On the High Times cover, you might see us
Takin’ hits from the bong with the eight-foot Zong
With weed so strong, it’ll knock out King Kong.
—B-Real, on Cypress Hill’s “K.U.S.H.”
What can we say? B-Real loves High Times, and High Times loves B-Real right back. Ever since Cypress Hill dropped their first album in 1991, the California hip-hop crew have been ardent advocates of all things green and smokeable, dropping stoner staples like “Dr. Greenthumb,” “Hits From the Bong,” “Stoned Is the Way of the Walk” and our personal favorite, “High Times.” The group’s unique sound, anchored by producer DJ Muggs’s bong-shakingly hefty instrumentals and B-Real’s dexterous high-pitched raps, pushed hip-hop into heretofore unprecedented levels of eccentricity, menace and murk—often within the span of the same song.
Meanwhile, B-Real has become a staple of his home state’s legal weed industry, releasing Cannabis Cup–worthy strains and partnering with ROOR for Phuncky Feel Tips, which give discerning tokers an alternative to fiddling with cardboard joint tips or ignominiously MacGyvering one by tearing into the cover of their rolling papers. He’s also a tireless advocate for legalization, speaking knowledgeably about the various economic, social and medical benefits that a fully legal marijuana industry can bestow. Hell, we think so much of the guy that we named him as our “Stoner of the Year” back in 2014.
Still, don’t get it twisted: Just because the 46-year-old rapper likes to twist up a fat one doesn’t mean his radical politics are limited to pot. Just look at Prophets of Rage, the pugnacious new supergroup that finds B-Real and Chuck D from Public Enemy flowing over mosh-inciting instrumentals courtesy of Tom Morello, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford from agit-metal firebrands Rage Against the Machine. The group formed in response to the increasingly Orwellian political and social circumstances facing our nation, and their stated goal is to rock out and kick ass until the revolution comes.
We caught up with B-Real while he was still on tour before the recent earth-shaking presidential election to discuss his smoking habits, his unique legacy in the realm of both rap and weed, and why the world needs a band like Prophets of Rage now more than ever.
How much do you smoke these days?
[Laughs] Too much. Too much for my own good.
What’s your preferred smoking method?
I used to be all about the bong hits, but now I like smoking joints. And I’ll say the only way to smoke a joint is with a Phuncky Feel Tips. For years, people had been smoking joints with these cardboard crutches, and that just wasn’t flying for me anymore, you know? And so we came up with the idea of having a high-quality tip on your joint and we went with it. So I’m now back on joints.
Has smoking helped you bond with any of your collaborators?
Sometimes it does. Every once in a while, when another artist you know does smoke, you can bond with them through smoking. For some, it lessens the tension and helps with the creativity level.
That’s interesting—I feel like, with Prophets of Rage, the whole point is creating this sense of tension and cathartic release.
Yeah, exactly. It’s sparking thought, waking people up—not to be hostile, but to be aware and become part of the political process. To be part of the change. Like Tom Morello always says, the world ain’t going to change itself—you’ve got to get up and do something about it. Our goal with this music is to inspire people to do that and entertain them at the same time.
Prophets played Cleveland the night of the Republican National Convention. What was that like?
We played near the RNC, and we did a peaceful demonstration and march. Everything was cool—people got to say what they wanted to say, and the police let us march peacefully. We got our message across, which was important.
I think it’s times like this where you need a group like Prophets of Rage.
Dangerous times call for dangerous music. We’ve got to wake people up and say, “Hey, times are changing right now, and who knows which way this will go? You need to get involved and become part of the process.”
It seems like the music you made with Cypress Hill is the commonality that makes the group really work: Chuck D from Public Enemy represents the hip-hop side of the equation, while Tim Commerford, Brad Wilk and Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine come from a much more rock-oriented perspective. Meanwhile, Cypress Hill alternates between those two genres fairly freely. You forge a cohesion, in a sense.
Yeah, you know it. Our groups have all been pretty much connected with each other in some form for 20 years or so. So it’s just great that we were able to come together and do this and bring this message and this music back and spread it again—and have fun while we’re doing it. Cypress Hill was definitely influenced by Public Enemy, and when Rage Against the Machine came out, we became fans of them. So to be able to come together with both bands that we have so much respect for is just a dream scenario.
Cypress Hill has made music with Tom Morello before, right?
Yeah, Tom produced two songs on our album Rise Up, actually. He produced “Shut ’Em Down” and “Rise Up”—so, like I said, we’ve had pretty much a friendship going back for over 20 years. We worked with Brad Wilk from Rage, too, on our Skull & Bones album; he played drums on “Can’t Get the Best of Me.” We’re all very happy with the way it’s turning out. It’s been really cool playing together like this and becoming a real, actual band and not just doing these one-off projects.
So now that Prophets of Rage have released their EP The Party’s Over, is there a full-length album in the works?
Yes! We plan to work on some new music when this tour is over and we get a little bit of a break, get a chance to catch up at home and be with our families for a bit. We do intend to get in there and try and figure out an album of original songs. People are definitely reacting to what we’re doing here, so I think a lot of people want to hear what we would do on an entire album of original music. And I’d like to hear it, too, because I’m fans of the guys I’m in the band with.
How would you define “political hip-hop” as a concept?
Before Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions came out, it was Melle Mel from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. From him, it went over to Chuck D and KRS-One. It was very inspiring: It woke people up in hip-hop, and it got people to think about who they are in the culture and what they want for the future, you know? It helped instill pride and self-esteem in our communities and raise their spirits. And when Rage Against the Machine came out, they did that same thing times a thousand times a million, you know what I mean? I think people have been hungry for that, and I think that’s why people are reacting the way they are to Prophets of Rage—because we’re bringing that feeling back, that attitude, that essence.
How do you feel the nation has changed since Cypress Hill’s first album dropped?
Well, what’s changed is technology, pretty much—it’s made some things great, made some things worse. The violence, the brutality and the injustices that were present when Cypress Hill first dropped hasn’t changed; it’s just that through technology, we’re exposed to it now more than ever.
I feel like Cypress Hill doesn’t get enough credit when people think of political rap. You were the first Latino rap group to go platinum, and one of the first Latino rap groups, period. You guys became superstars by saying, “Yo, we’re Latino—we’re saying what we want to say, we’re saying it how we want to say it, and you’re going to like it.” That’s a huge political statement in and of itself.
Yeah. But the thing is, we didn’t take it that way at the time. We took it as, we’re just being who we are—unfiltered, uncensored—and it didn’t matter what other people thought of us at that point. To this day, it still doesn’t, but that was our thing: We were going to say what we wanted to say.
And a lot of people get this confused about Cypress Hill. Some people always thought we were just a pot band and all we’re about is talking about smoking weed—but that’s not the truth of it at all. I mean, if you listen to any Cypress Hill album, there might be one or two, maybe three songs that are straight up about marijuana or marijuana culture. The rest is about the life that you live in the streets, in society, in the community, how people get by in our life and our times. We talk about life experiences, but a lot of that gets lost in the midst of the other side of who we are—because we are legalization activists. But you’re right: We stand in the middle of Public Enemy and Rage Against the Machine and just fill in those spots in between—because we do do the hip-hop shit and we do do the metal stuff. And what we talk about is very similar; it’s just not as in-your-face.
You mentioned that people often view Cypress Hill as a “pot band.” Do you feel pigeonholed by that term at all?
The fact is, we stand for the legalization of marijuana, and even though we also stand for more than that, weed is what always gets thrust out there before anything else.
It’s undeniable that Cypress Hill has played a part in the mainstreaming of marijuana culture.
We took a chance and talked about our passion—we believe in legalization, and we brought more awareness to that movement. We got with activists like Jack Herer, who taught us what it means to be an advocate for this culture. We took the knowledge he gave us and spread it, helped this culture move forward instead of remaining suppressed.
You can draw a line straight through hip-hop history and find B-Real at all these different points. After you pioneered so much with Cypress Hill’s early work, you were on Dr. Dre’s “East Coast Killas/West Coast Killas,” which united these huge artists from the East and West during a time of so much enmity between the coasts.
Frankly, I was surprised to get a call from Dre—the Doc! The Surgeon!—and when he told me what he wanted to do, I was 100 percent down. I mean, you’re not going to say no to Dr. Dre. So I went in the studio and he happened to like the verse, and before you know it, it became a single. It became a big song, so then we had to do a video. And then, you know, they decided to paint me red in this video [laughs]. I’d never had anybody put body paint on me or anything like that before—but again, how do you say no to Dr. Dre?
You’ve also emerged as a huge influence on hip-hop’s current generation. Your approach to flow was really unprecedented, and you can hear that same unconventional style in guys like A$AP Ferg and Danny Brown, whom you’ve both done tracks with.
I mean, you know, the fact that they would honor me by having me on a song is just fucking awesome, because I’m a fan of both of them. I love A$AP Ferg’s delivery—it’s different every time, and he always comes up with some hot shit. And same with Danny Brown. Hearing their shit just sparks me, like: “Fuck! These guys are dope!”
What’s your favorite album to get high to?
My favorite album to smoke weed to? Hmmm … Dark Side of the Moon.
How about a favorite political album?
Exodus, by Bob Marley and the Wailers.
In addition to Prophets of Rage and Cypress Hill, you’re also in a group called Serial Killers with Xzibit and Demrick, and you’ve done two records with Berner. Do you enjoy that group dynamic?
You know, I’ve been trying to go solo my whole life [laughs]. I’m just fucking with you. I’ve been fortunate enough to land in some pretty cool situations. Cypress Hill is the foundation—that’s where everything starts. Then I was in a group called Psycho Realm for a small time. I had another group called Kush, with Stephen Carpenter from Deftones as well as Raymond Herrera and Christian Olde Wolbers from Fear Factory. Our album ended up not coming out because we were all on different labels and there was all this fuckery. It was good music, too—very powerful. The records I’ve done with Serial Killers are some of my favorites, and it’s so fun working with Berner because he’s great at picking music to rock to. I’ve ended up in great situations, and here I am with Prophets of Rage, which is one of the greatest situations—it makes me feel like I’m dreaming.
You’re not just an advocate for marijuana culture; you’re an active participant. You’ve released acclaimed strains like Dr. Greenthumb’s Tangie and Jet Fuel, and you’re in the process of opening a dispensary in Santa Ana.
My partner and I won a lottery in the city, so we’re allowed to open one. Right now, we’re getting our smoke, looking at blueprints, getting our business together and working to get it open. We’re trying to open it in the first quarter of 2017.