by Alex Shtaerman
Known for dropping game on albums such as The Hemp Museum and Hempin’ Ain’t Easy, B-Legit The Savage has stood as a formidable force in the Bay Area since the era of Mobb Music, a sound that has become synonymous with the rise of Northern California’s Hip-Hop scene in the early 90’s. Parlaying his experiences as a hustler on the streets of Vallejo into a string of genre defining LPs as part of The Click, a group also featuring E-40, D-Shot and Suga T, B-Legit continues to endure today as one of the Bay’s most prolific ambassadors. With five solo LP’s already under his belt, the veteran rhymesmith returns with his latest offering, Block Movement, adding steam to a newly burgeoning Bay Area resurgence. With his brand new album in stores, we catch up with B-Legit to talk some Hip-Hop and see how much things have changed since he first started rhyming in 1986.
RIOTSOUND.COM: The Bay Area has been making a lot of noise lately. It seemed like in the early to mid 90’s the Bay was on the rise and then the movement died down for some time and now we’re seeing a resurgence; how would you describe the history of it?
B-LEGIT: It’s pretty much history just repeating itself a little bit. In the Hip-Hop music industry it rotates. Sometimes it’s New York that’s got the ball, then it moves to down south, like with the Louisiana scene and Master P, then it went to Atlanta and then it just came back again full circle to the West Coast. The Bay Area’s part of the West Coast and it’s been missing for a minute, so it was about that time.
RIOTSOUND.COM: You first started rapping in 1986. You and your cousin E-40 started Sick Wid’ It Records and initially you did all the promotions and marketing yourselves, pushing your music to local fans. Can you talk about that time period and how you were able to bring your music and sound to a national level, what kind of effort did that take?
B-LEGIT: At that time we were involved in the game, the rap game as well as in the streets. Our music that we was making was catering to our peers, the cats that was in the street getting money hustling. It was basically block music. It was easy for us to reach our listeners ‘cause we would just take the music out the trunk and go straight to the different hoods and drop it off. It was doing a lot of ground work [to the point] where even the majors didn’t know how to market the underground records [the way we were doing it].
We kinda catered the whole movement to the independent underground, mom and pop [shops]; a lot of stuff was on consignment with different distributors. It worked out well for us [but] it’s a whole new ballgame now. At that time of us coming into the game, these wasn’t really even CDs. Right around that time was when CDs came out. So it was a lot of records, messing with DJs and record pools, and cassette tapes.
RIOTSOUND.COM: How did the majors pick up on what you were doing to get the word out?
B-LEGIT: What it was during those times, [the majors] was trying to figure out what exactly it was that the independents were doing to sell these records. And what the independents [were doing] was just sharing the money. The majors were just sharing the money with chain stores and we were sharing the money with independent distributors. For instance, we’d go in there and ask them if we could put up some posters on their wall and [in exchange] we’d give ‘em a box of 100 cassettes and they get to sell those and put some extra money in they pocket and [the arrangement] would also help us sell more of our music. Sometimes they used to even let you put your posters up for free but nowadays you go in there and the majors done bought the whole wall out for their artists.. The shit that we used to do, they now are doing it. What they actually did is they signed a lot of us up to see what we was doing and after that they just started doing it on they own.
RIOTSOUND.COM: In 2004 you formed Block Movement Media Corporation; what prompted you to start the new company outside of Sick Wid’ It?
B-LEGIT: With Sick Wid’ It, we got a couple of different projects going through it and we’re also dealing with a couple of different labels and distributors. [E-40] runs some of his stuff through Navarre and then we got [other projects] running through different channels. Sick Wid’ It is the mother company and then Block Movement is just my part of what I’m doing with my own label. [This way] everybody can have an identification of where everything is going.
RIOTSOUND.COM: Over the years you’ve contributed to a lot of youth programs; you’ve coached sports, talked at schools and done a lot of other things, not just in the Bay Area but all over. Can you talk about some of those things and also what you’re currently involved with?
B-LEGIT: Right now I’m doing something with an Oakland group, it’s a compilation album for a youth program where [the kids] get studio time; Dwayne Wiggins is also involved. They teach the kids how to run Pro Tools as well as how to record and actually make their own beats. So what I did since they was putting together a compilation, I came down there and got involved with it. I actually let the kids record me and now they get a chance to produce me. That kinda sheds a lot of light on them, a lot of hope. The stuff is actually coming out pretty good. So that’s what we gettin’ down with right now.
RIOTSOUND.COM: It must mean so much to a kid who’s trying to make music to have an artist of your stature come in and lend your vocals to their track; that’s almost like the ultimate gift an MC can give someone.
B-LEGIT: Yup. I try to have more of a one on one relationship with the kid. Anybody can go buy the kids some t-shirts or donate some money or something like that but to actually have a one on one and let them know that [I’m] human too and that I was once in that position, having the dream of making music and wishing that I could record. I just want to let them know that it’s possible and the goal is not unreachable and that they are the future. It’s better to have them get involved in the music than running in the streets killing each other and stuff like that.
RIOTSOUND.COM: How important is it for artists to get involved in their communities? It seems like a lot of artists and celebrities participate in community outreach programs and a lot of them do seem sincere but then every once in a while you hear things where it almost seems like they’re begging for publicity; how do you see it?
B-LEGIT: Well, I would hope that a lot of people would be doing it just from the heart. I’m not saying I’m super rapper or nothing like that nor do I want any credit for taking the time out with the kids. But at the same time, I got kids, so I know that by me talking to [other children as well] it’s going to help all the kids as one. I just play my part and play my position in my community and let them know that there’s other alternatives than selling dope and picking up guns. They have to keep they drive alive.
RIOTSOUND.COM: You’ve been in the game for nearly two decades and you’ve seen Hip-Hop evolve first hand. Where has the evolution been good and also where have we seen things take place that might’ve not been so positive for Hip-Hop?
B-LEGIT: What I’ve seen that was positive is how they would take the whole Hip-Hop generation and apply it to more than just the music. It went from just being the music to rappers getting star roles in films, commercials, they use Hip-Hop in nearly every single entity of selling and marketing products. I’ve just seen Hip-Hop blow up and become really really really big which is a positive because it creates dreams and creates jobs for certain people. If they make good music then they can make a living off of it and that’s the positive thing that I’ve seen about it. And also, Hip-Hop for the youth is a form of release from the daily stresses. That’s where they come in with the turf dancing and the MC battling; it just gives the kids and youth something to do besides being negative. It gives them something to resort back on. And then negative wise, I’ve seen some of these companies do mergers, a lot of companies fell off. And then of course you got your bootlegging and politics. It’s a wicked game but it’s a good game.
RIOTSOUND.COM: For people who want to expand their Hip-Hop horizons and get into the sound of Northern California, what albums would you recommend they listen to in order to truly capture the spirit and sound of the region? Like if someone was completely ignorant to it, what five records would you say they need to hear in order to get up to speed and really see what it’s all about?
B-LEGIT: I would tell them to take it back to the original godfather of rap, Too $hort, Born to Mack, classic CD. I would have them go get The Click, Down and Dirty, classic CD. I would have them go get The Luniz, Operation Stackola. And then from the new school I would have them pick up a Turf Talk, Mistah F.A.B. and Keak Da Sneak. That would take them back from the old all the way to the new and you can get a [feel] of what the Bay Area and the whole culture is about, from past to present.
RIOTSOUND.COM: What can fans expect when they pick up your new album Block Movement?
B-LEGIT: It’s official, it’s the truth. I try to stay pretty consistent with what I do. As of right now the Bay Area got the whole new Hyphy Movement, which is something that they younger generation came up with. I keep a solid well-rounded type of approach with my albums, so the people know what to expect. I come from the Mobb Music era so I pretty much stick with the Mobb Music mixed with a little bit of up-tempo dance beats and also a few guest appearances. For the most part my albums are solid all the way through. I’m pretty consistent.
RIOTSOUND.COM: For anyone that still doesn’t know about B-Legit, maybe the younger fans, what’s the one thing you would want to tell them about yourself?
B-LEGIT: B-Legit is most definitely a pioneer in the rap game as far as the Yellow Brick Road Committee. When I say Yellow Brick Road, I mean the ones who helped build and mold and shape [Hip-Hop]. My music is a twist of the old school mixed with some stuff for the new generation. So it’s good listening, fo’ sure.
For more news and info on B-Legit stay tuned to www.MySpace.com/BLegitTheSavage