As artists, Mellow Man Ace (left) and Cypress Hill’s Sen Dog (right) opened up a lot of doors for Latino rappers. Cypress Hill is universally respected as one of the top Hip-Hop acts of all time and Mellow Man Ace is a member of Hip-Hop’s Hall of Fame. What a lot of people may not realize is the two are brothers. Bound by both family ties and ties to Hip-Hop the two have decided to get together to form a super-duo, The Reyes Brothers. The Reyes Brothers’ first album, Ghetto Therapy, is due out in the late spring of 2006 and just recently the two legends took some time out of their day to sit down with me to discuss the project, what life was like growing up together, and some of the major differences between trying to get a deal twenty years ago as opposed to today.
Adam Bernard: I’m sure many people had no idea you two were brothers. Tell me about growing up together, why weren’t you a group from jump?
Sen Dog: Growing up together we always had that bond of music and sports and if we weren’t listening to the radio or watching American Bandstand or Soul Train we were out playing catch in front of the apartments or playing sports, doing something that involved both of us. We used to fight a lot but at the end of the day Mellow had my back and I had his.
Adam Bernard: Who started the most fights?
Sen Dog: Mellow did.
Mellow Man Ace: (laughs)
Sen Dog: There’s no comment saying otherwise so you know it must be true.
Mellow Man Ace: I just have a bad memory
Adam Bernard: Were you the older brother picking on the younger brother?
Mellow Man Ace: Nah Sen is actually older than I am. I was crazy, I was the bad seed in the family, to tell you the honest truth. I was a bad influence on Sen. I was a little bad mischievous kid.
Adam Bernard: When you were both having such huge success with your own ventures did you ever see The Reyes Brothers project happening?
Sen Dog: Not at first because when Mellow came out with his first stuff in the late 80’s it was such a huge success right away that my only goal and ambition at that point was to somehow get on the same level that he was on so I was grinding doing the Cypress Hill thing with B-Real and whatnot and that’s really all I thought about. We were watching him perform on Soul Train and hearing his songs come out on soap operas and shit so we had that guiding light, if you want to call it that, that we could make it because one of our own had gotten up there and done the damn thing. Prior to Mellow being a solo artist he was a part of Cypress Hill, that’s when it was called DVX. At that same time we were still a bunch of crazy kids and I think that Mellow saw the way to go earlier than we did, so I can’t blame him for stepping and getting his career going, it taught us how to play the game and get where we needed to be.
Adam Bernard: Mellow, what went into your decision to go solo at the time?
Mellow Man Ace: I found myself on my own, I was out of the household before Sen, for being so bad all the time. I had to go out and get my life started. My father was almost like a military sergeant type of guy and it got to a point in my severed life that I didn’t see eye to eye with that whole philosophy and I just decided to go out on my own and test the waters.
Adam Bernard: And you did pretty well there for yourself.
Mellow Man Ace: It’s been a roller coaster, it’s been up and down, a lot of rough bumps along the way but at the end of the day you gotta stand on your own two and be responsible and accountable for your own actions.
Adam Bernard: Now you said Cypress Hill was originally DVX, who was the lineup at that point?
Sen Dog: It was me and Mellow that started the original Hip-Hop movement in our area, in South Gate (California). We were influenced a lot by Hen Gee and Evil E of Rhyme Syndicate who at that time were called New York City Spin Masters. When we started our crew it was me and Mellow and later on we had T-Bone who eventually came out with The Funkdoobiest, and then after that we had a fourth member come in which was B-Real. There was Crazy D who ended up going on to write some of the big stuff for NWA. Our first DJ was Julio G who became a mixmaster in LA on KDAY and then eventually Julio G introduced us to DJ Muggs and that was pretty much the lineup for the early days.
Adam Bernard: You went through a lot of artists.
Sen Dog: Yeah, but that was the cool thing about it, we had a bunch of friends, we all had the same interests, getting loaded and drunk and Hip-Hop, but at the same time we were trying to be like our idols, Run-DMC, LL Cool J, EPMD, Whodini, UTFO, we were trying to be like them. We wanted to be stars, we wanted to chase the dream.
Adam Bernard: Why do you feel now is the perfect time to release this Reyes Brothers project?
Mellow Man Ace: For me I think it’s quintessential, it’s something we’ve been talking about for years and now we just got around to do it. Just the fact that we’re brothers and we’re both in the same business, it makes all the sense in the world on paper and I think Sen’s fan base and my fan base, they’ve been waiting for something like this, as well.
Adam Bernard: Tell me a little bit about the album, “Ghetto Therapy”. What do you hope listeners get from it?
Mellow Man Ace: We hope that the people realize that it’s music without a face or a color and just good music. We want to bring something to LA that’s just a little bit different and around the world we hope that they catch on to what we’re bringing them. Basically it’s let your guard down and have a good time. At the end of the day life is very stressful in the ghettos of America, if you can turn on our CD and get away from it all for a minute then we did our job.
Adam Bernard: And that would be the reason the album is titled “Ghetto Therapy”?
Mellow Man Ace: Absolutely, the music is therapeutic. While we make it we get away from our stresses of everyday life, our families, our kids, things that go on in our personal live and we come together in the studio and just let it all go, we put it down on paper then lay it to track so that’s in a sense very therapeutic for both of us.
Adam Bernard: You’re releasing “Ghetto Therapy” on your own label Latin Thug Records. Why did you create your own label and what are some of your goals for it?
Sen Dog: Every artist’s dream is to have their own infrastructure set up one day. It’s cool when you come out at first and you’re a rookie and you’re grateful for everything you’ve done but after you’ve learned the game somewhat and seen other people do it you see what the benefits are of having your own label as opposed to recording for other people. If you’re any kind of a businessman about it once you get signed and go out on the road and meet people you realize it is strictly business, so as artists you want to think about starting your own infrastructure and what you hope to get out of it, the money that comes with it and also being able to set yourself up so that hopefully one day you will be viewed as a Rick Rubin or a Russell Simmons, something that like. You look nowadays at so many labels where you see actual artists, especially in Hip-Hop, that are presidents of labels that’s what we’re talking about, we’re talking about becoming CEOs, we’re talking about running the game that nobody knows better than us.
Mellow Man Ace: It’s basically taking the game back from the majors who have changed Hip-Hop so much throughout the years.
Sen Dog: There’s a way of looking at things. You could have a kid with a hot ass record but for some reason or another he doesn’t fit the right demographic. You gotta have the ability to look at things and be like it doesn’t matter if the kid can’t run a four second forty yards dash, the kid can straight play football, that’s what you gotta look at. Could the kid write, could he entertain? That type of a deal.
Adam Bernard: Being that both of you were involved in opening the door for Latino rappers, what do you do think still needs to be done in that area?
Mellow Man Ace: Well I think the game now, in terms of the Latin scene, it’s got its own legs now, it’s up and running . We did our job on that note and I think it’s just gonna go wherever they decide to take it. As for us we just sit back and watch the sideshow and we realize what we have to do for our own personal careers now. We set the standard and we set it very high so now it’s up to them to keep carrying that torch and battling it out if you will.
Adam Bernard: If possible, can you fill me in on some of the maneuvers you had to do in order to get your foot in that door that you feel other rappers may not have had to do?
Sen Dog: We had to, for one, make our own demos with basically a set of turntables and the same records and Julio G or Muggs they would control that so we could rap on that. We had to go to every single Hip-Hop event that came around and try to get up on the stage when they had an open mic, try to get up there and be seen and be heard, try to be around Ice-T because ice-T always had things crackin. Constantly writing songs is something that you should do anyways but then when you’ve got a demo trying to go in and have people hear it who are in an important position and all this is without a manager or anything. Back then the game was so young, you had a couple of groups from LA that were actually making noise, Ice-T and NWA, everything else was hard as hell if you weren’t that “gangster” rapper that those guys were people weren’t trying to hear you. So you had to go out to Venice Beach where Ice-T would rap at every Sunday, try to get at him, try to be at every Hip-hop event, give your demo out to people you saw, go to New York, the New Music Seminar, be there, be seen with all the people. It was a constant grind, everyday was just get up that morning and what’s our next move.
Mellow Man Ace: You hit it right on the head, we didn’t have those same luxuries where nowadays you can get on American idol and showcase your talent all around the world. Hell, if we had that back then we would have probably gotten in the game by 1986. It’s crazy like that. It’s changed, it’s helped a lot of different artists, but what I notice is the hunger isn’t as intense. The passion for the music, when you have so many luxuries, the drive kind of disappears a little bit and that’s one thing that our school is big on. Get up there, get out, get the hustle, do what you gotta do to make that dollar with what it is that you love to do.
Adam Bernard: So do you think that even though something like Pro Tools makes creating a song easier it kills some of the drive an determination of people?
Mellow Man Ace: I think so, I think it makes an artist out of any five and dime rapper or entertainer out there. If you have just a little glimmer of wanting to do music you can now just buy a studio and put it in your house and it’s affordable. There are those rare cases where a real influential artist will come in and change the game, but for the most part you have a lot of kids that really have no schooling, no knowledge of the forefathers who created the game for them who really put in the work out on the street, like Sen said, going place to place without a budget, finding ways to get to New York City without any help, finding out who started Hip-Hop, finding out what Kool Herc’s intent was, seeing out what his first amp might have looked like, who was the first MC, things of that nature all disappear, go right out the window, and it just becomes who’s on the radio now and how much money do I need to get my little studio up and running. There’s a big difference.
Sen Dog: Also one thing that they lost that goes along with the same thing we’re talking about is now you see a lot more one hit wonders, people just come and split and they’re gone. Also, Hip-Hop always had a message, nowadays anybody singing about a bitch with a big ass or dancing on a strip pole has a hit. This is the shit that we’re feeding our little kids, this is the shit that we’re giving our kids to listen to. I’m not hating on it, make your money whatever way you can, but I think that somehow or another us as hip-hoppers, we have to realize that kids look up to us and whatever we feed them that’s what they’re going to take in and at the end of the day if Hip-Hop fails to reach its next plateau it’s because of all these booty shaker songs and songs mostly about bitches and making money. There’s more to life than that, there’s a lot more to life than that.
Adam Bernard: And on your album you’re exploring that idea of there’s more to life than that?
Sen Dog: I think so, yeah. There’s a little bit of everything on that record and I think that’s what sets it apart. We don’t get stuck talking about just one thing, we cover a lot of aspects of life. It’s cool to have your party raps and all that but at the same time I believe there has to be a bit of consciousness that has to be around not just so that people can say oh that nigga’s deep but just for the sake of Hip-Hop, the culture in general. Do something that is gonna awaken the minds not just leave them where they’re at. Don’t get me wrong I’m not a hater that’s just something that I’ve seen lately, it’s cool and everything but there’s more to entertaining and more to what we do than that. I’ve heard groups that come out with their new album and it’s the same stuff just a different rhyme and a different beat, they’re really rapping about the same shit.
Adam Bernard: You know you’re going to hear a lot of stuff like that when you start accepting demos for the label.
Mellow Man Ace: We’ve already started that. I’m basically the head of A&R for Sen Dog’s label and trust me I get so much stuff that really doesn’t have a shot in the dark just because of the lack of schooling and the lack of really being a student of the music game and the business.
Adam Bernard: Back on something a little more positive, of all your individual accomplishments where does this collaboration rank for each of you?
Mellow Man Ace: That’s a good question. I think we won’t know that until it hits the street and people respond to it. If it flops then hey it won’t rank very high but if it does outstanding numbers and people really gravitate to it then it will most definitely up there amongst, I know for me, my induction into the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame and things of that nature.
Sen Dog: I think for me it ranks not as a number or anything like that, I think for me it ranks as a beginning, a beginning of The Reyes Brothers, and we have so much more stuff that we want to do together. We’re going to be a significant group because of the fact that we’re not one dimensional, we’re Latin, we’re black, we’re white, we’re Asian, we’re all that stuff so we’re able to do more than one thing and if anything it signifies a beginning, this will be the first album of many to come and years from now you’ll be able to look at Ghetto Therapy and be like yeah I got the first record ever.
Adam Bernard: It’s funny you say beginning because my next question is what do you feel you have left to accomplish and if you feel this is a beginning you obviously feel like you have something left to accomplish.
Sen Dog: Oh definitely man. I think that if you ask any artist that’s in a position right now, take Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, if you had asked him two years ago what else do you have left to accomplish, your band’s huge, you have a massive following, you’ve sold millions of records, he would have looked at you and said well I want to have my own rap group. So just because you’ve accomplished something, or you got to where you’re at, that doesn’t mean that’s all you want to do. Every serious artist has another project in the back of his mind that he’s thinking about. As far as music goes and the constant way it’s changing, there’s always a new challenge on the horizon for you to look at and if you get stuck doing just what you do then you might die doing just what you do. It’s a challenge that once you accomplish it you want to do it again.
Adam Bernard: One last question. You’re brothers, you know each other inside and out, who wins in a steel cage fight?
Sen Dog: I think we’d probably both kill each other in there because the refusal to lose to one another would get so big that I think nobody would come out of that thing alive.
Mellow Man Ace: Yeah, he’s right. They’d probably have to bring the stretcher for both our asses.