West Coast fixture goes solo
As the frontman for Cypress Hill, B-Real has been one of the most distinctive voices in hip-hop since '91. Not to be outdone, the group's producer DJ Muggs is equally renowned with his penchant for funked-up percussion and visionary sampling. But as B-Real steps up for his first solo shot, Muggs is nowhere in sight. Instead, B-Real daringly puts the production in his own hands and mostly lesser-known players.
Listening to Smoke N Mirrors, it's clear that the rapper/beatmaker doesn't want to shed his history with Cypress Hill—he's just flipping it. The lone weed anthem "Fire" takes his group's trademark subject matter to another level with aid from Damian Marley and a respectable reggae beat. As a producer though, B-Real doesn't always aim in the right direction. Attempting to make a hyphy track on the generic club joint "Dr. Hyphenstein" does little to add to B-Real's new solo effort. He sounds more comfortable rapping about the realities of living the street life on unsurprising but solid West Coast–centric cuts ("Gangsta Music," "Children of the Night"). Despite the minimal amount of standouts, Smoke N Mirrors should appease B-Real's loyal fan base. [3 out of 5 stars]