by Alex Shtaerman
If you want to know whether legendary Hip-Hop trio Cypress Hill is still on their grind, there can only be one answer to that question: a resounding YES. Boasting a global cult following for nearly two decades, Cypress Hill has been the epitome of Hip-Hop’s much-envied golden balance of street credibility and crossover appeal, buttressed securely by a heavy dose of originality. Actually, to be completely precise, that balance may indeed be platinum. “Seventeen million records sold worldwide, and we’re still rolling”, points out Cypress Hill frontman B-Real.
It is a fact that a brand new Cypress Hill LP is on the way and featured on the new record will be production from DJ Premier and Pete Rock. Can fans really ask for anything more?! As it turns out, in the words of our 44th President, “yes we can”. On February 24th B-Real will be dropping his first solo LP, Smoke N Mirrors, which will feature the prolific MC trading his trademark helium verses with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Damian Marley and Too Short. But as B is quick to explain, his primary goal on Smoke N Mirrors was not to emulate the sound of Cypress Hill but rather to continue expanding on his creative versatility.“I tried to come with different concepts that normally we might not do for Cypress or maybe it’s something that wouldn’t fit for Cypress”, reveals the MC of his solo opus. In a recent interview we caught up with B to talk about everything from the early days of Cypress Hill to Smoke N Mirrors, police brutality and much more. Check out the must read interview.
RIOTSOUND.COM: Just to give the fans some insight into how you came up in Hip-Hop, in the years prior to when the first Cypress Hill album dropped, what were you, Sen Dog and DJ Muggs doing on a day to day basis as far as working on music and trying to make it to the next level?
B-REAL: Basically we were just trying to formulate what our sound was going to be because [at that time] we had no idea. But what we did know and what we were trying to do is to create that [unique] sound. All of the other groups that we idolized and loved, groups like Run DMC, The Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, all of them had a formula, they had their sound and you knew when one of their songs was coming on. So before we got signed we were trying to come up with whatever our sound was going to be and at the same time we were doing all the other shit that we were doing. Sen Dog was working jobs here and there and Muggs spent most of his time just trying to come up with the formula of what his sound as a producer was going to be like, and me, I was going back and forth, I was writing the songs and doing the demos and stuff like that, but at the same time I was still involved with gangbanging and all that kind of shit. So my road wasn’t exactly that positive before Cypress came into effect [laughs].
“Cypress is pretty much just street shit, and I did a little bit of street shit on this record too but I tried to also talk about some shit that’s going on in the world. With Cypress it’s a lot of weed stuff and street stuff and it is political to a degree but not as much as how I hit on my solo record”
RIOTSOUND.COM: Was there a particular moment where everything just clicked and the vision of what Cypress Hill was going to be became clear, or was it more of a gradual process?
B-REAL: I think when we had first made the song “Real Estate”, that was the first song that came into effect where I was using a different voice, the one people know me for now. Because previous to that I was using this voice, my talking voice, that’s the voice I was rapping with, and it just didn’t go. So me and my boy Mellow Man Ace were fucking around one day, just bullshitting, and we came up with this thing what we now call the nasal style, which is not really nasal but it’s just a higher tone. So I brought that to the table and the guys liked it a lot. At first I didn’t really like it too much, you know what I mean, I thought it was fucking stupid. Boy was I wrong [laughs]… I had to get accustomed to doing it. But once we got it down it became my style, it became what I was and how I wrote the songs. Muggs liked it a lot and he wanted to make sure we [went in that direction].
RIOTSOUND.COM: I interviewed Sen Dog a couple of months ago and I asked him this same question: when we talk about Latin MCs having success in Hip-Hop, the conversation usually shifts to Big Pun going platinum in ’98. And not to take anything away from Pun, but Cypress Hill went platinum seven years before that and you were always highlighting your Latin heritage in your rhymes. But somehow it seems the Hip-Hop media seems to overlook the importance and magnitude of your achievement in that regard; how do you see it?
B-REAL: Well, we’ve been shafted on a lot of things man, so it’s just one of those things that we got used to. We didn’t want to be labeled as a Latin group to begin with because at the time if you were labeled as that, the record companies would only push you into the Latin market, they wouldn’t push you into the broad market where it’s like across-the-board, you know what I mean. And we were the first to prove that Latin groups can do it, like you said, we had platinum before Pun came along. Pun’s achievement was no less, he was the first solo Latin rapper to bring home the platinum plaque. So we both did something groundbreaking, we came in as a group and he came in as a solo artist. It’s just that he got recognized as the first Latin [artist] because we never really emphasized on the fact that we were Latin, we just wanted the music to speak for us; and it worked.
But besides that, there’s a lot of other things. A lot of people attribute the weed smoking to Dre and Snoop when clearly it was us. But we don’t trip off of that because we know that the fans know and we ourselves know what we’ve done. So whether journalists, writers or what have you, whether they choose to acknowledge what we’ve done or not, it doesn’t really matter to us, we just do what we do and make the fans happy and be happy doing what we’re doing. So them overlooking us on a lot of shit like that never really made a difference to us. We were always like, well whatever, who gives a fuck if they think or know if we were the first to do this or that.
We were the first to do a lot of shit. We were the first to obviously bring the weed into the forefront. I mean, people were talking about it and making reference to it but we actually made it our thing. And that’s also when we brought the afros into the Hip-Hop game, before anybody else, all of a sudden you seen all these motherfuckers growing their hair out. Also the thing with the tattoos, in Hip-Hop nobody really had tattoos till myself and Muggs got inked up and we started showing our ink in all these different magazines. All of a sudden a lot of motherfuckers started going and getting tattoos. And the list goes on and on but the most important thing was that we brought good music to the table ‘cause all that shit doesn’t matter if the music ain’t crackin’, you know.
RIOTSOUND.COM: With your new solo record, Smoke N Mirrors, what can the fans expect to hear when they go cop it?
B-REAL: I wanted to stay away from what we do with Cypress , that was one of the main things as far as creatively. I didn’t want to be recycling what we do with Cypress Hill because Cypress Hill is a formula, Cypress Hill is a distinct sound and it’s what I’ve been doing my whole career. Naturally people would think that that’s going to be the first thing that I’m going to do, try to emulate that sound. But on the contrary, I tried to make [Smoke N Mirrors] very different. And by doing that I basically went to different people and I tried to come with different concepts that normally we might not do for Cypress or maybe it’s something that wouldn’t fit for Cypress.
So I tried to do some shit on another level, and it worked. Fortunately for me, all the ideas that I had came together and all the producers that I went and got – they were more like family as opposed to producers that were hot at the time, making hits and shit like that – I didn’t look for that on my record. What I meant to do is look for tracks and rap with partners of mine that I’ve been wanting to record with forever. As far as content, I didn’t talk so much about the marijuana stuff. I make some reference to it and there’s one song about it but I didn’t go hard in that direction. [On this album] I deal with a lot of social type content. I mean, Cypress is pretty much just street shit, and I did a little bit of street shit on this record too but I tried to also talk about some shit that’s going on in the world. With Cypress it’s a lot of weed stuff and street stuff and it is political to a degree but not as much as how I hit on my solo record.
RIOTSOUND.COM: Being that your new album speaks to a greater degree of social and political subject matter, I want to ask you: what were your feelings about that kid up in Oakland who got shot by a police officer after he was already handcuffed and lying face down on the ground? The officer in the case is now being charged with murder.
B-REAL: That just goes to show you man. A lot of people think that a lot of us in the rap business, because of the way we came up and how we came up, that we constantly just want to talk shit about police because that’s “the thing to do”. But they don’t realize that, man, this shit is for real! All the stuff that a lot of us say – yes, some of these dudes they’ve never been through one fucking thing and they put shit out there that they shouldn’t – but a lot of us have been through that with these fucking cops. And I’m gonna tell you like this, not all cops are bad cops, there are some very cool motherfuckers out there wearing a badge. But there are those like this dude who jump the gun, trigger happy cowboy motherfuckers. And those are the dudes that end up sending your fucking family or friends to the fucking morgue because they want another fucking notch on their belt.
So [this incident] is going to show people that this shit is for real. We’re not just talking shit, this isn’t just something that we do songs about to make ourselves seem fucking tougher or any of that shit. This shit is for real. And finally people got to see it. It’s fucking crazy that they got this shit on video of this dude shoot that kid. It’s fucking ridiculous man. And that’s why these rappers and whoever else make songs and talk about the law enforcement the way they do, because a lot of these guys step over the fucking line. It’s reality, and now they got to see it for themselves on fucking tape, on video. So, ok, what are you going to say now?
These are the dudes that are enforcing the laws supposedly. And while they’re supposedly enforcing the law, they’re fucking breaking it right in front of your fucking face. I mean, we need laws, there’s no doubt about that, you can’t have a lawless society, there’s just no fucking way. But they need to figure out a better screening process as far as who they’re giving a badge to. A lot of these guys don’t deserve to wear that fucking badge. Some people look at it as a license to do whatever the fuck they want and that can’t fly man, not in today’s society. Plus the fact that we pay taxes to fucking pay those assholes.
RIOTSOUND.COM: On Smoke N Mirrors you have a variety of high profile guest appearances. You got Snoop on there, Too Short, Damian Marley, Kurupt. Throughout your career you haven’t done a great deal of collaborations, the one with Dr. Dre on Soul Assassins of course comes to mind. Besides being your debut as a solo artist, was Smoke N Mirrors also a chance for you to branch out and work with a broader range of talent?
B-REAL: Actually, most of the collaborations just came about, I didn’t really plan to have too many artists on there because I wanted to pretty much carry the album on my back and not rely on somebody else’s popularity or if they can bring sales to the table. I didn’t look at it like that. I looked at it as: I want to make a great album that people can connect to in one way or another. While I was in the middle of the process, like halfway through, I started coming into contact with certain people just here and there. Like, for instance, with Damian Marley – originally the only guy that I had went after and who I had planned to have on my album was Snoop – I went to a Snoop Dogg show and Damian Marley happened to be there. One of the tracks on my album “Fire”, originally I did it by myself and I didn’t have anybody on there. But when I seen [Damian Marley] at the show I was like, wow, he would be perfect for that song, I wonder if he’s got time to do it? So I hit him up and he was totally down because we had done work on a Cypress record together in the past, so that [collaboration] just came about like that.
And then when we were at the end of the album – at that point we hadn’t planned to get anybody else, we were pretty much done – but then my partner J. Turner came up with this track and when I heard it, I was like, wow, you know who would be fucking cool on this, Too Short. So we got a hold of him and I was like “hey man, I got this song I’m working on for my record, I’d like you to get down on it with me”. Me and Too Short, we’ve always been cool and shit, so when I hit him up he was like “yea, just forward me the track and we’ll knock it out”. So I forwarded it to him, he loved it, he knocked it down, and in the process of us waiting for what he was doing, Kurupt had came to the studio because he lives close by. He heard the song and we were like, why don’t you get on it with us? And it just happened, we didn’t plan to go after him, [but] because he’s one of our homies and he was there, it was like, hey man, let’s knock this shit down. And so that’s pretty much how the collaborations came about because I didn’t originally intend to have a bunch of features but it just worked out to where I got the ones that I wanted and the ones that I thought worked out the best.
“no other West Coast group was able to come do that.
I mean, there’s West Coast cats now that get love and
all that, but at that time when it was hard to get love
from the East Coast, we were getting it and fortunately
we still do. We came with a different sound, different
attitude and a different look, the whole shit”
RIOTSOUND.COM: One thing about your music that was always very compelling was how it was received across a broad scope of various demographics within Hip-Hop. Cypress Hill came out during a time when there was a huge feud brewing between New York and California. At that time, anything that sounded like it was from California was shunned in New York, and it was pretty much everything across-the-board except Cypress Hill. Were you ever surprised by the amount of love you got in NYC back then?
B-REAL: Yea, initially I was definitely surprised because it’s like you said, previous to that, the only [West Coast] people that were getting love on the East Coast were groups like N.W.A and Ice Cube, when Ice Cube split from [N.W.A]. They were the only ones really getting any sort of love. I knew the one thing that we had that all other L.A. groups didn’t have was we had Muggs, who was from New York. So [our] sound was a very New York sound. The only thing was that the lyrics were L.A. based, the lyrics had that West Coast content type of shit. So we had a mixture of East meets West from the vibes that Muggs brought over from New York. With [Sen Dog and I] being from the West Coast, that’s were we got all our slang and terminology and we combined it with the sound and that’s what made us different from any West Coast group. We had West Coast content but an East Coast sound so cats in New York were confused they didn’t know where we were from.
RIOTSOUND.COM: I remember there were a lot of people who thought that Cypress was from New York when the first album dropped; or if they didn’t know for sure, a lot of people assumed it.
B-REAL: And I think that played to our advantage because a lot of people wanted to root for us because they thought we were from New York. And when they found out we were from L.A. doing that type of sound that was so distinct and so ill and East Coast based, they still kept giving us love. So it was a formula that worked out for us, fortunately. And no other West Coast group was able to come do that. I mean, there’s West Coast cats now that get love and all that, but at that time when it was hard to get love from the East Coast, we were getting it and fortunately we still do. We came with a different sound, different attitude and a different look, the whole shit. And I gotta big up Muggs for that because he totally brought the East Coast [element] into the stable and no other West Coast producers at the time were able to do that.
RIOTSOUND.COM: Throughout your career you’ve also been an activist for the legalization of marijuana. At the present time, what are some of the things you are continuing to do in order to further the cause?
B-REAL: We’re constantly representing whenever asked about it, as far as what our opinions are, whether it’s legalization or whether it’s decriminalization. So we keep it moving in that regard and also in interviews we do our thing and try to represent it as best we can. But lately our focus has been on the recording process and trying to get this record out, aside from my record we’ve been working on this new Cypress Hill shit. So we haven’t had as much time to be politically active as we’ve had in the past. I think once we get done with this new Cypress record we’ll actually be more involved because we’ll have more time that we’ll be able to dedicate to it. But we still always champion the cause.
When the 215 [medical marijuana] initiative [in California] was being pushed, we were at the forefront telling people about it; whether it was through radio or through video or in person, we were urging everyone to get this thing passed and make it a law. And there was more to it than just people smoking, people wanted it as therapy for cancer patients, AIDS patients and every other ailment that’s out there that can be treated with medical marijuana. So there’s that [side of it] and then there’s the fact that there’s jails that are overcrowded with people who are pot drug offenders who got popped with marijuana. We’re constantly trying to feed people information and we definitely keep active. Not as much as we have in the past but we definitely keep contributing when it comes to the movement.
RIOTSOUND.COM: As far as the new forthcoming Cypress Hill LP goes, it’s been said that you did some work with DJ Premier. Can you talk about that and also give us an update on the album’s current status?
B-REAL: We’ve been working on it for the past year. We’re close to done, we’re actually in the mixing process right now. As far as the production, me and Muggs did half and half, he did half of the production and then I did the other half and then we also reached out to guys like Preemo and Pete Rock and Mike Shinoda. So we pretty much kept it in house except for [a few people]. Right now I don’t know what songs are going to exactly make it [onto the album] but what I can tell you is that so far the stuff we have is pretty goddamn incredible. It’s going to be a great album.
RIOTSOUND.COM: Run DMC recently got inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, do you feel that one day Cypress Hill may also be honored in the same way?
B-REAL: It’s a possibility, you know, I think we’ve achieved enough to get in. I hear the standards for it is you have to have a career of 20 or 25 years and you have to have a body of work that would justify putting you in. I think having four platinum albums and a gold album out of seven [total], I think that’s pretty good. Seventeen million records sold worldwide, and we’re still rolling. We still do sold out shows and I think being inducted into the VH1 Hip-Hop Honors may be a pathway to the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, who knows. If we don’t get in it won’t bother me because we know what we’ve done and we know what we’ve accomplished. So if they honor us it will be great, if they don’t, you know, it’s no big deal. We had the Hip-Hop Honors and that meant a lot to us. But I kid you not [laughs], if they do end up inducting us into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, I’m throwing a fucking big ass party goddamit!