Guerilla Black Interview
Author: William Ketchum III
One thing that Compton native Guerilla Black isn't lacking, it's a buzz. While this year marks the return of the left coast with albums from Snoop Dogg, Xzibit, and Dr. Dre protégé/G-Unit member The Game, Black himself is also equipped with more significant characteristics: a voice and rhyme scheme that sound so much like Notorious B.I.G. that it'd make Shyne critics redirect their aggression, along with a striking resemblance to the slain East Coast legend. While these have helped familiarize his name with hip-hop heads, other listeners dismiss him as the gimmick of a fantasy rapper: a West Coast lyricist with a Brooklyn flow.
After losing a stepfather to cancer and a wife to meningitis though, Guerilla Black has decided that all that he's accountable to is himself. In an interview with RapReviews.com, Black talks about the new album, the Biggie comparisons, and the new breed of West Coast lyricists.
WK3: Tell me about the new album, Guerilla City.
"I wanted to help rebuild the West Coast and be one of the
first from the West to make universal music.."
Black: The new album is an embodiment of a lot of different types of music. I wanted to help rebuild the West Coast and be one of the first from the west to make universal music for the Midwest, West Coast, south, and the east as well. With this album I worked with Mario Winans, Jazze Pha, Beenie Man, and Nate Dogg. I wanted to reintroduce making conceptual songs as well; with that I wanted to show people the embodiment of eclectic music, of me making a song.
"Hearts of Fire" is a containment of the industry, and different comparisons. (It's about) my stepfather, rest in peace, being one of the people influential in my life and my music, and him passing from cancer. It's also about my wife, who had passed from meningitis. It's also about the politics of the industry, who was there for me in the beginning. About my mother, being a mother and the biggest influential person; me moving and living in Compton. It was just basically a song of me airing out, and also a view of the city. I wanted (the listeners) to actually feel what it's like to wear a pair of Chucks and khakis or Pro-Keds and go through my city, look at my environment. The young, the old, the ups the downs, the gangbanging and all of that involved; I wanted people to see that. I did a song also for my wife—my first, my last, my only—chronicling me and her, a young couple, going through the ups and downs and things of that nature.
As well as "Yes Sir," which is a song with a storyline and a base. I wanted to show people that I could make conceptual songs, as well as party music, as well as universal music, and that being a West Coast artist, I can do that.
WK3: What's your favorite song on the album?
Black: Probably "Say What." I dedicated that song to the ladies; I wanted to take it back to that point of rapping in the old-school style, but as well with having an old-school beat, with the feel-good thing. Not only that, but I gave shout-outs to a lot of the different cities. And then the hook is a catchy thing, saying, "what's the business;" that's a thing everyone says out here, like, "yo, what's the business." I really wanted to incorporate that. So there are different elements of why that's my favorite song.
WK3: Like you said, you work with some pretty big names on this album. How did you hook up with people this big, being a new artist?
"It was a blessing for
me to be able to work with every last one of them, me being a new artist in the game."
Black: It was a blessing from God, it was really a blessing to work with all of these different people.
For them to be able to come to the studio when they could've just sent me a track, and to be in the studio
actually critiquing me and giving me constructive criticism. Also, showing me what the way they go about
making hit records, sitting there and being able to vibe with their personalities. It was a blessing for
me to be able to work with every last one of them, me being a new artist in the game. That is really a
rarity, and I was blessed in that situation.
WK3: What's one of the collaborations that really stood out to you?
Black: I think the ones with Jazze Pha and Mario Winans. Jazze Pha is so hype, he has so much energy. He's legendary at it; James Barcade from the Barcades is his father, he has a lot of knowledge on the game, and he has a vibe and a good work ethic. We just had a lot of fun in the studio, we cut a lot of records in no time, because all of it was fun in the environment. I will always work with Jazze Pha, that guy is just so talented. A lot of different things that he taught me, and the critique that he gave me, and the way that he comes on songs, I definitely picked up on that, and I'll always use that in my career.
Also Mario Winans, he's such a humble person and God-fearing. Being able to work with him, and the way he critiques and works at music, was just a blessing by God's hand. I had a lot of fun working with him as well.
WK3: Who would you want to work in the future?
Black: I would love to work with Anthony Hamilton, LaToiya Williams, and the girl who sings from Floetry. I'd really like to work with Usher. I would also like to work one day with Ciara; I think she's hot, I really like her style. I would love to be able to work with Ashanti, I really dig R&B a lot; I've already been able to work with Young World, Marques Houston, Tyrese, so I'm really looking forward to working with other people.
WK3: You said you like R&B; do you prefer that music over the street tracks?
"The Beenie Man song was never intended to be a single
as it was, it was just going to be another grimy song."
Black: I had did four mixtapes and I had cut 60 records for this album, but I wanted to make music that was
women-friendly, they're the biggest consumer of records. Not only that, but I do all my shoot-em-up,
gun-busting stuff on my mixtapes, and I had already put out five of them. They may not have been as big
all across the country as they were here in L.A., but I still have grimy songs on the album as well. The
Beenie Man song was never intended to be a single as it was, it was just going to be another grimy song.
Even though I tried to steer away from that, it still came about. I definitely put a share of each
(grimy and women-friendly) on there to balance out the album.
WK3: Let's go back for a minute. When did you first start taking rapping seriously?
Black: My mother, I remember her playing the organ, playing the piano, directing the choir, choir rehearsals, stuff like that. My stepfather used to have so many old records: Nat King Cole, Bobby Womack, the O Jays, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, so many different records. And at that time, hip-hop was really coming into a big force, so (he also had) LL Cool J, DMC, all of these people as well. So with that coming about, I started playing trumpet and trombone, I knew how to play all of these instruments, I was taught in school. Then I wanted to be a DJ, had turntables and stuff like that. I think I was maybe 14 or 15 when I decided I like rapping, so I started freestyling and felt that I was pretty good at it. That's when I decided, "I really want to do this."
WK3: You came up in Compton, but your flow has a little bit of East Coast sound, and a little bit of a midwest sound. Who would you say were your influences coming up?
Black: Cats like Scarface, Kool G. Rap, Chuck Rock, MC Breed, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Too $hort, Big Daddy Kane.
Those were some of my mentors, as well as Pac and B.I.G.
With that being that, hip-hop is totally different from a lot of peoples' aspects of gangsta rap, but I look at it as the same. Whenever hip-hop was really prevalent, it was doing its thing when gangsta rap really came into play; it sort of focused its tension toward the West Coast, which was the home of the reality rap, gangsta rap. At that time, the only person who really came out with wholesome, gangsta rap that was still creative lyrically was Notorious B.I.G. And whenever he came, he came with a West Coast style, which was surprising to a lot of West Coast people and critics as well. From that moment on, a lot of artists from the east was using styles and slang and so forth that was bound to be gangsta rap, and with that being that, it's a new breed of cats coming out from the West Coast with lyrics. After Pac left, the west was in ashes: a lot of ignorance, a lot of rebellion, a lot of stupidity, to basically where it's at now. With Pac leaving, being such a lyricist, now it's up to a new generation of lyricists that's out here. And with us being that, at the end of the day, we're going to continue to carry on and keep going forward. But I had a lot of different influences from each coast.
WK3: How long have you been getting the comparisons to Biggie?
"I was just trying to not sound so much like B.I.G.,
because I knew hate, controversy and criticism would come like it is today."
Black: I've been getting the comparisons forever. Before, my brother had come out here while my wife was
still alive, and the guy that I hooked up with through Ice-T, we were working on an independent venture.
Back then, they used to call me Sizzle. I remember, whenever I had rapped, they were like, "Wow, you really,
really, really sound like Notorious B.I.G., and I don't think we'll be able to pull that off." I was
screaming on records, and I tried to avoid (sounding like Biggie), a lot of people may have compared me
to Mystikal at that time. That wasn't the case; I was just trying to not sound so much like B.I.G.,
because I knew hate, controversy and criticism would come like it is today.
But when my wife had passed, I realized that there are two things in this life that I'm going to do alone. One, I've done already: coming out of the womb. Two, I'm going to go under that dirt alone. At the end of the day, I want people to know that I was Guerilla Black, and that I was Guerilla Black to myself. I'm not trying to falsify, reduplicate, reiterate, be someone I'm not, none of that. I'm Guerilla Black.
Tupac and B.I.G. were two of the greatest influential rappers to ever do it. If you would align Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Nas, Jadakiss, put all of these great rappers of this time in the studio to cut a conceptual album, I don't think that they could get near the way Pac and B.I.G. were lyrically, conceptual-wise, beat-picking, imagery and everything. At the end of the day, people compare me to a great legend, and I wish I had three fourths of the talent that brother had, that would be a blessing. I'm not trying to fill his footsteps or anything; at the end of the day, I'm just Guerilla Black. That's all I can be, that's all that I am, and I want people to know that. I guess at the end of the day, I'm like, "Wow, if I were wack, I guess there wouldn't be a comparison." All I want to do is be is Guerilla Black, and big ups to the Notorious B.I.G., forever. Big ups to Tupac Shakur forever. They're the gods of this shit. I'm just Guerilla Black
Some people may say I sound like Scarface, some people may say I look like E-40. Like if I buy a 300C, "oh that looks like the Bentley." "Oh he sounds like;" "oh he looks like." And that's just a natural reflex like that for people to compare. There's a point I remember when people said Jay-Z was rapping like the Fu-Schnikens. Before there was Snoop, there was Slick Rick. When 50 first came in the game, people compared him to Pac. People compared Petey Pablo to Mystikal. The way that DMX was rhyming, was the same way Makaveli was rhyming on his freestyles. Whenever you seen Ja Rule, it was like a young 2Pac with a du rag on his head. Before Biggie, there was Scarface and Erick Sermon; he said it in an interview himself, that's who he patterned himself after. Before there was a B.I.G. there a Chuck Rock. Before 2Pac was sounding the way he sounded, he sounded like Erick Sermon, he sounded like Rakim. Go back and get some early Pac, and just look at how he was rhyming and the way that he sounded. So I don't think I'll be the first or the last cat compared.
WK3: This year has the West coming back: you're coming out, The Game is coming out, and Xzibit has a new album coming out. Why do you think that the West had been slept on so badly in the first place?
"When 'Pac passed, the West had no sense of
direction, no leadership. Nobody knew how to go, where to go next."
Black: First and foremost, the West is Coast is like this. When 'Pac passed, the West had no sense of
direction, no leadership. Nobody knew how to go, where to go next. Everybody was arrogant, everybody
was full and fat off the east for so many years, nobody was putting nobody on, nobody was humble, nobody
was trying to help each other. It was every man for himself, which definitely left us to the point where
it was a seven-year hiatus before my album dropping, and new cats coming out of the West Coast.
There's a new sense of unity, and a new sense of urgency here on the West Coast to rebuild, but the music genre has totally changed. Now you have the south being a key player, you have the Midwest; before, the third coast and the fourth coast weren't even mentioned. Now, you have to make universal music; nobody can go back and make the old style of music anymore, because it's so different and diverse on the scene. With it being that, we need to step out and diversify ourselves to definitely make hot records that aren't only accepted here, but felt elsewhere. It's different now; we listen to so much music from the Midwest, the East Coast, and the south, that you wouldn't even know that this was the West Coast. Now we're reinventing that, we're making universal music, but at the same time, we still have our same image. Every day is a building process.
WK3: Who in the West do you think has the potential to blow up?
Black: Little Eazy, definitely. Bishop Lamont. Spitfire, the guy who won "The Next Episode," is on fire right now. My brother, the Honorable Hot Dolla is so crazy with the hooks right now.
WK3: Who are you bumping right now?
"I've also been banging Ciara, I'm really fond of her.
That's about it."
Black: I've been bumping my album, trying to look at it from how someone else would look at it, an
out-of-body experience in a sense. I've also been banging Ciara, I'm really fond of her. That's about it.
Mixtapes too, various mixtapes.
WK3: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Black: Being a real estate cat, owning a lot or property, chilling with my child, a wife, my shirt off, throwing the football somewhere. Chilling out drinking ice tea or something.
WK3: I'll say a name, you say what comes to mind. Kobe Bryant.
Black: White girls.
WK3: George Bush
Black: Hot, crazy cat, just got caught up in some shit.
Black: Crazy hot.
WK3: New York Yankees.
Black: World Series.
WK3: The Source.
Black: (laughs) Benzino.
WK3: Anything else you'd like to say to the readers?
Black: I definitely want people to go check out the album: the album has Nate Dogg, Jazze Pha,
Mario Winans, Beenie Man, it's crazy. Also, I want people to look out for the new video, "You're The One,"
with Mario Winans, and featuring the girl Angel, from The Wash, she's my lead girl. Go to
you can log on and leave me messages, check out the videos, see some of photos of me being at The Source
and the other two tours that I've just been on, so definitely log on.
You can buy the album there as well, and it's in stores now.
Guerilla Black is signed to Virgin Records and
his debut album "Guerilla City" is in stores now.
Originally posted: November 9, 2004