Thursday, June 3, 2010

June 3: Cypress Hill, "Insane In The Brain"

Artist: Cypress Hill
Song: "Insane In The Brain"
Album: Black Sunday
Year: 1993

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When a group finds their "ideal" sound and realizes that sound though a successful album, one can easily raise the question of "why change it?"  Though one can make a case for needing to constantly strive for new artistic merit, one can similarly argue that a truly talented group will always find new ways to "re-invent" their trademark sound.  Unquestionably one of the most unique groups in the history of hip-hop music, Cypress Hill found themselves in this position following their extraordinary 1991 self-titled debut.  Filled with original hooks and a delivery style and subject matter unlike anything else at the time, the group was almost instantly catapulted to "cult" status within the hip-hop community.  After supporting that record with a run on the Lollapalooza tour, the group re-entered the studio and recorded their equally impressive 1993 album, Black Sunday.  While the group stuck to the overall structure that had brought them success the first time around, their sophomore album is unquestionably a darker affair, and it is also on this album that the groups' connections to hard rock and heavy metal become far more apparent.  Whether they are spending a track extolling the virtues of legalizing marijuana or throwing rhymes down over loops from Dusty Springfield, all of Black Sunday is worth experiencing, yet few of the songs can compare to the sound and impact of Cypress Hill's 1993 single, "Insane In The Brain."

It is not hard to understand why the song was so successful, as it was a major crossover hit, breaking into the top twenty on the Billboard singles chart, and powering the album to the top spot in overall sales.  The mixture of samples and loops, orchestrated by DJ Muggs is simply irresistible, and the song is able to get even the most conservative heads bobbing nearly twenty years after its initial release.  The core of the song comes from pieces lifted from soul singers Mel and Tim's "Good Guys Only Win in the Movies" and the drum break from George Semper's cover of Lee Dorsey's "Get Out of My Life, Woman."  The song also features samples from James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, and Ben E. King, yet it also features a piece from The Youngbloods' "All Over The World," and it is in this final addition that one can see the wide range of influences from which Cypress Hill derives their sound.  Yet the group is not above "tooting their own horn," as "Insane In The Brain," as well as many tracks off of Black Sunday, uses a sample from their previous record, and in this case, it is the hook of "...insane in the brain..." from their own song, "Hole in the Head."  This fantastic mixture of sounds is unlike anything else in hip-hop, and the way in which the song is able to hit with hard bass, yet keep a strangely mellow, "cool" feel is what makes Cypress Hill such a distinctive group.

Looking back at the overall history of the hip-hop genre, one would be quite hard pressed to find a more distinctive and easily recognizable voice as that of B-Real.  With his strangely pitched, almost nasally voice, this tone is almost always starkly contrasting to the hard hitting power with which he delivers his vocals.  On "Insane In The Brain," his rhymes seem to almost bounce off of the music, creating an amazing sense of depth on the track.  B-Real also changes the tempo many times on the song, showing how skilled he is at working every nuance of a beat.  On "Insane In The Brain," Sen Dog takes an entire verse, which is a somewhat rare occasion, as his role is usually more that of a "hype man" as opposed to a featured emcee.  Yet on this track, he proves that he has more than ample skill, and his verse provides a fantastic contrast both stylistically and sonically to that of B-Real.  "Insane In The Brain" keeps the overall themes of Cypress Hill intact, as their love for marijuana, as well as their general disdain for police make up a majority of the songs' lyrics.  Though the group name drops everyone from Louis Armstrong to General Electric, their focus rarely deviates from their "usual" themes, yet it is also within their lyrics that one can see that Cypress Hill is able to almost constantly find new ways of spinning these themes.  This, in many ways, is the true brilliance of the group, as a majority of their songs share a similar theme, yet rarely sound anything alike.

From the instantly recognizable music to the unmistakable voice of B-Real, Cypress Hill's 1993 hit, "Insane In The Brain" remains one of the most iconic songs of an entire decade.  Taking a completely unique approach in every sense during the rise of "gangsta rap," the group gained a massive following and were able to crossover into the hard rock and heavy metal fanbases with their uncommon sound.  Looping everything from classic soul to folk-rock into their music, the group had a massive influence on nearly every hip-hop act that followed, and large traces of their sound can be found all over the past fifteen years of music.  Yet the fact that a large portion of the songs' meaning is buried in subtext also serves as a testament to the groups' fantastic writing skills.  B-Real commented many times that "Insane In The Brain" was in fact a "diss track" aimed at Chubb Rock, as Cypress Hill felt he had ripped off their style on his own 1992 record.  From the songs' opening lines to Sen Dog's rhyme of, " boy on a diet don't try it, I'll jack your ass like a looter in a riot...," the song is filled with wording that, once one understands the "true" meaning, can be seen as a powerful, yet brilliantly veiled diss track.  Regardless of the subtext or deeper meaning within the words, the fact remains that the song excels in every area, and there are few songs that can compare to Cypress Hill's 1993 hip-hop classic, "Insane In The Brain."

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