The members of Serial Killers know they’re dangerous. No, they’re not Horrorcore artists skimming the surface on such meaty topics as life and death. Rather, on their eponymous project, B Real, Xzibit and Demrick deliver a thinking-man’s Gangster Rap over bone-crushing beats from Ill Bill, Green Lantern and Statik Selektah, among others.
Yes, some of the material is decidedly macabre, but the freshly-minted trio places an overall emphasis on lyricism and storytelling. Xzibit and B Real bring a seldom articulated humanity to gangbanging on “In The Sky” and X to the Z comments on Halliburton’s less-than-noble dealings on “Whatever Cuz.” Elsewhere, Demrick displays his heft by discussing how to cope when life hits rock bottom on “Angels Come Calling.”
In an exclusive interview with HipHopDX, B Real, Xzibit and Demrick discuss how society has been desensitized to violence, why some Rap groups fail and why the West Coast should be proud of its gangbanging legacy.
Serial Killers Address Desensitization & Controversy Within Hip Hop
HipHopDX: As music and entertainment has evolved, groups like N.W.A. have had trouble with how the public perceives them. What’s changed as far as that and how music is consumed that allowed you to call yourselves Serial Killers?
B Real: Well, the original concept was Serial Rhyme Killers—meaning we were coming in as emcees with all our skill sets. The way we write songs created a mentality where we were gonna come in and kill these songs. That was the metaphor, but we decided to dump the rhyme off, and it became Serial Killers. I knew that people would ask about what that name meant, but that’s just a part of it. Any group that comes with a name like that—obviously N.W.A. caught a lot of shit with that name. Slaughterhouse did too, to a certain degree. For us, it’s really just raw-ass Hip Hop. We’re coming to kill the songs and show what we’re doing out here. It’s something new, fresh and different than what’s out there.
Xzibit: I think to add on to that, society has evolved—if that’s the word you want to use for it. It definitely has taken a different turn in the way subjects like this are perceived. There’s way bigger problems, and there are actual people out there with serious problems. I think we’ve been desensitized to a certain extent to things that used to bother us. There was a time when being sexual was considered taboo…
B Real: Even talking about herb…
Xzibit: Right, exactly. But now the people that were taking that stance don’t really have the voice they had before. A lot of youngsters have come into positions of power, and they can discern between what’s creative and what’s literal. I think that works in our favor as well.
B Real: It’s the same as Rick Ross choosing the name Rick Ross. People knew that there was a real Rick Ross…
Xzibit & Demrick: There’s a real, “Freeway” Ricky Ross [laughs], and he didn’t rap at all.
B Real: He was wrapping dope but in a different way [laughs]. Shout out to Freeway Rick, by the way. “The Bawse” took a chance by using that name, and he knew he would face some scrutiny. But he did what he did, and it’s pretty much the same thing here. We’re doing what we’re doing, and it’s just the name…it’s a metaphor. If people can’t take a joke, sorry.
DX: We’re talking about larger issues, and reality. X, on the “Laugh Now” song, you rhymed, “Lived in Albuquerque / Ain’t gotta watch ‘Breaking Bad.’” There always seems to be this shock in America when the light is shed on the country’s more unsavory elements. Why do you think America seems to still react in that way?
B Real: I think because there always has to be a finger pointed somewhere. All of America… The whole world is desensitized to shit these days, because so many reality shows exist. All of it is different sort of content, but it’s the most ridiculous, over the top shit. So nothing surprises people anymore. But the ones that still get surprised are the conservative voters, and the religious. The guys at the top that have to keep their jobs know that those people vote. So fingers gotta get pointed somewhere, and Hip Hop has always been one of those easy targets. When you have groups that come with controversial type of names or content within the music, that’s the easiest target to point that big, fat-ass finger at. People aren’t really that shocked about it. The masses aren’t really as shocked as they would have you believe, but to get those votes, they have to play on it and make you believe it’s bigger than it really is.
Why Serial Killers Call Their Sound “Aggressive, Raw-Ass Hip Hop”
DX: Isn’t that normally the case, where there’s this kind of vocal minority?
B Real: Yeah, but the difference now is that more people have access to information than they used to. More people are using that, so they know all that blanket bullshit that they lay upon people is a half-truth or a whole untruth. So I think more people are up on game than media would have you believe.
DX: Demrick, on “Angels Come Calling,” you talk about being at your lowest point. With all the programming we have through media, advertising and such, there’s this element of disconnect along with a fear and questions we can’t really get out.
Demrick: Yeah, you’re only a few clicks away from watching all kind of things happening. On that record, I was talking about everything coming down on you, because you see everything… Everyday, you can log on and see people with a bunch of money, living these different lifestyles and doing all kinds of things. How should you act to get some attention on yourself? Even though you can load something up on YouTube at any minute or put however you’re feeling out there, people don’t pay attention. Like you said, there’s so much happening. How can you actually get people to care? And if it didn’t matter, which way would you go?
B Real: And now, the shit that people care about the most is the most ridiculous. You fuckin’ go to YouTube, and the most ridiculous videos are the ones getting the most clicks, likes and views. The shit that’s maybe some serious content with substance, it will get some views. But is it getting the same amount of attention as the ridiculous stuff?
Xzibit: Is it getting the same attention as the baby biting his brother’s finger? Get the fuck outta here!
DX: Given the mainstream success between all of you, how does this project play into that in the mind frame of creating something?
Xzibit: I don’t think we’re trying to play to that whatsoever. This shift has happened over the last decade where people love to see train wrecks. That’s why shit like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” “The First 48” and all those shows have taken off. They have a huge presence in entertainment. And on the music side, it’s more about what’s going on in the artist’s lives. You haven’t heard a song from them in months, but they’re all over the news because they’re fucking somebody or something’s happened to them. It’s not even about the music anymore, and the music commentary has definitely been taken away from it. So, I don’t think Serial Killers as a project are trying to embed ourselves in that type of rat race at all. It comes down to turning our back on that whole shit and making it about the music. We’re inviting the people who just want to see about the music and don’t care about who we’re sleeping with, what we’re doing or what I said about so-and-so. If you just want to hear some raw shit and see us do what we do best on stage, then this is what’s for you.
B Real: Yeah, we’re trying to create a different movement. X has had his success on his own, I’ve had my success through Cypress Hill and De’s coming up. He’s been coming up, and we’re working on a lot of things with Demrick. So we know we have our individual histories, but we didn’t want any of that to play into effect on this Serial Killers project. It’s something totally new and organic. If it catches, great. But if it doesn’t, we’re still gonna keep making the music. We love to do it, and we’ve got a good chemistry together. So this is just the first volume, and we’re already in progress on picking beats for the second one. These guys are looking though the beats already, and we’re gonna try to create a movement.
DX: With the Serial Killers name and the content of a lot of the songs, death is a pretty big theme. Given our society’s desensitization, I wanted you guys to speak on how it’s not a game when a lot of the situations you’re rhyming about happen.
Xzibit: I think the subject matter and what we decided to rap about is aggressive. I wouldn’t make it as poignant as, “Okay, we’re really going to go out and kill someone.” This is aggressive music, and this is what our taste in music is. This is what we feel comfortable touring with, and it’s what I know I won’t get sick of. I don’t want to be out there saying something I really don’t believe in. You can go to YouTube and actually see somebody sawing someone in half or sawing somebody’s hands off…
Demrick: Yeah, dead bodies are two clicks away.
Xzibit: You can see way worse out there than what we’re talking about. So I don’t think we looked at it like, “Oh, we can’t say this because it might turn some people off.” I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think we live in a way-out world where things of this nature are right in line with where everybody’s at anyway. I don’t think it’s that shocking. I think it’s our take on it. It’s the artistic take that B Real explained as far as the way we like to construct rhymes and be aggressive with it.
Xzibit Explains Incorporating Current Events Into His Rhymes
DX: That leads me to “Whatever Cuz,” which is one of my favorite songs on many levels. Xzibit, can you talk about the Halliburton reference you made? Why and how do you incorporate that into your material? And why is that something you enjoy rhyming about?
Xzibit: Well first, I read [laughs]. I don’t get all my information off a fuckin’ website or Twitter. I like to actually open books with pages and read newspaper articles. Being that I like to stay up on current events, I like to incorporate that into my thought patterns. Some people won’t get it, and they’ll be like, “What’d he say?” But I don’t mind that. I like to encourage the fans to look up what I said if they don’t understand it. Google it or whatever the fuck you have to do in order to understand things are happening to and around you that you’re probably not even aware of.
The actual line is, “Behind the curtain, working like Halliburton / Making for sure, for certain / My stock go up when I’m murkin’.” Halliburton is a private contractor that basically sells arms to both sides and does a lot of contracting work in war zones.
B Real: They give you the weapons to blow everything up, and then they come to put it all back together.
Xzibit: Yeah! They give you the weapons, they clean it up and they give you the infrastructure. There are people in our government working behind that process, period. So we’re thinking we’re on one side and one side only, but there’s a lot more to it. So when we go to war, their stock goes up and they get richer off of a war we didn’t star or have any intentions of finishing. So it’s pretty intense, and it’s not just Rap. That’s the way I view the world, see information and the way I choose to give it to the fans.
DX: B Real, on that song the beat changes a few times, and that’s something you’ve done in your career at different times. From a writer’s perspective, what goes through your mind when you shift like that?
B Real: I always try to tailor make the rhyme to the beat. I wrote that particular flow to the lighter part, which I think was pianos. I just tried to ride the pocket inside of that, and when it came back to the big shit, I kind of switched styles on it.
Xzibit: Perfect words, “Suicide / It’s a suicide,” [laughs].
B Real: Yeah, when it came back in, it reminded me of that song. I just let that particular flow—that hard part of it—be something different, and I wrote a different pocket for it. Working with Muggs, he always taught me to write in different pockets of the song. That may be on the back of it, where the pattern ain’t hitting on the snare, but it’s still on beat. Sometimes you hit the pattern right on the middle. You’re hitting on the snare or right after it; there’s a few different pockets you can rap in. So I try to tailor make every rap in those pockets, and I try to find where it’s at and go from there. Being that they gave me two landscapes to go on, it made it a challenge, and I like a challenge. So I just figured I would totally flip it when I got to the second part of it.
That’s my style of writing, and if the beat is one way the whole time, I’ll stay with that beat. Sometimes I’ll change the style on it if it works and still rides in that pocket. But I like when it changes up like that. We used to do shit like that in when I was in Psycho Realm, and there were a couple songs where the beat totally flipped, and we changed to a completely different style. As an emcee, you hope for songs like that, and fortunately this one came. I was able to flip out a little bit on that.
Demrick, Xzibit & B Real Reveal The Pros & Cons Of Being In A Group
DX: Speaking of Psycho Realm, I wanted you guys to speak about being in different groups. What’s the benefit of being in a group, and what makes them hard to sustain?
B Real: From my standpoint—and Cypress Hill’s been together for 23 years—we had a unique situation. We grew up together, we all had the same musical tastes and we’re all very honest with each other. There’s no egos about the work. If somebody doesn’t like something, we set it, reworked it, and we still work like that to this day. That being said, you have three individuals with three different egos, insights and strong personalities. There are times when you may disagree on something, but at the end of it, you remember that you’re family. Everybody is trying to put out the best shit, and that’s what’s kept Cypress together for so long. We’ve had our moments where we’ve been away, took our breaks and stuff like that. But sometimes you need that. As you grow and evolve into this game as a unit, there comes a point where you’re together all this time from touring, promotional shit and everything where the break happens. You say, “Okay, I’m gonna go do this over here.” You need that break to decompress, so when you come back, everybody’s fresh. Nobody’s annoyed from each other, and that’s how it works. Now in other groups…
Xzibit: [Laughs] Yeah, I can go from there. My thing is, I’ve always wanted to be in a group. Always. Every since the days of Tha Likwit Crew, on to Golden State Warriors, Strong Arm Steady, so on and so forth. There’s always been a desire for me to be in that group format, and I would love to showcase that. We always get to a certain point, and then shit gets weird. I’m a very abrasive, straightforward person, and I don’t deal well with men with emotions and being all soppy. See how you feel, and then say what you mean. Mean what you say.
Demrick: Put it on the table.
Xzibit: Yeah, when it gets weird, and people start acting all… It’s not a pissing contest to me. If it’s a group effort, I want to get to it where we can monetize this shit and everyone can be happy. Let’s go out there and kick these motherfucker’s asses in front of the show. That’s what I want out of being in a group situation.
If you sit a bunch of emcees in a circle and ask each one of them what they’re rapping for, you’d think you’d get the answer that was in your head. But if you go around that circle, you’ll hear a variety of answers. Some will say, “Nigga, I just want some pussy,” “I just wanna make a car payment,” or, “I just wanna get a house for my mama.” It will be all type of different shit you get from this circle. So I’ve learned that until you find that like-mindedness in a group situation, you can’t get where you’re supposed to be.
B Real: Not to cut you off, but the advantage of being in a group is when you have like-minded individuals, everybody’s on the same page and everybody has the same passion, there’s nothing stronger than that. Some of the best Hip Hop has been made by groups and duos—Public Enemy, Run DMC, The Beastie Boys, N.W.A., A Tribe Called Quest, OutKast, EPMD, Wu-Tang Clan, and I don’t even want to mention our shit. The list goes on and on, and obviously some of it has been by solo rappers as well. But there’s just something unique about a group when everybody is clicking on the same page. Going from Cypress Hill, and then doing something different with Psycho Realm was a challenge for me. I thought their two voices [Sick Jacken, Big Duke] were unique, and I thought I could fit in with that. And we did, it set sail, and they were able to do their own thing after I skated off.
I’ve always been a team player, and I’ve never had the ambition to go out there and do too much solo shit. That’s why I only did the mixtapes and one solo album. I like the collaboration, because it’s strong when you have so many different creative minds throwing ideas into the pot. It may be chaotic in the beginning, but somehow it all works out. You sew it together, and it becomes something cool.
Xzibit: And niggas be thirsty. Don’t fuck that up…niggas be thirsty. That’s not the case here, because B Real’s seen it already. He has his own shit, and I’ve had my own shit. De has his own shit, but he’s worked with both of us and seen how we both operate. So that tension that starts to happen once the group starts taking off because people want to be in a bigger or better place than they actually are, that don’t exist here. So it’s different. Just because people know you, doesn’t mean you’ve made it. You have to continue working.
Demrick: Being in a group with X and B, we’ve been working in the studio for over two…three years together. So it was nothing to do the record, and it just came together naturally. I’ve been on the road with both of these guys and done a lot of shows with them, so it’s the like-minded way. It’s just wanting to put the competition element in it. That’s what I like about the group thing; you’re in the corner writing your verse, then you get to come back like, “Yo, check this out.” Then you see the reaction from people you respect and look at as dope emcees too.
At the end of the day, that’s what the whole thing was about—just killing these tracks and killing all competition. It’s all love with all of the rappers and all that stuff, but [it’s about] wanting to be the best at the craft. You’re surrounding yourself with people you think are really great and showing them your ideas so you’re putting out the high-caliber, best music.
B Real Says DJ Quik Helped Show People He’s A Real Emcee
DX: B Real, Cypress Hill songs like “Pigs,” “Looking Through The Eye Of A Pig” and your verse on “In The Sky” talk about both sides of violence and the problems that cause it. Why do you think more people haven’t noticed that about your writing and that perspective you bring to those topics?
B Real: I think Cypress Hill is such a formula, that they look at the weed aspect more than anything. They forget about the artistry of it. I have definitely felt underrated and shit at times, but I know what and who I am as an emcee. So it really didn’t bother me that much.
Xzibit: [Laughs] Them plaques don’t lie either.
B Real: Them plaques don’t lie, but I’ve always been inspired by other emcees to step up my game on each project I go into. I know that Cypress Hill has done their thing and sold a bunch of records. But a lot of people look at us as a weed group, and they don’t look too much for the emcee side of who we are—Sen Dog or myself. It’s a group thing, and when you’re in a group—no matter who it is at the forefront—not too many groups get put in that dynamic with solo rappers like Eminem, KRS-One, Jay Z or Nas. We don’t get put into those categories; we get put into the categories of the best groups and shit like that. So I think people forget about that.
When they hear me on things like this, I think that’s when they’re more aware of my emcee skills and the styles that I’m capable of. I gotta thank DJ Quik for that, because I think that was the first time outside of Cypress Hill that people saw that I’m a real emcee and not just a songwriter. People look at Cypress Hill like it’s more about songwriting. There’s a style and a pocket in there, but it’s not like true emceeing where I’m just flipping out on everybody and everything. It’s very formulated.
In this, we chose to be just emcees and flip on this. It still has some sort of structure as to what the song is. So people will see that. Once again, I gotta reference DJ Quik. On “Fandango,” he asked me to come and do something different and not pitch my voice as high as I would with Cypress Hill…just do a different style. He asked me to be really fluid with the style without so many pauses and sustains within the style of the verse. He let me be an emcee on that track, and he didn’t expect me to be B Real of Cypress Hill. He just wanted me to be B Real as an emcee, and that kind of opened people’s eyes as to what I was capable of in terms of flipping verses. It never really bothered me, because I know what I’m capable of. Through the mixtapes, certain fans have heard that. And as long as certain fans are hearing that shit, I’m cool with it. It doesn’t need to be the world, because I’m not vain like that. I don’t gotta be referenced in the Top Five, because I know what I’m worth. It’s cool. I’ll just keep flipping with these guys, and we’ll fucking keep on massacring shit.
DX: X, with your verse on “In The Sky,” you and everyone else told individual stories. Can you talk about bringing a humanity to the gangbang perspective as far as the attitude, persona of it and why you were the way you were?
Xzibit: It’s no mystery now that I’ve had a very turbulent childhood and very turbulent teenage years. I made a lot of ill decisions, and thank God I was able to pull through them without any kind of real repercussions. I risked jeopardizing my freedom and actually getting myself killed. Now I’m a family man with two boys and a family to take care of, and it’s not like I’m looking to prove anything to anyone. I made it through all of that with the attitude and know-how to survive those situations, and made the decision to better myself and better my life. I’m saying, “Here’s my life and here’s my story. Look at where I am now.” I think that’s important. A lot of the people that will hear this information [can’t get that] from people they respect or love, because they’re probably in jail for the rest of their lives or in the graveyard. So they’re hear from us, “I’ve been there, I’ve ran that and I’ve been your age. I’ve done what you’ve done, but you haven’t done what I’ve done.”
I barely survived by the skin of my teeth by the grace of God. There was no, “Oh, I’m just like James Bond, and I can do all these things incredibly well.” No. It was a lot of fucking up and a lot dished out and taken in [laughs]. I’m not out there saying I’m super gangster or whatever. These are things that I actually survived, and I like to put that perspective into my music, because a lot of people out there think they’re the tough guy. But there’s always somebody tougher. Always.
I don’t like to get preachy, because nobody likes getting preached to nowadays. But I can tell them how it is and tell them for real. There’s a duality there, and I think it needs to be said. One time, Tupac said, “Hold us accountable for our lyrics,” because a lot of rappers just say, “Oh, I’m telling stories. You can’t hold me accountable.” No; hold me accountable, because what I’m saying is real shit. I wouldn’t put nothing out there to fabricate no persona that I think I want you to have about me. I want to put the real out there, and sometimes I won, and sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes, I just barely got by through the grace of God or luck.
How “Serial Killers Vol.1” Shows Both Sides Of Gang Culture
DX: Songs like “Dickies & Bandanas” and “Whatever Cuz” are obviously gang references for those that don’t know. How do you balance it so people can’t say you’re glorifying it?
Xzibit: That’s where we live. The whole coast has been built off that—people representing their neighborhoods and what they believe. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
B Real: And it’s both sides of it. Goldie [Loc] was a Crip, and I was a Blood. To a lot of us on the West Coast, you’re still from the sides you’re on. But it’s about getting money, trying to get out of that box we were in during the late ‘80s and ‘90s where we were just smashing on each other left and right. I don’t think it’s that much of a big deal anymore; it’s more of a West Coast thing. I think that was just more of a representation of the West Coast culture out here.
Xzibit: Yeah, that’s how I see it. You see guys down South talking about slabs and their culture. They talk about where they’re at. People in New York rap about their boroughs or where they’re from, and they’ll make certain ad libs to represent whatever they say in their neighborhood. It’s the same shit. It’s just that out here, we’ve had a culture that everybody took a little piece of and kind of claimed and made their own. But it’s nothing about being proud of being on the West Coast and throwing up the W. That used to be the staple.
B Real: Yeah, pretty much.
Xzibit: But now you see the white t-shirts and gang lingo down South. You see it in New York and all these different places. But the original place where all that shit came from—the old schools, as they call them in the Bay Area—all that lifestyle came from California. Live it. The gangs translated into entertainment and a worldwide phenomenon. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of where we’re from, so that’s basically what it is. If you try to look at the negative side of “Dickies And Bandanas,” then that is where that came from. But look how big it got. Look how the world recognizes. As soon as they see it, they can automatically know where it’s from. That’s something to be proud of.