Members: B-Real, vocals (Louis Freese, born Los Angeles, California, 2 June 1970); Eric "Bobo" Correa, percussion (born Queens, New York, 27 August 1969); Sen Dog, vocals (Senen Reyes, born Havana, Cuba, 20 November 1965); DJ Muggs, DJ, producer (Lawrence Muggerud, born Queens, New York, 28 January 1968).
Genre: Hip-Hop, Rap-Rock
Best-selling album since 1990: Black Sunday (1993)
Hit songs since 1990: "How I Could Just Kill a Man," "The Phuncky Feel One," "Insane in the Brain"
Cypress Hill debuted in 1991 and quickly became hip-hop's first Latino stars, combining Spanish and rap slang and paving the way for other Latino rappers such as Fat Joe and Big Pun. They simultaneously attracted attention with their enthusiastic embrace of marijuana. Echoing frontman B-Real's nasal, pro-pot raps with druggy, eerily distorted beats, producer DJ Muggs forged what became one of the 1990s' most influential sounds, anticipating the work of fellow "Chronic" smoker Dr. Dre and the "trip-hop" of British artists such as Tricky and Portishead. Cypress Hill's increasingly vocal promotion of marijuana culture endeared them to collegiate, alternative rock fans, earning them crossover success at the expense of hip-hop credibility. After a combination of declining sales, internal strife, and DJ Muggs's successful solo career almost led to Cypress Hill's break-up in the mid-1990s, the group returned at the end of the decade with a series of albums that incorporated rock elements into their trademark sound.
The seeds of Cypress Hill were sown in Los Angeles in 1986, when Cuban-born brothers Sen Dog and Mellow Man Ace joined B-Real and New York transplant DJ Muggs to form DVX. By the time Mellow Man Ace left in 1988 to pursue a solo career, DVX had developed a local following with their inventive, Spanish-language-influenced brand of hip-hop. Renaming themselves Cypress Hill after a local street, the remaining three members signed with Ruffhouse/Columbia in 1991. Their self-titled debut appeared in August of that year.
An instant sensation upon its release, Cypress Hill gradually emerged as one of the most influential albums of the 1990s. Although marijuana had always had a place in hip-hop culture, never before had a rap group celebrated its use so thoroughly. In fact, Cypress Hill seems to take the "blunt" smoking frequently endorsed in its lyrics as its guiding musical principle. Throughout the album, producer DJ Muggs painstakingly employs lazy beats, heavy basslines, disorienting noises, and strangely distorted samples to create the sonic equivalent of being under the influence of the drug. This distinctive production style was a major departure from the denser, more frantic sound of contemporaries such as Public Enemy and N.W.A., and it laid the groundwork for the so-called "G-funk" style that former N.W.A. member Dr. Dre would develop starting with his equally pot-obsessed solo debut, The Chronic, a year later. Frontman B-Real complements DJ Muggs's innovation with a nasal, sing-songy delivery that veers from the playful to the menacing, often in the same line. On the album's breakthrough single, "How I Could Just Kill a Man," the narrator recounts pulling a gun on a would-be burglar: "then I watched the rookie pass out. / Didn't have to blast him, but I did anyway / Hahaha . . . that young punk had to pay. / So I just killed a man!" The cartoonish glee with which B-Real raps these lines invests them with a jarring tongue-in-cheek quality that pervades the entire album, rendering its many threats a bit more surreal than the standard "gangsta" rap posturing of the time. Cypress Hill also stands out through its frequent nods to the group's Latin heritage. The track "Tres Equis" is performed entirely in Spanish, while tracks such as "Latin Lingo" deftly combine rap slang with Spanish words and phrases.
Cypress Hill soon went platinum, owing much of its sales to the group's presence on college radio and its increasing appeal beyond the traditional hip-hop fan base. In the summer of 1992 Cypress Hill cemented its growing crossover success by appearing in the popular alternative rock festival Lollapalooza. The band's public support of marijuana legalization brought it further publicity, landing it coverage in a number of mainstream national magazines such as Newsweek and Entertainment Weekly. This all generated ample anticipation for Cypress Hill's second album, Black Sunday, which debuted at number one in the summer of 1993.
Although nowhere near the groundbreaking album as its predecessor, Black Sunday skillfully polishes the sound established in Cypress Hill and tailors it for mainstream accessibility. The hit single "Insane in the Brain" emphasizes the group's time-tested role as marijuana-puffing outlaws, with B-Real rapping about "hit[ting] that bong" while evading the cops, all in his eerily childish cadences. Black Sunday also finds Cypress Hill beginning to incorporate more rock elements into its music, from Black Sabbath samples to the album's vaguely occult cover art. The band further experimented with rock when it recorded two separate collaborations with alternative rock bands Sonic Youth and Pearl Jam for the soundtrack to the movie Judgment Night (1993). This new direction prompted a backlash from the hip-hop community, with an article in the influential hip-hop magazine The Source accusing Cypress Hill of courting a white audience. Undaunted, Cypress Hill continued in this vein, adding percussionist Eric "Bobo" Correa in 1994 and touring with a wide variety of nonhip-hop acts in both the 1994 and 1995 Lollapalooza festivals as well as appearing at the heavily rock-oriented Woodstock festival in 1994.
Cypress Hill's third album, Cypress Hill III: Temples of Boom (1995), offers little in the way of innovation. Worse, it offers a far less engaging retread of Cypress Hill's trademark sound than Black Sunday does. While reliably warped and druggy, DJ Muggs's production lacks energy, and the lyrics about pot smoking and gun shooting begin to sound tired and self-parodic. Although Temples of Boom sold respectably well, after its release Cypress Hill began to fall apart, with DJ Muggs spending time on a successful solo career, and Sen Dog leaving for a period after tiring of playing second fiddle to B-Real. In 1998 Cypress Hill regrouped for the commercially and critically under-whelming IV. In late 1999 the group paid homage to their Spanish-speaking fans with a collection of Spanish-language versions of its greatest hits.
Cypress Hill mounted a comeback in 2000 with Skull & Bones, a double set consisting of one album of hip-hop and one album of more rock-oriented material. It released both a rap and a rock version of the album's first single, "Superstar," and both versions went on to become significant hits on radio and MTV. In 2001, Cypress Hill continued in this rock-oriented vein with its fifth studio album, Stoned Raiders.
Cypress Hill began the 1990s by turning marijuana-inspired lyrics and production into one of the most influential albums of the decade. Although the band itself was never quite able to move beyond the trademark sound it established with its debut, that sound was original and compelling enough to ensure Cypress Hill steady success throughout the 1990s. The band's increasing appeal to rock audiences both contributed to hip-hop's mainstream acceptance and laid the groundwork for the rap-rock that dominated the late 1990s.
Spot Light: DJ Muggs's Solo Efforts
Much of what made Cypress Hill's debut album so stunning was the production work of DJ Muggs, and he soon parlayed his newfound notoriety into jobs crafting hits for artists such as House of Pain, Ice Cube, and Funkdoobiest. Although Cypress Hill had entered a bit of a slump by 1997, such was DJ Muggs's stature in the hip-hop community that he was able to attract the most prominent emcees of the time to collaborate with him on his solo debut, Muggs Presents . . . Soul Assassins, Chapter 1 (1997). Featuring artists such as Dr. Dre, Cypress Hill's B-Real, Wu-Tang Clan's GZA and RZA, Goodie Mob, and KRS-One rhyming over Muggs's trippy, menacing beats, Soul Assassins was an unqualified critical success. Muggs followed it up with Juxtapose (1999), a collaboration with fellow hip-hop producer Grease and British "trip-hop" emcee Tricky. In 2000 Muggs released a sequel to Soul Assassins titled Muggs Presents Soul Assassins II. The more electronica-oriented Dust followed in 2003.
Cypress Hill (Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1991); Black Sunday (Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1993); Cypress Hill III: Temples of Boom (Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1995); IV (Ruffhouse/Columbia, 1998); Los Grandes Exitos en Espanol (Sony, 1999); Skull & Bones (Sony, 2000); Stoned Raiders (Sony, 2001). Soundtrack: Judgment Night (Sony, 1993).
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