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Beats Per Millennium - Hip Hop Honors Week: Cypress Hill

Hip Hop Honors Week: Cypress Hill

Ever since I got engaged to a Mexican in August, I have considered myself an expert in Cypress Hill. But I did not get engaged to just any Mexican. My fiance was born in East L.A., and most likely people he laid eyes on were close and personal friends of the members of Cypress Hill. This makes me extremely qualified to discuss Cypress Hill and, by extension, honor them.

The problem is that I didn’t even know Cypress Hill was a “Latino hip hop” group until I looked them up on Wikipedia 4 minutes ago.

This leads me to believe that was is important about Cypress Hill is not that they are Latino, or even that their lyrics are at times entirely incomprehensible. They are unique. Now, I know that many of the white people I know could not tell the difference between House of Pain (Irish) and Cypress Hill (Latino), but let me tell you: there is a huge difference.

Cypress Hill did not just release one famous album with a sweet single. They released two gold and five (5!) platinum albums. That is major staying power. And for every big single they have released since 1991, they have not sold out (that is, they still sound about like they did in 1991). And for this, they deserve props above all others.

There is an argument to be made that sounding exactly like “insane in the membrane” for every song you’ve ever written might not be the key to longevity; after all, that sound can be tiring on the temporal lobes. It is sometimes described as being “nasal,” containing something that sounds like “sirens,” or sounding a little bit like “existing in an environment containing ubiquitous atmospheric helium.” This means that every member of this group, specifically B-Real, crashes 8-year-olds’ birthday parties and steals balloons to inhale them before he goes into the studio (this is true). Distinctive sounds take a lot of work. Also, Cypress Hill loves marijuana.

But above all, Cypress Hill brings the beats. They have something that sounds like Beastie Boy percussion with a West coast flavor, and it is the beats that make them perennial favorites in hip hop. I could live without B-Real’s vocals; but I can’t live without the beats on Cypress Hill’s albums. There is something that makes them a little softer than the Beastie Boys, without becoming entirely west-coast late 90s hip hop either. Moreover, Cypress Hill has avoided the Pit Bull mistake of being a caricature of the cultural history they are representing.

In any case to make it short, sweet, and to break it down for all the lay people: Cypress Hill is like the Beastie Boys and Snoop Dogg wrapped in a tortilla. And amen to that.

Posted by Lally Gartel at Oct 03, 2008 12:07 AM