Dope" beats, indeed: Passed like a torch from Schoolly D to Boogie Down Productions on up to Brand Nubian and Dr. Dre, pot maintains an honored status in hip-hop. Nobody bum-rushes Mary Jane's popularity like Cypress Hill, though. Besides their words to the herb, Cypress Hill's appeal lies in odd contradictions. Addressing the many shades brought together in urban America, Cypress Hill are "multicultural" without even trying, spicing their raps with Spanish over tracks provided by an Italian-American raised in Queens, N.Y. Cypress also carry an "alternative" crowd without alienating hardcore hip-hoppers, sampling Suicidal Tendencies while keeping the beats raw. Still, 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.
Of course, stoned is still the way of the walk for Cypress Hill in '93. Sunday starts with "I Wanna Get High," on which rapper B-Real freaks the title refrain (lifted from Rita Marley's "One Draw") and tells "Bill Clinton to go and inhale" over a near-comatose drum loop. Other examples of the "buddha-fied funk" include "Hits From the Bong," complete with slurping sounds, and the public service announcement-style "Legalize It," which states that "the marijuana plant ... is used for many other things than just smoking." Cypress Hill hit their stride, though, in "I Ain't Goin' Out Like That." "Ain't" covers typical Cypress territory, recounting a tale of gangsta retaliation similar to their breakthrough hit, "How I Could Just Kill a Man." Over a deep, discordant bass line and the ominous crack of a snare drum, B-Real and co-MC Sen Dog chant the sloganlike chorus over and over until the words lodge in your brain like a bullet from a drive-by. B-Real's nasal whine grinds against Sen Dog's throaty bark to great effect, their play of contrasts resulting in rap's most distinctive call-and-response team since Run-D.M.C.
Producer-DJ Mixmaster Muggs, though, truly masterminds the "funky Cypress Hill shit." Unlike the densely layered masterworks of superproducers like Dr. Dre or the Bomb Squad, Muggs rules the realm of sinister minimalist funk. With rarely more than a raw beat combined with a thumping piano-bass loop and a sirenlike wail, Muggs creates a skeletal groove that allows B-Real and Sen Dog's vocal pyrotechnics to stand out. Like the Geto Boys' soul-laden tracks, Muggs is unafraid to give his severe urban sound-scapes a bluesy feel, tweaking a wah-wah guitar in "A to the K" or tacking a harmonica riff onto "I Ain't Goin' Out Like That." The blues flavor adds to the gloomy coming-down haze that pervades Black Sunday.
Cypress Hill's most confusing attribute is their obsession with gun-crazed violence, depicted in songs like "Lick a Shot," "Cock the Hammer," "A to the K" and "Hand on the Glock"; under the calming influence of all the dope they smoke, they should be waving more peace signs than Arrested Development. This contradiction soon disappears, though; after a couple of listens, it becomes clear that on Black Sunday Cypress Hill are lacing the funk with something harder than your average hip-hop buzz. (RS 665)
(Posted: Jul 17, 1997)
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