S6 E15 | Cypress Hill
On the latest episode of “Drink Champs,” N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN sit down with iconic hip hop group Cypress Hill to discuss their Showtime documentary, careers, Latino gang culture and more.
Cypress Hill, comprised of B-Real, DJ Muggs, Sen Dog and Eric Bobo, are widely considered pioneers for the fusion of Latin culture and hip hop. Hailing from South Gate, California, brothers Sen Dog and Mellow Man Ace teamed up with Queens native DJ Muggs as well as fellow Californian B-Real to form DVX (short for Devastating Vocal Excellence) in 1986. When Mellow Man Ace left the group two years later, the trio formally changed its name to Cypress Hill and inked a record deal with Ruffhouse Records and Columbia Records the following year.
In 1991, Cypress Hill released their self-titled album, which sold over 2 million copies upon release in the U.S. alone, making them the first Latin hip hop group to earn both platinum and multi-platinum certifications. Among several standouts from the project were Cypress Hill singles “The Phuncky Feel One” and “How I Could Just Kill A Man,” the latter of which propelled the group to new heights. The accompanying music video was shot in New York City and boasted cameos from Ice Cube and Q-Tip, which helped further air play on the East Coast. Other songs like “Latin Lingo,” a record that saw the group mix English and Spanish over old school instrumentals, and “Hand On The Pump,” which peaked at No. 2 on the U.S. Rap Chart, rose to acclaim shortly after.
Later, in 1993, Cypress Hill unveiled their sophomore album Black Sunday which was instantly met with gratification, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 charts with roughly 250,000 copies sold. The album contained one of the group’s most popular records to date, “Insane in the Brain,” topping the U.S. Rap Chart and later peaking at No. 19 on the U.S. Pop Chart, further establishing Cypress Hill as a globally recognized name in places like Australia and the UK. That same year, the group was infamously banned from “SNL” when DJ Muggs lit a joint on-air and the group trashed their instruments, which at the time was typical for them to do during concerts. By their third studio album Cypress Hill III: Temples of Boom in 1995, the group had added former Beastie Boys percussionist Eric Bobo.
Over the years, the group released a handful of projects, including their fourth and fifth studio albums, Cypress Hill IV and Skull & Bones. In between, Cypress took a brief hiatus to focus on their solo careers before reassembling for several more full-length projects.
Fast forward to March 2022, the group released their tenth studio album, aptly titled Back in Black with features from Dizzy Wright and Demrick. Cypress Hill also celebrated 4/20, a de facto holiday for marijuana advocates, with their Showtime documentary Cypress Hill: Insane in the Brain. Taking the same approach as Netflix’s Jeen-Yuhs, the 87-minute film unfolds nearly thirty years of unreleased footage and clips of the group from director Estevan Oriol and producer Peter Scalettar. It gives fans a deeper look into one of the most prominent hip hop groups of all time, exploring B-Real’s life as a teenager growing up around gang violence, brotherhood amongst the syndicate, the legalization of marijuana and much more.
To help give fans a recap, REVOLT compiled a list of nine facts we learned from the Cypress Hill “Drink Champs” episode. Check them out below.
1. On the origins of their group moniker
Prior to going by Cypress Hill, the group originally went by the name DVX. It wasn’t until Mellow Man Ace, Sen Dog’s brother, left the group that they decided to change their moniker and name it after Cypress Avenue in Los Angeles. “Before we really got on, we were called DVX or Devastating Vocal Excellence. When we got on, we had to change our name to something and Muggs was constantly bringing East Coast music over to Sen Dog and myself. One of those albums was Wild Style, the soundtrack for the movie. In one of the joints, Raymond Zoro references Cypress Hill. Sen Dog lived on Cypress Ave, so we thought ‘Cypress Hill,’” B-Real explains. “That’s why a lot of people thought we were from the East Coast in the beginning — because of that little flip right there. Otherwise, we would’ve been called Cypress Avenue or some other shit.”
2. On being banned from “SNL” for lighting a joint on-air
In 1993, the same year as their sophomore album Black Sunday, Cypress Hill was infamously banned from “Saturday Night Live” after DJ Muggs lit a joint on-air during their performance. The group was told not to smoke in the dressing room or on stage, although Muggs grew increasingly impatient and eventually lit up anyway after performing their single “I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That.” As the disc jockey tells it, the group was “just young and didn’t give a fuck.”
“This isn’t even the stage yet and they said, ‘Don’t light up on stage.’ After a while, I was like, ‘Man, fuck them.’ ‘Cause you know we’re young and aggressive. We really just didn’t give a fuck,” DJ Muggs shares. Pivoting from the discussion of marijuana being legalized in New York now, B-Real adds, “That’s why they should have us back now. For as much shit as we got for it, it’s one of the most re-run episodes and they don’t cut his part out. That’s the beauty of it.”
3. On how touring with the Beastie Boys helped Cypress Hill attract larger audiences
Elsewhere in the interview, Eric Bobo recalls meeting Cypress Hill in 1992 while they were opening up for Beastie Boys during their “Check Your Head Tour.” He initially started out as a percussionist and drummer for Beastie Boys, although he began splitting time between both groups before working on Cypress Hill’s Soul Assassins project and eventually joining them. “Before you know it, I started hanging out on their bus more than I was with the Beastie Boys. They had the better weed, so it all just came together,” Bobo states.
“We was making $10 – $20 thousand a night. The Beastie Boys was like, ‘You wanna open up? We’ll give you $500 a night.’ We looked at each other and was like, ‘Fuck it, let’s go steal all their fans. We’ll sell more records, our publishing checks will get bigger. Let’s go,’” DJ Muggs tell N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN. B-Real expands, “We go, and people are moshing and stage-diving and doing all that crazy shit at the Beastie Boys show. I think they saw that and that opened it up for us to open up for them on the ‘Check Your Head Tour.’” Notably, the Beastie Boys and Cypress Hills collaborated on “So What’cha Want.”
4. On drawing inspiration from the rock and metal genres for their album covers
Since their 1991 debut album, Cypress Hill has been known for its dark, mysterious and metal-inspired album covers. Thus far, the group has maintained the recurring theme of psychedelic and twisted imagery, which, according to the members, helped them further their careers as fans were always curious about who was behind the music. “For us, it was about mystery. We saw what the rock and metalheads would do on their album covers, and they rarely showed their faces. It was always some obscure shit, and we loved that so that became our visuals for our album covers,” B-Real stated. He delves into how record labels during the 90s were looking to sell artists and their imagery as a whole versus just the music they were making. DJ Muggs chimes in, “You dress and you’re on your cover and that gear is played out two years later. You look at the cover and it looks dated. We just keep it timeless.”
5. On influencing Los Angeles’ underground music scene
Pivoting from the topic of their impact on hip hop, Cypress Hill delves into the influence they held over Los Angeles’ underground music scene and how they pioneered a way for other music groups and musicians who didn’t necessarily fit the gangster rap archetype. “I believe we did because beforehand, groups weren’t getting signed unless they sounded like N.W.A. or Compton’s Most Wanted. We changed the dynamic, there’s something else here. Muggs was a big part of that because of the style of production he was giving [us] and House of Pain … Funkdoobiest — and the inspiration that had on other producers in LA,” B-Real emphasizes. “Now there’s a balance of the gangster rap shit and hip hop.”
6. On Latino gang culture in East Los Angeles and how it affected Cypress Hill
Later in the interview, the members of Cypress Hill recall each of their respective experiences navigating Latino gang culture. B-Real, a former Latino Bloods member, recalled using hip hop as a way to pull himself out of that life. He also remembers getting shot at the age of 17, saying, “You know that when you’re banging, it’s a possibility so that possibility happened.” Elsewhere, other members like Sen Dog and DJ Muggs share their experiences.
“Down there, it’s its own thing. There’s Mexican gangs, Salvadorian gangs — every Latino culture that there is, they got a gang for it. It’s different than Bloods and Crips, and you have to know that when you go into those areas because growing up as Black Latino, they didn’t know what you were,” Sen Dog says of being a Black Cuban navigating gang culture as a teenager. “That’s what we all went through growing up in LA. At some point, along the way, you have to put your foot in the dirt and say, ‘I’m going to get down with a clique because I’m tired of getting my assed whooped by everybody that thinks I don’t roll with nobody.’ You gotta roll with somebody.”
7. On how technology and the internet affected the music industry during the 90s
Technology’s impact on the music industry is well-documented with the compact disc (CD) introduced in 1982, revolutionizing the way music was consumed. Fast forward to 1999 — the internet and other digital formats such as peer-to-peer music sharing came into play, and the music industry gradually saw a decline in revenue. Infamously, platforms like Napster allowed users to connect directly and share their music without a middleman for free.
“It was like we’re going to give your music, the shit you worked hard for, away for free. Just shut up, sit back and have a seat,” DJ Muggs tells N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN. “I knew there was a future in it because you can’t fight technology. Technology is the realest shit ever.” Furthermore, B-Real goes on to discuss how record companies were far removed from technology, saying “the record companies were behind on that shit. They didn’t fall in the way they could’ve and it put a big dent on the game.” Today, technology still continues its reign on the music business with streaming platforms like Apple Music, TIDAL, YouTube and Spotify being the main forms of consumption. More recently, social media platforms like TikTok and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are viewed as the future.
8. On record labels wanting to box them into the Latin music genre
Initially, when Cypress Hill signed their first record deal in 1989 with Ruffhouse Records and Columbia Records, the labels were looking to use them to fill a gap. Not wanting to be boxed in as a “Latino hip hop group,” they took a different route in regards to marketing and how they promoted themselves. “We were tryna make hip hop music, not Latino hip hop,” they emphasize. Ultimately, Cypress Hill opened the doors for many other Latin musicians through the power of not being labeled as for a certain demographic.
Speaking on when the group initially got signed, B-Real says, “What’s crazy is we got signed from an all-Spanish song that Sen Dog had done. It was called ‘Caliente’ and that’s what got us signed. We didn’t end up using it, but they saw the potential in the Latino hip hop group, which there wasn’t at the time and we happened to be Latinos.” He continues, “So, they thought, ‘We’re going to lean on that’ and we were like, ‘Nah, don’t put us in that box. We’re going to sprinkle our shit because realistically there’s no market for that, and we’re going to be stuck.’”
DJ Muggs adds, “We were like, ‘Let’s make dope music. You don’t need know what we look like. We’re going to do our shit like this. Here’s music, we don’t even need to be on the [album covers].’” Moreover, Cypress Hill goes on about how if you marketed yourself as a Latino artist, you were expected to sound like other Latin artists such as Frost and Mellow Man Ace.
9. On the Cypress Hill: Insane In The Brain documentary
To celebrate 4/20 and the group’s 30 year-long run in hip hop, Cypress Hill came out with Cypress Hill: Insane In The Brain, which documents their rise to acclaim and frontman B-Real’s journey into the cannabis industry. In regards to the documentary, Sen Dog states, “I think the history of it all is important because we were the kids that everyone had counted out. [B-Real] was off doing some hardcore banging stuff, I was working warehouses, I hadn’t met Bobo yet. Muggs was always the driven one, trying to go get him for these vocals.” Clocking in at 87 minutes, the film gives fans a deeper look into how they influenced hip hop culture while also embracing elements from other genres such as rock and roll and metalcore.