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Wednesday, 9 January 2013

"You're right. F*** EVERYBODY" - GETTING STONED WITH CYPRESS HILL IN LONDON AND THE HOLLYWOOD HILLS, 1995

"Cypress Hill: Do Believe The Hype"
Neil Kulkarni, Melody Maker, 16 September 1995

"CYPRESS HILL's self-titled debut album changed the face of hip hop. Their second, Black Sunday, was the rap crossover LP of the early Nineties. But their soon-come third long-player, Temples Of Boom, is the business, da shiznit, the BOMB. So we sent NEIL KULKARNI first to Ladbroke Grove for an exclusive playback of the record with mainman DJ MUGGS, then to LA to meet the rest of the crew responsible for the next crucial stage in hip hop's development"

DJ MUGGS, INVENTOR of the Soul Assassins sound, mixmaster general for Cypress Hill and one of the most important producers in hip hop history, is sitting in a club in Ladbroke Grove next to a massive sound system and smoking the smelliest, phunkiest green shit ever. Muggs has invited me down to hear the new Cypress Hill LP, one that no one, not even in America, has heard yet. While I'm waiting to adjust to the excitement (and the chronic fog), I take the opportunity to review Cypress Hill's career.
The sad truth is that Black Sunday, Cypress Hill's last album and the hip hop record it was OK for indie kids to like throughout 1993/4, was kinda stuck in one groove, more of the same only less so compared to the sonic revolution that was Cypress Hill, their eponymous debut.
Sure, Black Sunday was occasionally fantastic ('Cock The Hammer', 'Break 'Em Off Some'), but it was more often just tired, dope-fugged laziness. Of course it was massive but, for Cypress Hill to still mean anything in '95, they have to have moved on, create a whole new blueprint rather than simply pursue their own history into the future.
Perhaps most importantly, Cypress Hill must distance themselves from the rest of the increasingly tired Soul Assassins axis (Funkdoobiest, House Of F***ing Pain), move back to hip hop's cutting edge yet still retain their mass appeal.
Impossible?
Muggs flicks a switch and the room is flooded with sound. And it's immediate. They've done it. They've come through. The results will silence everybody. The first second you hear this new LP, your soul quakes. After 20 minutes' exposure, your doubts evaporate in a puff of dope smoke. Temples Of Boom is the motherf***in' BOMB. You won't believe your ears.
Muggs is sitting back now, Lobbing his head, grinning. HE KNOWS.
Back. In a big no f***in' way.
Driver! LA.


REAL ESTATE
"F***, F***, F***ING MOTHERF***ER."
Muggs is hyped. He paces his Hollywood Hills home more intimidatingly than the two Zoltanhounds he's got by his pool to savage any unsuspecting wheat-germ killers. As we pulled up to his house, we could smell the skunk OUTSIDE. Like all the homes up here, you can actually see more of them from down in Hollywood than you can up among them. Christ knows what kinds of depravity are going on behind these doors. Images of cocaine being snorted from a pig's nether regions flood the mind, as ever.
At the top of this hill, Sly Stallone has bought a house, cleared the land around it, dug a bunker into the hillside and now commands the greatest view in LA. Well, wouldn't you? L.A. is the Western Mecca, popular culture's secular cathedral, Disneyland for grown-ups. But they let me in anyway.
The reason Muggs is so frenetic is because the band have been given three days in which to finish the LP before they fly to South America for gigs. Cypress Hill's B-Real and Sen Dog are here, Muggs has a studio set up in the corner and a vocal booth in the wardrobe. Handy. We're given an hour. Max.
Sitting down on the luxurious carpet (a houseproud Muggs has told us all to take off our shoes) in front of the biggest TV I've ever seen in my life, as the sun glints off the pool and shines on the wall of platinum discs, I ask B-Real if the pressure ever gets to him.
"Never," he says, directly, "because we've been in control since day one. Everyone we deal with knows that, if they leave us to do our thing, we'll give them the best shit we can. But we're in charge of our own careers, no one else, since day one."
How did you start out? It's not all that well known.
"Well," he starts, "I met Sen Dog thru his brother [Mellow Man Ace]. He used to have a break-dancing crew. Slowly and surely, I started hanging with Sen, and we just moved from breakdancing to rapping just as a hobby. Nothing serious. Somewhere along the line, we met Muggs [who was then Djing for underground act 7A3] and eventually it was just us three hanging out the most. They wuz ruff days, y'know?"
He looks around at the splendour and smiles.
"We had nothing, but we did what we did to get by. Sometimes we had shit, sometimes we didn't, but, if I hadn't have gone through that, I wouldn't be who I am today. Whether that's good or band, I learned a lot of shit from that."
And presumably you'd started to write back then?
"Yeah, I found my method of writing back then and it's stayed the same ever since. Either I'd just get an idea, or Muggs'd spark me off on one and it'd just flow. I used to ride the bus from Gardenia all the way to Hollywood and I'd just be thinking, I'd have shit in my head all the way. It's a f***in' hour-long ride – that's how I wrote 'Stoned Is The Way Of The Walk'. It just came into my head. I thought up every single line, the whole thing on that bus ride, and, when I got off, I went to Muggs' house and wrote it all down."
And this was how the crew created their debut album, one that would change hip hop forever. Only available on import in the UK for some time, in the US its impact was instantaneous. It has since gone platinum-plus.
Were you aware in its making that it was gonna have such a massive affect?
"We were just happy to have an album deal," says B-Real, "to be a part of the whole culture. See, that first LP spanned about three years of songwriting, just waiting around for our shit to happen. It was a relief more than anything;. We never thought of it would change stuff."
But it DID and, when it came time to recording the follow-up, Black Sunday, the pressure to do it again was definitely ON.
"Well, see, nobody knew the first LP was gonna blow up so big. We didn't ever imagine that what we wanted to hear, y'know, another f***in' million people would wanna hear, too, and the record company didn't, either. So they needed something to follow it up with, like, NOW. We were kinda inexperienced at that point, so we just said, 'All right, we'll do it.' And we just went in and knocked it out in two months."
Hence the hurried vibe. Muggs tells me he was only 50 per cent happy with Black Sunday. Parts of the hip hop media in the US took this as a cue to react angrily to Cypress' new-found success. Caught in that moment of elitist bitterness when THEIR babies become EVERYBODY'S, US mag The Source in particular accused Cypress of "selling out", even (absurdly) targeting them for racism on 'Lil' Putos'.
"Source can suck my dick. I'll beat all their asses," snorts Muggs. "The Source thing was a personal thing, no other critics or magazines said that. They were trying to plant a seed in other people's heads."
"That magazine's a piece of shit," adds B-Real.
But it does indicate a wider trend in hip hop. Where the obsession to "keep it real" and stay underground engenders a spiteful, embittered backlash whenever the WAY OF LIFE becomes some taste/style accessory.
B-Real isn't having it.
"They should be f***in' happy for that artist – it gives an opportunity for hip hop to be big, a well-respected part of the music, not just this constant outcast. Most all the other music genres respect success. Some don't, some might see it as a phase, a fad. But what we've done is show that rap is here to stay, it's been around for 20 years, and look at the heights it can achieve. So far, we've done everything we've wanted to do, no regrets. And we've kept control over everything. In music, let alone hip hop, that should bean inspiration."
But hip hop has moved on since '93. Where do you see Cypress Hill fitting in now? "Well, there's a lot of competition so I don't really know where we stand right now," says Real. "There ain't shit out there but Raekwon, all the rest can suck a dick," snarls Muggs.
"Well, that's his opinion," B-Real snickers, "But, I know, we always try and keep our ear to the ground, keep on top of what's goin' on."
"And right now," Muggs says, "hip hop is f***ing boring, ain't nothin' but us and Raekwon. The rest suck."
"He's right. It is boring right now," concedes B-Real.
You realise that Muggs is f***ing wired. This could get really interesting. Then something terrible happens. It does.



ICE ICE BABY
A LOT OF misinformed people might say the LA sound has moved on to pure G-Funk (God save us).
"Well, they can suck some dick. F*** that," says Muggs. "G-Funk just started last year, it ain't all about G-Funk. S'cool, and that's their LVC thang, but there's more to LA than all that G-Funk shit."
"And, truth is, we ain't never given a f*** about anyone else anyway," adds B-Real. "We hear it, but we're over here, doin' our own thang.
"But there are a lot of producers out here who don't get props," continues B-Real, after a moment's pause.
"There ain't shit in LA except Snoop..." Muggs pauses. B-Real chips in: "As you can tell, he's not in a very good mood today." Muggs, however, carries on, oblivious to all and sundry.
"Ice Cube? He's the most biting-ass motherf***er in the world. He's a bitin'-ass nigga. All that shit King Sun said about him? It's true. All that shit wid' the Torcha Chamba [Cube's collaborators on 'Wicked'] suing him? It's true."
Whoa, whoa, what are they suing him for?
"They didn't get paid, man!" exclaims Muggs, "I did 'Check Yo' Self' in '92 and still ain't got my f***in' royalties cheques, man!"
B-Real picks it up.
"I'll tell you this," he says. "I did countless favours for Cube, didn't get paid, no credit. I'll do that for him outta friendship. But, when it came to doing the track for Friday [the movie soundtrack], we played him 'Throw Your Sets' [the first single from Temples Of Boom] cos we had just finished it. And it just so happens that he put our f***in' chorus on his f***in' song for Friday. It's coming out next week. He had it done, finished before we played him 'Sets', but his track had no chorus. Then, waddayaknow, a month after, our chorus turns up on his track. Then he even takes a line out of our track, that line, 'Los Scandalous California', and titles the new Caution LP with it. And the real f***ed up thing is that I'm in the studio with Cube listening to the Caution LP and I hear it in the lyrics. So I go out, come back and listen again and he's f***in' muted it out. Tryin' to make me think I wuz buggin' out when I heard it! But I heard it, now it's their LP title and that's just not cool. You need to think of your own shit. I was cool with him till then but now we say, 'F*** him, f*** him twice, f*** him three times'."
Muggs is getting into this now.
"He ripped off Sun, he ripped off Ricky Harris, the stand-up comedian. 'How You Like Me Now?' is a straight rip-off of one a' Ricky's stories. Even his own people told us he never used to smoke much until we met him. Y'know that pipe on The Predator cover? That's Muggs' f***in' pipe, man!"
"He had his art-work done," continues Muggs, "a cartoon of him ripping someone's spine out. I'm in the studio doing 'Tear this Motherf***er Up' and he's like, 'Gimme yr pipe. Gimme yr pipe.' I'm like,'Naah, man', 'I'll give you 100 dollars for it.' So the next day I'm just, 'F***, take the f***ing pipe and just shut up, man.' Next thing, it's on the cover. He don't even smoke weed! The man don't even smoke! The man smoked weed with me one time in the studio and he couldn't do the vocals cos he couldn't even think, didn't know if they were good or nuthin'."
"S'true, I was there. I saw the whole shit," laughs B-Real.
"I mean, if you wanna use my shit, I'll write something for you, don't be taking the shit I'm gonna use. It's like taking my bitch, I'm gonna punch you in the f***in' head."
"Exactly, dude," concurs B. 'That's like f***ing with a man's woman, man. Anything I made I cherish, cos I might not remember that shit the next day."
"Cube, man, he's a biting-ass motherf***er. His homeboys'll come outta jail and say, 'Yo, Cube, I just got out after 10 years, niggers tryin' a stick, tryin' a stick.' That nigger'll go home and [slips into uncanny Cube voice] 'FRESH OUT THE PEN!!! JUST DID 10!!!' – y'know what I'm saying?"
The room collapses into laughter.
"I used to respect him so much," says B, sadly. "But all that shit is gone now. Y'know what?" he turns to Muggs. "You're right. F*** EVERYBODY."
"We're hitting everybody up to shit, we on a war with everybody, everybody else should shut the f*** up," Muggs is thumping his fist into his palm.
Looks like I got you on a good day.
"Heh, heh, shit, where's the weed at? I gotta mellow out now."
And off he goes, leaving me to add, just as a matter of interest: Mr Cube, sir, if you're reading this, I stuck up for you, sir, I did my best to defend you.
Well, I laughed like a drain anyway.



HIP HOP DISCONNECTION
SERIOUSLY, though, the difference runs deeper than that.
As with all great bands, it's misguided to try and place Cypress Hill in any rigid scheme. They only sound themselves when they're out on a limb, endlessly re-inventing their approach.
But if hip hop in general can be divided up right now, it's those West Coast/East Coast camps. In sunbaked LA, r&b/hip hop fusion and G-Funk are the predominant styles (flip a radio dial and you'll drown in it). The likes of Twinz, Bones Thugs & Harmony, Coolio, Cube, MC Eiht and Scarface are bringing together the rap and swing audiences to form one giant commercial base.
In New York, hip hop has gone in another, more avant garde direction, producing a more sparse and chilling sound, one that's almost designed to remain true to the hip hop junkies and beat heads, to stay uncompromisingly underground, to not cross over, to keep grimly fiendish. Think Junior Mafia, Redman, Murray, Mack, Jeru, Show & AG, Mobb Deep, the whole Wu-Tang stable.
What's great about Cypress Hill is that, while they share the popular appeal and ambition of their LA peers, if anything, in sound and spirit they have a hell of a lot more in common with East-Coast hip hop than with their local contemporaries. Temple Of Boom, their forthcoming LP, is a stunning, at times terrifying, record, one that, as Muggs says, is "a step beyond anything we've done before but still an addition to it."
The immediately identifiable Cypress sound is still there, in B-Real's nasal whine, in the dirty black Indian summer of their sound, in the way, like all CH records, your body starts involuntarily snapping itself about the moment you hear it.
Yet what grabs you most immediately is that this isn't just another addition to the hip hop canon. Implausibly, this late on in their career, Cypress have made an LP that is as ground-breaking as their debut, that doesn't just follow form but revolutionises it. Muggs has taken his trademark lurid, blunted sound to new depths, higher planes. Pockets of space have been allowed to open up and hatch new horrors, suck in more sound. Looping has given way to deeper experimentation within individual samples.
This may have something to do with simple economics: the crew have claimed they gave away half of what they should've received from Black Sunday merely for sample clearances. The second-long snippet, "I think I'm going crazy", at the end of 'Insane In The Brain', cost them $50,000 alone.
But rather than allow this to tie them down, Muggs has used it as a cosmic springboard, the enforced discipline sending his production further into inner-space. Every single sound is f***ed with and ripped apart with clinical, razor-sharp brilliance that sounds anything but limited. Rather it's limitless, infinite, the weirdest, most staggering shit I've heard since 'StoneD Is The Way Of The Walk' first detonated our lives forever.
The first taste of the new LP will be the unnerving, brain-jangling single, 'Throw Your Sets In The Air', coupled with the equally fearsome 'Killa Hilla'. Together with the other tracks I've heard, 'Let It Rain', the stunning 'Temples Of Boom' itself and the jaw-dropping collaboration with Wu-Tang, 'Illusions', Temple Of Boom is more than worth the wait – it's Cypress Hill's best yet and the unarguable headf*** of the year next to Maxinquaye, Timeless, Goodfellas,The Infamous, Tical and... Jesus, this is a brilliant year.

And it's about to get even better. "Really, the difference between this LP and the last one is that we made this LP in our own time and that gave us the freedom to take it all to another level," explains Muggs.
"Basically, all the shit that be getting props on the radio is not the shit we wanna hear. And, bar us and Raekwon, and unless the Dogg Pound come out with some new shit this year, there ain't a f**inq thing we really wanna hear in hip hop. I've been listening to Portishead and Tricky, but people over here won't listen to it. F*** r&b. We just went in, did our thing and made the music we wanted to listen to. And that's what you'll get."
Muggs pauses for a while and smiles. "I know people will see this LP as a test, they'll be waiting for us NOT to come off, then they can say it's over and they told us so. Heh heh. F*** 'em. They don't know what's gonna hit 'em."
I'm telling you, people, as someone who loves you all. Prepare yourselves. It's the motherf***in' BOMB.
"Hey, Sen Dog, don't you ever speak?" says a voice to my right as we wind up.
Sen Dog, who has been perched on the sofa watching sports for the duration of the interview, turns his head ever so slightly. "No."
Back. The BOMB.
The F***ing End.

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