Words By Khalid Strickland
Many corporations can thank rappers for a business boom. Clarks, the footwear company behind Wallabees, needs to cut Ghostface a check for keeping its shoes relevant. The makers of Cristal should swallow their contempt for Black folks and honor Jay-Z and Puff. And the Phillies Cigar company should build a shrine for the rap group who helped them sell millions of their cheap-ass blunts — Cypress Hill.
Potheads wrapped Mary Jane in cigar skins long before Cypress Hill endorsed it, but the first Latino rap group to go platinum helped introduce blunts to the mainstream. In 1991 Cypress Hill dropped a self-titled debut album celebrating L.A. gang culture and, more prominently, marijuana. They weren’t the first rappers to talk about weed, just as N.W.A. wasn’t the first to spit gangsta shit. But B-Real’s nasal vocals, Sen Dog’s gravelly ad-libs and DJ Muggs’ stoned, off-kilter beats set off a revolution. A bandwagon of overnight potheads cropped-up because of Cypress and their gleefully grimy music. The Phillies logo was splashed all over T-shirts, hats and stickers across America. (I theorize Phillies blew up bigger than the competition back then because White Owls, though they burn slower, are harsher than smoking the discarded cardboard from a roll of toilet tissue. The Dutch Master, my preference, takes patience to roll; that outer leaf can be a bitch to unwrap and reconstruct at times. But, thanks to my stir-fried brain cells, I digress…)
In this day of just-add-water rap music, very few artists have a signature sound. Cypress had a dusted, eccentric style that was passed on to Soul Assassin kin House of Pain and Funkdoobiest. The early music of Mobb Deep and Wu-Tang Clan also possess the same hard-nosed, crackling soundbites lifted from dirty records. Perhaps that’s why The Alchemist, one of Muggs’ brightest and most sought-after production pupils, hangs tight with Mobb and fits in musically. On Cypress Hill’s double-platinum third album, Temples of Boom (1995), RZA contributed the beat for “Killa Hill Niggas,” which also featured U-God. In 2005 Muggs and GZA collaborated on an album aptly titled Grandmasters.
Sen Dog’s place in the Hype Man Hall of Fame — along with Flavor Flav, Spliff Star and the late Freaky Tah, who borrowed heavily from Sen — has long been solidified. But B-Real was appealing as an MC because, though he rhymed with a high-pitched, cartoonish voice, he spit some hard, violent shit. “How I Could Just Kill A Man” is a classic ode to homicide. “Pigs” was humorous tale about killing cops (got to love that.) “Hand on the Pump,” complete joyful chants reminiscent of BDP’s “9mm Goes Bang,” made drive-bys seem like fun. And let’s not forget “Shoot ‘Em Up,” a bullet-riddled gem from one of Hip-Hop’s best soundtrack albums, Juice. The last Cypress Hill album I thoroughly enjoyed was Temples of Boom. After that they strayed a bit and pushed further into Rock ‘n’ Roll territory, but they did have random joints I dug like “Dr. Greenthumb,” (which can be heard in the movie Pineapple Express) and “Tequila Sunrise.”
To date, Cypress Hill have sold 17 million albums worldwide with a whopping 11 million in the U.S. alone. Now they are truly The Grateful Dead of Hip-Hop, still managing to sell out arenas throughout the globe and caking up on tour.
I’ll conclude by raising my bong to the heavens for one of my favorite groups in Hip-Hop history, Cypress Hill. Salute.
VH1′s Hip-Hop Honors show airs Monday, 10.6.08 at 10 p.m. ET.