Cypress Hill has long represented the will of the people. The Los Angeles-based trio of rappers B-Real and Sen Dog and producer DJ Muggs provided distinctive insight into the harsh realities of ghetto life, championed marijuana before it became fashionable and made it acceptable for rappers to use Spanish in their rhymes. Given its visionary bent, it makes sense that the group wanted to call its new album — and its first under the Snoop Dogg administration at Priority Records — Rise Up.
“The term itself is pretty strong, like a call to action for people to stand up for what they believe in,” B-Real says. “With this album, we tried to take an aggressive approach on pretty much the whole thing. I wanted to focus on making some raw, aggressive, in your face hip-hop as well as still touch on that alternative base that we have.”
Produced by Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine fame, the energetic title track stands as a clarion call for people to rise up to meet challenges and fight for what they believe in. The song’s rock feel offers the perfect entree for the rest of Rise Up, which masterfully alternates between hardcore hip-hop and rap tunes with a rock sensibility. It’s an approach Cypress Hill introduced on 2000’s Skull & Bones. That platinum collection spawned the smash hit “Rock Superstar” and provided an outlet for Cypress Hill to flex its creative muscle. “I think that it was one of the big moves in our careers to walk that fine line of what is hip-hop and what is rock and roll and be right down the middle with it,” Sen Dog says. “People respect you for that, when you walk on the edge like that. That’s why, to this day, rock and roll is a vital part of Cypress Hill.”
Another vital part of Cypress Hill’s success has been its impeccable production, which has been primarily handled by DJ Muggs. Given the increased rock elements on Rise Up and the group’s overall evolution, the trio decided to open production opportunities to outside producers. The resulting lineup of Pete Rock, Tom Morello, Daron Malakian, Mike Shinoda, Apathy, B-Real and Muggs, among others, provides Rise Up with a stunningly diverse yet coherent sound that incorporates the traditional Cypress Hill grittiness but puts an updated twist on the group’s sound.
A perfect example of this is “Armada Latina,” which features Pitbull and Marc Anthony and came from a recording session with producer Jim Jonsin (Lil Wayne, Beyonce). “I thought he [Jim Jonsin] was just blabbing, like, ‘Oh man, Pitbull and Marc Anthony would sound great on this,’” Sen Dog reveals. “The next morning, he calls me up and he says, ‘Pitbull’s coming in tonight. Marc Anthony’s coming in the next day,’ so I wanted to make sure I was there for when both of the guys came. We put together this bad-ass song. To me it’s like a Latin anthem. It was a natural fit being that everybody’s Cuban or Puerto Rican. I think it’s one of those songs that’s going to be a groundbreaking song, like Rob Thomas and Santana’s hit that they had years ago. It’s on that level.”
Elsewhere, the up-tempo “Bang Bang,” measures up to Cypress Hill’s most confrontational work, while on the haunting “Carry Me Away,” B-Real imagines his life as a gangbanger from the perspective of his mother. He was looking for trouble at the time and not reflecting upon his actions. Living with that type of recklessness also serves as the theme of “Trouble Seeker.” Years removed from life as a gangbanger, B-Real provides some insight into the mentality.
“When you go do bad things, it feels good to you then because the adrenaline kicks in, but after the deed is done, if you’ve got a conscience of any kind, you feel bad about it and you reflect and you’re like, ‘I shouldn’t have done that,’” he explains. “That’s what all of our lives have been pretty much. We get ourselves into stuff and we regret it after. If I could take back all the stuff that I did to people who didn’t deserve stuff being done to them, of course I would take it back.”
One thing Cypress Hill doesn’t regret is its career-spanning endorsement of marijuana. “K.U.S.H.,” “Pass The Dutch,” “Get Higher” and Light It Up” continue the group’s unabashed affinity for herb, which they helped popularize in both the rap world and society in general. “We’ve been dubbed as the Smokesmen, the Reefer Kings or whatever they want to call us these days and that’s us,” B-Real says. “It’s something that we can’t run away from. I embrace it. It has held us back in certain areas of our career here and there, but I wouldn’t take it back for nothing. We constantly find a way to talk about it that’s interesting or funny or educational.”
Indeed, since the beginning of its illustrious career, Cypress Hill has pushed rap’s boundaries. With their eponymous debut album in 1991, B-Real and Sen Dog established themselves as one of rap’s most potent duos. Their creative phrasing, distinctive voices and graphic subject matter, as well as DJ Muggs’ atmospheric, piercing and dusty beats, propelled the trio to superstar status.
As the years passed, the crew’s dynamic stage show — bolstered in 1994 by the addition of percussionist Eric Bobo (also of Beastie Boys fame) — has evolved into one of rap’s most polished, as such aggressive tunes as “Insane In The Brain,” “Rock Superstar,” “How I Could Just Kill A Man,” “We Ain’t Going Out Like That,” “Lick A Shot” and “Real Estate” translated perfectly to the stage. Given this reality, it’s little surprise that Cypress Hill remains a major concert draw, even when they take time off between albums. During these hiatuses, each member of Cypress Hill goes his separate way only to return to the fold more prepared to help the collective.
“One reason we’re still together as a unit is because we encourage each other to do solo projects,” Sen Dog says. “When we come back together, it seems everybody has a little bit extra knowledge to add to Cypress Hill. I think that if we didn’t do that, we’d all be frustrated musicians because we have a bunch of stuff that doesn’t necessarily go with Cypress, but it goes with B-Real’s stuff, Sen Dog’s stuff. It makes us a stronger unit.”
Now, with nearly 20 years in the game and its eighth studio album about to arrive in stores, Cypress Hill remains razor sharp – and hungry for success. “We’re always competitive,” B-Real says. “We look at this like a professional sport and each year you’re trying to get the crown. You get close or you do alright and that’s cool, but you want to keep going for the crown.”
Time to Rise Up.