Today (March 18) hip-hop legends Cypress Hill release their new album Back In Black via BMG. Coming on the back of their acclaimed 2018 record Elephants On Acid, it’s a notable album in a number of ways. Not only is it their 10th outing – always a nice landmark to reach – it also sees them switching things up by pairing the group with Detroit producer Black Milk for a more back-to-basics hip-hop approach.
In a recent interview with Music Week, B-Real reflected on their career so far, from working with the likes of Dr. Dre, members of Rage Against The Machine and Public Enemy in Prophets Of Rage, Nas and Beastie Boys as well as helping legalise weed, getting onto the Hollywood Walk Of Fame and, of course, reaching their 10th album.
“It’s a big milestone for us because some thought we weren’t even going to get to album one, and then after that there was always the sophomore jinx,” he reflected. “We busted through all that and people were like, ‘Oh, they’re definitely going to be done by their third album.’ A lot of people thought that – even our record company did to a degree. But we pushed through and kept it moving. Who would have figured we would actually have 10 albums and a career spanning 30 years, when the average lifespan of any group from the time we started was three albums? A lot of hip-hop artists lean off their first two records, but we refuse to, we keep on going. I still see fire in the heart of DJ Muggs. I still see fire in the heart of Eric Bobo and most certainly Sen Dog – he’s done something special on this new album in terms of his verses. And I definitely have it. The minute we lose that, we will pack it in.”
For over 30 years, Cypress Hill have made a big impact on the industry, with a string of platinum and gold albums in the UK. Their best seller remains 1993’s Black Sunday, which has sold 478,607 copies in the UK since OCC chart records began in 1994. In his Aftershow interview B-Real also reflected on the lesson that people can learn from the Cypress Hill story.
“It’s that you can come from nothing and still make something of yourself,” he continued. “Because that’s where we came from. On our first album, I was learning how to write songs as we were making them, I was very green. I wasn’t necessarily involved in gang culture, but I was having issues letting it go and still having that gangbanger mentality with a chip on my shoulder. I was learning to let those things go, all while I was starting to become an artist. But we had a willingness to not look down on ourselves the way other people looked down on us for our dreams. You sacrifice pieces of yourself to do this shit. More than anything it takes belief in yourself if you’re a solo artist, or if you’re in a group, belief in each other. Sure, with any successful group, it’s a bumpy ride – so yeah, we could be pissed off at each other and maybe not talk, but in the end we’re brothers. Nothing can break that bond.”
Here, B-Real takes us further inside the new Cypress Hill record, their plans for releasing music going forward, and how they’ve managed to ride high – veeeery high – for over 30 years and counting in the music industry…
Around the time of releasing Elephants On Acid, you said it could be Cypress Hill’s last record. Did you have a change of heart?
“When I made that statement, this album [Back In Black] was actually already done. We were recording it in between the breaks of Elephants On Acid, so we had it in the can for a while. When we were saying that it could possibly be the last album, we meant this one right here. We're still debating that. We're still going to make music – EPs, songs and stuff like that, and also create different experiences. But we thought putting out one more album, a traditional album, would be cool. And also to put it out in the vein of the boom-bap sound. What we do with DJ Muggs is very specific and no-one can do what he does for us. But in terms of the boom-bap sound, it's a completely different lane and we felt like doing that style of album as, maybe, the last piece would be cool. But it's still in the air. Yes, I've been used to taking people on journeys through albums, but I think these days you can lead them one song at a time and – if it's dope enough and you’ve got a great visual to go behind it – people will still fuck with it. So we're trying to figure out how we create these new experiences, rather than just traditional albums. We've got some really cool shit in the works that Muggs and I have put together in the future, but I can't say too much about that right now. After this album, there’s definitely more Cypress Hill shit coming, just not in the form of a traditional album. We all still love making music. That's why we do it. When we do it together, it's a special thing. Sen Dog did something special on this album in terms of how he delivered his verses and where he went stylistically. He did his thing. I’m very proud of that.”
You noted that when it came to recording your debut you were still learning how to write songs as you were recording them. How can someone who's only learning come out with How I Could Just Kill A Man?
“[Laughs] I gotta say, I’ve been blessed – I’m a very spiritual person, I'm not necessarily religious, but spiritual. Myself and Muggs, we are the yin and yang, the positive and negative energy together. Somehow that magic happens when we work. I was learning how to write songs as we were going – the only inkling we had on how this was done was by listening to the other guys. We were students of the game, we would listen to what NWA, Boogie Down Productions, KRS One and Public Enemy were doing. They were huge in our world, they gave us the blueprint. We just thought, ‘We’ve got to be different, we’ve got to be ourselves.’ None of us went to performing arts school and learned any of this! So it was very much a hands-on process of learning, developing and crafting what we were doing while we were doing it. By Black Sunday, we had a great idea of how we were going to do things. You never stop learning as an artist. We had great things to learn from in terms of examples of what to do, or what not to do, how to do it, how not to do it, and we applied that. Muggs as a producer started getting much, much doper song after song. I believe Muggs says in our upcoming documentary that we were doing a lot of songs and demos, and they were cool, but they weren't cutting through. My writing was dope, but my vocals were shit; Sen was dope, but it was all very simple; and Muggs’ beats were cool but they weren’t hitting. It wasn’t until we came up with the song Real Estate that we really came in and did something different musically. I flipped my voice and Sen Dog reacted off that. All the elements that make Cypress Hill came together in Real Estate – after that song, every one we did just kept getting better. We were like scientists with these new elements. It was all a great experience because I tell you, I did not know what the fuck I was doing [laughs]. Again, I was learning it all hands on, but fortunately I had good teachers.”
Everyone knows what Cypress Hill brought to hip-hop. But as a group, you've also collaborated with Pearl Jam, Rage Against The Machine, Deftones and so many more. What do you think Cypress Hill did for rock music?
“What we did was in terms of melding the hip-hop mentality and attitude into rock music. Because for so long, rock/metal and hip-hop were at odds with each other. They didn't like us. They felt that hip-hop was not creative. Before us, it was Run-DMC who showed us it was possible and how it could be melded together with Walk This Way. With what we did, I think it was at a time where people were more open to it and it gave way to a different genre, you had Rage Against The Machine, and Boo-Yaa Tribe doing a hybrid. I'd like to think that some of the influence that came from us, it wasn't even us playing rock music, it was just our mentality, our look, our manner of how we got down. We were a hip-hop group, with a metal mentality and a punk rock attitude. That's how we were able to captivate people that were into punk metal and alternative music without us even having to play that style. We eventually started playing that style later to sort of cater to that base that we had created without actually doing that style of music. I think what we did is just open people's eyes that we could be more than one thing. There were so many bands that came out with the rock-rap hybrid, and won with it and did great things and, I believe, Rage Against The Machine and Cypress Hill were two of the groups that helped show the possibility of that marriage.”
The list of people you've worked with is ridiculous. At this point, is there anyone left on your bucketlist?
“I've always, always, always wanted to do shit with Jay-Z, but I know that's not going to happen. Well, never say never, right? Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes, 50 Cent and something proper with Eminem – an actual song – and Ice Cube. We've done collaborative stuff on different records for Shaquille O'Neal – and I want to thank him for that because that was just after we had squashed our beef – and then we did something with Warren G on a remix, but we've never actually got down on a track together and I think that would be fucking amazing. So that's my small list to work with, but there’s many others. Rakim and EPMD would be a fucking dream to work with. Fortunately, everybody that I looked up to as artists coming up in the game, with the exception of maybe Run-DMC and Whodini, I've managed to be able to collaborate with. When I look at the list now it’s fucking surreal.”
Are there any aspects of your career that stick out as being particularly surreal?
“I think my career as a whole, just for where I came from, and what was expected of me – my life expectancy and all that shit. That means this whole shit is surreal, to be honest [laughs]. The Walk Of Fame was very surreal, that's not something that any of us aspire to, because, in spite of what we've done, we didn’t think we’d ever be looked at in that light. Being in Cypress Hill, there's positives and negatives. For me, the positives outweigh the negatives, even though there's a shit-ton of negatives, right? One is being a hip-hop group that talked about cannabis at a time where it was taboo. And then being a hip-hop group that talked about what was happening in the community and society, and the things that we had experienced, and were experiencing. The shit that we were talking about that was going on in the industry – we had a lot of chips stacked against us early on, and it was hard for us to get a look in. We always had to create our luck. Fortunately, we had Sony/Ruffhouse to help push us through and put us in these places to win, but it was always tough. We didn't always get the accolades that we deserved in terms of the things that we brought into hip-hop. So, getting the star and being recognised, that was mind-blowing, because we've always been the underdogs that people under-recognised and under-estimated. We grew up in Southern California, walking up and down those streets and seeing the stars and people that you looked up to, or that you were inspired by… I remember when Bob Marley got his and people were making a big deal because he should have got it yeeeeears before he actually got it. So to be in that company, for us to have ours? It was like, ‘Fuck! This is crazy.’ It's hard to really describe the full feeling of it.”
Subscribers can read B-Real's Aftershow here.