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Mellow Man Ace: Words From the Godfather
10/11/06 - exclusive interview by Dante

Mellow Man Ace picture

Its been a long time since we last chopped it up with the Godfather of Latin Hip Hop. Mellow Man Ace, who recently formed the "Reyes Brothers" duo with older hermano Sen Dog of Cypress Hill, has just released one of the most long awaited group albums in Latin Rap entitled "Ghetto Therapy."  For those that slept, Mellow Man was the first artist to get mainstream acceptance of Spanglish on wax with his '89 smash hit "Mentirosa", the first single by a Latin rap artist to go platinum.

The Hip Hop Hall of Fame member teamed up with brother Sen to create the Reyes Brothers, and October marked the release of their heavily anticipated debut. Mellow speaks to us about the album, Latin hip hop history and industry perils in our exclusive interview What was the idea behind the album title "Ghetto Therapy?"

The fact that we came from those neighborhoods, and nobody had been really putting it down for those neighborhoods since we did that in the early 90's, there hasn't been another MC to emerge from there. We wanted to represent that ghetto part of us, and while we were making the music it was therapeutic to us. That's how we get away from all the stress, all the everyday crap and bulls**t that entertainers go through.

Can you give us the rundown on the album, on what fans can expect?

I think what you should expect is to hear something brand new, something totally different. Its not Mellow Man Ace, and its not Cypress Hill, it has an identity of its own. There's a funk undertone of it all, with good times just addressing parties or fake phony motherf**kers, and everywhere in between there. Its just different, its not what you hear everyday.

Who are some of the guest features?

Artist-wise we got Bishop Lamont, Warren G, Franklin White, Snoop Dogg doesn't really rap on it but he gives us love on one of the songs. B-Real of course, and then a couple up and coming cats like O Brown and J-Killa, those are cats that been messing with us a while and trying to get on and get in the game.


Production wise, tracks from Fred Wreck, Muggs, Warren G, B-Real himself, his production team. People like DJ Ace and Poetic Mafia, and my man Super Slip, Slip Mottola from the ATL blessed us.

So will the album sound like a Mellow Man or Cypress Hill album, or is it a new sound?

Its an all new sound. You're not gonna hear the screechy samples that Muggs uses in his repertoire, and you're not gonna hear the Latin bass percussion driven stuff that I'm accustomed to doing, its nothing like that. To describe the sound in one word, its H-A-R-D, its just hard.

Will it have a West Coast vibe, like a G-Funk feel?

It's not G-funk. I can say yeah, it has a West Coast undertone and even overtone. That's how we were raised. Its got some down South sprinkles in it. Mostly it is a West Coast kind of sound, its just funky music really.

You've been dropping albums since '89, your brother since '91 with Cypress Hill, why did it take this long for the two of you to team up?

Really for the obvious reasons, he's been forever busy doing that. They've had a rugged touring schedule and all that, that gets complicated when you try to fit your everyday life in, dealing with your own issues. On both of our parts, it gets tough to find the time, to make the time to get together to do it.


Now the Cypress Hill thing calmed down a touch. I was between records anyway, I said lets do it. We found 30 different producers, listened to over 250 different tracks. And together we went over every beat we were going to use, and we weighed over the pros and cons over every beat and what approach should be taken, concept-wise. And that was incredible too, he was in and out, I was doing my things on the side. One Wednesday of one week, we would get together. We said, we're gonna set off our cell phones for the next two hours, we're gonna listen to beats.


And that's what we did, and we wrote notes about every track. The tempo, what kind of sound there was, whether it was West coast, East coast, Down South. We had all those notes, so when we went through every CD, we could say 'this ones a banger' and lay our cut down after that.

It sounds like you put a lot of extra effort in this album.

Yeah, we have a lot to prove, being that in a sense that we're both kind of underdogs in what the industry views us as. Me, my thing is 'Oh he's damaged goods already, he doesn't have a hit in him left anymore.' And Sen Dog, his underdog thing was he's been a secondary rapper and mostly known as a hype man. When you dig into Sen, and you make him pull out his best, there's a real MC in there.

With Cypress there were a lot of decision makers involved, so was working as a duo more comfortable for both of you, with a better chemistry?

Yeah, I think it was. I never been used to working around a lot of people. My thing sometimes, I get too crucial and I become like a perfectionist almost, and sometimes I don't have fun making records for that reason. And when I got with my brother, he was like, look man lets relax with this one. Let's pretend its like a mixtape and just not care. Let's just be fun with it, let's have fun.


This is the first time we get together, I don't have to deal with any Cypress stress right now, you don't have to worry about getting locked with who you are. This is your chance to open up and do things out of the box. Once I understood that direction from him, I understood what had to get done. There was something to that, we had to make sure we separated both our entities and create a new entity. It wasn't 'lets borrow from Cypress, borrow from you.' F**k everything we've ever done, let's create something new. We have to find a way to separate ourselves to create our new selves.

Was there any friendly sibling competition on the project, either brother trying to outshine the other on some tracks?

Nah, I don't think so. Not from where I was standing. It was just do what you do, once we were listening to the music and writing the songs, it was like do what you do, come with what you come with. If you feel good at the end of the day about it, then its gonna stick. But there was never no competition about anything.

The Reyes Brothers album was supposed to come out earlier than this.

I still remember the date, June 12th or 11th.

Was that because of a situation with Hawino Records?

Yeah, pretty much, it was over that. Hawino as a label decided that they weren't seeing the returns they wanted on prior products, they kind of pulled the strings on themselves. They said they would cash out on the situation, and it just so happened Reyes Brothers was next in line to come out. We had to restructure our whole game plan, meet with other labels and distribution companies like Sony and Fontana.


We ended up finding the right situation with the Koch people. Eric Lamasters really stepped his game up and said "hey man I really believe in this project, so why don't we talk about this." It was really an expeditious process, really, when you consider how long things really take to get together behind the scenes. Eric Lamasters really put things into high gear, he said hey you guys already have a little buzz, we can ride this wave and still make it out before the end of the year, and he stuck to his word.

So is Ghetto Therapy mostly Spanish or Spanglish?

Neither. English. All English. And people ask us, why didn't you put any Spanish on it. 'Cause we've already done it. Been there, done that. And we didn't want to confuse people either. You've already heard that we're Spanish, you know what we do. We're just gonna make a record. And quite frankly, putting Spanish on it was something we weren't thinking.


Even though reggaeton was banging and doing its thing. We're not known for reggaeton anything, we're known for Latin rap. But everyone already knows the history, if they don't this will set a whole new history. And we're still gonna make those records, we're gonna go with this approach.

Quiet as kept, you were once a member of Cypress Hill before you dropped your debut.


Back then it was just you, Sen, B-Real and Muggs, right?

Yeah, pretty much. I guess your next question would be why you didn't stick with that, right?


Well a series of things, really. One, I had turned born again Christian and stopped smoking weed. I kinda didn't fit in anymore, because that's all my crew did, me included up to that point. I went through a phase where I realized I couldn't have one foot in the church and one in the club. Does that mean I started smoking weed again? No, that's not what it meant, 'cause I didn't, to this day I haven't.


Another thing that happened, my dad saw that I had a vision to do something else and was going out of the box of his beliefs of what I should have done for my life. He put me in a position where I had to go do something now, and then I could come back home, know what I mean? That's exactly what I did. I manned up, a little bit younger than most, I had to go and become a man. I went out, sought people out, got a record deal by Delicious Vinyl.

It happened ironically because Muggs was doing a soundtrack for a movie called Colors with a group called 7A3 that he was a part of in New York. I went up to the studio with him while he was laying it down. It just so happened that the studio we were at, there was a guy who ran a studio who was about to start a label called Delicious Vinyl. And he said, 'hey man, we just signed one guy named Tone Loc, and we're interested in how you rap, can you rap?' I said yeah, and I can rap in Spanish too. They were like, why don't you come by the studio tomorrow and we'll lay down the track and see how you sound. I did that, and next thing you know, they're giving me an indie contract. I don't think I even made a penny on it, but I took it, and was able to parlay that into a major record deal with Capitol records.

Speaking of labels, your last album "Vengo a Cobrar" was supposed to be re-released with bigger distribution, but that never happened.

Basically it was a label that was unwilling to market and promote a record, and kind of like let it sit there on the shelf and hope that it sold itself. When you have that kind of mentality there's no way that a project of any sort can ever win in the marketplace. For obvious reasons, there's so much competition, there's a lot of people that put good money into supporting their artists and records, and that's why they win.


But when you have the mentality of a guy who 'hey I'm kind of cheap and I'm just gonna put it out there, and whatever I make is cool with me,' that complicates situations and that's why that record never got the light of day. I don't think it was a bad record, I've gotten compliments on the streets saying that record was ahead of its time. Was it a platinum record? I think it had the possibility and capability of doing that, all it needed was some release behind it. I no longer do business with that idiot.

What label are you talking about?

I'm talking about Dimelo. What's crazy was that it was a Cuban guy. Me being Cuban myself, it was like, alright this is the right situation. What I didn't know was that he wasn't really willing to do what it took. He led me to believe that. That's what a lot labels do, as artists, there's never been a contract that makes a label state exactly how much they're gonna dump into marketing and promotion. Its discussed but not put on paper, I don't know an artist who has a deal like that.


That puts the label in a position to be able to f**k you real easy and say 'we're gonna do this and do that' and then once they have the product, they say okay now I can do whatever the f**k I really want to do. Put it as part of my catalogue, sell a few units, keep my label rolling and use it as a tax write off. When you have people like that in this business, that' is why I disappeared from the scene for a long time, there were a lot of things like that that bothered me in the music business.

Do you have any advice for artists on how to protect themselves?

I think its time for the new generation to make demands, to at least say to their lawyers, hey, I want this label to put in this contract the exact amount of money that's gonna be spent in marketing and promoting my product, and not rely on people's words. If its written on paper, they have to do it, or you can pretty much get out of the contract by a breach of their own contract. I think its important that the young artists, new up and coming cats really take the time to understand how easy it is to get done in the a**hole by a label, by people in situation and places able to pull a fast one on you.


You also gotta bring your street sense into the corporate world. They'll chew you up in the morning and spit you out by lunchtime, you gotta be really knowledgeable of what goes on in those contracts. Always have an attorney, try to see if they can do it. Most labels wont agree anyway, to put that in, it gives them leeway to say sorry man, your s**t didn't sell.

Right now, you don't really need labels to get your music heard. With Pro Tools and home studios and the internet to market your own record. If you want to be that guy on MTV every day, hanging with Jay-Z, you're gonna need that major label and that major money behind you. It all depends on what the artist is looking for for their particular career.

With the South dominating airwaves, and even though you and Sen have earned names for yourselves, do you think this album will appeal to 16 year olds?

I think so, absolutely And I'm seeing the result of that on my Myspace. I'm getting a lot more 16 year olds than ever before, writing me, and telling me they just found out about me. "My dad used to talk about you, now I'm hearing it, and feeling what you and your brother are doing", that's a beautiful thing.

How has Myspace changed the promotion game for artists?

You can pretty much not spend a dollar, if you think about it like this. All you're really doing is paying for your flyer to get done and posting it on the internet and then sending a blast. I think that's a key tool, not even leaving your own house to get it down.


Myspace is such a great marketing tool, and I think artists need to really exploit that. I'm kind of late coming into that, I was seeing a lot of my friends getting in trouble with their wives and girlfriends and all that (laughs), so it took me a little longer. I had to explain it to my own wife why it made sense. She fought me tooth and nail, but it go to the point where if we don't exploit this tool, we're gonna fall behind. Once we realized that, it was a no-brainer.

But is there a downside, a web flooded with MCs not putting their all into the game?

About that, there's always gonna be those guys. But I think fans know where to get the goods regardless. A fan is a smart person, they know what they want, you can easily bypass the garbage in the way.

So are there differences in how people make songs, people back in the days knowing how a hit was made?

Well, I don't think I ever knew any of my songs would hit. You always want it to hit, but you never really know which song is gonna get you there. I remember when we recorded Mentirosa, that was the last song we recorded. And it was the most troublesome, up to that point we never did a song that was bilingual, we either did a song that was English or Spanish.


So when we did it, I didn't really like it because I thought it wasn't very b-boy at that time, But Tony G convinced me that it was the route to go. I hadn't discovered how to do that, even though I had lived in a predominantly Latin neighborhood, it hadn't hit me yet that we spoke bilingual. So when I figured out the style, it became a no-brainer, the rest poured out like water.

You can intend to have a single and make something radio friendly, and then all of a sudden, you can have radio people telling you, 'hey you know, we're really feeling this other one, where you're talking about b**ches and hoes.' The friendly stuff you made, didn't use bad words, melodic and catchy hook, turns out to be the other way around. You never really know, luck of the draw, God shining down on you and saying "I'm gonna bless you with something".

Are you and Sen doing shows to promote Ghetto Therapy?

Actually we're doing quite a bit of stuff. The itinerary is filling up daily. You go on either mine or Sen Dog's myspace you can see all the upcoming dates.

Considering you and Sen are both Cuban, I'll ask you something I had asked Pitbull recently: if Fidel Castro passes, do you think Cuba will change for the better or worse?

I really don't think things will change too much, being that his brother, from what I understand talking to a lot of Cubans, is worse than Fidel is. I don't expect change for the better, we just have to wait and see and ride this thing out.

You've told me before that you wouldn't return to Cuba until he passes, if he does and Cuba changes, would you go over to visit relatives?

More than that, I would buy property there and live there happily. Catch up with family and stuff. Hopefully maybe even open a business down there.

Do you have any final message for the fans?

Just enjoy what you hear, and take it as another stepping stone for the two brothers. Enjoy the new sound that we created for you, hopefully it helps get you through the day.


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