Since cracking into platinum territory with their 1991 self-titled debut, Cypress Hill -- B-Real, DJ Muggs and Sen Dog -- have been among hip-hop's most consistently successful, acclaimed and stoned acts. On 1999's Skull & Bones, the group began experimenting with rock instrumentation, something they continue full-force on their new album, Stoned Raiders.
The album's many flavors include the menacing, heavy rock of "Trouble," the Latin-flavored hip-hop of "Lowrider," and the occasional ode to getting high, like "L.I.F.E." Frontman B-Real took time out to hold forth on the joys of rock and rap, the secret to Cypress's success, his pothead reputation and the slew of side projects he's got in the works.
How difficult is it to switch into rock mode?
It's easy. It's music, so it comes natural. If we didn't have any interest in it and it was all trying to tap into something different to sell more records, then I think it would be difficult. We've all been fans of rock for so long, even before we were doing hip-hop. Our love for it has made it a fun thing. It was also challenging, so in doing it you have all these ideas and things that would come out that you can't necessarily do with hip-hop. For me it wasn't hard at all. And I know Sen has been doing it for a while already. Before he came back to Cypress he was doing stuff like that, so it's relatively easy for him. We had fun at it, and I think as long as we have fun, making music is easy. When it's not fun is when it's f---ing hard. That's why this album as a whole, from the hip-hop side to the rock side, was all easy because we had so much fun and the music was so great. We were always in a good place in our head.
What rock bands were you into when growing up?
Black Sabbath. Led Zeppelin. I like the Who a lot, the Beatles. But my most favorite bands were Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, for sure.
Could you envision releasing an all-rock album?
It could happen, it could happen. I don't know how it would feel just to do all rock, but as far as Cypress goes, yeah, I believe it could happen. We'd have to release a straight-up completely hip-hop album as well either before it or after it. We have hip-hop fans that are purists, which means they're not trying to hear the rock s---. Our fans are loyal enough to where they'll go buy the record because it's Cypress s---, and they just want to support us, but they would never listen to it. I wouldn't want to do that to our fans, you know what I mean?
The song "Kronologik" gives a rundown of Cypress Hill's career over the last decade. Why do you think you've been able to stay together for this long?
Basically being true to ourselves when we're making our music. Asking ourselves, "Is this good, or is this s---?" That, and our abilities to keep working and keep that chemistry going strong. I think, for me, it's the competitiveness, trying to stay among the top artists out there. That helps you keep hungry, because you don't want to be looked at as somebody who just faded away because their skills diminished. Muggs keeps extending himself and reinventing the music he makes. It's a different canvas every f---ing time around. It's a lot of different things, not any one particular thing. Our live show is another aspect of it; if you can still entertain people with your music and make it interesting, people will like you for a long time. We've been fortunate to have loyal fans like that.
Was there a track that Muggs came up with for this record that blew you away?
Yeah, the track called "Bitter," because it's so, so different from all the other songs on the record. When I heard it, it hit me. I forced him to give it to me. I knew he was going to give it to me anyway, but I was like, "Man, you better give me that beat or we'll be fighting."
Cypress Hill has a reputation for being stoners, but it's interesting to note that you've matched Rage Against the Machine benefit for benefit over the years. Do you feel like the political aspect of the group gets overlooked?
I don't mind that they do that. That way, they don't cram me up for every single f---ing thing that comes along. We've never claimed to be a political band, although at times we are political and have political views and some of our actions are political. The thing is, I'm not a politician. I don't take time to read up on all the crazy policies our government has going on. I just know when you're average citizen is getting f---ed over and the fat cats are living with no problems. Those things you see and you talk about. We're the stoners, and people have an easier time swallowing us as stoners. They don't take us serious in a sense for the things we say because we're stoners, but I don't give a f--- about what media or any critic motherf---er might think. It's all about the fans who listen to the music.
Have you figured out who you're bringing out on tour?
We haven't really. We've been trying to put a list together. We want to try and put something interesting together, so that it's not just a typical f---ing tour that goes around all the time. That's been the plan the whole time, to try to take Smoke Out [the band's annual daylong festival] on the road but we'll see what our options are. With all the stuff going on right now, it's kind of hard to put together a successful festival. We're definitely going to try to make Smoke Out a nationwide tour.
What's going on with your various side projects?
We're doing some recording, playing around these days with the Kush. It's Christian Olde Wolbers and Raymond Herrera from Fear Factory, Stephen Carpenter from Deftones and myself. We're doing some recording now, and we're going to try to put the record out some time next year or in 2003. We're producing most of it ourselves but we do have T Ray [Dilated Peoples, Ozomatli] working with us right now. I can't wait until we get it out there. It's very f---ing heavy. It's mostly hip-hop, but it's still got touches of some rock s--- in it and other elements to, but it's still mostly raw hip-hop. These guys play heavy s---, and I just did my best to keep up with them. Bobo and myself and Christian from Fear Factory, we have a team called Audio Hustlers, which is a production group and right now we're working on a record called "Serial Rhyme Killers" with these three MCs, Excel, Willie Mays and Son from the Funkdoobiest. We hope to put that out sometime next year.
Hey, do you ever get stressed out doing interviews and feel like getting things off your mind?
You know what you can do: You can go down to the record store and buy an Alien Ant Farm CD and when you're driving, throw the f---er out the window and it'll make you feel good.
Sounds like a workable plan.
You can print that because these other people need therapy too.