B-Real - Smoke N’ Mirrors

Posted February 26, 2009
Tags: B-Real,

The Los Angeles you know, that’s the fake Los Angeles. That’s the L.A. of The Hills and...

Smoke N' Mirrors Album Review

The Los Angeles you know, that’s the fake Los Angeles. That’s the L.A. of The Hills and Baldwin Hills and the Hollywood Hills, a glimmering paradise built on an illusion, but those of us who actually live in the city of angels know the real L.A. The real L.A. has the largest Mexican population of any city outside of Mexico City. The real L.A. happens far from the pristine sidewalks of Rodeo Drive. The real L.A. is soccer games in MacArthur Park, old men playing Dominos in Inglewood, brutal homicides and beautiful sunsets. If we’re talking about the real L.A., then we’re talking about Cypress Hill.

And if we’re talking about Cypress Hill, then we’re talking B-Real. Real formed the lyrical core of a group that’s sold over 18 million albums in their smoky history, and now that Hill has wrapped up their record deal with Sony he thought it’d be a good time to try his hand at a solo album. The result is the surprisingly complex and detailed Smoke N’ Mirrors, an album that uses its classic west coast riding roots to reveal the hip-hop game’s hidden mechanisms and tricks (and you thought smoke and mirrors was just a drug reference). Just in case you were sleeping on B-Real’s elite rap abilities, it’s time to wake up.

B-Real starts the album off with the soulful Children Of The Night, a track that begins with an extended vocal sample that gives way to an orchestrated banger. B-Real uses the sonic backdrop to lay bare the harsh reality of growing up in L.A.’s hoods: “People starving in the ghetto while the rich get richer, so we hustle for the paper, you get the picture?” Ironically for a man who made his name making music about blunts, B-Real’s always had a sharp rhyme style, accentuating every syllable in his rhymes, and that crisp grittiness is on full display on Children. Real’s best work on the mic happens when he’s breaking down the hip-hop game he’s come to know so well. The Alchemist-produced beat on 6 Minutes is the album’s best, and it apparently inspired Real to construct a fearlessly honest portrait of the music industry’s willingness to pick up young talent, let them shine for a minute, then kick them to the curb without a second thought. Young rappers need to pick up a copy of Smoke N’ Mirrors: not only will they get to watch a master in action, they’ll learn some crucial business tips.

Come on, you know B-Real couldn’t drop an album without some songs about having a good time and smoking weed right? This is a man I once watched rip a six-foot bong onstage. Sure enough Smoke N’ Mirrors has its share of chronic conditions, starting with the reggae-tinged Fire. If any song on this album is going to inspire dancing and/or smoking it’s going to be Fire, a hypnotizing track that has Real tightly flowing over the island fueled production, including a dope section in Spanish (if Real does another solo album, he needs to do an all-Spanish track). Get That Dough may not be so kushy, but it is the album’s other certified banger, a cut that stutters with fast-paced high-hats and booming bass. Real doesn’t drift into Busta territory, but he does pick up the pace just enough to show he all that smoking hasn’t dulled his mind or his tongue one bit.

Ironically for an album that strips away hip-hop’s increasing reliance on artifice, Smoke n’ Mirrors occasionally falls prey to those very same tricks, displaying flashes of the same formulaic music making it decries. The biggest disappointment has to be Dr. Hypehenstein, if for no other reason that it wastes a chance at a L.A. anthem with Snoop. Hyphenstein has exactly the type of ringtone ready hook and bottle popping lyrics Real mocks earlier. It’s not a particularly bad track, we’ve just grown to expect more from Smoke N’ Mirrors than a “she want to ride with a baller, she bout to put it on me” chorus. It’s the same story on When We’re F**king, a song that’s about as creative as its title suggest. Now I’m no enemy of drinking and f**king, but I like to do both with a little more imagination. Still, these slips shouldn’t overshadow the fact Smoke N’ Mirrors is a damn good album. Cypress Hill’s subject matter has unfortunately made some people take the artistry involved in B-Real’s music too lightly. That shouldn’t be a problem any more.

DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins

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Posted February 26, 2009
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