B-Real - Keeping It Real
With his first solo LP, Smoke N Mirrors, finally about to drop, 3D’s Matt Unicomb talks to Cyprus Hill’s B-Real about finding beats, forging collabs and taking things on a political tip.
First up, congratulations on finishing up on the solo joint. Though it’s very early days, how’s the feedback so far. Has anyone told you something you didn’t expect-
Thank you. The feedback has been very positive so far. We’ve held a bunch of listening sessions in the States – in Los Angeles and New York City – and for the most part people have been enjoying the album. I can see the reaction is definitely there for my single, FIRE, with Damian Jr Gong Marley, as well as the Alchemist produced track 6 Minutes.
Was it an extremely long writing process- How long have the tracks on Smoke N Mirrors been kicking around for-
The process was long, but I wanted to make sure I presented the best possible music and sound to the fans. Just like with our Cypress Records, I like to produce and record a lot more material than can be placed on an LP and then start to cut down on tracks that don’t fit.
What was it like working with a variety of producers- Was it important to you to get on some beats, other than Muggs’s-
It was important for me to distinguish this album as a solo effort vs a Cypress Hill album, which was the reason for not including a Muggs-produced track. Muggs is a genius and I’ve learned much of my production skills from watching him, but I didn’t want this solo venture to blur the lines between what I do with Cypress as a unit. It was a great experience working with a variety of producers because it enabled me to explore new sounds, delivery and my overall flow. I even produced three tracks on the album myself (FIRE with Damian Jr Gong Marley, 1 Life with Mal Verde and Sen Dog and Dr Hyphenstein with Snoop Dogg).
How long had you been looking for beats-
I was on the look out for beats for over a year until we settled on the final 15 tracks for the album.
Smoke N’ Mirrors often crosses over to the political tip, something that rarely, if ever, happens with Cypress. Sen Dog’s solo record did the same thing - why did you wait until a solo record before you put the political vibe down-
I think we’ve always been somewhat political or edgy, but this solo project was a chance for me to touch on a variety of topics on a personal level. There is so much going on now, not just in the States with the poor economic climate, but worldwide with political wars still raging and deaths prevalent each day. The title of the album, Smoke N Mirrors, is an indication that not everything you see or read about is necessarily accurate. We all have to participate in true due diligence to make sure the facts are correct. I’ve been blessed to have maintained a career in the entertainment industry for nearly 20 years, so I’ve witnessed a lot and my solo project was a way for me to paint those images.
What was it like in the studio solo- Did you find you were second-guessing yourself, seeing as you didn’t have Muggs and Sen to run ideas by-
I have a great team around me to bounce ideas off of. Under my label deal with Duck Down Records I operate Audio Hustlaz production, which also serves as a sub-label, and we have a very talented group of producers and artists on the rise such as Young De.
Any verses on there that you’re particularly proud of-
I like my first verse on the Alchemist-produced track 6 Minutes. The concept of the record is the fast rise and even quicker demise of these one hit wonder MCs. I take pride in how long my career has lasted and I think a major part of it is connecting with the fans and showing true appreciation, beyond just chasing a ringtone, commercial or single deal.
I also like my first verse on When They Hate You, where I describe how my life could have been very different from how it turned out. I do recognise how fortunate I am coming from the gangs in Los Angeles and being able to separate myself from those evils. Now I’m living to support my own family and I’m a role model to my wife and kids.
Young De is a vicious rapper and extremely talented writer. He’s been with the Audio Hustlaz team for some time and we’re working to break him out now.
You’re rolling with the legendary Dru Ha and Duckdown Productions crew - what’s it like, and how did the relationship come about- Lots of flights to NYC-
It has been a pleasure working with Dru Ha and The Duck Down Family. They understood my vision on this project right away and didn’t try to turn it into something it wasn’t. The marketing has been solid. It’s fun for me to see my career come full-circle because when I first started with Cypress our label deal was with Sony based in NYC and now I’m back with another very reputable East Coast label. I’m a West Coast artist with East Coast love back in the States
There’s a considerable number of guest MCs; was this your intention from the beginning- How much say did they get in the direction of each song- Did you have your verses laid before they spat on the track-
It wasn’t my intention to have all the features that ended up on the project. A lot of it started to happen by chance encounters with the artists. I’ve always been close with Snoop Dogg, who I produced a track for on his last project and tour with. One night at a show with him I ran into Damian Marley and I knew I had this track FIRE, which I thought he’d be perfect for. We had met a few times before that and got along well, so it was nothing for him to lay down a verse. He raised the intensity and overall sound of that track to new heights. After I signed to Duck Down it made sense to work with Buckshot, who co-owns the label. Xzibit, I ran into at a club, and he actually said he had 16 bars lined up for my Don’t Ya Dare Laugh track, which had already been completed. We had filmed a video at that point, but the album version has Xzibit on it.
What MCs are you listening to at the moment- Who should we keep an ear out for-
Ludacris has a great album out. I can’t wait for Dre. Dre’s Detox album… I definitely wished I was on that, and I think folks should be on the look out for Bishop Lamont.
Are you heading out on a solo tour- Who will you be taking with you-
I’m about to tour North America from mid-March to May with M.O.P., EPMD and Evidence and then Europe for a solo tour. I hope to get over to Japan and Australia by the fall, although I won’t be taking advantage of your summer days!
WHAT: Smoke N Mirrors through Shock
WHEN: Monday 2 March