Since taking the rap world by storm in the summer of 1991 with their classic self-titled debut album, Los Angeles-based weed enthusiasts Cypress Hill have sustained a career that has seen members B-Real, DJ Muggs, Sen Dog and Eric Bobo scale the heights of global commercial success whilst still maintaining ties to the underground rap world that spawned them.
The group’s blunted beats and rhymes launched the Soul Assassins collective, which once counted House Of Pain and Funkdoobiest amongst its members, with the Cypress crew increasing rap’s crossover appeal in the mid-90s by collaborating with rock acts such as Sonic Youth and Pearl Jam, a move that caused outrage at the time amongst some die-hard hip-hop heads.
Soon to release their eighth studio album ‘Rise Up’ on the re-launched Priority imprint, the group are once again inviting listeners to sample their inimitable brand of Latin lingo-laced rap, with help from Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda, Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, hip-hop legend Pete Rock and Evidence of Dilated Peoples.
Here, group percussionist Eric Bobo (son of Latin jazz icon Willie Bobo) talks about signing with Snoop, bringing the West Coast back and Cypress Hill’s influence on the rock / rap collaborations of today.
Was there a different approach going into this new project given that it’s been six years since the last Cypress Hill album?
“Once we got into the role of what we were trying to do it was business as usual, but in the beginning, I think because we’d all done our solo projects, we were trying to figure out what direction we were going to go in with this new record. We didn’t set ourselves a time limit as to when we were going to have the album finished, so it was good to not have to rush and just let the music come naturally. We were able to record in our own studio so there were no outside pressures. I think it was just a case of getting back to feeling comfortable and getting back into the swing of things, but at the same time we wanted to try some new things on the record as well.”
Does the fact you’ve each recorded solo projects enable everyone to bring a fresh perspective to the group dynamic or do you have a very defined vision of what a Cypress Hill album should sound like?
“I think it’s a little bit of both. We were each able to bring new ideas to the group that maybe we’d already tried on our own, but at the same time you have to be careful because Cypress Hill is its own thing and not every thing that we did on our solo records would fit a Cypress album. Also, during the time since the last group album, even though we’ve done solo projects, it’s not like we were totally separated from each other. We participated in each other’s projects and we were still doing shows as Cypress Hill. So I think there would have been more of a difference recording this new album had we been away from each other for six years and not done anything together and then tried to come back together to pick up where we’d left off. I mean, you look at a lot of groups and they might have a year between projects and they hardly see each other, which to me isn’t the healthiest thing when you’re then trying to come back and do something new. The chemistry you once had as a group can change after a long lay off and I think fans can definitely pick up on that.”
‘Rise Up’ is being released through the recently rejuvenated Priority label with Snoop Dogg being responsible for signing the group. How did that come about?
“We never approached any label as far as getting the new record out. We were just working on getting it together so that when we were done we were ready to show it to people. Snoop knew that we were working on a record and with his new job over at Priority and with him really being a strong supporter of bringing the West Coast back to prominence, it just made a lot of sense to bring us along as opposed to trying to restart the Priority label with a brand new group that nobody had ever heard of before.”
You mentioned bringing the West Coast back to prominence – what are you thoughts on the current state of West Coast hip-hop?
“Every region has had its time in the sun within hip-hop, first the East Coast, then the West, then the South. Right now, I don’t really know if there’s a definitive sound coming out of the West Coast that’s really making people take notice. So I think it’s really important for the West Coast to get that sound back. I mean, when you go back to Ice-T or N.W.A. or Dr. Dre’s early solo material, the West Coast had its own sound. But I think when it comes time to getting played on the radio and people having hits, they’re looking to duplicate what’s already out there, so the idea of having your own sound gets thrown under the rug. You have West Coast artists now that are making records trying to sound like Southern music. So a lot of artists today are just following the trends rather than putting their own spin on things, and that’s not what Cypress Hill has ever been about. No matter what we’ve done or what we’ve tried as a group, we’ve always done it on our own terms.
With that in mind, Cypress Hill really helped spearhead the rock / rap crossover in the mid-90s which bands such as Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit were so obviously influenced by. Do you feel the group is given enough credit for the part you played in bridging the gap between the two genres?
“I think at this point yes because it’s part of the norm today. Kids nowadays are growing up listening to every kind of music including alternative and hip-hop, so it’s not so segregated anymore. We did catch a lot of flack back then because hip-hop was about the purists and a lot of people were worried that if the music became watered down in any way then we’d lose it. So a lot of people really didn’t see what needed to happen for the music to grow. Every genre of music has borrowed off one another at some point, whether it’s jazz, rock, hip-hop, it doesn’t matter. So I think Cypress definitely had a hand in taking the music to a wider audience and really helped to spearhead the rock / rap fusion that you hear so much of today. I mean, when Run DMC did ‘Walk This Way’ with Aerosmith that was a massive step forward for hip-hop, but even they didn’t catch as much flack as we did (laughs). But for things to change and evolve in music sometimes certain artists have to take the shots for trying something new, and that’s what happened to Cypress Hill. We took a lot of criticism for what we were doing back then, but at the end of the day, we’re still here making hip-hop and there’s a lot of groups that started out the same time as Cypress did who aren’t even around anymore.”
There was definitely something of a backlash at the time from some fans who felt the group were abandoning their hip-hop roots to some extent…
“But even when you look at the first Cypress album there was definitely a lot of outside influences in there – there was a strong blues influence in some of the music and samples, then there was the imagery which was very dark with the skulls and everything. So even from the outset what Cypress Hill was doing wasn’t coming from a traditional hip-hop place. We’ve had so many people say to us over the years, ‘I don’t really listen to hip-hop, but I like Cypress Hill’. After awhile you can’t even figure it out anymore, because we were coming out as a hip-hop group, but so many other people heard something in the music and gravitated towards it. I think Cypress really opened up a lot of doors, particularly when we started doing festivals like Lollapalooza, because a lot of the time we would be the only hip-hop act on the bill. So we really had to prove ourselves to every audience, but we were really lucky to have had that opportunity.”
Having spent almost 20 years now as a member of Cypress Hill, is there one particular memory that really stands out for you when you look back?
“Wow, I have a few of them (laughs). But the one that really stands out to me is us being part of Woodstock ’94, which was such a monumental event. To be able to share the stage with so many influential groups and perform in front of so many people, it was just a defining moment for me. I mean, not everybody will ever get a chance to experience something like that. As many festivals and shows an artist might play at, they’re not necessarily going to go down in history like that show did. It was just an amazing experience.”
Are there plans to tour with this album?
“Hell yeah! We’re touring the world with this new album and we’re really proud and excited about it. We didn’t really do a mega, mega tour with the last album, but this time around we’re really going for it and we’re going to hit everywhere we can and just hope as many people as possible enjoy the music. We can’t wait.”