Cypress Hill and Rusko join forces to reinvent the beat.
By Justin Hampton
The style is sleek and alpha-modern in the seating area of breal.tv, the downtown Los Angeles studio space where the programs for B-Real’s webisode production arm are filmed. A flat-screen TV plays back a basketball game while a recessed display case in the wall shows off Roor and Illadelph designer bongs like trophies. Just a few moments ago, B and Sen Dog, decked out in leather and gray denim, cruised in along with five members from their motorcycle club, all of them buddies with Cypress Hill since high school; in contrast, their latest partner in crime, dubstep producer Chris “Rusko” Mercer, sporting a bedhead mulhawk and quarter-to-5-o’clock shadow, drove a compact to the spot.
Now they’re all being treated to a hero’s welcome, HIGH TIMES style: A Scarface-sized hillock of Kosher Kush lies piled on the table, flanked by two custom-made, personalized Sheldon Black bongs for Cypress Hill and Rusko, with frosted visuals culled from each artist’s career emblazoned on their respective pieces. Rusko has just tweeted a photo of his to the world, while B-Real starts rolling up the first of many spliffs. Eventually, it dawns on everyone assembled that an interview needs to be done, and that questions about bass music and the partnership Rusko and Cypress are forging between dubstep and hip-hop have yet to be answered. After all, intoxicated minds wanna know.
“Don’t mind us - we’re just humoring ourselves,” B says sheepishly. “We haven’t seen each other since the Smokeout ...”
“And now we’re smoked out!” Rusko adds.
“... So what did you expect?” B concludes with a laugh.
Prior to the online release of the inaugural Cypress x Rusko track “Roll It, Light It,” there was no way to know exactly what to expect from a collaboration like this. It’s not the first time Cypress Hill have stepped out onto the dance floor: During drum-and-bass’s emergence in the ’90s, they recorded tracks with both Roni Size (“Child of the Wild West”) and Grooverider (“On the Double”), but dubstep’s deep connection with Cypress’ core fanbase became clear to B-Real as soon as he started taking requests during a DJ session he hosted on breal.tv.
“Somebody started asking me about dubstep, and I said, ‘Well, shoot, I don’t really have a big library on that.’ So I invited them to send me tracks, and boom - I had over 1,000 dubstep songs,” he recalls. “And [a lot of the tracks] that stood out were from [Rusko’s] catalog.”
The team initially came together to produce one song, but from there, the project eventually morphed into the EP Cypress x Rusko (Cooperative Music). Touching on roots reggae (“Can’t Keep Me Down,” featuring Damian Marley), break-beat (“Stay Medicated”) and trance (“Lez Go”), the collection finds Cypress bringing their 420-friendly personas onto the modern dance floor without skipping a beat. According to Rusko, the group’s members rarely heard the same production twice: “The first instrumentals that these guys [would] hear and recorded on were completely different - sometimes in a completely different key, even. The beats that I originally sent were fairly basic, and it was then their vocals that I received on top of that.”
The exchange, apparently, was a mutually advantageous one for both the Buddha-masters and the young Jedi. Rusko credits Cypress with introducing him to their Phuncky Feel Tips glass filters, and he’s also learned to keep tobacco out of the spliffs when rolling for them. Like most UK producers, Rusko grew up lionizing American hip-hop MCs from afar, but he quickly found his ground with Cypress as both a collaborator and smoker. “When I was approached and told that Cypress wanted to make a track,” he says, “I was over the moon and also like, ‘Whoa, shit, this is gonna be crazy!’ I was a little apprehensive and then nervous if I was gonna be able to cut it ...”
At this point, Sen Dog - who’s been laying back in the cut - begins to cough, prompting Rusko to add: “But Sen has just been coughing behind me on a joint that I rolled, so that kind of speaks for itself. I guess I can cut it - if I can kill Sen with a joint I just rolled, maybe I’m good.”
Nowadays, dubstep elicits almost as much drama and passion from its followers as hip-hop. Yet aside from Kanye’s ham-handed Flux Pavilion sample on “Watch the Throne” and Lupe Fiasco’s work with Bassnectar, hip-hop has been grudging in its adoption of bass-music tactics to date. B-Real compares it to rock’s uneasy acceptance of hip-hop itself in the 1990s: “When hip-hop first came into relevance, a lot of R&B artists and rock artists wouldn’t collaborate with us,” he says. “And then [when we did] the more alternative-ish shit, we kind of broke that chain. And I think it opened up a lot of people to try different things. Right now, hip-hop is very protective of hip-hop, like the rock-heads and the R&B-heads were when they were on top of the fucking heap. But it’s just a matter of time before a lot of the hip-hop artists start really embracing dubstep and realizing this is just another branch of the tree.”
Clearly, we haven’t heard the last in the ongoing saga of dubstep vs. hip-hop - nor have we heard the last from this particular project, either. Rusko has already earmarked several beats for a future release. “We’re just doing it ’cause we enjoyed it the first time, so there’s no time frame [for its release yet],” he says of the material. And even founding Cypress partner DJ Muggs, now signed to EDM powerhouse Ultra, has begun to seriously explore the bass in his production and DJ sets. B-Real, for his part, still spins, too. But it’s best not to ask Cypress if they would actually consider working with anyone else in field - at least not while Rusko’s around. “I forbode it,” he insists. “I had to put my foot down.”
“We’re sticking to our guns!” B-Real agrees, quoting from the new EP: “When the shot goes off, everybody get down.”