Artist: Cypress Hill
Album: Stoned Raiders
Rating: 6.5 / 10
In the careers of most artists or acts, there comes a time where creatively they reach a peak and stop moving, so to speak, while they still roll merrily along releasing new records and doing live shows. The Rolling Stones went out of date decades ago, but they’re still very much alive & kicking. When was the last time you heard a new Rolling Stones record being called creative or being described as pushing the boundaries of rock n’ roll? Or to bring this closer to hip hop, what about Cypress Hill? They declared ‘Stoned Is The Way Of The Walk’ back in 1991, and thus strutted along until about the mid nineties or so, when they sat down for a spliff and never got up again.
Their 1999 album “Skull & Bones” was tedious, full of rehashed sounds and recycled vibes from their earlier works, the sound of a band who really had nothing left to say. But they’re still bangin’ along without a care in the world, doing countless live shows and releasing albums, the latest of which is “Stoned Raiders”.
Obviously concerned that we didn’t feel sorry for them when they moaned on ‘Rap Superstar’ about the misery that is being a very rich emcee (we didn’t, you know), they devote about a third of the LP to lament about fame and success this time around. Mostly, to fit in with the recent pop fashion for depression to be expressed over rough guitar riffs, they do this on their rockier numbers. “Still hating, creating all the evil now, your insecurities are showing, exposing you” B Real whines (nothing changes) on ‘It Ain’t Easy’ over a painfully basic half-metal beat which Linkin Park would discard. Now don’t get me wrong here, fusing rock and hip hop can be done well – just look at Rage Against The Machine. But Cypress Hill don’t actually seem to apply themselves to the task very well – they are a hip hop group by nature, and they don’t seem prepared to properly blend their hip hop vibe with that of a heavy metal vibe. ‘Catastrophe’ is the best example of this – a uninteresting, clumsy, over-distorted Fear-Factory-lite riff forms the basis of the sound – which is bad enough – but B-Real and Sen Dog’s raps don’t seem to correlate with the rhythm of the drums or the guitars at all. Sen Dog can growl ungracefully for the hook like he’s ready to don a mask and join Slipknot, but it still doesn’t seem like they belong anymore in the same rap-metal environment as Rage Against The Machine and Limp Bizkit, the environment they helped create on “Black Sunday”. Because back in the early 90s, they put had passion and energy into their rock-tinged numbers, to make you think “damn, this is a good idea”. But now, it’s like they’re turning out these heavy jams just to prove they can still ‘do’ rap-metal, just to prove that they can run with the new pop-invading leaders of the scene like Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit. ‘Amplified’ and the aforementioned ‘It Ain’t Easy’ are the same deal – flat, unmemorable riffs and lacklustre emceeing which doesn’t come close to saving the track. It seems the Hill’s basic mic style and sub-Black-Sabbath guitars have been left behind in the latest wave of nu-metal bands, despite the fact that Cypress sizeably assisted them in getting a career. It’s a shame the Hill spend so much time being a bad heavy metal band, when they could just as easily spend it being the amazing hip hop band we know and love.
Thankfully, they do choose to spend a few tracks on “Stoned Raiders” doing just that. A more typical West Coast vibe is apparent on this album, which is odd as the Westside scene is something the Hill have never really been that integrated into during the decade they’ve been with us. ‘Lowrider is’ straight headnodding G-funk, with a extremely catchy hook (aided by, yes, Mellow Man Ace going “low-ri-dah”) and both B-Real and Sen Dog proving that even though the Hill may have run out of new ideas, they’ve got mic appeal for eons –
“Now when people are done, bumpin they head to this
You wonder why you wanted anything instead of this
We been makin you bounce, for many years already
Rock steady and cut, many niggaz to confetti
But I just want to blaze it up; whether it’s the mic or a spliff
Yes my gift is to amaze you all”
It’s laidback without being laconic, it’s energetic without being rough enough to bring you down from your high.
Oh yeah, marijuana. A cornerstone of the Hill’s reputation, and what allows them to claim a “political edge”. The meeting of hip hop’s three biggest weedheads – Redman, Method Man, and B-Real himself – was inevitable, and now it’s here, it seems worth waiting for. An very bouncy, no-nonsense beat is sparked up on the imaginatively titled Red, Meth & B for all three to smoke…
“All my niggas say jump up,
Doc broke out the kennel
A dog on four paws spitting out the window
Jump up! It aint no need to fight
We may squeeze the pipe, you gonna bleed tonight
I eat beans and rice, shit up a storm
I walk the streets with shark fin off my arms”
“Blunt smokin’, half a bottle of remi open
You either holdin’ or half-assed like semi-colon
I leave ya chokin’ on them lollipop rhymes ya callin’
So hard, hell I crack the shell on ya candy coatin”
“Inhale the smoke from the master’s lungs
You wanna roll up, yo I’m the fastest one
You wanna test with the sess, well first off
That shit is funny like Kid Rock with his shirt off”
It’s proof that if you put in a lot of dope, you consequently get out a lot of dope. And hey, Sen Dog’s missing from this one, which can only enhance the high.
Old Sen Dog – still very much the Phife Dawg of Cypress Hill, the second rate emcee outshone by the legendary main star. On “Stoned Raiders”, he only really appears for long periods on the rap-metal tracks, which is pretty clever as it means all the garbage is kept in the one place. Then instead of carrying all tracks virtually by himself, B-Real calls on the skills of his new West Coast buddies. ‘Southland Killers’ is intended to be the hard ass gangsta track, featuring MC Ren (who continues the trend of all his verses featuring one nice line, with the rest being a whole load of crap, with the word ‘nigga’ in every second line) and the brilliant King T, whose jumpy energetic flow seems pitched perfectly to have instant chemistry with that of B-Real’s. And yet more G-funk pops up on the more relaxed-paced ‘L.I.F.E’, which features the appealing Nate-Dogg-with-a hernia tones of Kokane on the hook. Unfortunately, the Cypress emcees are strangely lacking here, Sen Dog in particular makes one of his most banal performances of all time – “Freak the hip hop and the hot ride, I’m home to make shows and I came right”.
But it’s when B-Real – the real reason everyone listens to Cypress Hill in the first place – takes the stage and lets you hear him, as the centerpiece of the track, that this album really picks up. The inside-the-mind-of-B-Real style comes off pretty dull on ‘Psychodelic Vision’ however, not helped by the disorganised mess of a beat which strangely sounds both refined and unrefined at the same time. But ‘Bitter’ and ‘Memories’ are without a doubt the standout tracks of the album. On ‘Bitter’, we see B-Real delving deeper than ever before – “Frustration and hate filled my adrenaline, I play doctors here’s two bullets for your medicine, I carry those days like a weapon close to me, the memories of hot lead rippin’ a hole through me” and as a bonus, Muggs demonstrates just how good a producer he actually is, layering a delicate guitar lick and gorgeous vocal samples over a ill rhythm which is definitely slow-paced, but at the same time manages to keep the track at a steady speed to perfectly suit B-Real’s flow. ‘Memories’ is exceptional also, with similar topics covered lyrically – “I was at unimpressionable age through a faze, an unmentionable stage deranged full of rage, walking through life in a haze with dark clouds hanging over my head, being wicked and loud” – and Muggs dropping some masterfully layered looped vocal samples and some atmospheric, and pretty original for hip hop, pipe percussion to create the melody.
As if to make up for the fact that they really aren’t doing anything new, B-Real takes you on a potent narrative through what Cypress Hill have done in the past. Despite its quite unnecessary and out of place hook by Kurupt, ‘Kronologik’ makes for a smooth ride year-by-year through the history of the LA collective –
“94 still in the door and we conquered many tours
With Rage Against The Machine, House Of Pain and many more
Was even invited to Woodstock, some niggas from the block called up
Eric Bobo and half a million rocked
How could all this happen at 24 years of age?
Half a million bouncin’ to your shit from off the stage”
This nostalgia almost warms you to the Hill’s supposed plight, and almost makes you forgive them for having their latest albums packed with basically updated versions of the same old, same old.
The menacing final cut here is titled ‘Here Is Something You Can’t Understand’. I can understand actually. This is a band who haven’t so much lost their way as struggled to find new ways, who have run out of impetus to push the boundaries of hip hop like they did with “Black Sunday” and their self-titled debut. “See how long we made it, and never been outdated” says B-Real on ‘Kronologik’, and to an extent that’s true. Despite Cypress Hill constantly giving us the same stuff over a decade, they still sound fresh, and they’re still greatly enjoyable to listen to. But listen to the first cut of “Stoned Raiders”, titled ‘Trouble’ – a confused, awful mess of a track with something resembling a rapid hip hop beat for the verses before bursting into the chorus, filled with huge horribly distorted power chords and Sen Dog bellowing like Jonathan Davis from Korn. It’s not clear what Cypress Hill really want to be. Their hip hop flava and their heavy metal schtick doesn’t seem to want to blend anymore, and the recent skyrocketing of bands like Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach and Linkin Park has definitely adversely affected their style when it comes to rap-metal. But let’s hope they keep on rocking at least for the sake of their more hip-hop-orientated joints. Because like a good blunt, it seems the Hill are going to be hard to put down until the flame is completely gone, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon, going from the standard of the better tracks on this album. But really, just put down the guitars and noone will get hurt. Put em down. Yeah, you can keep the joint in your mouth, just drop the guitars…