With a spliff in rotation and their middle fingers in the air towards the DEA, west coast legends Cypress Hill have returned after a six-year hiatus with their eighth studio album entitled Rise Up. Finally detached from the Ruffhouse/Columbia/Sony umbrella, it seems as if Cypress has taken the opportunity that the relocation of their recording freedom presented them to try some new tricks. With a few hits of the old, and a few pulls of the new, Rise Up promises pleasant surprises for longtime fans and new listeners alike.
Of undeniable importance on Rise Up are the features. With notable names such as Tom Morello (of Rage Against the Machine and Street Sweeper Social Club), Evidence, Alchemist, Mike Shinoda (of Linkin Park and Fort Minor), Daron Malakian (of System of a Down), and Marc Anthony all on the roster, listeners can be sure from the start that there will be something suited to their tastes to be found on the LP. In fact, many of the album’s strongest tracks are those that boast guest spots. A prime example lies in the title track, featuring Tom Morello. B-Real assumes a Zack De La Rocha-esque role, while Sen Dog backs him up with lines like “I go psycho, crazy Michael Myers / And set the stage on fire, go higher/ ‘Cause when our name’s on a flyer / There’s so much smoke it makes the whole city rise up.” Morello and his guitar provide the perfect high energy to keep crowds moving with revolutionary spirit, living up to the album’s name. Where “Rise Up” provides a heavily Rock-influenced sound, “Pass the Dutch” (featuring Evidence and Alchemist) will satisfy Cypress Hill’s diehard pothead followers with its less-polished, '90s sound, and the raps designed to merge earth and fire; the green to the flame.
When left on their own, the fellas of Cypress Hill don’t always live up to their reputation. The electric guitar-centric “Get It Anyway” sounds more tailored toward One Republic and an eventual Timbaland remix than to B-Real and Sen Dog’s vocals. Hearing the same people who once pondered about how they could “just kill a man” speak about perseverance and optimism over something so soothing on the ears is slightly shocking when one isn’t expecting it. “Get Up” simply isn’t that memorable, and “K.U.S.H.,” (which in this context stands for "Keeps Us So High"), although clever, becomes borderline cheesy. Despite a welcome nod to their past by namedropping “Dr. Greenthumb,” one has to wonder if Cheech & Chong references in weed raps are even worth saying anymore.
B-Real’s signature high-pitched voice shines on the Pete Rock-produced ode to smoking entitled “Light It Up.” He boasts, “I eat emcees up / You might wanna ease up / I squeeze the trigger like I squeeze on a C-cup / The beat is like crack now you might wanna re-up / Pete Rock hit us with the heat rock / Ease up.” He then switches it up on the second standout track featuring Tom Morello, “Shut ‘em Down,” and shows his revolutionary side as he threatens, “Wars on the newscast / Caught another newsflash / Heard about a new tax / What if I refuse that?” Although Rise Up has some truly excellent production and surprising in-studio collaborations, DJ Muggs' reduced role is peculiar to a group with such an established sound. The group still keeps it true, but with such an active Soul Assassin churning out projects with Planet Asia and GZA as well as compilations, fans may just want to know: why?
As the relaxed sounds of Latin-style drums and acoustic guitar riffs on “Armada Latina” , featuring Marc Anthony and Pitbull, close out Rise Up, those who have followed their work over the years may react to the work with a slight confusion. The LP shows that Cypress Hill has evolved, however the fact that this evolution is perhaps positive and tolerable may take a few listens. However it’s likely that as Anthony sings “ay Caribe, la tierra de mi gente Hermosa,” Cypress’ audience will have felt persuaded enough to give Rise Up its needed replay.