He may have spent most of the nineties in a purple haze, but Cypress Hill frontman B-Real still managed to be a pioneering force for Latinos in hip-hop. The rapper, whose heritage goes back to Mexico and Cuba, led Cypress Hill to becoming the first Latin rap group to have both platinum and multi-platinum albums. Their self-titled debut and hit single "Insane in the Membrane" became an anthem in the early nineties—for both pot smokers and teeny boppers alike.
Now, B-Real is getting ready for the next stage in his career: a new record deal and his first solo album (entitled Smoke and Mirrors) which will be released this October.
We caught up with the hip-hop icon backstage at this year's Rock the Bells Hip-Hop Music Festival, which he agreed to host after the show reunited Cypress Hill, to talk to him about his solo effort, which Latin artists he thinks are on the come-up, and how he's evolved from his days getting loco in LA's South Central neighborhood...
Word is you've got a solo project coming out, called Smoke and Mirrors. What's the deal?
Many people say "solo projects" means a group is breaking up. Is that true for Cypress Hill?
Naw, once I get this little side thing going I can get back to the Cypress Hill shit. Everybody has been working on different projects. As an artist, you have a lot of different ideas that might not go with what the main thing is with the group. We all took time to do different projects and get those ideas out.
Hip-hop has changed a lot since Cypress Hill came on the scene in 1991. What main differences have you noticed—both in the music and the artists that create it?
When we were coming up, my generation, we studied the game. We knew who came before us, and we had a vision of where we wanted to go. These new cats, they don't really study what got this whole thing kicked off. It's just about a lot of materialistic sh*t—cars and chains and mansions, all that sh*t. That's not really what the spirit of hip-hop is. It always goes in a cycle, for a while people are just about that materialistic content, they'll have their shine for a while, but eventually the real sh*t comes back around.
With the business as competitive as it is now, do you think Cypress Hill would have made it today?
I don't know, it's a different game these days. Back in the day, you needed to start from the ground up. You weren't just put up there immediately. You had to grind it out. There used to be something called "artist development," where you had time to build. That sh*t is done. Now you need an instant plan. It's like putting oatmeal in the microwave, thirty seconds and it's done.
As an artist, has there been any creative decision or song you've regretted?
Sometimes we fall in love with our own sh*t, but I've been doing this for years so I know when I've made a crappy song. Like I got the beat for this one song, called "In the Fist," and I wrote the lyrics to that beat. But when I heard it later, they changed the beat. The beat they picked wasn't the one I rapped to. They just placed the vocals over it. It's still a hot song, but I liked the beat I originally rapped to.
Who are the Latino MC's on the come-up, according to you?
Immortal Technique. He's dope and very underrated. I hope one day his sh*t pops off real hard because he's got a lot of things to say. I also like Joell Ortiz, he's badass. And my man Sick Jacken, he's been around for a while. He hasn't gotten his due like she should, as a Latino MC he's like an underground legend, especially on the west coast. He's one of my favorites for sure.