BZE's nickname, "The Cuban Cruise Missile," makes a little more sense once you learn that although he grew up in Northern California, he was born in Hawaii as Gene Ojeda, a child of Cuban immigrants. Now based in Pittsburgh, BZE dropped his Cuban Smoke Sessions mixtape in the summer of 2005, and in early 2006 began working on a full-length album: Cuban Smoke Sessions Volume 2, which is being released this weekend. The majority of the cuts are dark, funky beats produced by Omar-Abdul, all smoky horns and crackling drum loops; Steel City heavy-hitters Sayez, Spaed, Big Phill and E-Dan also make memorable appearances.
What brought you to Pittsburgh?
I moved out to Pittsburgh in '93, toward the end of high school. My mom graduated from U.C. Berkeley or whatever -- she got her doctorate, and she teaches at CMU. My parents are separated, so I just moved with her and my sister here. ... It was really strange coming from the Bay Area -- a real big switch for me. Everything was drawn -- there were lines drawn in the sand.
Is this city -- and its hip-hop scene -- tough for a Cuban-American emcee?
Growing up with Latin culture, it was a culture shock just missing all the culture involved. The hip-hop scene out in Cali is black, Asian, Hispanic -- every kind of Hispanic. Not a lot of Cubans, per se, but I've never really lived around a lot of Cubans. ... The hip-hop scene here is very black and white -- and so is everything else.
How did you end up working with Omar-Abdul?
I just linked up with Omar through skateboarding and the graffiti scene. It seemed like everything was interwoven from there, like, that's how I got connected into Timebomb.
So, the same handful of people runs everything here?
More like the groups intermingle. Like, I'm an emcee and a graf writer, and a skateboarder. And through skateboarding, I met other emcees or people that were friends with emcees because they're into hip hop. The skateboard scene here is really into hip hop -- that's more or less what I was saying. There's actually a lot of skaters that produce music. Two, three people on my production were skateboarders, growing up, like Omar-Abdul and Sayez.
What plans do you have for your album?
I've got people in the skate community, like pro skaters, and a lot of friends ... and they circulate my music a lot cause they travel a lot on tour ... I've got people calling me asking me for songs for snowboard videos coming up. Once their season's done, they start putting out their videos. So that's the market that I've touched already, through the network I'm involved in. ... But I'm not trying to strictly be in that community either. Because that's not totally who I am.
Who else are you?
I have other projects that are coming out, like this one called the Afro-Cuban Express, which is gonna be a lot of Latin rhythms. And that's a project that's a duet: me and Omar. ... That might be more for the more grown-up community. I'm about to be 30 in two weeks, so ... I don't just wanna hit the kids. I want to hit everybody, because I feel like I do more conscious music. I'm not out here preaching on CDs, but definitely trying to use my voice to open people's eyes.
What do you listen to?
I listen to The Beatles' White Album a couple times a week, every week. I like listening to a lot of Bay Area rap. And I'm not talking totally about the hyphy rap -- the Bay Area rap scene has been here forever. It seems like one of the most self-sufficient hip-hop scenes in the country, or in the world, for that matter. They support their own, they get radio play for local music, they have radio shows with live DJs ... everything from gangsta rap to real strange progressive weirdo rap.
What's your music about?
I'm on some real music. I'm not making music to sell. If I wanted to make music to sell, I'd rap about that dumb shit ... like the fancy bling. But that's not how I get down. I'm just a more humble person, into family, friends, and good people. ... I'm trying to look at progressive stuff; I'm trying to hear progressive stuff; I'm trying see progressive stuff; and I'm trying to chill with progressive people. That's basically my whole philosophy -- how I roll.
BZE CD release, with Omar-Abdul, Poochie La Fever, DJ Shef, Lucid Music and DJ Hank D. 10 p.m. Fri., Jan. 19. Shadow Lounge, 5972 Baum Blvd., East Liberty. $10 (includes food and free CD). 412-363-8277 or www.7thmovement.net