A huge crowd braved the driving rain Wednesday night to take in the Immortal Technique and Cypress Hill show at the TLA on South Street.
B-Real and Sen Dog, the two California-based rappers who formed Cypress Hill in 1989, have always had marijuana as a central theme to their lyrics. Tracks like Hits from the Bong, I Want to Get High and Dr. Greenthumb are essential parts of any playlist for cannabis consumers.
The duo have been outspoken about legalization long before the issue gained the mainstream popularity it enjoys today.
I was invited backstage before the show with radio producer Markus Goldman of WMMR and local comedian/activist N.A. Poe to chat with B-Real. We covered a range of topics including the group's connection to Philly and officially getting into the medical cannabis industry in California.
In the world of marijuana culture B-Real is a hero. He won a High Times Magazine "Stoner of the Year" award, cultivated a new marijuana strain called "Tangie" that has become very popular from California medical dispensaries to Colorado recreational shops, and hosts a show called B-Real TV.
B-Real entered the green room wearing a black cap, dark shades, black jeans and t-shirt carrying a metallic gold wrapped blunt filled with some particularly fragrant bud. The veteran rapper is relaxed, generous and articulate. He greeted a local glassblower and took photos with some fans as he sat down for the interview.
A stop in Philadelphia is always on the list for east coast tours of Cypress Hill and it turns out the city was a key to their early success.
"When we got first signed to our first record deal to a label out here called Ruffhouse Records. They had a studio close to here called Studio 4 and we did our first three albums here in Philly," B-Real explained.
"We would do the primary recording in California and we would finish out here in Philadelphia. Then right after we finished we'd have to go to New York. So it was a three state process that we had to do because we're from Los Angeles, signed to a label here and distributed by the major label Sony/Columbia so we had to bounce around."
Ruffhouse was a project of Chris Schwartz and Joe Nicolo for Columbia Records and based in Philly. They signed Cypress Hill and discovered the Fugees which spun off Lauren Hill and Wyclef Jean as solo artists. The label closed in 1999 but was revived in 2012.
B-Real reminisced about those early days, "We spent many a winter here finishing records [laughs]," he said. "I remember being in Conshohocken it was like the coldest s--- ever for a California boy ... but we enjoyed ourselves. This has always been a great place for us. We love coming back here."
Asked if he only sticks to his signature marijuana strain, B-Real jokes, "the Tangie - it's so popular and goes so fast I rarely get my hands on it!"
"I like cookies and other strains that we're doing now. Tangie is a very special strain. It fortunately got into our hands and our growers are some of the best in the world. So we are doing good things with it and a lot of people are very happy about our flower."
Poe asked if he preferred flower to concentrates, "I am into oil. I do do dabs. Down at B-Real TV we have a dab bar. We have a bar with no alcohol it's strictly for dabbing. We don't even have a flower bong there."
"The people who do the processing who make the concentrates from the butter to the cake batter to the shatter, all of it, they're doing really great jobs and the flavors are so great," he said.
"But you would not get any of that if the growers making this flower weren't artists and scientists. So I'm always in allegiance with the flower before the oil. Because if you don't have the flower you can't make the oil."
Markus asked B-Real if he thought 30 years ago that the legal marijuana industry would intersect so directly with his current career path.
"Well when we started 30 years ago it was very taboo. A lot of corporations and opportunities and such that come from from the corporate money structure did not come our way because we were talking about the flower, we were talking about legalization and marijuana culture. So a lot of opportunities were were no afforded back in that time. But we took those shots and we made the sacrifice. We were rebellious enough to say 'F-- it we don't care if you give it to us or not.'"
"So here we are 25 years later as musicians, as freedom fighters, as entrepreneurs and we're seeing all the doors that have opened, all the states that have opened up their arms to the thought of legalization and we are on the cusp of it right now."
B-Real recently won a license to open a cannabis dispensary in Santa Ana, California. There was stiff competition. Just 20 licenses were given and hundreds of groups applied.
He offered some solid business advice for those looking to get into medical marijuana.
"There's a lot of opportunities right now," he said. "It's just picking the right ones that you know that can make work and that make sense. And that you're actually dealing with the compassion side of it and not just in it for the dollar. Because there's a lot of people that aren't about this culture, they open up these shops and they're just making money off of the patients, off of the culture and they've got no love for it. They've got very little knowledge of it. They're not connoisseurs so whatever is on their counters they couldn't even tell their consumer about."
Overall though B-Real appreciated that there was an industry at all and that it is thriving.
"But, the fact that the opportunity is there for anyone to create a business out of that is beautiful. We're just happy that we played a small part in that."
We wrapped things up in the green room with handshakes and smiles.
Downstairs the TLA was packed shoulder-to-shoulder from the stage to the back doors.
Immortal Technique opened up with his signature style of rapid-fire social consciousness. The rap artist makes you think as much as head bop.
Cypress Hill took the stage at 9 p.m., with Sen Dog and and B-Real putting up a high energy 90 minutes, running through tracks from almost every album.
On stage B-Real also enjoyed decriminalization in Philly. He lit and smoked several big joints while he performed on stage. It was the best representation of his honesty and authenticity. In his art and his life B-Real has always practiced and preached the message about ending cannabis prohibition.
Cypress Hill will play a Halloween show this Saturday at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J. at 7 p.m.