You have to look a little further than just your basic radio station playing something mindless. If you want the really good nourishment Hip Hop, you gotta kinda look for it more. Same as the food. The information is there but if you’re tapped into the wrong search engines, you’re never going to find it.
More than we probably should, we look toward artists to be the leaders in social movements. Throughout popular music’s history masses have allowed the makers of the music to dictate fashion, styles, trends and even political thought. Currently, in Hip Hop, young people are galvanized by every word and action from Kendrick. They’re waiting for direction on how to respond to All Lives Matter vs. Black Lives Matter. Waiting to see what new style or trend to emulate via social media. A spokesperson is needed and all too often we nominate the current class of musicians to take up the cause, whether they want to or not.
Unfortunately, it’s the young up-and-comers that are asked for their opinions and insight – whoever is new and making waves. We tend to neglect the older, more experienced artist that we would have listened to 20 or 30 years ago. Now, their opinions become moot and we, for some reason, wait to hear from less experienced, quick-to-react radio noisemakers; the underclassmen. (To be clear, the we I speak of in this case is the Hip Hop community at large – not myself nor those I surround myself with.)
We have a healthy stock of experienced, insightful, tried-and-failed-tried-again-and-succeeded artists in the Hip Hop community that have the experiential resources and knowledge to give worthwhile voice to the the culture. They’re there. You can hear their voice – though, not loud enough that younger generations would notice – if you pay attention to their movements in the social media sphere. A wealth of knowledge and the only ones listening are the ones that were listening 20 or 30 years ago. That is to say, young folks ain’t trying to hear all that or be lectured to by some old washed up B-Boy or MC (even if what they say is exactly what Kendrick’s saying).
Today I bring to you one of our elder statesmen. For more than a quarter of a century, Mellow Man Ace has been acquiring the acumen and life knowledge on an international scale that should allow for him to be the trend setting voice to the Hip Hop community. The over standing of the music industry, of touring and experiencing cultures, finding knowledge of self and attaining a healthy life style. This is a voice that needs to be heard. And since it’s too hard to be heard without a platform, we took the time to pick at the brain of an upperclassman and give him this stage to speak on music, wealth and health. Check the audio for a quick highlight of our discussion and then follow below for full details and all the gems that were dropped.
Let’s talk about this new project real quick. Which, by the way, is very dope. When the project dropped I had assumed that it was a compilation project due to the fact that I had seen videos for songs of the album even up to a year ago. I thought I had missed something.
The rules have been changed so much in the music business. Young cats come in here and they change the protocol of everything, they change the wording, even the original Hip Hop language has been changed and plagiarized over the years. So, there’s no right way or wrong way to do anything anymore. Especially if you’re independent. My strategy for this record was to release singles and videos that could extend the buzz of the project. Because nowadays when you put out an album your buzz is hype for about two weeks before and a week after – if that. And so I figured the best way would be to combat that is to expand the attention span of that fan by continually hitting them with a new single and a video. That way they could hold tight for the entire project later on. And so we’ve been dropping videos and singles since, I wanna say November of last year – I think it was The Mush which was the lead single and video. Especially when making real underground Hip Hop, the market isn’t what it used to be. The audience either. A lot of our fans have grown up and have responsibilities, children, careers, jobs, what have you. So, it’s really widespread. Now, if you’re playing in a mainstream game where your artists are 20 years old but have nothing to say, it’s easily more accessible. So, when doing these types of records you have to take all these things into account. And so my approach was to extend the shelf life of the actual project with that process. Now, the music industry is one big gumbo of take-a-guess-how-to-do-it, you know? It’s ever changing so you have to change with the times and you have to go with certain approaches that you never saw in the 90’s or even the late 80’s.
I’m really feeling the style and feel of the new album. It’s got that original Hip Hop/B-Boy essence and aesthetic to it but it’s new and fresh, updated at the same time. It’s old school sensibility meets new school energy.
A lot of fans have a tendency to stay encapsulated in that era that made them feel good about you first. And so they’ll live within that period whereas if you make the music right and you didn’t sell out to your music company, you know that music should be a constant growth of elevation of the artist. Different experimentation, different collaborations, things of this nature. But also a spiritual, physical, mental growth should occur in the artist as he (or her) continues to grow as a human being, as an adult. The same things we were thinking about as a teenager aren’t the same things we’re thinking about at 48 years old. So these things all get taken into account and I think people have to remember that it’s not 25 years ago and I think that’s the most important part. When you listen to this record, it’s to follow the constant elevation growth part of it. It’s as simple as that. I’m not stuck in 1990. You can hear by the elevated rhyme styles, Cazal‘s beats, the collaborations that I chose to do with the Jarobi‘s, the Dinco D‘s, the Mikey D‘s and the Dres‘s. It’s a very different time now – 25 years later. If we didn’t grow, then there’s something wrong with us, as the people that feed the masses with whatever nourishment they’re looking for through the music. You know, we make grown man music. And I think that’s what’s important in what this element is. It doesn’t give in to today’s mainstream marketabilities, the image perception. It stays true to the roots of where Hip Hop should be.
Yeah, it’s definitely accessible to both the old and new schools.
That’s because I surrounded myself with – like my son, he’s 19 years old but he’s well schooled in the art or creating music. He’s 19, Jneiro Jarel is in his mid or late 20’s, Dibiase is in his 20’s – early 30’s. I keep a team of young-minded envelope pushers. They push the envelope every time they touch the drum machine and they’re not concerned with mainstream success. That keeps their vibe fresh and brand new, hence that keeps my rhyme flows updated, motivated, fresh and new. And it’s all about the content, at that point, and what I choose to talk about on each record. Because once you have a Cazal on-his-way-up-the-ladder-of-success and you add my experience to that, now we’re able to bridge gaps that were left out and forgotten in Hip Hop. You gotta remember, as a father and son unit, there’s a huge gap that we could allow a bunch of bullshit to get in the way of. Instead what we did was, we bring in his frustration as a young man trying to get rich in America along with my experience of already having a lot of success in a time when the music business was very real, and you meet them in the middle. And what happens is this amazing cornucopia of ideas and creative flow that occurs in a very different – it’s almost like a sub-decade amongst a decade. See, decades are counted in ten year increments. 1980. 1990. 2000. 2010. So on and so forth. But there’s sub-decades in there. Like from the year 2002 to 2012, that’s a decade of its own. Many different things change within that. So when we find those missing decades, we put something in there, fill it in. We’re very conscious of that when we create. It’s very difficult to understand the modern day creative process. I, for myself, am nearly ready to stop. I don’t really have to create music anymore but it’s a great way for me to release – release from modern day stresses and pressures and keep my sanity from being a father, being a husband or whatever. It’s my place to find my own getaway from my own pressures and stresses and expectations. Because a lot of fans will want to hear a Mentirosa record but we’re 25 years removed from that.
I imagine that Cazal, being your son, grew up bearing witness to your musical undertakings. Not all, but a lot of the samples and styles on previous projects sampled from Latin songs and rhythms. I like that your son adds his own element where he’s able to separate his identity from what the Cypress legacy has laid down but still brings in new creativity and perspective.
Yeah, he understands where I want to go with each project. We have a Spanish EP dropping soon and that’s totally different from Lost Decade. Lost Decade was me, basically saying, look, I’ve lived my career as a Latino for you all those years but I’m also a Black man too. And within that I want to take some time to discover my own Black past life. I’ve lived my life as an indigenous Latin. I’m both. I wanted to show that on this album, my own Blackness. I feel like I don’t pay that enough attention. There’s a beauty in that, itself, the beauty of the Black culture, the Black people, and my own Blackness that dates back from Cuba to Africa. I wanted to make a record that showed that I’m engulfed in learning more, I’m engulfed in finding out both sides of who I am. I think that’s the beauty of the Lost Decade.
Yes. I thought Knowledge was a very important record.
Well for me, back in the days – Mellow Man Ace, remember the persona was a playboy, you know, talking to the girls…that’s why I say Mellow Man got knowledge now. It cleanses everything. I’ve changed. I’m no longer the playboy on the run type-of-dude. It’s about finding wisdom and understanding as you mature as a person, as an artist. It’s an evolution. But if you listen to records off of Escape from Havana like River Cubano or maybe even Talkapella, we were dropping knowledge then. And that’s something that I never really gave myself enough credit for. I think it’s just because the fans gravitated toward the Mentirosa type records. A lot of people don’t take the time to listen to B-sides. When you start to look at your own back catalogue you go, man, even as a kid I was dropping a little science over here and a little knowledge over there. And then you just realize you’ve been this way all this time. The B-Boy, the mature B-Boy aspect, I’ve lived my life in that persona, I raised my kids that way. The music should be an example of that.
Let’s switch it up and talk food. You brought up Cuba. Did you grow up with Cuban cuisine and is it still a staple of your diet?
My mother – when I moved to the States I was five – she brought those traditions with her and our dinner table always had the typical Cuban food on it; bistec de palomia, avocado salad, rice and beans, black beans, arroz con pollo, stuff like that. My mother never cooked a hamburger unless it was a Cuban style hamburger called a frita. Frita is basically ground beef marinated in specific Cuban spices on a bun but the bun comes in this special ketchup-like deal and then you have like skinny long fries on top. But we never really saw lasagna or anything like that on our plates growing up.
Did you go directly from Cuba to Los Angeles?
No. We were planed in to Miami by a family member and then taken to his home in New Jersey for the first year in the United States. And I think that’s really where I left my heart. If you listen to a lot of my music, it’s very East Coast sounding, it’s very East Coast minded. Especially when you think of Zulu Nation, Nation of Gods and Earths and stuff like that. These are the architects that founded Hip Hop, that built it from it’s original language. I’ve kinda left my heart there even though I lived in Los Angeles all the other years. I never surcame to the Los Angeles ways. I mean this in the most sincere ways. I never turned myself into a gang banger. I didn’t change my own Cubanism to belong.
So where are you now in terms of food? Do you get down in the kitchen? What is it that you gravitate towards?
Absolutely. I cook for my family every day. I’m the one that does the cooking and I have a wide range of stuff that I make. On Fridays I might bring some fun food to the table and do like a buffalo burger and home cut fries. Or on Monday, Tuesday when it’s a new perspective of the week we’ll eat a bit healthier. We’ll do like a ground turkey based, mix of vegetables in an enriched tomato sauce…things of that nature. With brown rice and maybe a small salad on the side. We try to stay away from pork products, a lot of the GMO foods and stuff like that. Learning the importance of why and making that transition away from poor eating habits is something I’m really big on.
It feels like Hip Hop, as it gets older is becoming more conscious of these things.
Yeah. We have to remember, a lot of our people, whether you’re Latin, Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, African – a lot of what we eat, the way we’re trained to eat was leftovers that our great ancestors were passed down through slavery. Basically meaning, if a slave master finished their dinner, he threw out into the yard the worst part of whatever animal they ate that day. And so, our people, being as creative as they are learned how to spice up the brain or the guts of these animals in order to make it tasty. Through time all that is passed on to our parents, our great grand parents. When we went over to their houses they were eating the same things – pork brain, pork belly, making it taste great. But the reality of it all is the high blood pressure that it caused many of us. The health risks that it caused. The blood clot, arteries being clogged by the food we were brought up eating. If you don’t take the time to address that part of it and recolonialize the ways you eat, these types of things can happen at a very young age.
It seems to take something big to happen before we start to try to address these things.
Absolutely. We’re not taught to eat to live. We’re taught to eat to die. When you consider McDonald’s, Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, Carl’s Jr. Yes, it tastes great and it’s a fast fix but it also has ramifications that are deadly if you over do it. When was the last time you saw a fast food restaurant that actually sold healthy food? Never seen it. You could pull up to the window and order a chia water. You never seen it. We’re programmed to eat to die. There’s money in that. Very few of us are actually looking at that and going that’s wrong, I gotta fix that. I gotta start changing the way I eat if I want to be here for my child’s later years, and things of that nature.
Yeah, chia seeds are such a strange thing to people –
No. They just think the catchy jingle [sings] ch-ch-ch-chia – put it on the head of the little animal, watch the hair grow. These are the things that have happened with, especially, Latino culture. Our foods have been taken, our natural foods from our ancestors; the Mayan, Aztec, Toltec. These people who were eating to be able to run through a long day of gathering foods and taking it back to the village. They’ve taken our food and sold it back to our kids but under the wrong circumstances. We have to start being more conscious of that.
Sure. Even things as basic as water. Access to water. Oftentimes, when you go out to eat the only drink options you have are sodas.
Yeah, and sugar. That’s another thing. A lot of our people are diabetic at a very young age because we’re taught to buy Pepsi, Coke. We’re over-propagandized. Sprite. Seven Up. These things are riddled in sugar and nobody ever says hey, did you drink a glass of water today? Especially alkaline water. Forget water. The water they’re selling us are polluted with lead based things and fluoride, which can shut down the pineal gland. It’s about alkaline water, or water that’s actually healthy for you!
Anything else, as far as healthy eating?
Well, the beautiful thing is that my girlfriend – I should say my finance – is a curandera [traditional healer]. She is a medicine woman. She has taught me to appreciate things that she grows in our own yard; chard, kale. Things I would have never stopped to buy at the grocery store. The importance of a malanga and a yuca and the ailments that those things help to prevent. The ailments that they cure slowly. Like cayenne pepper, it can prevent heart attacks. These are things I’ve learned through her and having an open mind to learn more things. Those things are amazing. I think it’s vital information that we’re never taught.
Yeah, a lot of that has become almost suppressed information.
Absolutely. And you have to seek it, much like real good Hip Hop. You have to look a little further than just your basic radio station playing something mindless. If you want the really good nourishment Hip Hop, you gotta kinda look for it more. Same as the food. The information is there but if you’re tapped into the wrong search engines, you’re never going to find it.
So, is there a correlation between creating and what you consume?
I think when you consume food for life – for living, it starts to show up in your lyricism. Because you’re no longer interested in saying things like “bitch, ho, motherfucking ho.” Now you address those things with names like “queen, respect you, mrs.” Somebody might say I’m crazy but when you eat a lettuce that comes from the ground, the DNA that Mother Earth wants you to take in at that time is in that food. And so now, not only are you nourishing your body but you’re nourishing your brain with better thoughts.
Being that you’re the go-to cook in your house, who would you like to prepare a meal for, if you could prepare a meal for anybody?
My boy, Jarobi White of [A] Tribe [Called Quest] cuz I know he’s like a super chef. So, for me to be able to cook something that he actually likes would be awesome.
I’m sure he’s down with the Cuban flavors.
To be honest with you, Cuban food is not something that I even really cook. It’s all very oil based, pork based and very unhealthy. Even if you fried a banana, it’s dipped in oil for 15 or 20 minutes. And I have to try and stay away from that.
Who would you want to prepare a meal for you?
L.L. Cool J. Why not. I’ve always just been a big Cool J dude. That would be cool.
What are some things you noticed as far as food and culture that you’ve experienced in your travels outside of the U.S.?
Well, there’s several things I’ve learned. One is to be open-minded about other cultures. The cultures of a Colombian are very different to the cultural habits of an Ecuadorian. One thing that I learned, and I think it’s because of my traveling, is that I have a broader thinking base. I’m not stuck on any one thing. From religion to politics, I’m open to listening to everyone’s problem and seeing if we can’t find a universal answer to it. One thing that I’ve learned through music is – you know, when you go to Puerto Rico or Dominican Republic you’re gonna hear more of a Caribbean sounding, group based music. Even if it’s Hip Hop. Now, if you go to Mexico, you’re gonna hear more of a Mexican rooted Hip Hop with actual accordions. Here, you would never even think about putting an accordion into your Hip Hop. The other thing is the food. I really love the food in Santiago, Chile – the milanesas. Those things were so delicious, so tasty. It’s basically the same thing that someone in Cuba might make, just prepared differently. We’re very much the same. Now, when I go to Europe I don’t like the fact that the meat isn’t cooked very well at all. If you’re not used to that raw kind of food you could up chuck easily right before your show because you ate something that was partially cooked. I have to specifically tell them to cook the food twice as long.
Something else that you don’t see here in America is walking after your meal. In many foreign countries, that’s an everyday occurrence. After your family gets together and eats dinner, you all go for a 30 to 45 minute walk which helps to burn off all that stuff. Immediately.
What kinds of things do you recommend?
That’s easy. I recommend knowledge of self. To understand the things our ancestors went through so that we can help the next generation not make the same mistakes. A lot of our ancestors were slaves in certain times of history. And then as we were told we were free we still continued the same slave-like behavior. I think we need to take the time to break ourselves from doing that. Really becoming free people. They say we’re free but we’re still continuing in the same coonish approaches. And we never progress. I would say it’s knowledge of yourself and realize that in your history, your people were great kings, pharaohs, queens and things of this nature. So, start living like that.
Can you talk about some of the other ventures that you have underway?
Creative show content for TV. Developing things that help me utilize my creative mind in very similar ways but more on a visual aspect. That’s what I’m starting to do now. And it has me very excited because I’m on the cusp of something great. I can’t speak about it yet. It still involves music. Because life is music and everything we do is music based. I’m in a transitional period. I really feel it with these other projects that I’m cultivating on the side from the music. Soon, I won’t really have to rhyme anymore unless I want to. But I’m really excited about this other part of the creativity and being able to put visuals to those ideas and make them manifest that way.
Don’t call it a comeback, he’s been here for years. Since 1989’s Escape From Havana, Mellow Man has been dropping that quality good good. If you’re only familiar with his radio hits, do yourself a favor and go back and retrace his legacy via his back catalouge. And please do start with his freshman release, that album is as dope today as it was 26 years ago. His latest effort, Lost Decade – which I highly recommend, and will probably be adding to my “best of” list at the end of the year – can be found HERE. Point your browser toward Ultra Slump’s website for everything Mellow Man Ace and Cazal Organism. This little father and son label has been pumping out the goods and I’m excited for everything they have on the horizon. When we’re given the opportunity to hear from weathered veterans, it’s our duty to stop, listen and pick up some of the gems they lay down for us. So, stay tuned and keep listening because the gems keep on falling.