I meet B-Legit in Concord for lunch at the Elephant Bar, an appropriately massive venue for a rapper of his stature and talents. With three albums by the Click a group including his cousins E-40, D-Shot, and Suga T and five solos under his belt, B-La hardly needs an introduction. Along with Too $hort, the Click started the Bay's independent hip-hop scene, beginning with their 1989 12-inch under the name MVP. They soon formed a label, Sick Wid It Records, and B-La regales me with tales of their early hustles, like sneaking their records into music stores, which soon ordered copies after fans kept bringing the uninventoried items to the counter.
When Sick Wid It snagged a distribution deal with Jive in 1994, the latter rereleased B-La's debut, Trying to Make a Buck, which had moved some 100,000 copies independently. With Jive behind him, the rapper released his best-known album, The Hemp Museum (1996), including the nonsingle hit "City to City," which still receives airplay on KMEL, 106.1 FM. When Jive started prioritizing pop groups like N'Sync, however, the man born Brandt Jones found himself on the back burner until Koch Records affiliate In the Paint bought his contract and released the already recorded Hempin' Ain't Easy (2000). After a second disc, the underpromoted Hard to B-Legit (2002), he and Koch parted ways.
Forming his own branch of Sic Wid It, Block Movement, B-Legit released a 2005 album with that title through local powerhouse SMC. Continuing the more experimental brand of mob music begun with Hard, Block Movement may be his greatest disc to date, particularly the tracks coproduced by Bedrock and Clyde Carson.
"I sat back and let Clyde Carson direct me," the Vallejo rapper says. "He directed four songs. I was trying to switch it up.
"Unfortunately, it came out about a month before hyphy really took off," he continues. "If you weren't hyphy, you were kinda overlooked. It wasn't unsuccessful, but it was bad timing." Even so, as hyphy's trendiness began petering out, artists like B-Legit retained their core audience, thus weathering the storm.
While hard at work on a follow-up, B-La has paused to release an interim disc, Throwblock Muzic (Block Movement/SMC). Like the Who's Odds and Sods (MCA, 1974), Throwblock collects dope tracks from throughout B-La's career that, for one reason or another, didn't make previous full-lengths.
"This is the teaser to prep everybody for the next album," he says. "But it's a solid album too. It's not just old-school. We worked on it." With its remixed tunes, swapped-in new beats, and new material, Throwback has the feel of a solid LP: beats by newer producers like Young L of the Pack and Dallas artist Goldfingers make the recording contemporary, even as cuts by Mike Mosley, E-A-Ski, and CMT recall the classic mob music days. The lead single, "GAME," stems from a 2001 session with Mac Dre, albeit with new music by Troy Sanders. As Dre and B-La trade bars on the second and third verses, it's hard not to wish Dre had lived to collaborate more with his former Sick Wid It rival for Vallejo supremacy.
With B-La's success and the explosion of E-40 on the national scene, opportunities to re-create the Click's old family vibe are increasingly rare, due to scheduling pressures. Under these conditions, I ask, is there any possibility of a new Click album?
"Used to be you had to be in the studio together," B-La replies. "Now you do your session, send it to someone, and they send it back to you. But the music comes out better when you vibe on the spot together.
"We want to create that magic one more time," he says, coolly peeling off a $100 bill for the lunch.