HHCF EXCLUSIVE: Balance & Big Rich

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Balance and Big Rich bring banging beats and Bay unity to the mic.

Bay Area rappers Balance and Big Rich are ice cold on the mic. Balance represents Oakland and Big Rich reps SF’s Filmore district. Both city’s have high reputations for their sports, music and murder rates.

In the early days of Bay Area rap, violence was real common. Rappers from different cities could not always perform together. There were a few acceptions, but as a rule, rappers in Oakland performed in Oakland and rappers fro SF or Vallejo stayed to themselves.

So, when Balance and Big Rich came together to make an album- this was history. Folks like to talk about nonviolence in rap. The “Unda Dogg Kingz “ is a slammin’ LP that shows a new era for Bay Area artists and for rap music in general.

The existence of the “Unda Dogg Kingz” will do more for peace on the streets than any half baked “Hip-Hop Activist” can ever put down. These cats have a deeper connection to the streets (where the violence jumps off) than a lot of the “activists”. So the power of an album like “Unda Dogg Kingz” can never be underestimated. In this interview, we talk about how they came together, how hyphy dropped the ball and how the Bay will rise anyway.

HHCF: How did this album happen? I’ve been covering rap for a long time. Ten years ago a dude from SF and a dude from Oakland doing an album together would be unheard of.

Big Rich: Well me and Balance been friends outside of rap for years. We both dropped our debut albums last year. So, we’re both rookies. Me and him were just having conversation on the sidekick and we were discussing doing music. He was like “Ok, I’ll send you some joints, and you send me some joints. I don’t even remember which one of us came up with it first. But it was like “Let’s just do a whole project.”

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We’re underdogs still. We’ve been in this game for a minute. We’ve sold a nice amount of units. We’re in the upper echelon of the Bay Area rap scene. But we’re still underdogs as far as getting our full credit for what we do.

We started out to make a mixtape. But as we began recording, it became bigger than a mixtape. It just sounded bigger than a mixtape. The album is great.

HHCF: What was your artistic approach to the Undadogg Kings. What were you looking to get sonically and lyrically outta this?

Balance : One of the first things was…We were tired of the commercial ringtone type rap. We wanted to get it back to sharpening your swords- lyrics and hot beats. We wanted to prove that we are masters at what we do. That’s really where it stemmed from. Rich grabbed some bangin’ beats. I grabbed some bangin’ beats.

Rich would lay a verse and I’d lay a verse. It was like friendly competition. Like sparring. You hear the energy. I believe some of his best lyrics are on there. Some of my best lyrics are on there. We took it back to raw beats and lyrics.

When people hear it, people tell us “I love it because y’all just on there bustin’!”

Now days, cats are like, “I only wanna make a club joint. I wanna make a ringtone. I wanna make something the girls love me for.”

What we do is art.

HHCF: So, when you think about the future of the Bay, what do you want the Bay to get from this record.

Big Rich: Of the top? UNITY. It gets frustrating to me. Some people don’t have to like each other. But we still need organization to we can get this money flowing. It took a long time for the rest of the country to even start noticing us…Let along respecting us.

Now that they notice us, we have to get their respect. Once we get their respect we can take this thing further than the Bay. But there is no organization.

In the mafia, they did not always like one another. But they kept it organized so that everybody could make money. Things were not stagnant. The money was steadily flowing. This album is a proper demonstration of that unity.

Me and Balance don’t talk every day. But when we do talk its positive. We’re gonna be friends past this and we were friends before it. We need more of that, so we can get this money. Nobody here is really bigger than nobody else.

There are a few exceptions like Too Short and E-40. But outside of that, they look at all of us [Bay Area MC’s] in the same boat.

We need to tour together, and do more together.

HHCF: Balance, we don’t even have to talk about how hyphy dropped the ball. A lot of good music was made but cats could not close the deal. I think one of the issues is that cats are too Bay’ed out. They shout out to Bay too much in the hooks for the songs to be universally absorbed. Lil Jon does not say ATL in every hook. Do you think those kinds of things are hurting the Bay?

Balance : I think that once of the reasons we throw the city’s out so much, is ‘cause don’t have nothing. So when cats don’t have anything they gonna shout out they hood, and where they’re from. At the same time, when I went to NY, they don’t really care where I’m from. If I’m doing an interview with Kay Slay or Big Rich is on Shady 45- they don’t care where he is from. They just care if its hot or not.

I feel like if its hot, it transcends all ages, races, creeds all of that. At the same time, I do think a lot of Bay artists do keep it too Bay’ed out. You gotta go around. See what cats are doing in ATL, NY, LA and be aware. Unless, you are just making music for yourself and for your homies. If that’s the case your music is never gonna travel anywhere. You gotta make music for yourself, but keep everybody in mind.

I think early on I kept it too Bay’ed out. But I think I find more success as I expand my horizons. I’m from The Town [Oakland]. I do mention it in my verses. Not just on every hook, “This the Town! This the town!”

Just like Rich. They know he’s from Filmore. They gonna hear it in his music and in his verses. But every song don’t say Filmore. Because you alienate people when you do that.

HHCF: So will this be a series of records.

Big Rich: We’re gonna record some more and let people know this was no one time thing. We gonna go do part two.

I’m starting to give more of our music away. I am starting to do that with more of the music that I have sitting around. Of course the soundscans across the country are not the same. But the Bay Area has never been nothing to talk about in terms of soundscans.

I’m gonna give these people music to enjoy. But when the solo album comes its like “Now you owe me.”

I just wanna be more consistent. We gonna keep the Undadogg thing going. We ain’t mainstream platinum. Even after that happens we gonna be Undadoggs.

Its like Blue Magic [from American Gangsta]. It’s a brand.

We wanna bring more groups in and do collective compilations.

We don’t wanna alienate ourselves from the rest. He has artists, I have artists. They have the same mindstate as us. So, this is a brand. We gonna expand on it.

HHCF: So if this is the only thing people read about the Undadogg Kings, what do you want them to know about this album?

Balance : I want them to know that two highly touted lyricists got together to give something to the people for free. If you wanna hear some real west coast, street music that hits you in your stomach- then we got that for you. And we’ll continue to do that.

© 2008 Hip-Hop Chess Federation.

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