Let’s hop right into this new single/video, “Knowledge” — Tell me about this particular composition? How did it actually come to fruition?
The idea for “Knowledge” came from KOS, i.e. having Knowledge of Myself, own history of my people and of where I want to take my music next. My intentions have always been to show artistic growth without label constraint, so I set out to write a song that would somehow explain this growth. The visual needed to match the vocal version in intensity, so it was vital to visually capture much “movement.” I also felt I needed an impact-ful cameo energy like Chuck D to play a vital role for impact. Chuck agreed, and we went to work.
In this visual, I am seen running a lot; there are fight sequences, vortex channeling, air condition ducts, jumping from fire escapes and much gadgetry – even a getaway car – as I felt it very important to show that real Hip Hop music with a message is being chased out of the industry by those who control and manipulate young minds for profit.
For it, of course, you teamed up with iconic emcee/PE front-man, Chuck D — How did this collabo come about?
Chuck’s involvement came as a result of one of his assistants named LBC, who reached out to me in hopes of having me be a member in the Hip Hop Gods movement which Chuck had started. The movement consists of mostly emcees with over 20 years in the music business, so I qualified.
Sonically, how does “Knowledge” measure up to other Mellow Man Ace offerings?
“Knowledge,” to me at least, is what I like to call a “constant elevation” ambition.
I believe it’s one of my most important songs to date, mainly because I own my own masters, and the independent power to create without a corporate entity looking over my creative shoulder like I had in my years at Capitol Records. Sound-wise and production-wise, the proof is in the pudding, as my son Cazal, only 19, is well beyond his production age and can hold his own next to anybody on the boards.
I’m assuming here, but is “Knowledge” the lead entry from your next full-length studio LP? And if so, what all you can you all reveal and/or divulge about upcoming said collection?
“Knowledge” is not part of any album; it is simply an artist with the ability to not have to make an album in order to have his work out there. It’s freedom and self expression…Again without corporate enslavement of direction or its verbiage.
I own myself, therefore the integrity of the work vibrates at a much higher frequency, and is understood mostly by those who are enlightened and quest for uncut Hip Hop.
There are others such as “Freak Freak Ya’ll,” “Good Flashes,” “Energy,” featuring Medusa, “God Builds,” “3rd Eye Vision,” “The Mush,” featuring Doodlebug of Digable Planets, “It Was Me Man,” featuring Jarobi White of A Tribe Called Quest, just to name a few.
In order for this approach to make sense to anyone, it is noteworthy to explain. As attention spans in America get shorter, the buzz surrounding most releases today last an average (of) about 1 week, then the buzz is gone. My idea of dropping a song with a video extends that buzz all year long according to how many I do.
How does the new material either differ and/or compare to previous Mellow Man Ace efforts?
To me, every song represents a new family member almost…Or, let’s pretend I owned a flock of birds…I would love all my birds, not just one. My point is that each song has equal importance in my catalog, but each should show its own growth from where I was mentally 25 years ago as a rookie artist.
What was it – specifically – about now in 20-15 that prompted you to return to form [music]?
Realistically, I just went back to my B-Boy roots so I have been here all along…However not on popular radio, so 85% of consumers think I died years ago; but please let’s not call it a comeback!
I like to quote Q-Tip when he said – and I quote – “creativity has no expiration date” end quote. That said, I will create as long as I have the desire to get something off my chest. Regardless of how long I choose to record, the new music I’m creating now won’t be appreciated on a mass level well until after I’m gone, and I am okay with that because I know I’ll be leaving a great message behind in the afterlife. “You see, I don’t create to be famous; I create for escape and the joy it brings to my soul only.”
With that being said, how has not only the industry itself, but even more-so you, either changed and/or evolved since your whole inception into music?
The music industry doesn’t exist anymore, and there are no more rules or protocol. What most people see on TV or hear on radio is a mirage of what used to be, so it has changed dramatically and so have I.
I always say, “I am a product of the last person, place or thing who under-minded me last.” My point is (that) record executives shackled the music, therefore I became the runaway slave who does his own thing with other runaway slaves. The upside is we control our own masters…However, the downside is the money isn’t the same. It’s a humbling place to be, but also a more rewarding place morally and ethically. I have the respect from my core fan-base and peers I work with, therefore I’m fortunate to be able to pick and choose who I work with and when I want to work.
You won’t hear a collaboration between myself and Enrique Iglesias for instance, or anything that would jeopardize my musical integrity for the sake of being famous another day.
In having said that, what all had/have you been up to, both personally and professionally speaking, during your lengthy musical hiatus?
No real answer to that, because again I’ve been here flying under the radar of mainstream culture for all those years.
However, I’ve been co-producing music with my son Cazal, and directing my own videos how I see fit. I’ve stayed active doing small runs and spot dates all over the globe; from Spain to Texas, because I have classic works that wont ever fade away. I have taken the time to raise my kids and put my own greed and selfishness to be famous aside, and now it’s paying off in the form of my son, Cazal Organism, who is now one of the hottest underground music producers and beat-makers on the scene. In short, I own me; I am not a slave to any label or calendar or time for that matter. I am free!
Reflecting, how did you first discover your musical talent?
Music is my family history and business from my grandfather, Ulpiano, who invented many Cuban rhythms in Cuba…To just about all my uncles who followed in his footsteps and are on tour of Spain, France and Germany today…To my cousins; Ivan, Ray and Mayito, who made his mark as the front-man for one of Cuba’s most known bands, Los Van Van…To my immediate family; my brother Sen Dog of the groundbreaking multi-platinum rap group Cypress Hill…To now my son Cazal, so it was a no brainer. Long story short, I discovered it at an early age.
Who have been your greatest inspirations musically and why?
My mentors in music have been Celia Cruz, Desi Arnaz, Orquesta Aragón, the Rammellzee and Mr. Schick of a 1980’s rap group, The Mean Machine, who would later show me my own career as a bilingual emcee based off his Spanish verse on the song “Disco Dream.”
How then would you describe and/or define the style of music that you create and perform?
My style is deeply rooted in versatility; I can do anything from English to Spanish, or a combo of both we like to call Spanglish…From love jams of the late ’80’s to rock/rap of the early 2000’s era, and do them all well. However, I have gone out of my way to NOT do trends such as Auto-Tune, Down South, Trap or Reggaeton, for integrity reasons.
Longevity, what do you attribute yours to?
My longevity comes from Hip Hop itself; I still believe in the catch phrase: “And You Don’t Stop” heavy, almost like its an order from a commanding high rank official.
Second part of that is that America is a small portion of the world’s overall population, and fortunately for me I have fans in every Latin country who support my works. So when America is stagnant, manipulated and directed by mainstream media and told what to listen to, I am able to travel all around the world performing for all those people and still make a great living. Really that’s it!
What do you feel you offer the music industry that we don’t already have in other performers?
According to academic studies in linguistics in university circles of well known professors; such as Juan Flores [RIP], Noel Gomez and Victor Hugo Viesca to name a few, and in places such as the (The) Schomburg Museum, I invented and am credited for creating the Spanglish rap style that so many kids have adapted to and have taken on as their main style on a global level. I damn near single-handedly opened a genre of music that didn’t exist before my music appeared on the scene referred to as Latin Rap/Hip Hop in record stores with just one song really. If that isn’t enough, then I don’t know what to say.
Have you encountered any problems in getting to this point in your career?
And, what do you want people to get from your music?
It is always cool when fans track the growth of my music. From the days of a naive rookie, to the works I’m creating now, as well as all those works in the middle which I call the “growth years.” I’m not a very famous dude by industry standards, so to be remembered at all would be icing on a very sweet cake. There are always problems, but as an artist one must have to come to terms that many obstacles have to be removed and sacrificed for their music. One has to be okay with losing family members, friends and even spouses, because the aura of music has a very serious jealousy issue where it only gives back what you put into it.
On a more serious note, are you happy with the current state of Hip Hop? And, even more specifically, where exactly do you “fit in” when it comes to today’s current/trending sound-scape?
Hip Hop is alive and well; it is the lack of media attention it receives that bothers me somewhat. Those in power have gone well out of their way to make coonery music the norm, so one has to come to terms once again with that aspect and keep on working. Rap music, which is very different from Hip Hop, is what’s dead, and I, nor those I run with, will ever agree or be happy about its current state because we, for the most part, didn’t sellout on our morals, ethics or principles for the sake of a check. I, myself, walked away from half a million dollars at Capitol for my 3rd album in order to earn the right to say that, so I don’t and won’t fit into today’s scope of mindlessness for the money for music facade.
Do you have any other outside/additional aspirations, maybe even completely away from music?
My only aspiration away from music would be to someday teach a college level course of some sort…But then again, it would be dope if we’re riddled in Music 101.
What has been your greatest achievement(s) so far?
My greatest achievement has been being mocked and imitated for my rap styles; there is no bigger or greater form of flattery than that. Not even becoming the first Latino artist to go gold and platinum in the U.S. and Mexico comes close, but please don’t get me wrong I appreciated and am grateful for those triumphs as well.
If you could collaborate with any one artist, living or dead, who would it be and why?
If I could track another song with Teena Marie again, it would be a dream come true.
If you could play any venue in the world, which one would you choose and why?
Venue-wise, it would be dope to play The Forum and/or Madison Square Garden.
One track of yours that you think defines you and why?
Has to be “Mentirosa,” because of how monumental, influential and impact-ful it has been on a global level. And, two, because it has always type-cast me in a sense.
Lastly, in 2006 you and your older brother, Sen Dog [Cypress Hill] dropped a collabo LP, ‘Ghetto Therapy,’ under the moniker The Reyes Brothers — At this particular time, are there any plans for a proper follow-up album?
I have to say The Reyes Brothers’ LP was awesome to make, and there are no plans for another one as we speak, but never say never!
Is there anything I left out, or just plain forgot to mention?
Actually, no, you are a very well thought out journalist, who obviously did his homework!
Any “closing” thought(s) for our readers?
No final thoughts as those are subject to change, and I am very much alive so my journey continues…