Sunday, July 5, 2009

July 5: Cypress Hill, "Cypress Hill"

Artist: Cypress Hill
Album: Cypress Hill
Year: 1991
Label: Ruff House

What Latino group or singer was the first to have a platinum album in the U.S.? No, it wasn't Jose Feliciano, Charo, or even Santana. That particular claim to fame belongs to a trio of hip hop legends known as Cypress Hill. Half N.W.A., half Cheech and Chong, there has truly ever been another hip hop group that sounds quite like Cypress Hill. Bringing a bouncing, funky sound with the sharp, unique vocals of B-Real and Sen-Dog, Cypress Hill are living legends in the world of hip hop. Perhaps best known for their affinity for marijuana, there is far more behind this sensational group than a bunch of stoner anthems. More than twenty years and seven albums into their career, the group is still going strong, and are one of the most highly respected groups in the history of hip hop. While their second album, Black Sunday, was more commercially successful, it is on the group's 1991 self titled debut that the true musical and lyrical mastery shines brightest.

Cypress Hill came out during the strange point in hip hop history where N.W.A. was fading away, and albums like The Chronic and Doggystyle were still more than a year away. The lack of a "standard" sound left the gates wide open for experimentation, and the sound that Cypress Hill presented would, in fact, become the archetype that artists to this day follow. Yet, the album itself took quite some time to break through, with the lead single not even charting until nearly seven months after the albums' release. However, once the single and album began gaining an underground following, the group exploded worldwide, and would go on to be featured on the second Lollapalooza tour as well as receiving countless accolades from many music publications. The success of Cypress Hill also gained the group an appearance on The Simpsons, and the album itself was in the top fifty of nearly every "best of the 90's" list. To this day, Cypress Hill sounds fresh and relevant, and it is due to the exceptional music and lyrics found on the record, as well as the attitude of the group members that comes though clearly on every song. It is almost impossible to picture a hip hop scene without the presence of Cypress Hill, and the formula perfected on the album has been copied countless times since its release, yet none have come close to the quality found on the original.

The music, beats, and samples created by DJ Muggs are easily some of the most fantastic and recognizable music anywhere in hip hop. The album, created before the onset of huge copyright issues and costs for sampling, finds DJ Muggs constructing perfect musical textures for the emcees, and the unorthodox choice in songs to loop make Cypress Hill an instant classic. Mixing everything from Gene Chandler's "Duke Of Earl" to Suicidal Tendencies' "Institutionalized," it is the sounds from DJ Muggs that gives the group much of their "hardcore" sound. Cypress Hill's lead single, "The Phuncky Feel One," is powered by Muggs' brilliant mixing of classic funk riffs, from James Brown to The Isley Brothers. It is also due to this sound that Cypress Hill, much like the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy, were able to gain fans from both the hip hop as well as rock genres, and bridge the two together. The music that is featured on Cypress Hill became THE blueprint for hip hop, influencing everything that came after it, including nearly every one of the early Death Row Records releases. The lulling, laid back sounds with a perfect mixture of funky grooves and thumping bass became the sound that would vault hip hop music to the top of the music world and it began with this record.

As amazing as the music and beats on Cypress Hill are, the group has always been defined by the vocal stylings of B-Real and Sen-Dog. B-Real (real name Louis Freese) may have THE most recognizable voice in the entire history of hip hop music. Higher pitched and nasal, there has never been anyone who sounded even remotely like B-Real. While their later albums focused primarily on marijuana, on their debut record, Cypress Hill present a few other themes, and this is one of the main reasons the album is their finest work. Though Sen-Dog brings his more hardcore and aggressive rhyming style, it is B-Real that is the true heart behind the groups lyrics. Easily one of the most creative lyricists in the history of hip hop, B-Real's lyrics run the gamut from funny to angry to outright scary. Whether he is rhyming about crooked cops or flipping nursery rhyme style murder raps, filled with black humor, B-Real's style and substance are simply stunning. Cypress Hill's opening track, "Pigs" is a perfect example of B-Real's laid back delivery, with an amazing juxtaposition of rapping style and lyrical content. Though they weren't the first to do it, both B-Real and Sen-Dog flip their lyrics between English and Spanish, and it gives their lyrics and entirely new depth. This is no more present than on the aptly named, "Latin Lingo," which overall perfectly represents the dual ancestry of each member of the group. It is not only how the rhymes are delivered on Cypress Hill, but the content and tone in which they are rapped that makes the album so sensational, and similarly makes it a cornerstone of hip hop music.

When it comes to the innovators and icons of hip hop, Cypress Hill is often marginalized due to the content of their rhymes. However, it is impossible to deny their importance, as they were an integral part in pushing the genre forward, and their sound remains one of the most copied styles in history. Bringing original, funky music, pounding yet hazy beats, and some of the most catchy and perfectly places samples in history, DJ Muggs remains one of the most highly respected DJ's and producers in the music world. B-Real's lyrics are creative, clever, and yet the constant slightly sarcastic and playful nature of his rhymes often makes his sound come off as even more menacing that those who intentionally try and sound "dangerous." Though each member of Cypress Hill has found success outside of the group (clothing lines, producing other artists, radio shows, etc), the trio remains together after more than twenty years, and their music is as good as ever. Bringing a sound and style that had never before been heard, in a time when the entire genre of hip hop was hanging in the balance, the 1991 self titled debut from Cypress Hill not only breathed new life into the genre, but opened countless new doors and became the blueprint by which an incalculable number of artists have followed since.

Standout tracks: "Pigs," "How I Could Just Kill A Man," and "The Phuncky Feel One."

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