As the music and marijuana industries deal with the coronavirus, Cypress Hill’s chief smokesman B-Real is also feeling the pandemic’s impact.
The 4/20 holiday was meant to coincide with the launch his solo album, a Cypress Hill tour and the opening of a new dispensary in outside of Palm Springs (he has five Dr. Greenthumb dispensaries in California — Los Angeles, Sylmar, Sacramento, Eureka and San Francisco). But like the rest of America, B-Real, 49, is mostly staying home these days and participating in his share of Zoom events (like the Great American Sesh In, in which he and Tommy Chong are sharing a time slot).
B-Real’s new album “Los Meros” (Spanish slang for “bosses,” says the rapper of Mexican and Cuban descent) features the likes of Paul Wall, Rick Ross, Ty Dolla $ign, Wiz Khalifa and Xzibit and was written and produced with fellow rapper Berner, their fourth collaboration since 2014 (the 38-year-old Berner is a principle in the Cookies dispensary franchise). B-Real talked to Variety about the process of making music, how the Covid-19 crisis is affecting musicians and where the cannabis industry is heading during a time of lockdown and even concerns about smoking.
How is the coronavirus affecting you personally?
We’re hunkering down, adhering to the safety policies and just laying low. It’s tough as an artist because we’re constantly creating, working on music or other things. We had a bunch of shows lined up through the year. We’ve been finding ways to still be creative and do some interesting things via the social network. A lot of people now are being very creative in that space to make up for not being out there playing shows.
What do you see as the future of concert touring and festivals?
Like many artists, we’re looking into streaming some shows so that we can play music for our fans and contribute in that way. I’ve been doing livestreams for a number of years, so we’re very familiar with this space. It comes down to using that experience to do performances with Cypress via the livestream. But all of us are in different places. [Percussionist Eric] Bobo is in Texas. [DJ] Mixmaster Mike is in Amsterdam. [Rapper] Sen Dog is in Nevada and I’m in California. That’s pretty much the challenge, being able to figure out the logistics of how we can do a performance with everybody being in a different state or country. But we’re looking into it.
Do you think large gathering like concerts and festivals may not come back?
I believe live performances are going to come back because there’s nothing like the live experience with people congregating in concert halls and at festivals together. There’s an energy to it. Now that people have gone through this type of situation, there will be new rules. They’re going to be checking people at the door to see if they have a fever. I believe taking temperature is probably going to be a new protocol anywhere that masses congregate. I imagine department stores and theme parks like Disneyland are going to do this eventually. There will be a new way of throwing these concerts. I don’t think that the live concert will go away. It’s just too important to people.
Is it time to write off 2020 as far as live performances and major concert tours?
Unless something happens on a breakthrough, yes. They may not be traditional live show for this year to make sure that we burn the virus off as much as possible. Who knows? It could turn around. [Right now] it’s the livestreams time to shine.
How did you and Berner link up?
He’s like a younger brother to me. We met at the Rainbow Bar and Grill [in West Hollywood] many years back when we were hanging out there nightly. I’d been hearing about him and hearing about the Cookies for days. There was a lot of hype on it. One day, he asked about doing a music project together. At that time, Cypress was between tours. In the next couple of days, he had a studio booked. We did one song and then we did a few more songs. Those songs turned into our first album, “Prohibition”[in 2014]. From that point on we became tight. We had a lot of stuff in common musically and in the cannabis industry. We realized we had chemistry and we worked together well.
What’s the recording process like with Berner compared to a Cypress album?
With Cypress, we were always secretive about our sessions. It was a very closed-off vibe. We didn’t want any outside influences. But with Berner and even my solo stuff, I invite some people in so there’s a vibe. When you’re having a good time, the work just comes so easy. The albums I’ve made with Berner are some of the easiest records that I’ve ever made in terms of creativity. Prophets [of Rage] was pretty easy too. You’ve got to have fun. With Cypress, we had fun, but we were very serious. We were very dark and angry. It was a completely different type of get-down
There aren’t any obvious weed songs on “Los Meros.” How come?
We’ve been making albums about weed for the last three [Prohibition] albums. We wanted to make songs and make references to the weed and to our shops and strains, instead of it being all about that. Early on with Cypress, because cannabis was such a big issue with us, people forgot that we were a music group and not just this pot-driven, activist hip-hop band. We got called the pot band for such a long time and people forgot that we actually made music that had nothing to do with cannabis. That was something that stuck with me for a long time. Even with Cypress, not every song was about weed. On every album, there was a song dedicated to it, whether it was celebration or education. But it wasn’t necessarily the whole album. But that’s how people looked at us.
Guests on “Los Meros” including Everlast from House of Pain and Xzibit. How did that come about?
We recorded in late December and the first few weeks of January before this craziness happened. Everybody came in and worked on it. … Everlast is one of my best friends in the world. I hit him up and told him we wanted to get him on a song or two. He was there [at Conway Studio in Hollywood] in an hour and knocked it out. Xzibit is a high-skilled rapper — one of the best out there. He came and put his s–t down. It was a great spark. When Xzibit’s on that mic, he’s a beast.
It’s not the typical 4/20 this year, how are you handling the crisis at your Dr. Greenthumb stores?
Fortunately, they labeled dispensaries as essential businesses, which was a great thing to do for people who use medicinally. For those of us who use recreationally, it’s a bonus. We should be thankful for that. We’ve been doing well. The first week of all this we saw a huge surge in sales. People were panic buying, stocking up on as much herb as they could. They didn’t know how long a lot of us would stay open. Once we were deemed essential businesses, the buying went back to normal. Now we’re doing the numbers we would normally do. We’re practicing a lot of safety. All of our budtenders and staff are wearing masks and gloves. We’re sanitizing the place every 30 minutes. We’re only letting five customers in at a time and make sure they keep six feet apart from each other. Same thing with the lines outside. Most of the customers are wearing masks and gloves. We’re also offering delivery. We’re trying to be as safe as possible in all of our locations.
What about the new store in Cathedral City. Is that going to open?
We were supposed to open on April 11 but decided to push it back a couple of weeks and maybe do a soft launch. That place has a smoke lounge, but that will stay closed until we’re allowed to open it. We’re just taking it day by day and doing what is asked of us by the State and the county.
Where do you see the marijuana industry heading?
The over-taxation of our industry is ridiculous. [Taxes are as high as 47% in California.] The margins are f–ed up because of the taxation here in California. We’re getting so f–ed as business owners in the cannabis industry. Because our brand came from music into the cannabis space, we had a head start. I told people [in 2016], this opportunity to legalize is cool, but realistically the way that it’s mapped out, it’s going to flush out all the mom and pop, small independent business owners. Brands like mine will not be affected. But many others are going to have to sell their licenses or if they’re fortunate, partner up with a big brand. This is something I was saying before it became legal in California and I got s–t for it. And now look, a lot of those people are bitching and moaning about the state of the business.
There’s been talk, due to the virus, of curtailing smoking and vaping. Where do you stand on this?
I’m smoking. I keep active with my workout regimen. People have to be active. You can’t just sit around doing nothing. I think that’s going to affect more people who are buying cannabis and concentrates on the black market. All that s–t is untested. People don’t know if it’s clean, if it has mold in it, if it’s flushed out probably or has PGRs [plant growth regulators]. People with respiratory problems might be allergic to that. But if you’re buying clean cannabis, it’s less likely to be a problem. I think people who are in good health and keep active and don’t have respiratory issues will be fine.