-Real says about his expectations for his solo album, Smoke N’ Mirrors, coming soon on Duck Down Records. It’s hard to believe that after nearly 20 years as a Hip Hop artist, it is only now that B-Real is readying a solo record. While some may have expected B-Real to lean on DJ Muggs, the producer who ushered in a new sound along with B’s nasally voice, B-Real purposefully decided to do the full LP sans any beats from one of Hip Hop’s best producers.
“I needed to set the tone of my solo record and put it on my back. With that I had to stay away from any sound that would have been compared to Cypress Hill at all,” B-Real said. “I had to take the challenge and do it without him. His tracks are hot. He’s one of the greatest producers in Hip Hop, and one of the most underrated at that, but I had to take the challenge by producing some of the stuff myself, by going to other producers who would give me a sound that’s not at all in anyway like the Cypress Hill sound.”
Cypress Hill’s sound is one that not only stood out for it’s uniqueness, but also it’s ability to reach a wide audience. The labels that came with it, and claims that Cypress Hill sold out are all topics of discussion in this exclusive interview with B-Real. Read on as he also speaks on the hidden keys to his success, and the nasally voiced super group that never was.
RubyHornet: So, we’re talking to you today primarily about Smoke N’ Mirrors, your first solo album coming out pretty soon. How do your feelings a few weeks before your first solo record compare to your feelings a few weeks before the first Cypress Hill album came out?
B-Real: Well, with the first Cypress Hill album it was one of those things where we were just glad to actually be making a record and it coming out. Really nothing is reality til it comes out. You can make a record and it’ll get shelved real quick. The feeling was intense on that record. With this one, I tried not to put any pressure on myself and have no expectations. I feel like I made a good record. I’m satisfied with it, I did a lot of work on it. But in today’s market, the way that music sells these days, I don’t expect a lot. If I get a lot of good looks and a lot of good things come my way behind it, it’ll be extra. I’m just taking it in stride really. At this point, it’s like any other record, the only thing is my brother’s ain’t riding with me on it. That’s really the only difference. I don’t really feel the pressure. Maybe in a couple days when it gets closer to the release I’ll start tripping out a little bit. For the most part, and being in this thing 17 years or more, it really doesn’t trip me out as much as it used to.
RubyHornet: Speaking of some of the earlier days, on the first album you have the song “Funky Cypress Hill Shit” you say, ‘people always ask me why I sound so funny, they must be talking about my crazy nasal vocal money, I’m ‘bout to take control, don’t have to blow my nose…’ You’ve stuck with that style of rap since then, was there ever any pressure to change your voice?
B-Real: Really there was not that much pressure to change it at all. As a matter of fact, everybody always wanted me to keep because it cut through so distinctively. It didn’t sound like anybody else’s. Throughout time I’ve changed the pitch a little bit so it’s not as nasally and not as high because I’ve kind of evolved with the time. I couldn’t keep doing the same style, I mean, my tone is my tone and there’s really nothing I can do about that. I could go higher, I could go lower, or be in the middle, that’s pretty much it. It’s always going to be like that, within that realm of the way it sounds. There have been a couple people that have asked me, ‘why don’t you rap in your talking voice?’ The reason I don’t is because it doesn’t cut through the same way. I still have my flow, the words are still cool and s**t like that, but it’s not as authoritative as when I kick it in the high tone. There’s been times yeah, where I’ve thought, ‘yeah. Maybe I should f**king change it up.’ But anytime I’ve tried people are like, ‘naw man, you need to stay with that because this is what people know. This is what people like about your s**t because it doesn’t sound like anybody else’s.’ Like I said, there were times, but in the end I always just felt comfortable. Once I got this voice down, I was comfortable with doing it.
RubyHornet: It definitely is unique, and what people know you for and anytime they hear your voice come in they know it’s B-Real. One last question about that, I know you guys have done work with the Beastie Boys. You’ve been on some of their tracks and tours. Adrock has also referred to himself as the Original Nasal Kid. I’m wondering if you guys ever joked about that internally, or compared each other’s voices?
B-Real: Definitely! A lot of people compared me to Adrock because our voices were so similar. We also actually kind of at one point talked about him, Q-Tip, and myself doing a group cause we were all real nasally. But it was only talk and only went so far. But it was a good idea. I always loved the Beastie Boys so it was a compliment to be compared to Adrock at that time.
RubyHornet: Yup. Moving on, along with the vocals, you guys really ushered in a new sound, production wise with DJ Muggs. Does Muggs have a presence on this album, and where did you take the music from a production standpoint?
B-Real: I didn’t reach out to Muggs for this record for a few reasons. One, I needed to set the tone of my solo record and put it on my back. With that I had to stay away from any sound that would have been compared to Cypress Hill at all. A lot of people ask me, ‘why didn’t you use Muggs? Is there a problem?’ and this and that. It was basically that for it to be a solo record and for me to establish my production company, I couldn’t lean on the older brother. I had to put it on my back so that in the end when people look back they’ll say, ‘B-Real did that on his own. He didn’t get cuts from Muggs.’ Because people would have expected that. If I would have won, then people would have said, ‘well, it’s only successful because Muggs helped him with it.’ So, I had to take the challenge and do it without him. His tracks are hot. He’s one of the greatest producers in Hip Hop, and one of the most underrated at that, but I had to take the challenge by producing some of the stuff myself, by going to other producers who would give me a sound that’s not at all in anyway like the Cypress Hill sound. If I would have got Muggs it would have been an extension of Cypress Hill, and then the questions would have been, ‘what’s up with Cypress Hill? How come Sen Dog wasn’t on this record?’ People would have thought it was a Cypress Hill record without Sen Dog. I had to purposefully stay away from that. It sparked a lot of rumors, ‘are they getting along? Are they not getting along? Are they breaking up?’ We’re perfectly fine. We’re working on a new Cypress record right now, Muggs is producing half of it, I’m producing a good sum of it. It’s all going to be great in the end. It was just a chance I had to take on my solo record.
RubyHornet: When people do think back on B-Real and Cypress Hill, I think that a part of your guy’s legacy is introducing a larger audience to Hip Hop and being one of the first groups to be labeled “Alternative Hip Hop”. Sometimes your albums would show up in the rock section at a record store, and other stores would have it in the rap section. Did you think about that at the time, and do you consider that “Alternative Rap” label and introducing a larger audience to Hip Hop as part of Cypress Hill’s accomplishments?
B-Real: Yeah, I think we introduced a whole different audience to Hip Hop, definitely. Whether them labeling us an alternative group or rock group, we never looked at it that way. We never put labels on ourselves. We knew we were a Hip Hop group. We knew we were doing Hip Hop music, but we weren’t afraid to experiment with different sounds and different ways about making songs with that rock/rap hybrid. We weren’t afraid to do that, but at our core, we were Hip Hop. They labeled us as many different things, and tried to categorize us and it was cool. We never really gave a s**t about being labeled too much because we knew what we were doing and who we were doing it for and the people we were trying to reach. In the process we had a couple of beefs with XXL Magazine and The Source. They were the ones who started those labels like, ‘oh, they’re not actually Hip Hop anymore. They’re alternative.’ That’s what started those labels, it was whatever they looked at us as. They tried to stamp that label on us so Hip Hop fans wouldn’t go buy our records, so that they would think Cypress Hill sold out to the alternative community. But if you listen to those records, pretty much all those records, and at all those records’ core is raw, genuine Hip Hop. With the exception of Skull and Bones, which was half Hip Hop, half the hybrid, all the other albums were 90% Hip Hop based. Without that label, before that label was even put on us, the rock kids were digging our s**t because of our imagery, it looked more metal than Hip Hop, it was different. We talked about things that any kid could relate to, whether you listened to Hip Hop or Rock N’ Roll, or whatever. It was just relatable. That was how we wanted to make it. We wanted to make it relatable to everybody. Fortunately, we introduced a whole different group of kids to Hip Hop music as well as some older folks who weren’t really into rap music, but they loved us because of what we stood for and what we talked about. Some of the elements we used in the music reminded them of their day.
RubyHornet: A couple months ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Estevan Oriol. He talked about his start and credited you and Everlast a great deal with helping him get established. Something he told me that stuck out was that it was important for you to bring up your guys and you gave him the opportunity to do things such as do promo shots, and direct videos over bigger guys. He said that you really instilled a sense of bringing up your homies. Where did you get that importance from, is it still important to you in this day and age?
B-Real: On the outset we were a big crew before we started Cypress Hill. Before Cypress Hill became what it became we were pretty much a big crew. It was myself, Mel Man Ace, Sen Dog, which is his older brother, Tomahawk Funk from the Funk Doobiest, some chick rapper who disappeared, we don’t know what happened to her…Eventually DJ Muggs came into the fold. We were all pretty much down together. When things started happening musically, I wasn’t even around. I was out gangbanging and all that s**t. Muggs had met some dudes from the group 783. He eventually got down with them, used some of his connects to hook up Melo with Delicious Vinyl, and he eventually went over to Capitol. In the process of him going to Capitol, that’s when I came back into the fold and we started making music together. Melo got into the door, he was signed to a major and Muggs was with 783 who was also on a major label at the time. Even though we had people in place at these certain labels, nobody really wanted to help us. It was me, Muggs, and Sen pretty much doing every f**king thing ourselves. We had to get ourselves in the f**king door. The people we came up with or were in positions to help, they were just so wrapped up in their s**t that they either didn’t want to or were too tied up in their s**t to say hey, ‘these are our boys, Cypress Hill. We want you to check them out.’ Nobody was doing that for us. When we got in the game, and we started having some success, that’s when me and Muggs started to collect guys like The Funkdoobiest. I didn’t have any role in producing them or anything, but I definitely had a lot of input in the image and the guidance of the group, actually House of Pain and then the Funkdoobiest, and then everybody else from there. When we created the Soul Assassins camp, that was the whole thing, trying to bring a network of our people up and put them in power positions. And then basically bring more people up so our family would be strong in the business and we’d always have a connect in that way we could help others coming through. The whole thing is about constantly evolving and bringing something new to the table. Along with our music, we wanted to bring up these new artists, whether they were producers, whether they were DJs, they were photographers, or artists who make album covers. It was just one of those things that being that we didn’t get any help, we wanted to make sure that we helped our boys realize their dreams. If they wanted it bad enough, if they were hungry enough for it, we’d bring them up. If we saw that they were not ready, we wouldn’t even f**k with them until we knew they had their head on straight. That’s basically where it came from, and that’s still the process that we use. For instance, Young B. He’s the newest member to our click. We’ve been trying to get him more light by featuring him on these records and making a big deal out of his name. That’s where it all came from. Estevan, he’s like my f**king brother. It was just natural to shoot the photos with him as opposed to some f**king stranger who would most likely get on your f**king nerves within the first five minutes. Meanwhile you know you’re shooting with somebody who’s family, who’s talented, and who you believe in and who you want to blow up. The more family members that you have that are doing big things, the more powerful your family is. So, that’s the whole thing. You can’t just roll it all yourself, you can’t win everything yourself. You need a great team. We tried to put a team together and put our team in places where we would always have a good chance at winning. That was the process, start other artists off and give them opportunities that no one would give us.
RubyHornet: He also said that one of the reasons he worked well with you guys and House of Pain is because you guys took to him because of the way he handled himself, that he was cool, yet he was also tough and stood his ground. He said he remained in the back until it was time to go to the front. And it seems that knowing how to deal with people and navigate the music industry is just as, if not more important than making good music. Do you agree as someone that’s been able to be successful for close to 20 years, and what has been a big key to your success that may not be visible on the surface?
B-Real: It’s like he said. You can’t be a push over, you can’t let people walk on you, you got to stand your ground. At the same time, you have to know when to retreat a little bit, which means, if you’re in an argument with a label for whatever, for a budget, for a video, for a promotional appearance, there’s going to be something that you aren’t going to want to do. You’re not going to want anyone at the label to push you over and tell you have to do it. At the same time you have to think about it in the business sense. This is something that involves your career. This is something that is going to possibly be good for you in your future if you do it right. You got to know when to compromise. You got to know when to sit back until they call your number and say, ‘hey, we need you to step up to the plate on this.’ It’s the way you carry yourself. You got to carry yourself with respect and you have to give mutual respect to others until they don’t deserve it. One of the keys to why we’ve been able to stay around is our work ethic. We get in the studio and we knock out songs. We’re very picky about what we put on, and we’re very honest with each other when we don’t like something. That right there, as far as the creative process, that’s one. Number two is the way we carry ourselves in the public eye and the way we treat people, and the way we interact with our fans. We always try to interact with our fans and be cool, and shake hands, autographs, pictures, all the things artists should do for their fans because they remember that all their life. They’re the ones that you’re really doing it for, aside from yourself. You have to keep that in perspective. The other thing is you got to be responsible. When you’re going to do interviews, when you’re going to do promo tours, when you’re going to do in-stores, you have to be responsible and have a good outlook on it. This is all a part of the game. The creative process is a fraction of what this game really is. It’s the most important part to an artist, but you have to have all these other things down as well because people remember. People remember how courteous you were when you did this interview, or you signed that autograph, when you did this promo tour or in-store. They remember that. If you were cool they try to push you and help you like, ‘oh, they have another record out? I remember that guy was the coolest guy, let’s try to help him out where ever he needs help at.’ When you’re an asshole, they remember you on the way down, big time. If you were a dick nobody wants to help you, they’ll wash their hands of you. So many careers get ended because of that. We’ve managed to have a good repoire with our record label people, with our agencies, with our promoters, with journalists, with everybody that we’ve ever dealt with. There have been a couple of skirmishes here and there that were unavoidable, but for the most part we’ve been on our job, we love our job, and it’s a combination of all those things. Most importantly you have to have the music to back this up and you have to be of a competitive nature. You have to want to be the best to continue to do this. If you don’t want to be the best then you shouldn’t even be in it. What are you doing it for? If you want to just be one of many, that’s not what it’s about. You have to be like, ‘I want to be one of the best. I want to win.’
RubyHornet: Speaking of winning, and this is something you touched on earlier in the interview…one of the bigger radio/video joints that Cypress Hill had was Rock Superstar in which the chorus asks, ‘so you want to be a rock superstar?’ At this point, is that something that you still want, and how does your view of success for this album compare to something like Black Sunday, Temple of Boom and the others?
B-Real: We look at every record that we do differently cause it’s a different point in our life. At that point, when we were doing “Rock Superstar” you had a lot of dudes wanting to do all this crazy stuff, wanting to live a certain lifestyle, but weren’t doing what it takes to be that guy. That’s where it comes from. A lot of people misinterpret how this game is. When you get signed to a record deal, you don’t automatically become a superstar or rockstar or rap star, it takes a lot of work. That was the issue at the time. With Smoke N’ Mirrors, for me, I’m not expecting anything. I don’t expect to sell 1 million records, I don’t expect to sell 500,000 records. I expect to just be realistic and say, ‘if the people embrace it, no matter the number, I would have done a good job. If they don’t embrace it and they think it sucks, I’ll go back to the drawing board and go all over and do it again.’ It’s just like sports. You can’t win every time, even though you want to win and you got the heart and determination to win…For me, winning was being able to put this out because for so long, I’ve been dedicated to Cypress Hill and never had a chance to do something like this. The challenge of recording this thing and making it a cohesive piece, that was the challenge. For it to be coming out and finally becoming a reality, that’s the success right there. God willing, people will dig it, and jump on it, but I have no expectations. I’ve done the platinum records, I’ve done the gold records, it would be great for it to achieve that. Am I expecting that? No. If it comes it would be great, if not I dust myself off and try it again.
Photography by: Estevan Oriol