Time To Chill Out and Listen to B. Cool-Aid

B. Cool-Aid (Pink Siifu and Ahwlee) discuss neo-soul music in hip-hop, their early beginnings, and the meaning behind Leather Blvd.
B. Cool-Aid
Photo by Tony Lyas

A debate about which album aged better: The Game’s Documentary or 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’. One party suggests 50 Cent’s seminal ‘03 debut due to its cultural relevancy and influence on the commercialization of Gangsta rap. Another party presents The Game’s solo debut simply because of “Hate it or Love it.” On the television is a pre-fame 50 Cent on a rooftop, offering advice on absorbing knowledge, self-manifestation, and the parallel between the hood and corporate America—Pink Siifu and Ahwlee, or B. Cool-Aid, sit inches apart: Siifu on the low-rising couch and Ahwlee on a chair close to the table. Siifu changes the television, putting on a video of D’Angelo Voodoo session outtakes. The air is relaxed and sweetened with the aroma of marijuana. Ashes pile in the wooden basket on the table. Siifu, with a slab of Rastafarian decorated marble, fronto leaf, and his sealed flower of choice, while I roll a joint of my own on my lap. 

Jazz-soul fusion duo B. Cool-Aid is preparing to release their first album in four years, Leather Blvd, due March 31st. “Something flashy. We wanted to be running sexy with it,” Siifu says about the album title. Both Siifu and Ahwlee resonate serenity in the room, a still calmness that’s also in their music. During their four-year absence, Siifu and Ahwlee became successful artists in the underground rap scene. When asked why a B. Cool-Aid record now, they reply, “life” and that it’s the right time. Siifu, an enigmatic artist from Alabama, has released works with Flyanakin, Yungmorpheus, and AKAI Solo, along with two studio albums—one of them being a punk-thrash project titled Negro—and a collaborative tape with producer Real Bad Man released last year. Bay-area producer Ahwlee released two instrumental albums, VII in 2020–an EP with Chill Children the same year—and Ftrs last year. B. Cool Aid takes the relaxation of Ahwlee’s lo-fi compositions and Siifu’s ear for live instruments to conjure music that taps into vintage soul, funk, and jazz.  

B. Cool-Aid first met at a Boiler Room set in Los Angeles, where both Siifu and Ahwlee shared the same bill. Ahwlee knew he wanted to work with Siifu following his performance: “It’s that kind of Lil Wayne willingness to go there. Just step into his own and do what other people aren’t doing. I knew he had the courage and the skill to step into a place where niggas weren’t at and that he could keep doing that.” The name “B. Cool-Aid” materialized in 2016, working on their debut Brwn a year before the duo established themselves. Compared to Siifu’s past work, B. Cool-Aid allows him to explore the neo-soul side of his artistry. “I feel like back talking FlySiifu’s is different, even though it’s still rap, and it’s still Southern based…it’s still different.“

We are in the home of streetwear brand Trash Co. and DC-based rapper Obiisay, a mainstay haven for neighboring underground rap acts. The walls often rumble from the trains clattering on the tracks near the building. Artwork hangs on the walls, colorful and reimagining various cartoon characters. It’s a fortress for creatives to stay creative. With joints burning and mimosas on the table, B. Cool-Aid talks to High Times about their early beginnings as a group and their upcoming album Leather Blvd

I feel like the soul in hip-hop and in general, music right now has diminished. How important is it to keep that meaning and purpose intact in your music? 

Ahwlee: You can’t translate that. You can’t prefabricate it, and sort of manufacture shit. Niggas are all some row of assembly line type shit, as far as music goes, in my opinion. Living the music you make is a lost science.

Siifu: I mean, that’s the thing too, bro. Everything that we kind of said on this record is like everyday shit. Niggas don’t. And it’s cool to fabricate tough shit. And to be a fictional “wrestling” type of rapper.

At that point, you’re an entertainer 

Siifu: It’s like you’re a fucking entertainer, yeah. And we’re not real gangsters, we’re not real artists and shit. Somebody could say, if you’re doing this, you’re not a gangsta all the time. You’re making money. With me and Ahwlee, with this soul shit, what he came up on, it’s all just real shit. I’m not going to say all the Neo-Soul, the soul is out, because I do fuck with niggas like Smino, Mike, Booker, and Ari Lennox. I guess, a few niggas like going crazy, like they’re making me feel something.

Photo by Tony Lyas

It’s been four years since the last LP. What made now the right time to bring back B. Cool-Aid for another tape?

Pink Siifu: It’s right on time. We feel like it’s done. Shout out to Butcher Brown again. They helped us really, because we’ve been recording.

Ahwlee: We ain’t even stopped making music the whole time.

Pink Siifu: Yeah, yeah. We’ve been making shit, you feel me? But I love sequels. I really like them. If I made a movie and I had a sequel, I would take my time. So I feel like this is our sequel because SYRUP was the EP for us first. We feel like it’s bigger than us. Like fuck it, make it like the world.

I like first the single, “Cnt Go Back,” because when I hear it, it takes me back to the early days. Do you ever look back at SYRUP?

Pink Siifu: Yeah, I don’t remember what I was doing around SYRUP. I feel like I was kind of living good. I did start fucking with my baby momma, my baby.

Ahwlee: Because she was at the SyrupHands video. I still trip on that.

Pink Siifu: Right. She’s on the cover of SYRUP. That’s her and another home girl eating breakfast, of pancakes and syrup. Yeah, it was a good time. It was right before ensley too.

Ahwlee: Yeah, he was getting his ensley bag.

Pink Siifu: I was starting to produce and loop shit. I remember we were playing as B. Cool-Aid at Lodge Room, after SYRUP, and I dropped ensley that night. I dropped ensley in the Green Room at that show.

In the second part of that song, there’s reassurance for listeners that things are going to get better someday, and things will turn around and pray through. Why is that?

Pink Siifu: That’s Jon Bap. That nigga, he came and he got in and just laced that shit, bro. He flipped the beat. That’s him flipping “Cnt Go Back,” but he just flipped it. Then, I asked that nigga to sing on the original, and he just gave me that, with a verse, and that nigga doesn’t really even rap. That nigga’s a singer and a producer.

It sticks with you.

Pink Siifu: Yeah, and then he inspired my version. 

Ahwlee: Yeah, that song just got longer and longer, and it went on a whole different tangent.

Pink Siifu: We’re working with musicians. Ahwlee is already one of my favorite producers. So one of my favorite producers linked up with a band. They gave us everything we needed. A pack that we could sample. I loop shit from that. So that’s like the intro and two interludes I looped. That’s my first time even touching production on B. Cool-Aid. But that’s off of ensley, and that’s off of me fucking with shit now. So that’s that whole four years. Ahwlee fucking playing keys like a motherfucker right now, getting hella musical.

Your craft has evolved obviously, so with that craft though, your life has also advanced. I’ve noticed the lyrics have themes of fatherhood and maturity

Siifu: Have we?

To me, I think…

Siifu: No, I feel that. No, you weren’t there while we were making it, so I want to know what the fuck you’re talking about? I feel that. You feel like it’s got the father. I feel that.

How does it affect you as an artist coming into this album I feel like some circumstances were different, probably maybe a year or two ago.

Ahwlee: Yeah. For sure. I mean, before the pandemic, in the zone where he is or is working on this, a lot of shit changed for both of us. We moved around and then we left that kind of golden zone that we just got through talking about.

Siifu: Yeah, we would just link up all the time, and make shit.

Ahwlee: Yeah. Just finding shit and going out and having fun. It got hella serious with everybody. So the music kind of reflects that change that we all had to make as people.

Photo by Tony Lyas

Siifu: It’s cool, this is fun, we love this shit but now we’ve got to take care of shit in a whole new way.

There are possibilities now.

Siifu: Exactly. I mean, that’s all good though. It’s all good. I’m definitely changing. You’re definitely going to hear more and more of that in my music. 

You hear the maturity growth from record to record. This record specifically has vast differences.

Siifu: That’s the thing though, with GUMBO’! and just my solo work in general, I’m just cultivating and I’m sequencing everything. I’m doing everything, and in these collaboration projects, it’s easier, but I give the same focus and attention to what we’re building. Tight shit. But with the solo shit, GUMBO’!, it’s going to be so different than this, but also I’m growing, so my next shit is going to be different from GUMBO’! For sure. But because I’m a dad, a full dad now. We’re getting older, the music’s getting crazier.

Were any of these songs created, during the GUMBO’! sessions, and creatively, are there differences from working on an album like GUMBO’! versus something like Leather Blvd.?

Siifu: Yeah, I booked some studio sessions and I had one room where we were doing B. Cool-Aid, and one room I was mixing and adding shit to GUMBO’!

Ahwlee: A few cuts you might hear at a later date.

Siifu: Like the track, the interlude track on GUMBO’!, with Ahwlee, that Ahwlee beat, I forgot, it’s like I think, right before “BACK’!” But like I made that off of making some B. Cool-Aid shit. I was like, “I need some Ahwlee shit on this shit.” We’d been working on B. Cool-Aid for a minute and GUMBO’! was a surprise. I wasn’t even going to make GUMBO’! it wasn’t in the cards.

But Butcher made so much sense with this B. Cool-Aid shit. Working with him, I was like, “Oh, wow,” because Ahwlee is already a fan of Butcher and DJ, so it was just like, we made sense. At the tail end of GUMBO’!, finishing with GUMBO’! a bunch of Brown tracks came in, in the middle, because GUMBO’! was originally all tracked.

Where’s Big Rube come in?

Siifu: Big Rube came in GUMBO’! I got to call him too because I want to get him on my next shit too. I had to tell him. I was like, “Bro,” because I started doing poetry. I wanted to source the rap. I started rapping. I did rap verses here and there, but I wasn’t really rapping until college, till out of high school type shit. Our school was doing poetry.

I was doing poetry, open mics, doing that shit. My nigga Peso, who was on GUMBO’!, Peso Gordon, he was working on the album with this nigga and they let me do poetry on that shit. That was my first ever real feature, for real. But my first idea was to do a poetry album. It was like not even a rap album, like some poetry album.

Is that still on the horizon?

Siifu: No but I would love to curate some shit like that. Like, bring back that Def Jam poetry-type energy. I’d love to do some shit like that.

Photo by Tony Lyas

Leather Blvd. creates a world where Black excellence is untouched by racism, criticism, and economic hardship. It’s about the power of Black culture. To strengthen the community. What inspires y’all to make this album such a safe place?

Siifu: Shit, because it’s unsafe out here, bro. Niggas who are trying to make it unsafe for niggas.

Ahwlee: Leather Blvd. ain’t safe. It’s actually Black shit. You’ve got to deal with the growth and the obstacles. It’s like confidence-type shit.

Siifu: I felt like Leather Blvd. was really a place for conflict and discussion.

Ahwlee: It’s like the whole block. That’s the barbershop. You’re not going to get through life, being in a safe space. You’re not going to get through life without being in conflict. But it is a way to navigate that. This shit is shining a light upon that. It is a way to navigate that. It is a way that the culture has survived to this point, and it ain’t by it all being good. It’s by survival and perseverance. That’s what is happening on Leather Blvd.

How important is it to have that established?

Ahlwee: It’s not important, bro. It’s not important because the times are telling us to forget and to throw that shit away, and that’s all the negative aspects. They’re not necessarily, everything is pointing towards the good in everything, which is positive, and which is a good thing. But on the same token, those two sides aren’t a token, and they’re not the same. And it’s stuff to learn, on either side. This is bringing both sides in, in a way that you can accept and grow from it, or something better and stronger. It’s not anything to be down about. It’s important because it’s going to help you grow.

Is that what you’re trying to broadcast as the album as a whole?

Siifu: You walk down the block. Just like any shit, you bring it to the block. But also, just like on some real shit, diamonds are stress. You get your stress diamonds. In some tracks, you feel yourself flirtatious. That’s just nostalgia, just for having fun. Like you’re feeling things, but it’s a lot of different shit where it’s like stressful relationship shit. Like fucking around with the wrong folks. Not in the right, wasting time type shit. I feel like we got all that shit in. Everything that, what niggas been through in the past, for years, that is their life I feel like. It’s in that shit. Especially as Black people. It feels like a movie, so I wanted to treat it like that. Like some shit, you could really sit down with.

Ahwlee: It’s like, when it comes, welcome to Leather Blvd., enjoy the experience.

What would you say is B. Cool-Aid’s purpose?

Awhlee: To end the beef between the Jewish community and Kanye West. 

Siifu: To calm niggas the fuck down.

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