In 2014, Lil Boosie was freed from prison and by all accounts exceeded creative expectations. At the same time, rapper Kevin Gates has made his own lane, bubbling to become one of Baton Rouge's most promising new talents. One would think the spotlight would be drawn to the small city, Louisiana's capital with just over a quarter of a million residents. But though it's long been one of hip-hop's creative centers—particularly when one considers its small size—it seems to exist in its own universe, with its own distinct sound and little attention from the outside world.
One of its most talented artists is the rapper/producer Marley Jermaine Clark—known as B-Real, although not to be confused with the Cypress Hill rapper of the same name. Although primarily known for producing records like Lil Boosie's huge 2014 single "Crazy," B-Real has a long track record of producing for Down South artists. "I worked with Big Unk," B-Real says when reached by phone as he sat—where else—in the studio. "I worked with Lil Keke out in Houston, Texas. I work with the whole Trill Fam—Foxx, Webbie, Boosie, Lil Phat, Rest in Peace to him. I did a lot of stuff with a lot of people. I did a lot of stuff for Nussie, I did a lot of stuff for Big Scoob. I got a long track record."
He's also dropped work as a solo artist and, alongside nephew and longtime rap partner Infa Red, a group album as Drama Boyz, tapes of which have been digitized by Louisiana hip-hop devotee Frankie tha Lucky Dog on DatPiff. Although he first broke through with 2006's regional smash "Meet Me in the Parking Lot," B-Real has stayed busy since, including producing three records on Boosie's latest tape. He also promises several more are in the vault. Despite a decade of experience, this is B-Real's first interview for a major publication.
What was your first big beat locally that people started to recognize you for?
In 2006—I was always a good underground producer, but I never got that right link to get it out there. But I had an artist—his name is Infa Red. I think it was 2006, and he had a song called "Meet Me in the Parking Lot." Infa Red featuring Thrasher Boy, Lil Head, and Ronnie. That was one of the biggest records. It opened a lot of ears up. When we did the song, we first performed it in Hammond. And mind you, we'd just recorded the song. And we went out there, they had a little get together. They had different performers do their thing.
When we played the record, people didn't know this song, and everybody just went nuts. That was one of the records that hit in Louisiana, that people—to this day, they can play it in the club and they can sing it word-for-word. That's one of those home-base songs, that just had people open to it. When they heard my voice in there saying, "DJ B-Real," they was like, dang, who is that in the background? I was setting up a tag for myself to have people have that in tune in their head with DJ B-Real, and I pulled it off with it.
How did you first meet Boosie?
After that song got exposure, I ran into the owner of Trill Entertainment, Mel. This was just around the time when Foxx just released "Wipe Me Down." That was before the song took off with Boosie. They had the song in rotation. I'd see them at different spots promoting the song. I ran across Mel, we chopped it up and talked, he was like, man, I heard a lot about you and I want to get you on with the team, get you on with the label and stuff like that. They gave me a little offer to sign a little contract with Trill. So I signed a deal with Trill in '08.
When I signed with him, I ran into Boosie. Before he got incarcerated I did a lot of work for him. I did some song with him and Tony Yayo called "Show No Love." I did the joint called "Knocking Pictures Off the Wall," I did "Loose As a Goose," I did "Long Clips and Choppers" from Return of Superbad. The "Levis" song. The song with him and Trill called "Miss Kissin on You." I did one on the Incarcerated album title "Thugged Out." I can go on and on. I've been working with Boosie for a long time. We've just got that chemistry together. When we get in the studio it's like magic, man.
What's your favorite track that you guys have done together?
One he's done that he hasn't released. I think he's going to put it on his other mixtape. It was on a different vibe, it was one I produced called "We Straight." That was one of my best ones. I did the track just to really challenge myself with him, thinking he wasn't going to mess with it. But any track I can give him, if he vibes off it and he likes it, he's going to rap to it. But you know, Boosie is like the Lebron James when it comes to rapping, so you know if he feels it he's going in, and he gives 100 percent.
Boosie is like the Lebron James when it comes to rapping, so you know if he feels it he's going in, and he gives 100 percent.
What did you produce on Boosie's most recent tape?
I did three that's on this mixtape that just came out. I did "Trouble," featuring Lee Banks. I also did a production called "Grade A," along with another producer named Mill on the Track. He's an upcoming producer out here in Baton Rouge that's good as well, that I've kind of been mentoring on a lot of stuff. And I did one more on there, and it's called "Boosie Love."
"Trouble" was actually an old track. Before Boosie was incarcerated he already had a song to that, I believe. He had another song called "Mission Impossible" that he'd done off that same track. When he came home all of his things and his belongings—I think some of the officers kept his stuff or whatever the case was—his equipment was still under investigation, I don't know if they ever got it back. I guess the track was still on his computer. So he redid it and called it "Trouble." I actually was there when he recorded that record. I recorded him. That's how that song came about.
Is that a harpsichord you use on it?
[Laughs.] Yeah, a basic harpsichord I used off of a plug-in I've got on Fruity Loops. I started off with that sound, actually. I build from that sound and just put everything together. The rest was just in the making, man. I started out with my melody, added on to it, and it came out how it came out.
"Grade A" was actually done in 2014. Me and Mill on the Track, we were at the studio that I'm currently in right now called Small Circle Courtyard Studios. We were doing a lot of production, and Mill came to play some stuff. We actually put the beat together, and he arranged it. I presented that to Boosie, he really liked it. I was there when he recorded that one as well. He heard the beat and got on it instantly.
For him to write all three verses, I'd just tell you it took him literally from 10-15 minutes, 10-20 minutes. Whole song, ready to go. He's like a human machine when it comes to writing. Especially when it's a song that he's really feeling at that time. It doesn't take no time for him to write his music. He gets in and gets it, it takes 10, 15 minutes tops. Especially if he has a great engineer to record it. And I'm one of his engineers so, It doesn't take him long at all.
[For "Boosie Love,"] I was at the studio with Boosie, and he was telling me about a song he was going to make. He sung it to me. I think it was a song he'd already written the hook for, but he didn't have the verses. So he got to rapping the intro that you hear on the actual song. Every time he raps, I'm kind of putting it together in my head as he's rapping it. After he rapped it to me, he walked off. This was around the time Mouse on tha Track was in the studio as well, so I was making the beat then trying to match it up. It took me 15 minutes to lay down the foundation. When I laid the foundation down, I kind of broke it down—had him rap on just the plain track, the dummy track. Had him do all his verses, with the hook as well. Then I took the session with me, and then I went back to it and broke it down how I really wanted it to break down.
Tell me about "Crazy." It reminded me of that earlier song he'd done, "Undeniable Talent."
Exactly. You hit that right on the head. I was actually thinking about that song as I was making it, just trying to get into that same feel. The first instrument that you hear in the record, that was the first instrument I played. I was making the beat with nobody around, I was at Boosie's studio, but wasn't nobody around to really hear me make the track. I started off on it, and with a beat like that, I'm trying to get it where I want it to sound. But I don't want to really do too much to it. So I just let that one sound loop itself repeatedly, just to really hear where I was going to take it.
As I'm making the beat, Boosie just walks in the room. And I'm playing it through my Beats headphones. I don't know if he came in to hear a song on the computer that he'd recorded or what, but that sound was steady looping in my headphones, so he turned around and looked at me, and just the little bit that he heard, he was like "I want that beat. I want it. I know what I want to do with that." I'm looking at him like, damn, this beat ain't really filled yet. He was like, "Man, I don't care. I know what it's gonna sound like when you finish it. Just let me know when you finish the beat." And he walks out the room.
I'm building the beat up after he leaves the room just so he can listen to it. The first pattern that I worked out for him, I let him take a listen. He's like, "Oh yeah, this fire. This is what I want you to do. On this part, I just want you to silence the beat. And then make it kick back on." As I broke the beat down, I did it how he wanted me to do it—I wasn't there when he recorded the song, my younger brother Big Wayne, who's in-house with Boosie—that's my blood brother—he actually recorded Boosie on the record. But I came like a day after he recorded to listen to it. When I heard it, it blew my mind away.
How did you first get into production and making beats?
I've been doing it now for like 14 years. I actually wasn't [going] hard in production coming up, but I really loved music all the way around. I was on other activities like sports, basketball. When I was done doing those activities, I would always go home and listen to music. I was really big on the hip-hop and R&B side of it. I used to listen to a lot of No Limit, a lot of Cash Money, other artists that's out in Atlanta like Drama, OutKast, people out in California like Dr. Dre and Snoop.
My sister and my stepdad had a keyboard, really for decoration. They would play on it every now and then. I took interest in it and started messing with the keyboard. Started coming up with my own patterns, own style. I was influenced by the old music that I would listen to. I was just coming up with my own tunes, playing them on the keyboard, piecing it together. That's how I got into the production side. I just dug into it more when I really got to messing with it and figured that I could combine my own sound and my own melodies together.
I want to say that was anywhere from '98 to 2000. That's when I was coming up off the ground. This was around the time Lil Boosie was signed with the Concentration Camp with C-Loc. He was out doing his thing, I was doing it around the same time that he was doing it. I was mainly doing the rap side of it, before I got into the production. But after awhile, the production side took more control over me.
When you were growing up, was there anyone in your family who was musical? Did your parents play instruments?
My biological father is from New Orleans. I really don't know because I only met my father like twice, but my mom told me about him. When I finally caught up with him, I was like, OK, what did I get from you? I found out he did production and recording and stuff like that—it shocked me. I kind of figure that's where I got the music from, as far as making tracks and recording.
But I know for a fact, just me listening to music, my mom and my mom's sister, my aunt, they used to have crates of records. My mom, she loved the music, but I think it kind of wore off on her a little bit. She kept music, but she didn't really prop up music like my aunt did. I always wanted to go by my aunt's house. Not just because of the music but because of my cousin—I used to go over there a lot with him and play video games. Really, I just wanted to get out of the house with my mom because I really didn't have too much freedom. Over there I had a lot of freedom. And being around my aunt—she had a big surround sound system and she loves to drink, and every night she always played her music. I think that's why I started picking up a lot of the music.
What is it that makes the Louisiana sound different from the rest of the country's production?
This is the South, we grew up listening to a lot of UGK, 8Ball and MJG, a lot of No Limit. OutKast, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg. A lot of that type of music. It makes it different because we love the West Coast. With our sound, we be more into it—we give it reality. We've got that raw sound.
We've got party anthems and stuff too, but it's more a Down South sound, and we're giving it to you uncut. Instead of us using metaphors like East Coast rappers will do, we want to get straight to the point. We want to get down to the nitty gritty, so you can understand and know what's going on. And the production behind that—we try to mimic it off of what that person is talking about, we try to make that sound match up with what that person's talking about. We more direct than just giving it to you metaphorically.
We've got party anthems and stuff too, but it's more a Down South sound, and we're giving it to you uncut.
What's your current set-up? If you made a beat tomorrow, what are you using, equipment-wise?
Right now what I'm using is a computer, I have a couple of hardware pieces that I mess with, but if I needed to get something done quick, easy, I'd pretty much use a laptop and a MIDI keyboard. I work off of Fruity Loops Studio. I did a lot of production off that. I still work off hardware. I love the hardware. Something about hardware—I think that signal on hardware hit a little more than just software. You can get the software to sound like hardware, but you have to do a hell of a lot more tweaking. Hardware is a straight signal—when it goes into the computer it stays how it is, you pretty much don't have to change it unless you need to EQ something. But as of right now, I'm just using software, having my hard drive dump with a whole bunch of samples and sounds, and I work like that.
What have you been working on right now?
My plan right now is to really try to get a production deal. I've been doing it for a long time, and I've worked with the best and worked on the best equipment. I'm just waiting for a big break to where I can get a nice production deal. Work on different artists that I feel have potential to make it.
I saw when "Crazy" came out you were tweeting with B-Real from Cypress Hill.
Oh, I knew that the bloggers were going to put it up there and say that B-Real from Cypress Hill did a lot of tracks with Boosie. That's the only thing that kind of snuck up on me, because a lot of people know the name but don't know the face. I've been keeping myself in a shell, keeping people guessing about me. But with that, I was just going through the Internet typing the song up, and I see these different bloggers put, "Oh, it's B-Real from Cypress Hill, producing for Boosie." So I'm like, oh man, these people here got this stuff all wrong. He didn't produce that track.
So, I was on Twitter and I see him tweet saying, "They must have another B-Real out here, he must not know I've been doing my music." I didn't take it like disrespect. But people don't know who made it, so I tweeted at him that, you know, people thinking you produced the beat, but I'm the one who produced it. And B-Real was cool about it. He was like, man, I'm B-Real with Cypress Hill, I've been doing the music thing for a long time, bro! But I really like the track, it really hits, it really hits hard. He was cool about it, so I was just letting him know for the record, just to let the public know that it wasn't him.
So are we going to see a B-Real featuring B-Real?
Absolutely. I'm trying to get some stuff to him now. He reached out to me and actually sent me an email to send him some stuff. I'm going to try to work something out nice for him, because I grew up listening to Cypress Hill, too.
Where did your name come from?
I pretty much named myself. I was young, doing my rap thing, and I just wanted a name. At first I called myself Baby B. Don't know why. I started seeing another guy who's name was too much like it, and I was like, you know what, I'm gonna just call myself B-Real.
David Drake is a writer living in New York. Follow him @somanyshrimp.