words by Yvonne Villasenor
Cypress Hill blazed their own trail three decades ago, daring to be different and bringing their love for hip hop and marijuana to the forefront. In that time, they’ve attained — and maintained — legend status with multi-platinum records, world tours, and a monumental influence that transcends genre.
To put it bluntly: when it comes to being unapologetically unfiltered, no one does it better than Cypress Hill. (Who else can say they’ve been banned from SNL for life because they lit a joint on stage?)
Hailing from South Gate, Calif., Cypress Hill have been rocking the hip hop scene with their distinctive Spanglish lyrics and punk-rock disposition since the release of their debut self-titled album in 1991. The contrast between B-Real’s high-pitched raps and Sen Dog’s deep, booming vocals, combined with Eric Bobo’s killer percussion and DJ Muggs’ extraordinary production, make for an inimitable sound that is instantly recognizable to this day. (though currently touring with DJ Lord)
With lighter-flickering hits like “Insane in the Membrane,” “How I Could Just Kill A Man,” “(Rock) Superstar,” “Hits from the Bong,” and “Dr. Greenthumb,” Cypress Hill are rebellious pioneers in the genre and cannabis culture — often rapping about life in the streets, society, and yes, weed. Known for their potent blend of hip hop and Latin music, they are the first Latino hip hop group to sell multi-platinum albums and receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
And it doesn’t stop there.
Cypress Hill continue to dominate with the latest release of their 10th album, Back in Black, and ‘Insane in the Brain’ documentary. Currently playing the KNOTFEST Roadshow with Slipknot and Ho99o9, this headbanging, stage-diving scene is nothing new to the hip hop collective.
Over the years, Cypress Hill have toured with groups like House of Pain, A Tribe Called Quest, and Atmosphere to Beastie Boys, Rage Against the Machine, and Linkin Park. They’ve proven their natural and seemingly effortless ability to stand out — and also be accepted by any crowd — time and time again, becoming one of the first hip hop groups metalheads raised horns rather than eyebrows at.
As lifelong fans of heavy metal and punk, percussionist Eric Bobo explains Cypress Hill’s warm welcome into the culture, starting with the group’s imagery.
“When you look at the covers of the first few albums, you could put them side by side with some alternative and heavy metal albums, and you wouldn’t associate them with hip hop,” Bobo explains.
The group’s dark imagery consisting of their signature skull logo, accompanied with bones and graveyards, might entice metalheads to pick up a Cypress album for the same reasons Megadeth’s “Vic Rattlehead” and Motörhead’s “Snaggletooth” would.
Bobo adds that Cypress Hill’s ability to “incorporate a few different genres in
But what really helped win over different kinds of listeners, Bobo says, was playing alternative rock festivals.
“In the ‘90s, being able to do shows like Lollapalooza Festival and other festivals in Europe — we’d be on tour with groups like Beastie Boys … and just automatically put all that music together,” Bobo says. “There’s always been fans, even to this day, who say they don’t like rap, but they like Cypress Hill.”
The group’s affinity for rock music is evident in their projects and collaborations, whether it be Beastie Boys, Kush, SX-10, Prophets of Rage, or Powerflo.
One band in particular the hip hop group has shared the stage and a friendship with is Rage Against the Machine. Bobo recalls Rage joining Cypress Hill on tour in 1993 and the two groups bonding over playing music together, as well as their devotion to their political stances, such as on the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana — a taboo topic at the time.
Since then, the two legendary groups have contributed to one another’s music. RATM’s Brad Wilk has recorded with Cypress Hill and played drums on the Skull & Bones (2001) track “Can’t Get the Best of Me.” Later that year, Rage Against the Machine’s Renegades was released and featured a cover of “How I Could Just Kill A Man” along with a bonus track of a live version with B-Real and Sen Dog. Tom Morello also produced two songs off Cypress Hill’s Rise Up (2010) and played guitar on “Rise Up.” In 2016, B-Real, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, Chuck D, Brad Wilk, and DJ Lord formed Prophets of Rage and played until RATM’s reunion in 2019.
“It was a mutual camaraderie … I think that’s really cool when you can get with both sort of different genres, but sort of similar at the same time and be able to come together and make music. That’s the best thing,” Bobo says. “There definitely is a friendship, mutual respect, and admiration that we’ve built throughout the years.”
And lastly, Bobo attributes the group’s weed references to their all-encompassing fanbase.
He says, “There's stoners in heavy metal music and alternative music, but I think that people have just been able to relate to the sound and the spirit of Cypress Hill. It's been great. It's allowed us to be comfortable performing at an all hip hop concert or festival, and also be the only hip hop group in a heavy metal or alternative festival. We feel comfortable, and it's been great to be able to be part of that whole cycle.”
Throughout the course of their career, Cypress Hill have released albums exploring various genres, from rap-metal on Skull & Bones to dark-psychedelic on Elephants on Acid. Bobo describes their vision for the latest record named to pay homage to AC/DC’s Back in Black:
“Back in Black was a return to the hip hop roots — kind of taking it like how the first couple albums were. I think that we've been able to venture off and plant different genres into our music or albums, and I think that it was time to bring it back to the beginning.
Black Milk produced the record; he’s very musical and also a fan of different genres of music. So, I think that it was important to have someone like that be able to help sketch out that blueprint of what Back in Black is by using instrumentation, guitars where they needed to be, have energy where it needed to be. We knew that to come back with a similar record like Elephants on Acid was not what we wanted to do — we've always liked to try something new, try something fresh, give a fresh sound to what we're doing. And I think that it really, really worked out.”
From performing at Woodstock ‘94 alongside bands like Metallica and Nine Inch Nails to being spoofed on “The Simpsons,” Bobo acknowledges the group’s accolades and shares that the standout moments in the group’s career are being able to make music together, as well as play shows and spread their message to fans all over the world.
“Thirty years is a long time. There’s a lot of bands that don't even make it to half that time and have been able to evolve and re-evolve,” Bobo says. “We just try to do things that we enjoy doing musically and not repeat ourselves — but use some of the things that have worked for us in the past and kind of reimagine them into what's going on now, musically, without copying what's hot and falling into a trap like that just because the kids are listening to now a certain brand of hip hop or music. We have to stay true to ourselves, and I think that is what's helped us in our longevity.”
The son of Latin jazz percussionist Willie Bobo, Bobo always knew he wanted to be a musician. But he didn’t expect to break into the hip hop genre, nevertheless, be a part of Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill.
“When you were asked in school, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ people would say, a doctor, nurse, fireman, whatever — I was a musician. My dad was a Latin jazz musician, and I got up on stage with him when I was five years old … Did I think that I would become involved with groups like Beastie Boys or Cypress? No. I actually thought that I was going to be going the jazz route like Playboy Jazz Festival, Monterey Jazz Festival, and stuff like that, which I did. But that was it, and I was cool with that.
At the same time, on my own time, I was listening to groups like Beastie Boys, Van Halen, Cypress Hill, AC/DC — all these different kinds of groups. I always wondered what that would be like. It’s a different audience when you're playing in a jazz festival. People are relaxing and having their wine and cheese, whereas going on tour with Beastie Boys and Cypress seeing mosh pits and people jumping off the stage and things like that — I kind of wanted to see what that was. I got fortunate first playing with Beastie Boys, and on that same tour meeting Cypress, and before you know it, playing with them. I was a part of both of those bands, switching on and off for three years, doing a world tour with one group, and then when that was over, going right into a world tour with the other group. So, it was just crazy, and it was a blessing. I fulfilled a dream that I didn't think that I would fulfill.”
Coming onto the scene with an unshakeable presence and joints in hand, Cypress Hill’s “Champion Sound” lines ‘Foundation lane, we paved the way / Remain solid while most just fade away’ signify their everlasting legacy as counterculture musicians who defied the odds and became one of the most iconic hip hop groups of all time.
When asked what makes it fun after all these years, Bobo says it’s each other.
“We really still enjoy being on stage with one another, making music and having fun. We can be off of the road for a long time, and when we're together that first day, all of us, it's like there's no time in between. Here comes the jokes, back to the laughing, reminiscing about old times and enjoying what is to come.
I think that you have to have that. You have to enjoy that. Because without that, the last thing you want to be on the road on the road is to be miserable, away from your family, and being around people that you don't want to be around anymore — and it’s never gotten up to that point. I’ve never said, ‘You know what? I can’t make music with these guys anymore,’ or anything like that. I don't think any of us have.
It's a camaraderie. It's a brotherhood. It's family. I really think that that's what's helped our longevity. And we still love to create music. So, as long as we have all those elements, why stop?”
Get tickets to the KNOTFEST Road Show to see Cypress Hill live with Slipknot and Ho99o9 — HERE.