Ask any hip-hop/rap music fanatic about West Coast rap and you will indubitably receive mention of such acts as Snoop Lion (formerly known as Snoop Dogg), Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar, 2Pac, Game, Ice Cube and NWA. But just as any other regional genre, there are many other acts that hold a steadfast place in the pantheon of West Coast rap. One such act is Cypress Hill. Cypress Hill has not achieved the high mainstream success as the aforementioned artists, but their place and respect in the West Coast rap community is one of admiration and importance. As any of the artists that belong to West Coast rap about West Coast lyricism and many will undoubtedly mention one or more members of Cypress Hill.
Cypress Hill has their roots in South Gate, California (located seven miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles), where brothers Senen Reyes (aka Sen Dog) and Ulpiano Sergio Reyes (aka Mellow Man Ace) teamed up with Lawrence Muggerud (aka DJ Muggs) and Louis Reese (aka B-Real) to form a local hip-hop group called DVX (Devastating Vocal Excellence). When DVX lost Mellow Man Ace to a solo career, they forged forward renamed their group after a street in South Gate, Cypress Hill.
Cypress Hill signed with Columbia Records in 1988 after recording a demo. They released their self-titled debut in 1991. Cypress Hill featured the double A-side single “The Phuncky Feel One”/”How I Could Just Kill a Man”. The single received heavy air play on urban and collge radio stations, helping Cypress Hill sell more than two million records in the United States. Another single, “Latin Lingo”, features both English and Spanish lyrics. “Latin Lingo’s” showcase of the groups Spanish heritage was rare in mainstream rap. In fact, Cypress Hill was the first Cuban-American/Latino hip hop to achieve platinum and multi-platinum albums, eventually selling over eighteen million albums worldwide. The success of Cypress Hill gained the group a side stage billing at Lollapalooza ’92.
Their second release, Black Sunday, was released in 1993. It debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, the highest soundscan for a rap group at the time. Cypress Hill was also in the charts, which made the Cypress Hill the first rap group to have two albums in the top10 at the same time. Their hit single from Black Sunday, “Insane in the Brain”, was a huge crossover success and served as the fuel to propel Black Sunday to triple Platinum status. The album received positive critical acclaim with Rolling Stone and The Source giving it Excellent 4 star ratings. Rolling Stone said “…it’s the Cypress combo of stark grooves and cinematic gangsta fairy tales that allows them to rule the streets, a formula not messed with on Black Sunday…”, while The Source stated that “…a darker sequel…this album is definitely worth buying as it easily rips the frame out of all those Cypress bandwagon jumpers…” Black Sunday was also ranked in many of 1993’s album of the year lists, including Q magazine’s list of the 50 Best Albums of 1993 and ranking #29 in the Village Voice’s 1993 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll.
In 1994, the group played the second Woodstock festival. Here, they introduce new member Eric Bobo, son of Willie Bobo and formerly a percussionist with the Beastie Boys. Around this time, Rolling Stone magazine named the group as the best rap group in their music awards voted by critics and readers.
The group released Cypress Hill III: Temples of Boom in 1995. With this album the band turned towards a more tranquil, sedate, slower, spooky sound with beats. The dark mood of this album reflects the strife within the band during this era, when member Sen Dog temporarily left the band to pursue other projects. The album received mostly good reviews, including Q magazine (4 Stars – Excellent) “The production is sophisticated, incorporating Indian sitar and sloping, almost psychedelic bass grooves to create a vaguely threatening ambient hardcore.” The album featured famed East Coast MC’s RZA and U-God of the Wu-Tang Klan on the track “Killa Hill Niggas”. One of the album’s, and the group’s, outside of “Insane in the Brain”, most notable songs was “No Rest for the Wicked”, which ignited the feud between Cypress Hill and rapper Ice Cube, who they claimed stole material from him.
Sen Dog took a break from the band to form a Los Angeles based rap rock band SX-10 while the other members continued to perform as Cypress Hill as well as individually in side projects and features. Their next studio album was Till Death Do Us Part. The album saw the band experiment with reggae especially on the lead single “What’s Your Number”. The track features Tim Armstrong of Rancid on guitar and backup vocals. In 2004, the song “How I Could Just Kill A Man” was included in the popular video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas created by Rockstar Games, playing on West Coast hip hop radio station Radio Los Santos.
At this point the band lost much of the notoriety and fame they gained in the early 1990’s as the rap scene took a major shift in style. They released more albums, most notably 2000’s fused rock/rap genre album Skull & Bones. They also made a cameo appearance in 2001’s major film How High, which starred East Coast MC’s Method Man and Redman. But it was obvious that Cypress Hill was not held in the same regard by the youth market of that time as they were early in their career.
But ask any true hip-hop head, West Coast or, even, East Coast affiliated, and they will hold Cypress Hill in a high regard. From the contrast of Sen Dog’s deep, aggressive and often vocal delivery to B-Real’s high pitched, nasal delivery to DJ Muggs versatile and unique stoner induced production, Cypress Hill still garners plenty of mad props within the rap community. So much so that B-Real was featured in the Ice-T produced and starred documentary The Art of Rap, where B-Real talks about how he had to craft his unique vocal delivery because Muggs and Sen Dog were not please with his bland voice and would have him just write lyrics for Sen Dog. It is evident that Cypress Hill has always, and will always, but craft before mainstream accolades.