Cypress Hill doesn’t fit into any of Hip Hop’s tidy little segmentation. They never did. In the 21 years since B-Real, Sen Dog, Eric Bobo, and DJ Muggs first ram-shacked the industry with their risky blend of brooding bombast and cross-genre interpolations, the Los Angeles, California crew has always crusaded against convention. They infused Rock, Metal, and Punk into their brand of Hip Hop at least 15 years before it was cool – back when doing so was potentially a career killer. They ran with the weird early and often, aided by Ruffhouse Records’ culture of creative freedom, selling millions of records in the process. And arguably most impressively, Cypress Hill never bowed to a conformist corporate climate and still continue revel in experimentation.
With their Rusko-produced Dubstep EP (Cypress Hill x Rusko) at retail this week, HipHopDX spoke with B-Real and Sen Dog separately, discussing the trepidation Cypress Hill encountered when they first began meshing different musical genres, collaborating with De La Soul and J. Dilla, and what still surprises them about Hip Hop.
Cypress Hill Discusses Their Dubstep EP With Rusko
HipHopDX: What’s the Dubstep album going to sound like? Is the process of putting together this album any different than previous projects?
B-Real: It was definitely different because we’re dealing with the world of technology right now. If you can’t be in the studio with the people that you’re recording with, then it’s file transfers all day. Fortunately with this, Rusko was able to come down to the studio, show us the beats, have us pick them out, and then we do our vocals to them. At the end of our vocal session, he would take our vocals home with him and chop them up to what he was doing with the tracks. It was very different. It was kind of similar to doing it with [DJ] Muggs that way because the one thing that we all decided a long time ago – from 1991 until now – Muggs‘ rule was that you didn’t fall in love with the track when we first record it because he was going to change it, manipulate it [before it was finished]. So if we liked it a certain way in the beginning, too fucking bad. [Laughs] We never had ego about any of the stuff we recorded and we never got attached to it because we knew it would change. I even learned that from Muggs as a producer that if you’re doing some tracks, don’t fall in love with it. You can always come up with something to make it better, or change it entirely to make it better. We gave [Rusko] the vocals and the freedom to do whatever he wanted to do with them. At the end when we heard the end product, it was like, “Wow, this guy fucking killed it!” We’re definitely excited about it.
For me, the best way to explain the way it sounds is that it sounds like something Cypress Hill wouldn’t do – but would do. It’s very hard, gritty, and it cuts through. That’s the best way I can describe it. There’s one song on the whole EP that’s very fucking different from the rest of it because Rusko thought he would put a different touch on it. People will hear it and people will be like, “Oh, that’s fucking different.” But I can say, man, we’re very happy about doing this joint with him because we didn’t know what to expect after giving him the vocals. We knocked out five songs with him and then trusted him to do what he was gonna do with the vocals and he did not let us down, man. We’re looking forward to seeing what people think on a mass level.
Then after this album, we’re looking to gearing up and doing the next one. We’re gonna go back to Muggs’ lab and have him put more of his magic down on this next [Cypress Hill] album. On the last one, he didn’t really have a lot of time to give us a lot of tracks that we would’ve gotten from him. He had like two or three projects he was working on, so that was pretty much why I took the reigns from him as a producer on [Rise Up]. But definitely people are going to get that dark, gritty style we do with Hip Hop and probably a new touch because Muggs has a bunch of new tricks. We’re looking forward to that – getting back with the Grand Master and knocking shit out.
DX: When I think of Cypress Hill, I think of progression. Cypress Hill was one of the first groups that I remember listening to and watching that effectively melded together Hip Hop and Metal and Punk and Rock music on projects early on. The group has always been credited with being one of the pioneering Latino/Cuban Hip Hop acts, but in the early 1990s and throughout the decade, to fuse genres the way you did seemed like a risky thing to do in Hip Hop. Did you ever run into any trepidation when you started bringing a more Rock aesthetic to your joints?
B-Real: Most definitely. When we started experimenting with the live band and bringing in more Rockish type of elements to our sound and our live show, definitely there was always a little bit of heat. When we did [“I Love You Mary Jane” with Sonic Youth for] the Judgement Night [soundtrack] [in 1993], the way that sound track was put together was a mesh of Hip Hop acts and Rock acts collaborating. We were one of the first and immediately people were like, “Aw man, they’re going Alternative.” They didn’t know what to label us. They knew we were Hip Hop at our base. Usually because of our ethnicity we would be labeled a “Latino Hip Hop” group. But we were able to get past that and say that we wanted to just be labeled a Hip Hop group. When we started making the fusion type of sound between Hip Hop and Metal on our own, people were definitely like, “What are you guys doing? You guys are a Hip Hop band.” People were saying, “Aw, they’re not Hip Hop no more. They’re an Alternative band.”
Our whole thing was that we wanted to challenge ourselves and go out of the box that everyone else was doing, and even what we were doing. We challenged ourselves. We tried to take different roads to get to where we wanted to go to satisfy our creativity as artists. A few of those things you do along the way are definitely gambles and taking chances because you can drive your fan base away or capture a new fan base. The worst thing we always thought was when people were in the middle on it; when they didn’t really give a shit about it. We want people to either love it or hate it. We didn’t want them to disregard it. We made it the best we possibly could. When we did the Metal stuff, a lot of Hip Hop purist fans were like, “Aw man, you guys are going Alternative,” but they learned to like it. In the beginning they were reluctant about it. Then they realized that this is still a Hip Hop album. It’s just that we have these types of influences that were in our lives aside from just Hip Hop. So we decided to implement those influences and branch out and try to do a different sound while still remaining true to our roots at a Hip Hop base. So we did an album [in 2000] called Skull & Bones that had half Hip Hop and half Rock. We definitely had a lot of negative reactions toward it in the beginning. But then it grew on people and ended up selling a lot of records.
Sen Dog: That seemed to be the natural progression for Cypress [Hill] being that we were a multiracial group. I always felt comfortable with it because we always listened to different kinds of music. All of us were always into different things but also the same things. I was the first one. I wanted Cypress to do some Rock stuff on the second album, [Black Sunday]. It was just a little bit ahead of its time for us. But once we did the Judgment Night soundtrack and we got a chance to write with Pearl Jam and Sonic Youth and I saw the reaction that people had behind it, I was like, “At one point here, we’re going to have to take this chance and this risk and go Rock and Metal.” It worked out good. It worked out good, you know. I think people like the fact that we’re willing to go outside of our comfort zone and walk that dangerous line where it can make you be successful and as high as the sky, or it could make you look really stupid or down in the dumps. We’re just fans of music. We learned from some of our favorite groups to change and evolve just from watching as a fan. You have to change and evolve and experiment. I think the true spirit of Cypress is that [we’re] risk takers. I can say that without that element, I would be bored.
B-Real: We carry that with us regardless of the style of Hip Hop we’re doing. When we were doing just straight Hip Hop, it was definitely different than anybody else’s. DJ Muggs influenced a lot of people’s sound after our first two [albums]. But up until that point, nobody was doing what Muggs was doing in production. We were always out of the box. Doing what we’re doing now with Rusko, it’s the same thing. It’s like, “Aw man, you guys are doing Dubstep.” But once they hear it, they’ll be like, “Wow, that shit is dope.” It’s all about the way you present it. It’s about the way you come off on it. This new shit with Rusko is another challenge; another against the grain deal. And whether people like it or not, us as artists, we feel good about it and it was something we wanted to do. I can see myself doing more of that style whether it’s Cypress or solo, you know.
DX: Looking around the industry today, it just seems like one big fusion of genres and musical elements. You guys seem to be about 15 years ahead of most. Do you feel like you’ve inspired this wave of cross-genre everything?
Sen Dog: That’s a very clever observation. I appreciate that. We never walk around thinking we’re these catalyst dudes or whatever. We’ve always done what we’ve done from the heart because it’s what we want to do and who we want to be on stage and on records. Just touring around the world and coming across other artists and cats telling us that, “Yo, you’ve been a big influence on us.” Like, Outkast just told us that. Lupe Fiasco’s told us that. A bunch of other cats. I’m like, “Wow, we’ve made more of an impact than I ever thought we would.” It’s one of those things where we’re not trying to take credit for anything that’s out there that made it big. But we’re aware that we’ve influenced people. It’s just one of those things where we believed in ourselves and that inspires other artists.
B-Real: I think we started a lot of new stuff when we came out and even so over the middle point of our career when we did Skull & Bones. We were able to capture an Alternative audience without actually catering to them in the beginning, which is what a lot of Hip Hop bands couldn’t do. We kicked in the door with that. We’ve seen more White kids and more skater kids, Metal kids listening to us and Wu-Tang [Clan] – the harder edge Hip Hop. Actually, The Beastie Boys slightly opened the door for everybody on their style of shit. When we came in, there wasn’t any Punk Rock elements in the music, but our attitude was very Punk Rock. Our music and our look – as far as album covers – looked more on the Rock side. They looked [like] mysterious, dark, Metal shit. I think that’s what was kind of the appeal. What Muggs was putting in wasn’t all the way Rock, but those heads know the Rock songs. So when they hear the little sounds, they’re like, “Oh, that song’s from Black Sabbath.” There was a tie-in to those Alternative kids. We got it in the 1990s.
The funny thing is that it was taboo for a Hip Hop band to link up with the Rock band or link up with the R&B band. You pretty much got shitted on if you did that. They labeled you soft or that you sold out. It’s like you said, when we were doing it, we were definitely ahead of the curve. It was more a risk taking factor back then because it wasn’t as accepted as today. Now you’ve got Lil Wayne and acts like him that are trying to cater to that crowd by doing those Rock [collaborations]. It’s accepted now. It’s like, “Yeah, he’s fucking doing it now!” Whereas before it was, “What are you fucking doing???” It’s funny how the game changes like that, but that’s music for you.
We’re like always with the rebel mentality: doing everything nobody else is doing or nobody else is trying. If we’re ahead of the game by a few years, it’s okay. We don’t give a shit about that. We don’t care who gets the accolades or credit for it. We don’t give a fuck. As long as we’re satisfied; as long as our fans are satisfied then we can live with the music at the end of the day. That’s the whole shit. When you make a decision to make a certain style of song, you have to live with it at the end of the day because that shit lives forever. You don’t live forever but your music does. People will always remember you for it, whether it’s a bad song or a good song. At the end of the day, if we feel one hundred about it, then it’s all good no matter what people do after us.
Cypress Hill Explains Sample Selection On Black Sunday & First Album
DX: My personal favorite Cypress Hill project is Black Sunday and that’s largely because that was the first Cypress project I ever purchased and it was the perfect background music to play Mortal Kombat II to when I was growing up. Your production has always been really progressive and really detailed – especially on the first two albums. Both projects contain just an awesome list of samples. How big of an impact did each member of the group have on DJ Muggs sample choices? Was he kind of doing this on his own, or were you all throwing in your input on the production behind the projects?
Sen Dog: Muggs was an innovative cat since he was very young. He controlled the whole producing aspect of it, but also me and B-Real had a lot of input into it based on just the stuff that we listened to personally. I was very big into Black Sabbath and stuff like that. We used a Black Sabbath sample on there. When you would tell Muggs these ideas or whatever, he’d be like, “Okay, let’s try it. Let’s check it out.” I think Muggs‘ production really set us apart. I think the whole band was strange to people. We sounded foreign from the get go. We were something very different. I think Muggs‘ production overall was really ahead of its time. We were the type of cats that really went out of their way to be different from everybody else that was out there. So when we met Muggs and he had this kind of like New York sounding production, we just went with it.
DX: “I Ain’t Going Out Like That” is an amazing joint. If I’m not mistaken, you guys used a Black Sabbath sample on there.
Sen Dog: Yeah, there’s a sample from “The Wizard” on that one. That one’s actually produced by a cat named T-Ray. [During Black Sunday], he and Muggs were tight. [T-Ray] had this track. Muggs heard it and was like, “Dude, you guys gotta jump on this song that T-Ray did.” So we heard it and we went over there and it was really dark and moody and almost had an evil quality to it. We jumped on it right away. With that Sabbath sample in there, it was like right up our lane.
But overall, we’ve had that element of being risk takers and willing to be different from the beginning from the first album into the second one. Once we went on tour for the first time, it was over from there. We were just like, “Whatever” – growing our hair out, growing beards, and that kind of thing. We got the will to be different. And without Muggs‘ production, I don’t know how much of an impact we would’ve made right away. When we came out together, a lot of the questions we got from people were based off of the production and what Muggs was doing. That’s what really set us apart.
DX: On your later projects, the number of samples decreases dramatically. Was that a result of a changing market for sample-based music? Do you think about things like the cost of sampling when you’re creating music now?
Sen Dog: Yeah, definitely. Back in those days, a lot of the artists that were being sampled that are older cats now weren’t even aware that they were being sampled. With a band like us, we had a bunch of samples. When we went to clear them, they were like, “Okay, cool.” They signed off on it for a little money or whatever. But later on, it got to the point where they were like, “We’re getting ripped off. These guys are making a ton of money and we’re just getting this little fee.” It became increasingly harder to clear stuff.
Later on in our career it was like, “Why should we give up all of our publishing and pay all of this money and hopefully try to clear a sample?” If they didn’t want to clear it then we had to change the whole structure of the song we had written. So later in our career, being more musical and original and not relying on samples – bringing cats in to play stuff live – that definitely became more of a focus. We’re a Hip Hop band at heart. Even on the stuff we’re doing today, there’s going to be a sample here and a sample there. But we’re trying to move away from that and write our own songs that aren’t going to get caught up in any red tape. It’s a different thing now. There are very very huge artists that sample stuff and there’s artists that wrote that original music that are broke and they want their piece. It’s becoming harder and harder. So we just started writing original songs from the get go. I think that’s the natural progression of music. I think that’s the way it should be, really.
B-Real: I think it changed Hip Hop as a whole. People stopped using so many samples as opposed to using live instrumentation. What you hear now is more of an R&Bish-style of Hip Hop that’s on the radio all the time. It’s very similar to what R&B artists are working with. That’s why you hear a lot of rappers these days getting hits. Shit all sounds the same, unfortunately. There’s no substance to it. There’s no dynamics, no layers with the samples. You’ve got guys like Muggs and [DJ Premier] and Pete Rock – several cats like them that had so many samples and so many layers to their style of production when they were chopping the samples. You just got such a great feel from those records and they were all distinct and had character. The songs by themselves, if you played them without lyrics, they were still banging ass beats. These days, if you play those beats, they bang and sound great sonically, but they’re really perfect. If you take the rappers off of them, they all sound like an extension of one beat after another. They all have keyboards and shit implemented in them.
To me, these days the sound in Rap music – I can’t say Hip Hop because Rap music is a derivative of Hip Hop. I think Rap music is the popular aspect of Hip Hop. There’s Hip Hop songs out there, but there’s also Rap. For example, I would say – and this is respect to my man because I really like him – Wiz Khalifa, his is more of a Rap sound. Where, say a Wu-Tang Clan, that’s Hip Hop. That’s the difference. There’s less Hip Hop being presented on radio and video, TV, whatever the hell outlet there is for it. There’s less outlets for the Hip Hop music and more outlets for the Rap music because, right now, the Rap music is more marketable, less controversial. It’s the gumball, cookie-cutter shit. That’s not all of them because there’s a lot of good Rap music out there. Like my man, Wiz. I like his shit. There’s plenty of cats out there doing good shit. But then there’s those generic guys trying to sound like those guys and they’ve dumbed down the game. That’s where Hip Hop is at right now. Taking away the samples made everything sound like an extension of the other. You can get confused easily trying to figure who’s song is what song because it all sounds the same, at least in my opinion.
I’ve been deejaying for a while. I used to deejay before we started. Not on a serious level. I couldn’t get up there and do a show like Muggs or anything like that. But I learned on the back of Muggs, watching him spin records. What I find today after deejaying in clubs and shit like that is that people love that shit. They dance to it. They go crazy for it. But as a deejay, when you’re spinning the songs, if you’re paying close attention, all the shit sounds the same. It’s just a difference of the rapper on the record. That’s the only way you’ll know that it’s different – the tone of the rappers voice, or whatever their style is, or the slang. That’s the only way you can tell the difference in the fucking mix. A lot of Hip Hop now, it’s 808 [drums], claps, keyboards, and crap like that. Less samples.
Kanye [West], he still samples and he’s got a good bridge on how you mix that multiple sample shit with the new school programming style. He’s one of the few that’s really got it down. I think Swizz Beatz, he’s got it down too. Guys like Just Blaze – there’s a whole shit load of producers that still do that style. But what you hear on the radio is that generic shit. I think it’s watered-down Pop. But here we are, 30 some odd years later and Hip Hop is still one of the number one money making genres. In spite of those differences; in spite of how watered-down, generic some of it’s gotten – we all still love it and continue to do it with the same passion that we started with. It’s just that some of us have to experiment and find our lane to feel good about what we’re doing as artists; to know that we’re putting out a quality product that’s distinct from what everyone else is doing. And that’s the problem right now, there ain’t a lot of distinct type shit out there.
DX: I was watching the Grammy’s the other night and Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now” was up for “Best Rap Performance.” That feels like the prototype for what you’re talking about.
B-Real: Yeah, exactly. What kind of shit is that? [Laughs] He got nominated for that award because he had a couple of rappers on the record.
Cypress Hill Comments On Changing Trends In Rap Music
DX: You mentioned that you guys are all really competitive. Do you feel that Hip Hop is still competitive?
B-Real: I feel like some artists still are. But I think these new artists, they don’t even know the deal with that. A lot of these young kids don’t know the history of what they’re doing. They picked it up because maybe they were fans of Lil Wayne, T.I., or that one school of Rap music. That’s what they know. Anything before that, they’re not really interested in and don’t realize the level of competition and what this is and who brought it to the game and what evolved from then to now, and why the game is the way it is now. They don’t really give a fuck about that. You know, they’re mostly worried about how they look, what kind of whips they’re driving, what kind of mansion could be seen in the video that people think they live in, and the amount of fucking broads they’ve got around them. They’re more worried about that perception than what this game means to a lot of people and how it got to where it’s at and where it’s going. They don’t give a shit about that. I don’t think they know the history of it. They’re not students of the game like cats in the 1980s and ’90s and even the late ’90s.
I think a lot of people confuse the shit with Lil Wayne. He does the new style shit and everything, but he’s a student of the game. He came out when people were still up on what Hip Hop is. I think him and Jay-Z and cats like that that came out in that time are the last of that generation of Hip Hop – performers, entertainers, writers that were actually students of the game. Nevermind the stylish shit they’re doing right now. You could ask those dudes what year, what artist, whatever, and they know. Motherfuckers after that? A small percentage know those answers, and that’s what’s sad about it. I think that’s why the game is in the state that it’s in right now.
DX: B-Real, my favorite feature that you’ve done is De La Soul’s “Peer Pressure” off of AOI: Bionix. That joint is just hilarious!
B-Real: By J. Dilla, right?
DX: Absolutely. It’s an amazing joint.
B-Real: Yeah. It was pretty much their concept. I’ve been friends with those guys for a long time. When they finally reached out to me and said, “Hey, we’ve got an idea if you’d like to do a joint with us.” I was like, “Whatever idea it is, I don’t give a fuck. I’m completely down.” I was a big fan of De La Soul before we got on and I remained a big fan throughout, even to this day. They make tight joints even to this day. It was cool. It was a cool idea and I’m just glad they reached out to me because, aside from any work that I’ve done in my Cypress Hill career or my solo shit, that’s one of the collaborations that I hold up high because it was one of my favorite bands in Hip Hop that I actually got to do a song with. Them and The Beasties, man. High regard for those guys.
DX: You have traveled the world and the evolution of Hip Hop over the past 21 years, you’ve fused genres. You guys have worked with seemingly everyone imaginable in music. You’ve sold millions of records. After all of that, what still surprises you about Hip Hop?
Sen Dog: That it just keeping getting stronger and that it won’t go away. When I got into it mentally, acts like Run-DMC, Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J were dominating stuff. Back in those days I used to think, “Man, this can never get bigger than this.” Then here comes Snoop Doggy Dogg and Eminem and 50 Cent and I’m like, “Whoa, these guys just took it to the next level. I’m sure this is the plateau of it all.” Then here comes cats like Lil Wayne and this Drake dude. I’ve never met Drake, but I’ve met Wayne and they’re taking it to the next level along with Jay-Z and stuff like that. We’re survivalists, you know what I mean. There’s no way you’re ever gonna tell us that we’re not going to Hip Hop. We’re going to Hip Hop forever at this point. You look around and you see a lot of the big acts around the world – whether they’re Hip Hop or not – they’re getting those big dogs to be on their records. Like Pitbull, or Eminem featured on some song with some girl. Jay-Z’s doing incredible things for this business. I’m so proud of these dudes because they’re keeping us alive. Snoop Dogg has just been a powerhouse from day one. The dedication that he has to touring and giving the world his brand of Hip Hop is like a taking a glimpse into the future. I just love the fact that I was part of that movement and still am. I just see Hip Hop as a culture that’s moving into the future and continuing its growth.
B-Real: You know, Hip Hop because at its base is derived from so many different styles of music, it will always be surprising. Every five or 10 years there will always be a new sound that will fuck everybody’s head up. Right now, I haven’t heard that. Not in my opinion. As far as being a Hip Hop group and standing out doing their shit different, right now I think of Odd Future. I like those guys. Tyler, The Creator and those guys, I like those guys because their shit sounds really different. They have those fuck it attitudes that we had when we started and were going balls out crazy. To me, they stand out. I think we need more of that type of shit. You know, stuff that’s off the grid. Their shit doesn’t sound like anybody else’s. Right now, you have a couple of indie artists trying to do what they’re doing because it sounds so distinct and it sounds so different than all the other shit that’s actually out there. But every now and then you have a new producer – or a veteran producer – who comes out with a new sound, a new song that blazes everybody and it’s Hip Hop at its core. It’s not like the Rap [that’s out]. When those songs come out, you still know that there’s light for real Hip Hop songs. And that’s surprising in today’s marketing and promoting of what they consider to be what Hip Hop music or Rap music is. To me, that’s great that guys still do that shit. Like Kanye always surprises me. You would think that he only does commercial shit. But now and then he’ll do a Hip Hop song that’s so flavored out that it’s like, “Okay, that’s Hip Hop. Hip Hop is definitely still alive through songs like this.”
For more information on Cypress Hill, visit B-Real’s live streaming website, BReal.TV.