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Since the group’s formation in 1988, the pioneering rap-rock quartet Cypress Hill — founders B-Real (Louis Freese), DJ Muggs (Lawrence Muggerud) and Sen Dog (Senen Reyes), along with newest member Eric Bobo — have come a long way from the streets of South Central L.A. Over the course of its 15-year history, Cypress Hill has sold more than 15 million albums worldwide; garnered 15 multi-platinum, platinum and gold certifications from the RIAA; headlined Lollapalooza, Woodstock and the group’s own Smokin’ Grooves tour; and appeared on “Saturday Night Live,” among other shows, all while breaking down the barriers between hip-hop, alternative, metal, rock, reggae, ska and Latin music.
“We wanted to take it back to what it was in the beginning,” says B-Real during a break at DJM studio, where the new album was recorded. “It’s all raw hip-hop with rock touches, reggae and the Latin thing we started with. We just let it come to us from there. We vibed the record out as we went along. And whatever we liked at the end, if it sticks like glue, we made it happen.” “We took the best of what we do, and what we’ve learned through the years, updated it for 2004, and voila,” says Muggs, who once again provided most of the initial beats and final production, in turn inspiring input from the other three. “It’s about growth and progression.”
Till Death Do Us Part offers an overview of the Cypress Hill palette. There’s the straight-up gangsta rap of “Can’t Stop the Gunshot,” the Hispanic roots of “Latin Thugs” (featuring Puerto Rican reggaeton superstar Tego Calderone), the pro-ganja dancehall reggae of “Smoke It Up” (with toasting by Bob Marley’s son Damian) and the cinematic “Street Wars,” with its chiming bells and ethereal choir. The latter was inspired, like the somber statues on the CD cover, by Muggs’ recent trip to Prague.
“There was this bridge there we took pictures of,” he says. “The whole mood, the way the album looks, with its sepia tone. Dark, cloudy, overcast. That’s what I was going for.” The first single, the propulsive ska-rock of the Clash-inspired “What’s Your Number?” is a tongue-in-cheek ode to picking up a girl in a club featuring Rancid’s Tim Armstrong on guitar and the Transplants’ Rob “SR” Ashton making cameos on background vocals. “It’s a take-off on ‘Guns of Brixton,’” offers B-Real. “I was real surprised when Muggs wanted us to try it, but it works.”
Other guests on the album include Mobb Deep’s Prodigy and Twin on the classic Hill “bonger” “Last Laugh” and L.A.-to-N.Y producer The Alchemist (who twisted the dials on “Bang Out” and “Latin Thugs”). “This is one of the first albums where everything just fell into place,” explains B-Real. “Songwise, it just really came together. It felt right.”
“It’s maturity and growth,” agrees Muggs. “We didn’t want to tread the same water or make the same record. Cypress Hill has always been known as trend-setters and I just think it was time for the band to try something different. To create our own world within a world again. We don’t jump on any bandwagons. We don’t just make hit records. We make classic records that stand the test of time.” Songs like the horrorcore “Never Know” continue to walk the tightrope between street cred and mainstream success with an approach that draws on the band’s gangsta history. “I just might die tonight/So let’s get high tonight/Might try to fight…You hold tight to life/But you ain’t afraid, man.”
“That’s the way we present everything,” says B. "When Muggs gives me a beat, I let it come to me and whatever comes out, comes out. Usually, certain sounds touch off something that reminds me of what I did or saw back in the day. “The production and how I write go hand-in-hand. We’ve been at it a long time, so we try to keep it interesting, try to find new sonic and lyrical directions. Because there’s so much competition out there now, you have to come up with something better.”
“I’m always listening to different kinds of music,” says Muggs. “I’m still a student of the game. I read books, watch movies and study life. Then try to interpret what I’m going through and put it in my music. I’ve been trying to get more visual in my writing.”
The sing-song dub reggae track “Busted in the Hood” is a prime example. Muggs turns the Beastie Boys’ old-school nursery rhyme refrain, “Here’s a little story…” into an anti-hard drug tune whose animated B-Real rap recalls the band’s very first hit, “How I Could Just Kill a Man.” “That was a song I used to sing in the neighborhood back in the day,” says Muggs. “It’s something I came up with and it meshed good.”
“I’m pleased with where we’re headed right now,” adds Muggs. “After 15 years, it’s not always easy to stick together as a band. Standing that test of time is some s***…. We’re just a dysfunctional family, like most of ‘em are. That’s all we know. It’s what we grew up learning. How could we be anything else? You can argue all day long, but at the end of the day, we still have that family love. I mean, we’re still all here doing it.”
“We struck a chord with some people,” Sen Dog observes. “I think if we just remained a straight-up rap group, I can’t tell you if we’d still be around. We started the rap mosh pits and I think the natural thing was for our sound to get heavier. We figured the audience was already killing themselves over Muggs’ rap tracks, so let’s turn the heat up.”
With Till Death Do Us Part, Cypress Hill proves that these guys are in the game for the long haul… for real.