25 Years Later, Cypress Hill's Debut Album Remains an Ahead-of-Its-Time Classic
The cover art of Cypress Hill's 1991 self-ttiled debut album
If N.W.A introduced the world to South Central and Compton, Cypress Hill cracked the 40 and sparked the blunt for the rest of L.A. County. Until the South Gate trio emerged, the East Coast tended to stereotype local rap as either stone cold gangsta nihilism inspired by Eazy E, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, or lightweight pop like Young MC and Tone Loc.
But Cypress Hill’s self-titled debut — released 25 years ago this week and getting the deluxe reissue treatment next month — shattered this false binary. B-Real, Sen Dog and DJ Muggs blended Cheech & Chong goofiness with the chrome blasts of gangsta rap. They rapped about having their hand on the pump over filthy breaks and “Duke of Earl” doo-wop samples.
“The thing about Cypress Hill compared to N.W.A was that they was hard, in-your-face motherfuckers,” Muggs says, quoted in the book Check the Technique. “We did the same thing, but we’d pull the gun out and laugh at you, then make a joke about shooting you.”
The impact of their debut tends to get overshadowed by the hang-loose 420 aesthetic they adopted in later years. But a seismic shift occurred as soon as B-Real rapped, “Actin’ kinda loco/I’m just another local/Kid from the street getting paid for my vocals.”
Other major Latino rappers preceded them: Kid Frost was a veteran from the electro-rap era and had recently dropped “La Raza”; Mellow Man Ace already scored a hit after splitting from Cypress. But Cypress Hill were the first Latino rap group to go platinum. Their success paved the way for ’90s Latino outfits like Lighter Shade of Brown, Delinquent Habits, Brownside and Funkdoobiest.
If weed rap is now a subgenre unto itself, it certainly wasn’t in 1991. This was more than a year before The Chronic; Dr. Dre was still the guy from “Express Yourself,” claiming, “I don’t smoke weed or cess ’cause it’s known to give a brother brain damage.” More than a year before Redman taught America how to roll a blunt, Cypress Hill inspired the youth to inhale (Method Man & Redman later paid homage by sampling “Hand on the Pump” on their smash “Da Rockwilder.”)
You can’t ascribe enough influence to the pioneering production of DJ Muggs. Building off the Bomb Squad, Boogie Down Productions and Dre, Muggs manipulated funk samples into a psychedelic menudo — mirroring the rumbling chaos inside your mind that first time you ever got ridiculously stoned.
It was Muggs who made “Jump Around,” helped Mellow Man Ace get his deal, and confirmed to the East Coast that the West was much more than N.W.A (it helped that he spent his early years in Queens and that the group was signed to Philadelphia-based Ruffhouse). Before “How I Could Just Kill a Man” even came out, the group remembers hearing Erick Sermon of EPMD bumping the promo tape outside of a New York club. The nasal assault of former breakdancer B-Real refracted Rammellzee into something uniquely West Coast: slang-heavy, sun-scarred and battle-tested.
Considering Cypress Hill essentially collected three years of demos, the album included some material that dated back to ’88, making it particularly visionary. Working with a $65,000 budget, they laid the originals in L.A. on a four-track and flew to Philly to record. It was completed in 10 days. No guest
appearances. None needed.
This was the other L.A. — smoked out but still dangerous. Attacks on crooked pigs, Spanish raps, and sampledelic instrumental tracks still ahead of their time, a quarter century later. Immediately beloved by Bloods and Crips riding ’64 Chevys, blonde surfers, East L.A. skaters and East Coast “real hip-hop heads,” Cypress Hill offered something for the blunted, and plenty left over for everyone else.
An L.A. native, Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com.
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