Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Art of Flow: An Interview with R.E.A.L. Wolfish & Stranger

Rebels Educated At Large

   Brothers Wolfish & Stranger aka R.E.A.L. are probably best known for contributing two of the hardest tracks to Fat Jack's classic Cater to the DJ compilation. On a record that was filled to the brim with the tongue twisting lyrical gymnastics the Good Life was known for, R.E.A.L. came with a different approach, focusing on heartfelt and sincere lyricism and, as they refer to it, the art of flow. After releasing a four song EP followed by their contributions to Cater, Wolfish & Stranger launched a prolific career, releasing several albums and singles over the past 15 years. Their latest album, the upcoming Wolkcronike 2G: Hood Jounralist project will be another journey into the art of flow, coming with the positive and uplifting, yet gritty and reality based, message they specialize in. I had a chance to chop it up with these seasoned emcees and got some insight into their history and creative process. Enjoy!

What were your earliest experiences with hip-hop and what inspired you to start rapping?

Stranger: For us, really, we were listening to people like Big Daddy Kane back in the day, KRS-One...

Wolfish: As far as hip-hop too, just the old break beat stuff, when it started off, the whole break dancing thing, you know, when you're at clubs and at the parties. And remember, it was all about the DJ back in the day. So when we mastered that craft, 'cause we grew up playin' ball so we always had an athletic mentality as far as team sports. So we get a chance to go out in the night, in the beginning, we always knew DJs and we always had skill on the mic, but it was just a fun thing, like feel music, coming from the soul. And that's, for me, when the hunger started and I got to see the picture develop. You get to see people and their natural reactions to your flow. And that's how we created our own delivery and just stuck with it, from being out there taking chances and just feeling good! And the people accepted it and we just kept going, watering the plants, taking it more serious, and then it turned into a writer's thing. Once we mastered that part, we got the vibe, so when we write, we know how to move the people. It's important for us to give them that substance within the music, you know? This world, it changes constantly, but sometimes things get dumbed down to where it becomes a trend. So one thing, never fall for the flavour of the month. 

Stranger: Exactly! We always going against the grain, trying to stay on that route. So in regards to us, we always felt we were going against those who should be standing with us, and it turned into a competition. But it should never become a competition because we come to the game with that whole innovative, uplifting, rally round the flag type of mentality.

I read you're originally from Ohio. Is that where you were first exposed to hip-hop?

Wolfish: I was born in Ohio but I moved out here when I was five, so Cali is pretty much all I know. But I always keep a tight ear to home base, we respect those soils where we're from. But our flows come from L.A. though. That's 100% on that.

When did you guys officially form R.E.A.L.?

Stranger: That would have to be, like, '90. We were still up in college at Long Beach State. Yeah, from there we just started - 'cause it started out as a bunch of freestyling athletes, just kickin' it with the fam. That's how we kick back, slappin' dominoes, bumpin' beats and rappin' over their songs. That was our fun. Then, one day, we decided, "You know? Let's just go 'head and really start doin' this!" And that's when we came up with that R.E.A.L., which is Rebels Educated At Large.

Were you guys part of the Good Life?

Stranger: When they was doin' the Good Life, we was still playin' football. But we were part of Project Blowed. We got introduced to that whole scene by Ric Roc. He introduced us to Fat Jack. So through him we met the whole Massmen, Freestyle Fellowship, Ganjah K, Phoenix Orion, everybody. Fat Jack took us under his wing 'cause we was just out there doin' it 'cause we loved to do it. And Fat Jack took us under his wing 'cause he wanted to put us on some tracks, and from there we just kept goin'.

A lot of people probably know you from Cater to the DJ. Did Fat Jack come to you and tell you, "I'm doing a compilation. Do you want to be a part of it?" Or were you guys just recording?

Wolfish: We were actually working on our EP, Immortalized. And Fat Jack was with us in the Black Hole Studio, which was an old studio that used to be in Hawthorne.

Stranger: That was the same studio that Eazy recorded Bone in. McCloud brothers and all that good stuff.

Wolfish: Yeah, McCloud brothers and Loud Records and those guys. So we had Fat Jack in the studio with us before Cater was even thought of. It's a blessing that we had Fat Jack with us in that situation. That's a whole 'nother story. It just so happened that at that time, we was ready to make a move. We went to Fat Jack. He was ready. So we booked the studios, we blocked it and we got Fat Jack over there and we was just up in the studio drinkin', talkin' and puttin' it down, and that's Immortalized. So we took two cuts that Fat Jack did for us and those are the two cuts he put on Cater.

So Immortalized was the first project you guys released?

Stranger: Well, we put out something else years before that but it was just on cassette tape.

Wolfish: Yeah, the first package was Immortalized. That's when Disc Makers first hit. We got blessed. We ran through the whole Iuma thing when Iuma was fresh, which lead to the Apple deal. We were the first R.E.A.L. on iTunes. Back then, that's how we got in, through Disc Makers. Then we got on with this huge show promoter, Sean Healy, when he was first coming up. He's a major show promoter all around the country but he was based in Hollywood when he first got started. So we linked up with him, we did the Dragonfly, Live Bait, Chillers, all that stuff, you know what I mean? So we was blessed to have a lil' avenue and we still had access to the underground. We was always on our own page.This is all before Cater though.

So after Immortalized you dropped The Art of Flow. How did you approach that differently, as a full length album?

Stranger: What we did was we started gathering all the different producers we had dealt with on our journey. So on that project you get Fat Jack, you get DJ Word, you get Walt Weeze. You get another guy, Alias. These are the guys who were just with us true and through. They would never charge us for a beat early in the game. Art of Flow came after Cater. So it was Immortalized, then Fat Jack dropped Cater, then we came and we dropped Art of Flow.

Then after that you had The Art Still Flows, and you had Dutch on a bunch of tracks on there and doing production. How did you hook up with Dutch? Was that a Fat Jack connection?

Stranger: Exactly. We even lived on the same property. That's where Abstract Rude and them was. All those guys was there. So when we were working on Art of Flow, that's when we really got to know Dutch. After that album, we started recordin' with Dutch. We was going to same place, just to a different house. So we was really cool. 

Wolfish: The way it was set up, with all those guys, it was like a university. It was just all the gunners from the underground, Rifleman, Aceyalone, Abstract, Massdog, just everybody. That's where we came up from within the L.A. underground. But we never used Cater as a badge for us to go through anything or for us to go any way or nothin'. If you look on the Cater album, it's under Real Ghetto Soldiers. That's not even our name. So for a long time, we wasn't really promotin' Cater because it wasn't even our name on there.

Yeah, I didn't even know about a lot of your material until Jack Devo put me up on The Art of Flow. And then recently, a friend and I have been trying to put it all together and it's crazy how much material you've released.

Stranger: Yeah, it's crazy, right? That's pretty much what it is, man. There's no hard feelings from us, but for whatever reason, you know, we was bringin' unity, but everybody just wanted to do they own thing. So instead of just being bitter about it and havin' beefs and all that old type'a stuff, you know, we're brothers - we're actual brothers - so we're just going to keep making music, fire up the BBQ, watch the game, go in the studio, make another song.

Wolfish: Another beauty of it, if you look at the whole picture too. When you step up outta these state lines, that's family. Trust and believe that. We represent that to this day. When we step out these state lines, I don't care what part of Cali, for some reason when it comes to the west coast, we have to show super skill. So we masters of our craft. So everybody we come across who we happen to sharpen iron with, we thank 'em for that. No matter what, even though we don't wear it on our badge like that, we still represent that. We put ourselves on the line for that. It don't even have to be said. We just do it. Because it's still family at the end of the day. Real talk.

I'm glad you said that because when you listen to those two tracks on Cater to the DJ, for example, if you're not really paying attention carefully you could dismiss you guys as gangster rappers, but if you really listen, and especially with your later stuff, you're all about positivity and overcoming struggles. Can you talk about that because I feel your music has a very uplifting message?

Wolfish: Definitely. That's what's up! 

Stranger: That's where the name came from. Rebels Educated At Large. That was the whole aim at the very beginning.

Wolfish: Yes, indeed. Our whole energy and motivation to keep going was, we reach out to the feel people. We're trying to organize this world map. We can't do it by ourselves, but if we can use the tool of music, it's a feel. It's invisible. It's soul. We're able to touch people. We want to be your best friend. When you're in the car, you pop in the CD. These days, you'd punch it in. We just want to be on your playlist. We want to roll with you. We're your best friend. We want to make sure you're straight when you're rollin'. You could be in any frame of mind but when you got your brothers with you, you're in good shape.

At some point you guys started crediting yourselves as R.E.A.L. Wolfish & Stranger. Was that because there were so many other R.E.A.L.s out there and you wanted to set yourselves apart?

Wolfish: Well, basically the reason we did that was, R.E.A.L. is the umbrella. So when we talk about them, you're talkin' bout L.O.E. that's up there in Oakland. You're talkin' about our other brother Tone who's in Arizona. You're talking about Dutch, Massdog, all these guys. As we've been on this journey, a lot of guys don't have that intestinal fortitude to keep going. Circumstances don't allow them to keep going. They can't go as hard as us, under the circumstances. So within that, we just inflamed our name, which is still under the R.E.A.L. umbrella.

Stranger: And also too, you gotta remember we've been doing this for two decades. Back then there wasn't a whole bunch of R.E.A.L.s. It was Rebels Educated At Large. So it wasn't crowded. All of a sudden you have millions of R.E.A.L.s, So we had to make sure - 'cause this is for the kids. We're Rebels Educated At Large. 'Cause our name was never Real. It's Rebels Educated At Large - R.E.A.L. for short. So we wanted to make sure there was no question who we are. There's only one Wolfish and only one Stranger. So we want to carry that badge. Even with the R.E.A.L. badge comes Street Life Family too. We're team players. We're brothers and cousins.

Wolfish: Yeah, we had to make our own playing field, you know what I mean? Grass is cut nice. It took a long time to get there. We have a nice facility to play some ball and have some great games for the people now. And with this, the athletes that we bring in, in uniform, it's a blessing for us too. We got legends in the game. Real talk. We're active. We're on the field. It's not an individual thing. We got that already, but don't forget, it's like a museum. When you come in the front door, it's like a warehouse. But there's so much more. We're like, "Come on in!" And that's when you get deeper and start seeing the Fat Jacks, the Dutch's, the Street Life Families, the ATUs. Soldiers is super dope, still to this day. Not taking anything from nobody but I feel there should be so much more lighting and exposure on this greatness. So many great athletes on the field, in this pond, and they need to drink this water. And it's special.

You use being an athlete as a metaphor but in your music you also use food as a metaphor. Can you talk about that?

Stranger: [laughs] We love to BBQ, man.

Wolfish: That's real talk! We like reaching out to our feel people, lookin' out for folks. So it's not mental junk food, it's mental health food. It's that positive energy. It's a buffet table with this, so come get full on that! We just use it as a metaphor [laughs].

Stranger: So while everybody's talkin' all this stuffing, we're talking about steaks and potatoes. We give 'em that wisdom, give 'em that brain food.

Your most recent album was Cactus Water. Can you talk about the concept behind that?

Wolfish: That was basically a compilation. I got underground from Arizona and Los Angeles. So it was it like bringing the Pacific Ocean to the desert. That's what Cactus Water was all about. 

Stranger: That's when we was puttin' our print on Arizona. 'Cause Wolfish moved to Arizona. So we watered that whole little hip-hop scene out there and now it's trying to thrive and they're trying to run out and do it on they own, but we brought 'em out there.

Wolfish, you had a bunch of solo projects, volumes of Cactus Water. Were those mixtapes, or...?

Wolfish: No, they was actually compilations. Every year I dropped a compilation. There was Cactus Water 1, Cactus Water 2: The Jumping Cactus, Cactus Water 3: The Barrel Cactus, Cactus Water 4: The Saguaro Cactus, and then we had the movie soundtrack. I didn't want it to get to volume 25 [laughs] so we just shut it down once we did the movie. With the movie, basically what we did was was put together footage of performances all over Arizona. We had Project Blowed footage on there. Some screenshots of L.A. and stuff.

Stranger: It's like a music video. The reason we wanted that to go down was for our true fans, the hardcore fans, this is the one you want to have. You gotta walk that walk with us 'cause we can't pretend we didn't walk that walk. This is the one to have in the attic. The next one - it'll still be on some hot skills - but it'll be the real heart and soul of everything.

Speaking of the movie, I really liked "Da Hood" video, where you're getting the lemonade from the kids at the beginning [laughs].

Wolfish: [laughs] Yeah!

Stranger: [laughs] No doubt!

I saw Da Hood single and some other singles. Did you ever have any solo projects, Stranger?

Stranger: I actually put a whole album together, Hear About the Music, and then we was just like, "Hold off on it." I think we released it just for a short period but we pulled it back. It's 14 bangers! 

Wolfish: Gotta give 'em the whole picture too. We basically pulled everything down from our one distributor 'cause we was gonna go a different route. With these packages you can't have two distributors distributing the same package. It's against the law. So, like I said, we had a period where we had 11 albums out at the same time, you feel me? We had the Cactus Water, it was five packages total, then we had The Art of Flow. Then we had Street Life Family, all that stuff. But getting more wise through the travel, we took it down to go a different route. But for five, six years, we did it extra hard, but now we're taking the warehouse and moving it to better soils [laughs].

So people can expect all that material to be released again in the future?

Stranger: Definitely! That's why we pullin it all back! Through this journey we realized we can put it out even better. We're not restricted or under anybody's jurisdiction. You can expect all that music to come out.

Can you break down the names Wolfish and Stranger?

Wolfish: Definitely. The name Wolfish, it's an actual fish. You can look it up. It's favourite food is lobster. All this is gonna start to make sense. This is us! It can stay underwater for four months while it's waitin' to attack its prey. It can hold its water for four months. It's an ugly fish but it's got big teeth [laughs]. And that's what it basically came from, and it means fierce, aggressive, all that good stuff. It's aggression on my approach for better, for whatever's needed. I'm on the frontline. We gon' be fierce with it. I represent the people. I can't do it by myself. We got to gather up the people and we got hundreds of songs and it just takes one.

Stranger: Well, everybody that knows me, all my buddies and family, they call me B.C. (Brian Church), but in the game, I'm Stranger. I'm just a stranger to the rap game. You know, they're not where we're from, they're not where we are. A bunch of 'em when they out there saying the things that they saying and promoting the things they promotin', I'm a stranger to that. So I'm a stranger to the game. 'Cause that's what the game is right now. Originally when we came up, I was B.C., but as we see the game transgress, I called my brother up and I'm like, "Man, I'm Stranger now." That's where the name came from.

Some of my favourite stuff from you guys are your collaborations with Massive, somebody who I really respect and who has been really cool to me. Can you talk about working with him?

Wolfish: Massive is great, man, in the studio. He's a perfectionist. He's constantly building and going back over the beat. So the process with Massive is he'll make the beat, give it to us, then we write to it, put the song to it, then when we get in the studio with him, we just go for it. Massive is one of those guys who just brings an inspirational energy when he's with you in the studio. He's hangin' on every word. So, you might be sayin' something and not thinkin' people are understanding what you're saying. 'Cause most rappers feel that way anyway. When they write, they trying to be witty and whatnot but you don't know if anybody's gonna get it. Massive's in there, and he's gettin' it in the first run. He understands it.

Stranger: It's a big brother thing too. When we're talking about Mr. Massdog, he makes beats and all that good stuff, but he's a super dope artist! So, once again, if we're talkin' athletes, we really have a dynasty team and we're still on the frontline to make sure that's not overlooked. There's so much that comes with this. Like I said, it's a museum.

It's like that song "Summer Breeze", Massive produced that whole track. That's all Massive right there.

"60 Outty" is one of my favourites too.

Wolfish: Yeah, that's dope. And Mass is a team player, you know what I mean? When it comes to mixing and all that good stuff. He don't hold back. He makes sure whatever you need, [you get]. And we're taking in information. The brain is a sponge. You learn every day. It don't go over the head. If big bruv says to do this on the mix, let's try it. And he never, not one time in life, steered us wrong. All that stuff on Reverb, the albums, since I've been in Arizona, the mic that we use, Mass gave us that! He passed it down like that. Just using that as an example. 

Stranger: Mass sent them a mic to Arizona 'cause we set up a whole studio in one of our houses in Arizona. Mass sent the mic out there, man! That was a beautiful gesture.

You guys have a new project coming up. You wanna talk about that album?

Wolfish: We just released the single.

Stranger: The album is done. The whole new album is done.

Wolfish: "Traffic Jam Mix" is the single. The whole album is done, Wolkcronkite 2G: Hood Journalist. The whole outlook on that is, you know how you watch press TV, the international news and you see the journalists with the press TV bulletproof vest and the bulletproof hat in the middle of the war zone...

Stranger: All in the war zone!

Wolfish: That's our new little code name. So Wolfish is Wolkcronkite and Stranger is 2G.

Stranger: "We hood journalists, not a snitch/ never givin' up the secret ghetto codes in our hits."

So are you basically waiting for the new distribution deal before you release that?

Wolfish: Nah, the "Traffic Jam Mix" should be in all the stores soon, then we're gonna drop the video. And the album's already done, so we're getting ready to do our college radio station run and then we'll start booking shows in particular areas and stuff. 

Stranger: So basically we gonna drop the first single, then we gonna run that a bit, then drop a new single, then we gonna drop the whole album but we just wanna find out which way we wanna go as far as our distribution people we have the options of using. But the album is done. It's ready to go. We're getting it together, how we want to present it. I think this is our best work ever.

Wolfish: Me too. Me too. And that's the beauty of it. Like I said, we had 11 albums out at one time. This time we don't wanna just put it on one package and put it out there. Now we're gonna concentrate on movin' that one single. 'Cause we just released the boat to the ocean, the first single. At the same time, we got the mixtape, just on GP, called Album Fillers, these the songs that didn't make the album. That'll be on DatPiff, on all that. 10-13 songs on that, just on GP. 'Cause we constantly work. We went underwater for a bit and we learned through the travels. Remember, we were underground. We had to keep droppin' products, on our own little tiny budget. Sending care packages and all that. This new album, we have to make sure the people get it. This particular package we have in our hand right now, it's not even about us. If we don't speak up, we supposed to wait for somebody else to?

Stranger: It's knowing how to feed the people, cook the food up to a point where it's edible and not offending anybody when they receiving it. So it's a good meal. They can sit back and get full on it. They can digest it, like, "Ok, this ain't that bad." Then you have a choice, the next time you step up to the table, but there is a perfect dish for you. Trust me!


  1. Is there anyway to get a link to the art of flow album?

    1. Link to The Art Of Flow -