Cypress Hill ~ Cypress Hill (1991)

Posted on September 2, 2012


You know, 1991 was a great year for rap music lovers. Besides the full-length bangers established veterans like Public Enemy, Ice Cube, and NWA gave us, a crop of talented newcomers blazed their own trails. Main Source broke atoms in Queens, New York; East Orange, New Jersey’s Naughty by Nature cruised to platinum with their melodic beats and catchy hooks; and Leaders of the New School brought kinetic energy from Long Island into our living rooms. In the midst of all this activity, three psychedelic funk brothers from Los Angeles stepped on the scene, and changed the game forever: Cypress Hill.

Representing South Gate, a working-class city in southeast Los Angeles, Cypress Hill was assembled in the late 1980’s, through the union of three mavericks from opposite ends of the United States. DJ Muggs (Lawrence Muggerud), the mastermind behind the mix board, was a Queens native who migrated West in 1984; settling in South Gate with his mother, taking up turntablism and beatmaking as he came of age, and getting his first foothold in the music biz in 1987 as Grandmixer Muggs, the DJ for a New York-bred, Los Angeles-based trio called The 7A3. In the same era, nasal-toned lead emcee and South Gate native B-Real (Louis Freese) met sideman Sen Dog (Senen Reyes) and Sen’s brother Sergio Reyes (a.k.a. Mellow Man Ace), who were a duo within a Hip Hop crew known as DVX; a crew B-Real himself would join. Their paths crossed when Muggs met B-Real (a DVX soloist), and Mellow Man Ace, and began producing demos for both B. and Mellow Man Ace, who’d begun to pursue his own solo endeavors.

In 1989, DJ Muggs, who’d grown dissatisfied with his role within 7A3, left the group to work exclusively with B-Real and Sen Dog. Taking their group name from the L.A. street Cypress Avenue, Cypress Hill landed a deal with Philadelphia label Ruffhouse Records in 1990, through Muggs’ connection with label co-founder Joe “The Butcher” Nicolo, the primary producer of The 7A3’s 1988 album Coolin’ in Cali. Due to their diligent demo sessions while shopping for a deal, B-Real, Sen Dog, and DJ Muggs made quick work of their first album’s recording; laying each track and mixing the final product in less than two weeks in early 1991. In August of that year, Cypress Hill made their national debut, and tore the game asunder with their self-titled debut.

Cypress Hill is one of the most symmetrical rap albums you’ll likely ever hear. This is due in large part to the dusted production of DJ Muggs; and the almost perfect continuity from track to track. The first few songs are murderous, starting with the first cut “Pigs”, a dose of wry dementia that uses purple haze guitars and a nursery rhyme cadence to shed light on rogue cops. The next cut, the vigilante anthem “How I Could Just Kill A Man”, can still rattle trunks and shake city blocks, and B-Real and Sen Dog’s self-defense musings, coupled with the sonic boom of DJ Muggs, make this cut the very embodiment of a timeless song. The sinister rumbler “Hand On The Pump” is up next, a textbook example of drive-by music, where B and Sen get trigger-happy over a marauding Muggs track, that utilizes an ingenious sample of the Gene Chandler classic “Duke Of Earl”. And “Hole In The Head” is a gun-buck bookend to “Hand On The Pump”, propelled by the liquid lowrider gurgles of DJ Muggs, and featuring the album’s lone guest appearance, from Carson, California group Boo-Yaa Tribe, who assist B-Real and Sen Dog with ad-lib vocals.

The next few joints on Cypress Hill are high-energy numbers, where the trio sparks a few blunts and get loose. Both DJ Muggs and B Real shine on “Light Another”: Muggs with his frenzied, wah-wah guitar track (lifted from Kool & the Gang), and B with his elastic flow and smoke-out imagery. “The Phuncky Feel One”, the album’s first single, is a delicious slice of gangsta soul clap, with Muggs making a combustible sound collage from many different breaks, and B and Sen free flowing back-and-forth, with the chemistry and precision of old schoolers. On “Real Estate”, DJ Muggs does masterful beat alchemy: melding drum lines and melodies from Tony Alvon & the Bel-Airs (“Sexy Coffee Pot”) and All the People (“Cramp Your Style”) with separate breaks from the Bar-Kays, while B-Real shoots the gift impressively, and unleashes his inner rhyme fighter. The title of “Stoned Is The Way Of The Walk” says it all; it’s a slow, drugged-out cut, with B trying to get his toke on in peace, over a moody sample of jazz great Grant Green’s “Down Here On The Ground”. Muggs serves up a plateful of solar funk on “Psycobetabuckdown” – courtesy of Willie Hutch and Parliament – which B-Real and Sen Dog flow back and forth over with style and swagger, and use to completely zone out. And, in case we didn’t already know their favorite vice, the funky interlude “Something For The Blunted” drives home the point, through a dope sample of Curtis Mayfield’s “Future Shock”.

Cypress Hill closes out with a few aural victory laps. Sen Dog gets bilingual on “Latin Lingo”; rhyming in both Spanish and English (or “Spanglish”) while B-Real ad-libs, and DJ Muggs provides a percolating garage rock track topped with rhythmic percussion. Muggs conjures some frenzied merengue thump on “The Funky Cypress Hill Shit”, which B and Sen breeze through with vim and vigor. And Sen Dog and DJ Muggs close the curtain; with “Tres Equis”, a mini-cut where Sen rhymes in Spanish over a liquid, Ford Fairlane funk track from Muggs, and then with “Born To Get Busy”; a bumping track with a fermented, Memphis soul base.

Each member of Cypress Hill proves integral to the collective’s potency. B-Real has all the ingredients for a great frontman. He’s got charisma, personality, a distinct vocal tone, and, best of all, talent. Sen Dog is underrated on the mic, and has both a strong presence as a sideman, and a likable outlaw persona that adds dimension to the group. And DJ Muggs is the central nervous system of both the group and this album. Somewhere between the time he first touched a drum machine, and his last days with The 7A3, Muggs became a brilliant producer. His bottom-heavy beats, knowledge of various musical genres, deft ear for breaks and soundbites from the oddest sources; and skill at switching breaks and loops at will, make for a lethal combination. Simply put, Muggs is ten fingers of death behind the mix board, and he’s invaluable to this album’s flow.

In its time, not much was expected of Cypress Hill, particularly by its creators. The album, recorded on a small budget and in well under a month’s time, was expected to move a few hundred thousand units at most, and with its earthiness, the album was presumed to appeal primarily to street-level rap fans. Contrary to predictions however, this album blew like a pipe bomb; selling more than 2 million copies in the U.S., and giving Cypress Hill a diverse fan base that crossed all demographic boundaries. This album would be the start of a lengthy and successful run for Cypress Hill, with more than 20 million albums sold over the next decade following this release. Though they became superstars, sold millions of records, and brought many innovations to the game, Cypress Hill hasn’t gotten the props they deserve. They gave voice to hemp enthusiasts, and were the first to bring marijuana culture and knowledge to the Hip Hop massive. And DJ Muggs led a new generation of rugged beat doctors (most notably The RZA) and inspired many music makers in rap’s 1990’s spinoff, trip-hop. Cypress Hill inhabits a special place in rap history; as one of the 1990’s best rap releases, the best album in its namesake’s catalog, and the genesis of one of rap’s most innovative groups. Check it out, and take a toke with the rebels from South Gate.

To listen to Cypress Hill, click here.