Demrick ft. B-Real – “Streets Don’t Love You Back” (Bloodbath / 2010)
Taken from the West Coast artist’s mixtape “De Is For Demrick”.
Demrick ft. B-Real – “Streets Don’t Love You Back” (Bloodbath / 2010)
Taken from the West Coast artist’s mixtape “De Is For Demrick”.
Since taking the rap world by storm in the summer of 1991 with their classic self-titled debut album, Los Angeles-based weed enthusiasts Cypress Hill have sustained a career that has seen members B-Real, DJ Muggs, Sen Dog and Eric Bobo scale the heights of global commercial success whilst still maintaining ties to the underground rap world that spawned them.
The group’s blunted beats and rhymes launched the Soul Assassins collective, which once counted House Of Pain and Funkdoobiest amongst its members, with the Cypress crew increasing rap’s crossover appeal in the mid-90s by collaborating with rock acts such as Sonic Youth and Pearl Jam, a move that caused outrage at the time amongst some die-hard hip-hop heads.
Soon to release their eighth studio album ‘Rise Up’ on the re-launched Priority imprint, the group are once again inviting listeners to sample their inimitable brand of Latin lingo-laced rap, with help from Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda, Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, hip-hop legend Pete Rock and Evidence of Dilated Peoples.
Here, group percussionist Eric Bobo (son of Latin jazz icon Willie Bobo) talks about signing with Snoop, bringing the West Coast back and Cypress Hill’s influence on the rock / rap collaborations of today.
Was there a different approach going into this new project given that it’s been six years since the last Cypress Hill album?
“Once we got into the role of what we were trying to do it was business as usual, but in the beginning, I think because we’d all done our solo projects, we were trying to figure out what direction we were going to go in with this new record. We didn’t set ourselves a time limit as to when we were going to have the album finished, so it was good to not have to rush and just let the music come naturally. We were able to record in our own studio so there were no outside pressures. I think it was just a case of getting back to feeling comfortable and getting back into the swing of things, but at the same time we wanted to try some new things on the record as well.”
Does the fact you’ve each recorded solo projects enable everyone to bring a fresh perspective to the group dynamic or do you have a very defined vision of what a Cypress Hill album should sound like?
“I think it’s a little bit of both. We were each able to bring new ideas to the group that maybe we’d already tried on our own, but at the same time you have to be careful because Cypress Hill is its own thing and not every thing that we did on our solo records would fit a Cypress album. Also, during the time since the last group album, even though we’ve done solo projects, it’s not like we were totally separated from each other. We participated in each other’s projects and we were still doing shows as Cypress Hill. So I think there would have been more of a difference recording this new album had we been away from each other for six years and not done anything together and then tried to come back together to pick up where we’d left off. I mean, you look at a lot of groups and they might have a year between projects and they hardly see each other, which to me isn’t the healthiest thing when you’re then trying to come back and do something new. The chemistry you once had as a group can change after a long lay off and I think fans can definitely pick up on that.”
‘Rise Up’ is being released through the recently rejuvenated Priority label with Snoop Dogg being responsible for signing the group. How did that come about?
“We never approached any label as far as getting the new record out. We were just working on getting it together so that when we were done we were ready to show it to people. Snoop knew that we were working on a record and with his new job over at Priority and with him really being a strong supporter of bringing the West Coast back to prominence, it just made a lot of sense to bring us along as opposed to trying to restart the Priority label with a brand new group that nobody had ever heard of before.”
You mentioned bringing the West Coast back to prominence – what are you thoughts on the current state of West Coast hip-hop?
“Every region has had its time in the sun within hip-hop, first the East Coast, then the West, then the South. Right now, I don’t really know if there’s a definitive sound coming out of the West Coast that’s really making people take notice. So I think it’s really important for the West Coast to get that sound back. I mean, when you go back to Ice-T or N.W.A. or Dr. Dre’s early solo material, the West Coast had its own sound. But I think when it comes time to getting played on the radio and people having hits, they’re looking to duplicate what’s already out there, so the idea of having your own sound gets thrown under the rug. You have West Coast artists now that are making records trying to sound like Southern music. So a lot of artists today are just following the trends rather than putting their own spin on things, and that’s not what Cypress Hill has ever been about. No matter what we’ve done or what we’ve tried as a group, we’ve always done it on our own terms.
With that in mind, Cypress Hill really helped spearhead the rock / rap crossover in the mid-90s which bands such as Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit were so obviously influenced by. Do you feel the group is given enough credit for the part you played in bridging the gap between the two genres?
“I think at this point yes because it’s part of the norm today. Kids nowadays are growing up listening to every kind of music including alternative and hip-hop, so it’s not so segregated anymore. We did catch a lot of flack back then because hip-hop was about the purists and a lot of people were worried that if the music became watered down in any way then we’d lose it. So a lot of people really didn’t see what needed to happen for the music to grow. Every genre of music has borrowed off one another at some point, whether it’s jazz, rock, hip-hop, it doesn’t matter. So I think Cypress definitely had a hand in taking the music to a wider audience and really helped to spearhead the rock / rap fusion that you hear so much of today. I mean, when Run DMC did ‘Walk This Way’ with Aerosmith that was a massive step forward for hip-hop, but even they didn’t catch as much flack as we did (laughs). But for things to change and evolve in music sometimes certain artists have to take the shots for trying something new, and that’s what happened to Cypress Hill. We took a lot of criticism for what we were doing back then, but at the end of the day, we’re still here making hip-hop and there’s a lot of groups that started out the same time as Cypress did who aren’t even around anymore.”
There was definitely something of a backlash at the time from some fans who felt the group were abandoning their hip-hop roots to some extent…
“But even when you look at the first Cypress album there was definitely a lot of outside influences in there – there was a strong blues influence in some of the music and samples, then there was the imagery which was very dark with the skulls and everything. So even from the outset what Cypress Hill was doing wasn’t coming from a traditional hip-hop place. We’ve had so many people say to us over the years, ‘I don’t really listen to hip-hop, but I like Cypress Hill’. After awhile you can’t even figure it out anymore, because we were coming out as a hip-hop group, but so many other people heard something in the music and gravitated towards it. I think Cypress really opened up a lot of doors, particularly when we started doing festivals like Lollapalooza, because a lot of the time we would be the only hip-hop act on the bill. So we really had to prove ourselves to every audience, but we were really lucky to have had that opportunity.”
Having spent almost 20 years now as a member of Cypress Hill, is there one particular memory that really stands out for you when you look back?
“Wow, I have a few of them (laughs). But the one that really stands out to me is us being part of Woodstock ’94, which was such a monumental event. To be able to share the stage with so many influential groups and perform in front of so many people, it was just a defining moment for me. I mean, not everybody will ever get a chance to experience something like that. As many festivals and shows an artist might play at, they’re not necessarily going to go down in history like that show did. It was just an amazing experience.”
Are there plans to tour with this album?
“Hell yeah! We’re touring the world with this new album and we’re really proud and excited about it. We didn’t really do a mega, mega tour with the last album, but this time around we’re really going for it and we’re going to hit everywhere we can and just hope as many people as possible enjoy the music. We can’t wait.”
Back-in-the-day clip of Cypress Hill performing the classic “How I Could Just Kill A Man” at Yo! MTV Raps’ 1992 Spring Break concert in Daytona.
Ask most new artists today what they’re looking for from their music career and the chances are that longevity won’t be at the top of the list. In today’s industry climate of ringtone rappers, one-hit wonders and declining album sales, many new jacks are looking to get in and out of the business as quickly as they can whilst accumulating as much money as possible. Whereas back in the day the term ‘overnight sensation’ was viewed as somewhat of a derogatory label that suggested an artist hadn’t paid his or her dues or fully perfected their craft, cats today aspire to blow up with their first musical efforts, so they can squeeze the game for all it’s worth financially and fall back before the bubble bursts and their fifteen minutes of fame is over.
Underground champion Akrobatik, however, is someone whose career plan most definitely does stretch beyond only worrying about his next mix-CD placement. Hailing from Boston, Massachusetts, the rapper with the commanding baritone flow first debuted back in 1998 with his rugged single “Ruff Enuff”. But it was Akro’s 2000 Rawkus release “Internet Mcs” that really caught people’s attention, with the Beantown lyricist’s sharp, satirical look at the then burgeoning online rap chatroom community raising both eyebrows and laughter. This was followed in 2003 by the release of Akrobatik’s critically-acclaimed debut album “Balance”, which saw Ak winning the International Songwriting Competition for the captivating single “Remind My Soul”. Shortly after, the dreadlocked mic wrecker joined forces with fellow Boston bomber Mr. Lif for the well-received Perceptionists project on the Def Jux imprint, an album that landed in Rolling Stone’s best-of 2005 list.
Having recently released a new solo set entitled “Absolute Value”, the down-to-earth rapper is hoping that his blend of socially-aware subject matter, competition-crushing battle rhymes and quality production will once again please existing fans whilst showing doubters that he really is here to stay.
Just before jumping on a plane to Florida, A-to-the-K set some time aside for HHNLive.Com to talk about collaborating with J-Dilla, working with his idols, and American politics.
You’ve been releasing product now for over ten years. How do you feel you’ve developed as an artist in that time?
Well, I think I’ve gotten more confident with my flow and just with my ability to hold down a song from beginning to end. I think I’m getting stronger as an artist and maturing overall as a person.
The independent rap game has changed a great deal since you first debuted. Is there anything in particular you feel you’ve had to do to evolve with the business?
I’ve had to learn as many ways as I can to make money. We all have to try to survive and create situations for ourselves to enable us to stay in the business. Like you said, I’ve been here for a long time now and that’s no easy feat to be around for over ten years. A lot of that has to do with me going out and finding opportunities for myself to supplement my income and maximize my potential as an artist. Whilst I think it’s very important for an artist to keep putting out good music, I think it’s just as important to keep your business tight.
You’ve become something of a radio celebrity in Boston thanks to your daily Sports Rap-Up. What exactly does that involve and how did you get the gig?
Basically, the Sports Rap-Up is something that I do every Monday through to Friday. I have a segment on the morning show on Boston’s JAM’N 94.5 that’s one minute long and it plays three times throughout the show. It’s basically a freestyle about the sports news from the previous night. It’s a fun thing to do as I get to talk about what’s going on in the world in real time every day and there are opportunities for me to incorporate things from outside of sports into the Rap-Up with punchlines and stuff like that. It’s definitely a cool way for me to stay in contact with the people in Boston. The station actually approached me to do it as I’ve been in the business so long now that a lot of people there were already familiar with my work. They approached me, I gave them a demo, and it worked out real well.
Akrobatik – “Sports Rap-Up 2007”
Do you ever get feedback from listeners who were unfamiliar with you as an artist, but then after hearing you on the radio have then started getting into your music?
Absolutely. I get emails every week from people saying they’ve been listening to me every morning on the radio and then maybe they went to check out my MySpace page or something like that. It’s definitely bringing me some new fans, for sure.
Your recent single “Put Ya Stamp On It” with Talib Kweli was produced by the late J-Dilla. How did that collaboration come about?
It was a label thing. Fat Beats hooked me up with the opportunity to rock over a Dilla track that they’d commissioned from him before be passed away. I was real fortunate to be able to do that.
Did you feel any pressure recording that track knowing that you were adding on to Dilla’s legacy and that any posthumous Dilla-related material could end up being critiqued harder than what was released when he was alive?
Yeah, I mean I totally understand how that all works and that people may be sensitive to the idea of an artist who didn’t actually know Dilla rhyming over one of his tracks. But the fact of that matter is, Talib Kweli and Dilla were good friends and Kweli and I have known each other for a long time. Although I only met Dilla once, I feel that we really did the track justice and a lot of people do really seem to like the song. I think it’s something that Dilla himself would’ve been into.
Akrobatik ft. Talib Kweli – “Put Ya Stamp On It” (Fat Beats / 2008)
You have features on “Absolute Value” from legendary artists such as Public Enemy’s Chuck D, B-Real from Cypress Hill and Bumpy Knuckles (a.k.a. Freddie Foxxx). How did it feel recording with such Hip-Hop icons?
It’s definitely an amazing thing to be affiliated with guys who I grew up listening to. It’s unbelievable to me to that Chuck D was down to get together and do a track because he was my idol when I was growing up. It’s been a beautiful thing, and if anything, this album will establish the fact that I have the respect of my peers and my contemporaries. If I’d have come up somewhere like LA, New York or Atlanta, perhaps people might’ve heard about me quicker and realized that I was for real. But being from somewhere like Boston, it’s a little bit harder for people to be convinced because there’s not a wave of popular artists from the region I’m from. So I think this situation might make people a little less reluctant to check me out, with me getting the co-sign from people like Chuck D, Freddie Foxxx, Talib Kweli and Da Beatminerz. But that said, I’ve worked very hard to get myself into a position where these people would even consider working with me.
The track you recorded with Chuck D, “Kindred”, has political overtones to it and politics is obviously a hot topic in America right now with the Obama / Clinton situation. Regardless of who actually gets into the White House, what changes would you like to see any new American government make?
A: Well, there are a few immediate things. Everyone talks about the war in Iraq and that’s something that’s really a life or death situation. I would love to see our guys get out of there. I think if John McCain is the President those guys aren’t going to go anywhere and will be dying over there for years. That scares me. I think Hilary Clinton would get those guys out somewhat faster, but I think Barack Obama would get them out much faster. But the Iraq situation is just one thing. We also have healthcare issues and George Bush has left us with a pretty big bill, so we’re going to have to figure out how to get out of that debt as the country’s pretty much in a recession right now. I have a lot of concerns and I’m not sure if the person who’s going to fix them is going to do it necessarily because of what political party they’re from. I think we just really have to figure out who the best person is for the job. I’m hoping that whatever happens between Hilary and Barack, whoever wins that goes on to be the President because I just couldn’t take another four years of a Republican warmonger being the President of the United States and I don’t think the rest of the world wants to see that either. Just for the country’s global image, I think we need to do something that shows people we know America needs to change and that we’re doing something about it. There might be some mistakes made along the way, but I’d rather see that than America making a ‘safe’ decision and thinking that because we’re at war we need to have another war President. I’d just like to see someone in the White House who’s not a lunatic.
Are we likely to see another Perceptionists album with Mr. Lif any time soon?
Yeah, absolutely. We’re writing songs and getting beats for that right now. We’re taking our time with it, but we’re all going to be together a lot this year touring, so the album will probably be formulated over the summer and hopefully we’ll have it out by the fall. But we’re definitely going to do it.
So what’s next for Akrobatik as a solo artist?
I’ve got a lot of things going on. I’m doing a lot of stuff in the sports world right now and am working on some endorsement deals here and there. I’m just really busy and I’m hoping that I can put together another cohesive group of songs so that I can put another album out next year. I think I’ve had my time being the best-kept secret, so now this is my time to shine and just enjoy being in my prime.