Bru Lei has spent the better part of the last decade being a team player. He’s stayed busy doing group projects and doing shows on the road. Now Bru Lei is going for self. Bru recently released his first solo album in nine years called “Selfie.”
Selfie comes courtesy of Public School Records and is produced by Noshess, with one track crafted by Styles 1001. The profanity-free album guest stars Killah Priest, N.O.N., Mic Jordan, Jimmy the Saint, POOR, Pharroh, Malia, Mi Amor, and DJ Billy Lane.
The Real Hip-Hop chatted with Bru Lei about his clean style of rhyming, his love of the Wu-Tang Clan, and his new album, Selfie.
TRHH: Why’d you call your new album “Selfie”?
Bru Lei: I think it’s basically self-expression for myself. I was doing a lot of stuff with groups and crews – was working well with others. I just wanted to have creative control and express myself, but also still include people in the project. It doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is out of the picture just because I’m taking the picture.
TRHH: You’ve been doing other things but haven’t released a solo project in a long time, how long did it take you to create Selfie?
Bru Lei: I’d say from the first song to now 2-to-3 years. I think in between there are tons of songs in my archives. None of them have any intention of going on a specific project. The first song that I recorded was with the homie Noshess — he produced most of the album. He was always sending me beats and getting me motivated. He said it was his dream to produce an album for me. We had been recording songs but I was going to call it something else and it was going to be totally different. I think the first song that I thought was a good one was “Stay Human.” We recorded that and I archived it and knew I wanted to put it out on the album, but I didn’t know what the title of the album was going to be. From there we started doing more songs and at the same time I was recording with him I was doing other projects on the side. I would say two or three years.
TRHH: How did you link up with Killah Priest for the song BRUTANG?
Bru Lei: It goes back to when Killah Priest was dropping that Heavy Mental album. He’s dope. He’s one of the elite rappers as far as lyrical content. I remember I was living in Ohio and the internet wasn’t really a thing like that. He was in town and I went up to this spot. I went in there and there was nobody up in there. He was leaving and I was like, “It’s over?” It was still early, like ten o’clock and he was like, “Yeah, it’s over.” I didn’t even know who the promoter was, but in this town you have to have local support for the word to spread because you can’t just put it in the paper and expect people to show up. That was a while ago and I had lost contact with him throughout the years.
Ghostface was scheduled to come to Cali to perform. I love Wu-Tang, I love Ghostface so I spent my last dollars on party preparation, the ticket, and Killah Priest comes out to the 4th Chamber beat, but he doesn’t rap though. It was weird. He saying shit but everyone was hype so you couldn’t really tell what he was saying. He was saying, “Ghostface is still stuck in the airport. He’s not going to be here tonight, but we’ll reschedule it.” I was like, “Wait a minute, did he say something about Ghostface not being here?” He said, “Do any emcees wanna rap?” and he just gives me the mic and I’m still confused. I’m on stage with Killah Priest and there is no Ghostface. I’m rapping and I say something at the end like, “Ghostface ain’t here, we want our money back.” And I got the crowd saying, “We want our money back!” The promoter was hella mad at me and Killah Priest thought it was funny. They came back and he recognized me and said, “I told you we were coming back.” It was a whole totally different vibe — I think he came back on 4/20.
I was at this art festival in Oakland and I was just standing in this one spot the whole night. It was so many people there and all these random people that I would know and not know would pass by and say what’s up. I was just about to leave that spot with my homie and took two steps and looked over to my left and Killah Priest was just standing there. I was so confused. He was already beside me but I didn’t see him. I was like, “What are you doing here?” and he was laughing at me and said, “I live here.” Killah Priest lives in Oakland? That’s not really known I don’t think. From that we were just building. Before we recorded that song I had recorded two songs with Cappadonna for two other projects.
I’m trying to put together a whole project called BRUTANG that’s Wu-Tang influenced with Wu members on it. I’m like halfway done with that one. I’m talking with Killah Priest that night at the art festival and we ended up hanging out. It was me, Killah Priest, Opio from Hieroglyphics, and Souls of Mischief was there too. We ended up going to this after spot and hanging out. I got his math and my birthday came along and I had no idea what I was going to do for my birthday. I wanted to go on a trip and it dawned on me to hit him up. I thought even if I don’t do it today, do it sometime soon. This is what I would actually want for my birthday. Instead of spending all this money I’d rather put some money in the studio, put some money into my art, and myself. I hit him up, he drove up to the studio, we kicked it, and that’s what it was. I had a few beats – maybe 4 or 5. That was the one that he picked. That was the first beat I played but I played four more. He was nodding his head to some other ones but he kept saying, “The first one.” I appreciate him for jumping on that.
TRHH: The song “P!!!” is really creative and at the end you shouted out some of our own that we’ve lost, which was dope. What inspired that song?
Bru Lei: I was listening to some old Spitball. That was one of my first crews that I was in and DJ Przm, rest in peace, he was a dope producer. He was like the RZA of our town where he had the dope production and he would put people on tracks that had beef with each other and you wouldn’t even know. It would just be dope music. There was this one song that he has, I don’t remember the name, where he said, “I take a longer piss than Adam Sandler,” from some movie — I forget what movie it is. He keeps rapping and in the background all you hear is Adam Sandler peeing in the background for like a minute and a half. He starts rapping about it and I was just cracking up laughing about that. I was thinking about that and thought what if I did a whole song in memory of him where I did the same thing and peeing for a long time but I’m saying a bunch of P words at the same time. That was the original concept of it. After Sean Price passed and Pumpkinhead passed I started writing that song. It cuts it off but I wanted that song to be for all of them – Phife Dawg, Prince, Prodigy. I really love alliteration as well too. That’s one of my favorite things in Hip-Hop. I love the letters and the letter game and stuff like that.
TRHH: What’s your writing process like? Do you write to the beat or when rhymes come to you?
Bru Lei: I usually do write to the beats. On that album I definitely did write to the beats. It’s quite a challenge because sometimes people will give you the beats broken up into a basic stem of just the beat and the melody and the producer will produce around the emcee. On this one it was kind of like the beats were already laid out and I had to match the rhythm and know where the hook was. I normally just listen to the beat and freestyle over it and try to come up with some type of concept. Not even a hook or anything specific, I just try to freestyle and bring out the emotion of whatever the beat is saying to me. From there I just start writing. A song like “P!!!” or “M.C.” or “Magic” were brainstormed first. It doesn’t even have to rhyme at all, I just write as much as I possibly can and then I just build from there. I start crossing out words, circling words, and it’s process of elimination with thoughts and ideas. Now I’ve been writing a lot to no beats. I have dope ass concepts that I’ve been writing about, but the album I wrote to the beat.
TRHH: Selfie is one of the best Hip-Hop albums of 2017 and I didn’t even notice that the album contained no curse words until I read it somewhere. You’ve proven that vulgarity isn’t necessary to make dope Hip-Hop music, why do you think curse words are so rampant in popular rap music today?
Bru Lei: Thank you, man. Word! That means a lot to me. It’s weird because I remember when I was in second grade, I guess I was like 7 years old. One of my aunties said, “What are you gonna do when you grow up?” and I said, “Cuss!” I remember that to this day. I was in my grandmother’s kitchen. At that point there was never cussing on the radio or music videos, so I was getting the cussing from inside the home. It was a grown thing and I never understood why bad words were bad words. How can a word be bad? No matter what the word is. There are some pretty cruel words, I get that now, but at that age I didn’t know. And I didn’t know the power of words back then. I feel like it was forbidden to do it as a youth so anything that’s similar to I feel like people just do it more. I don’t know if it’s really like a status of being a bad ass or anything like that. I think a lot of times people will challenge me to battle and if they are saying cuss words in between their bars it’s like, man, just walk away. You have so many choices of words to say. If you’re rhyming cuss words together and shit, I’m cussing right now, but it doesn’t make sense to me.
My favorite group is Wu-Tang and my second favorite group is Mobb Deep. Their subject matter and all the stuff that they talk about has never made me live that lifestyle or try to be what they actually are. It’s never had that effect on me. Then there is music that I get tired of after a while when they say the same things. Why’d they have to shoot this dude? Why’d they have to shoot me? Why’d they have to do these things in the song? It’s like a movie. They’re explaining what’s going on and painting the picture for you and I get it. It’s a picture of the life of having to hustle and stay alive. Do you know off hand of a song or group that just has a ridiculous amount of cussing? Besides someone like N.W.A. but someone that’s like, “Motherfuck, fuck, shit, motherfuck, fuck.”
TRHH: 2 Live Crew comes to mind [laughs].
Bru Lei: I was thinking of 2 Live Crew, that’s why I did that cadence but then at the same time I’m thinking about their songs and except for the P word they really weren’t cussing like that. Too $hort, didn’t he have a whole thing on that?
TRHH: Yeah, CussWords.
Bru Lei: I think back in the day it was the shock value. Like for a kid to say, “Oooh he said a bad word.” It was first a sign of being grown. I don’t think it was a thing of not being creative. In high school or middle school there was a group of people that weren’t scholars. That wasn’t the cool thing, maybe it is now — I hope it is. When you get grown it becomes a thing to be proud of, talk about, and brag about like, “I got a college degree,” or “I got a high school diploma” or “I didn’t drop out of school.” It becomes a good thing but at the time when you’re in it it’s kind of cool to not be on top of your game with your books, reading, and all that stuff. I think it falls back on that.
I don’t know, I feel like even in TV it’s changed a lot to where they are saying certain words that they weren’t saying 5 or 10 years ago. It pushes the culture in that direction of what’s edgy. It’s like being a bad ass or not being soft. If you don’t cuss it might be considered soft or weak. It doesn’t have that much emotion in it. I guess when you cuss somebody out you have a lot of emotion usually, unless you’re like used to cussing all the time and you’re just cussing for no reason. I wasn’t even going to tell anybody that there was no cussing just to see if they would figure it out. I like that you said you didn’t know without it being written. That’s one of the things I’d like the feedback on like, “Did you know I didn’t cuss on that?” and they’d probably be like, “Nah, I didn’t.” That would make someone go back and listen to it.
TRHH: Who is the Selfie album made for?
Bru Lei: That’s a good question. First and foremost I made it for myself. Sometimes I get depressed or sometimes I feel like, “What am I doing this or that for?” Why am I rapping? I love martial arts and all that but to just kick a crowds ass every time it’s like, why am I doing this? Why am I getting on stage and talking about doing this? I think it’s for people with an open mind — people that are expanding their minds. The term is “woke” but that’s cliché. I would say it’s for people that are woke but also people that are awakening. The whole earth is on some awakening vibes right now. It’s for the creative people, it’s for the youth, but it’s also for the older generations of Hip-Hop that miss the golden era and call certain Hip-Hop “real Hip-Hop” and say that other Hip-Hop is trash. They don’t even give it a chance, but at the same time this is music that should be relatable to those people who have kids that they can play in front of their kids without actually influencing them in a wrong manner. Some people still rock out to that stuff and they don’t even realize that the words are getting inside these kids heads and is guiding them in a certain direction that may be wrong or right, depending on whose opinion it is. They may also want to embody those things that it’s mentioning.
I think it’s for adults and second It’s for the generations to come to see that it could be done in that matter. Life ain’t always a party. I got a lot of friends that drink, smoke, and just party. They come over and ask me to kick it and I look at my walls and these are the pictures that I’ve painted, or all the videos that I made on the internet, and those things take time. It wasn’t time that I was wasting. I feel like you can waste time and time could just fly by before you know it. You could also take control of that time and each day chip away at a project, or be creative, or leave the world with something to remember you by. A lot of my friends have passed away that can no longer create art. I think that was a true reason why I wanted to release this because man, you never know. I’m sitting on this music and who would put it out? Who would know what to do with it? I know the creative process that it took so I just wanted to push it out for that. I was doing a lot of shows at high schools getting paid good money. I would just do the songs that I had and I would cut out the curse words. I got tired of bleeping out words and not having a radio version. I would go to these schools and they would see my old videos anyway and know the real words. It was like, “Whoa,” that was a major thing.
I was dating this girl at the time that said she would call me out every time I mentioned smoking or drinking something. She would say, “You’re just regular. You’re just a regular rapper.” She was like my dream girl so I had to prove something to myself and to her that this was a body of work that I did that I could look back on. I don’t know what 2Pac’s mission was always, but he always had those songs that you could not take away from him. He had Keep Ya Head Up, Dear Mama, and plenty more that you could name that were of a positive nature. No one could ever take that away from him that he put it there. With people passing away I was getting depressed and I wanted something that I feel good about when I listen to it. A lot of music I couldn’t even listen to anymore because it was all senseless stuff. It doesn’t really help my spirit. Even the good stuff that was talking in that manner. I would miss my homies and stuff like, “We could make the beats this tight,” and “We could make the rhymes this tight.” I just made a self-help album for myself. That’s the best way to put it.
Purchase: Bru Lei – Selfie