Elephants on Acid
For many of my generation, Cypress Hill formed a key component of the soundtrack of our youth. For me, the first time I heard their ‘How I Could Just Kill a Man,’ I was hooked. And floored. They sounded like nothing else. DJ Muggs created this paranoid, hallucinogenic world with his beats, which looped and swirled, but with a thumping back beat. Rappers B-Real and Sen Dog offered brutal, heavy, and uncompromising views of the world, though delivered very differently. B-Real, the main rapper, adopted a nasal voice, based on Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys. Sen Dog, though he didn’t appear on every track, was harder. His voice deeper, threatening almost. The Hill was also the first massive Latinx hop hop act. And over the course of their first two albums, their eponymous début (1990) and the masterful Black Sunday (1992), they were dominant. They were trippy, they were vicious, they were uncompromising and unforgiving. And the beats were supreme.
For reasons that remain lost to history, Muggs gave up the producers’ chair with III: Temples of Boom, sharing duties with RZA. Sen Dog was also out of the group temporarily. And this began The Hill’s journey into the wilderness. Over the late 90s and 2000s, they became increasingly difficult to follow, their lyrics became a parody of their early 90s selves. And Muggs seemed flat out bored. Then came the guest tracks, B-Real in particular, seemed to pop up everywhere, becoming a cartoon version of himself, rapping about violence and weed. It seemed the world passed them by.
And after the utterly forgettable Stoned Raiders in 2001, Cypress Hill’s output became sporadic. It took three more years for the equally forgettable ‘Til Death Do Us Part, and after a six-year hiatus, we got Rise Up in 2010. The Hill continued to chart consistently in the US, and they remained big in Austria and Germany (wtf?). But it seemed that was the end. Then came the surprisingly lame Prophets of Rage, where B-Real look miscast as the straight man to Chuck D.
So now, eight years after their long player, it seems B-Real was learning something from Chuck. And Muggs’ attention is focused here, and he’s back in the producer’s chair. Elephants on Acid is the album Cypress Hill should’ve made 20-something years ago. That they could do it now, as they hit their 50s, is even more remarkable.
On Elephants, Muggs once again creates a horrible dystopian world of paranoid beats and creepy instrumentals. B-Real sounds like a man with a fire lit under his arse, and Sen Dog sounds as vital as he did in 1992. I would say that The Hill sound like many other artists in our dystopian, dark times, but that would do them a disservice. For them, the world has always looked this way.
Elephants starts off with a foray into Arabic beats and rhymes, with guests Sadat and Alaa Fifty on ‘Band of Gypsies’ and it doesn’t let up from there. Each track, Muggs gives B-Real and Sen Dog the beats and they provide the rhymes. Particular highlights include pretty much the entire first 10 tracks of the album. If I have a complaint though, it comes with the length of the album. At 21 songs, it’s a bit too epic.