For over three decades, legendary hip-hop group Cypress Hill (B-Real, Sen Dog, DJ Muggs, Eric “Bobo” Correa) has been churning out hits for the charts, but on their own terms and in their own way. And it’s worked.
When connecting with High Times via phone, the group shares background information on their new Showtime documentary, Cypress Hill: Insane in the Brain, their latest studio album, Back in Black, and an overview of their esteemed career that has them thoroughly cemented as hip-hop’s unofficial cannabis ambassadors.
High Times Magazine: How did Cypress Hill come together, and what was the inspiration behind everybody joining the group?
B-Real: We knew each other as teens and were all enthusiastic about hip-hop. We all had the same love and passion for it.
I met Sen Dog through his brother Mellow Man who I knew through the hip-hop circles in South Gate. We met DJ Muggs through our childhood friend Julio G, who was also a DJ, and we met Bobo a little bit later when we were touring with Beastie Boys. But Sen, Muggs, and myself have known each other since our teens, and we wanted to emulate the hip-hop groups that we looked up to. We made our best efforts to—as a hobby—get into the culture and all of that stuff.
Eventually, we started taking it more seriously. [Hip-hop] became something that we knew that we could do and would do, so we ventured out into the world to try and make a name for ourselves.
Eric “Bobo” Correa: When I met the guys—B-Real, Sen, and Muggs—I was a fan. I had never heard a group that was outright talking about smoking weed. They were talking about what they normally do. I don’t think they sought to be the spokesperson for cannabis or anything, especially at the time when it was much more taboo than it is now.
I remember the first time I heard them. I was in college going to pick up some weed from the weed guy, and he was playing Cypress: “Stoned Is The Way Of The Walk,” “The Phuncky Feel One,” “Light Another.” I was really tripping out because, again, no one in hip-hop at that point was really outwardly rapping about weed. If it was mentioned, it was mentioned, but when you say “stoned is the way of the walk” or “light another,” you’re outright putting it down.
By the time Black Sunday came around, I’d started touring with [Cypress Hill], and that album had gotten enough exposure within the cannabis community where it was like, “Okay, here are some facts. This is part of the fight.” They started linking up with Jack Herer, NORML, and things like that and were able to learn some of the other things about cannabis so they could rap intelligently about it versus, “I’m just smoking to get stoned with my homies.” They took a more intelligent approach.
Was there a specific catalyst to you guys taking things more seriously?
B-Real: We didn’t know what we had in terms of the possibilities that were out there for us, but we believed in ourselves, and we believed we could do something. What it was and how it would impact us, we didn’t know, but I think we knew we had something in the second phase of our demos.
We’d made a group of demos that were good, but they weren’t really there yet. We hadn’t hit our stride, and this was before I shifted my voice over to the high-pitched vocal that people have come to know me for. We didn’t sound anything like we ended up sounding for the second phase, where we were being a little more experimental.
After a couple of years of doing our first demos, we had a better idea of how it was supposed to go, and we just leaned on the work. We just kept working on ourselves, working on the craft, working on songs, and trying to come up with something that no one had out there yet.
It was that second phase of demos when we put down Real Estate, and I shifted my voice. After that, we hit a stride, and it all started clicking. Real Estate was our first real demo where we were like, “Oh wait. This sounds like something.”
You went with what you felt was organic, and from that, everything started to fall into place.
B-Real: Pretty much. We were believing in what we were doing at that point. We had our own sound that we were riding on, and nothing else really mattered. Fortunately, it cut through, but we had spent a lot of time developing that sound.
How much of the group’s “cutting through” was also related to cannabis?
B-Real: When we were talking about cannabis on the songs, it wasn’t a preconceived thing. Muggs gave me the music, and the songs spoke to me a certain way. What came out was totally organic; it was never like, “Oh, we need a song about weed.” Realistically, us trying to plan that out… I don’t think it would have cut through the same way, especially because, at the time, anyone who was doing this knew that hip-hop was looked at as a step-child music genre, and talking about cannabis was taboo. So we had two things rolling against us at that point. We just did it and said, “If you like it, great. If you don’t like it, fuck off.” That was the mentality, and fortunately, it connected.
For any artist, any album, or any song, any creative output is a gamble. You don’t know if it will connect. You have faith in yourself and your abilities, but it’s hard to gauge if what you put out is going to catch. Fortunately, our first outing caught.
It sounds like you were doing it in an authentic way. Regardless of subject or genre, people can feel if it’s real.
B-Real: That’s always the downfall of most artists when they get success with a song. The record company wants another single, and they want you to emulate the song [that was successful] or do something just as poppin’. That’s when the pressure starts. It’s like, “Fuck, I gotta do something that’s big if not better than that.” You’re not just making music at that point; you’re chasing this previous success you had, and your creativity starts to dip because you’re not really having the freedom to be the artist you have the potential to be.
I’ll give all credit to Muggs because as much as they wanted us to chase singles like “How I Could Just Kill a Man,” “Insane in the Brain,” and “(Rock) Superstar,” and all that shit, he kept on trying to do something different. Like yo, “We’re not going to recreate [those songs]; those are what they are. We’re going to keep pushing forward and do something different.” And sometimes we won; sometimes we did okay; sometimes we didn’t win. That’s the life of an artist, the gamble of putting your art out and seeing what hits.
How were you able to focus on staying true to yourselves?
B-Real: A lot of times, we’d have a “no label people” policy in the studio. No managers at the studio. Because in the early days, we’d have some of the Sony people come in, and they’d be trying to give us suggestions, and Muggs would be like, “That would be great for your album. Excuse me. We gotta have a meeting right now.” And there was a hands-off [policy].
To Sony and Ruffhouse Records’ credit, they let us be us. They let us take our chances; they let us gamble on ourselves, and they rode with us on that. There were only certain times where they made strong suggestions like, “Hey, we need this from you. We don’t ask much from you; we let you do you, but right here, we need this.” And we obliged because they let us develop as opposed to try and control or develop us in the way they wanted us to be. That was everything, and that’s why we’re still here—because they allowed that—as opposed to trying to create the path for us or make us be something that we weren’t.
We were fortunate to have the label believe in what the fuck we were doing and in our ability to develop ourselves, and then just put all of the support behind it. Sony and Ruffhouse were definitely advocates for us at that time. Even when they thought we were wrong in the way that we were moving musically or visually or this or that, they still rode with us. It was a unique situation we had there. Sony’s belief in us even after Ruffhouse was gone… that meant everything to us.
Like with fans, it’s probably easier for the execs to get behind the music if it resonates with them, too.
B-Real: I think it makes their job easier. A lot of artists don’t really have a handle on their music. The path that they want to carve out—they usually learn it as they’re going along. You have labels that try to carve the path for you and make you the artist they think you need to be and whatnot, and that’s tough when you play that game. Because when [the label] makes a mistake, or they miss, they can just carry on with another artist, but you might be done at that point. It’s a lot of trust you have to have.
These creations of albums, they’re like your kids. You want them to be in the best hands possible. And we were fortunate. Any other label we were signed on, we probably don’t have this run. I always recognize that and try to give Ruffhouse and Sony the flowers from us that I feel like they deserve.
Eric “Bobo” Correa: The fans have always been a big part of what we are about. We’ve always been at one with the fans. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. We’ve gotten a big collection of fans all over the world who really support our cause in a positive way. We’ve never put smoking, growing, or consuming in a negative light, which is important to show because there’s still a lot of work to do.
We can now celebrate advances on how far we’ve come with many states [legalized] for medicinal or recreational use. Just to see that in this lifetime is incredible, and we get a lot of people who thank us for continuing the fight and continuing to bring people together in this way. I think that’s a big plus for me. We’re all in this together. We come together through music and through an enjoyment of cannabis to make things cooler, have a much cooler vibe, and share that with fans. That’s always been a great benefit to being a part of Cypress Hill, and it’s something that I hope we continue to do.
What type of weed would you say embodies Cypress Hill?
B-Real: It’s a trip that it all started with us being smokers and being stoners and advocates, to leaking into the music, and then it sort of leaking out into the industry. It’s from one phase to another. We’re stoners, and now we’re musicians, and now we’re talking about being stoners in our music.
When we got recognized for that by High Times, NORML, Cannabis Action Network, and all of the advocacy groups, they started holding us up as the spokesman for it. So doing that sort of advocacy and activism for so long, when now it becomes not just cannabis culture but cannabis industry, it sort of gave me a head start to coming into that world and creating Dr. Greenthumb, opening retail stores, and creating strains called “The Insane” brand, which are all tributes to Cypress Hill and whatnot.
Sen Dog: I stay kind of “Kushed” out. That’s my strain. When I go somewhere, I always try to look for Kush. It’s the heaviest. When you come from what we came from—and now you can afford the best—why wouldn’t you just get the best all the time?
Eric “Bobo” Correa: [Cypress Hill is] strictly flower, though I really enjoy concentrates. I probably do more concentrates than the other guys. Jungle Boys and Cali Blaise.
Sen Dog: Not me, man. I keep to true blue marijuana joints for the most part. I stick to the fucking joints and keep on smoking.
What is it specifically about joints that do it for you?
Sen Dog: I’m sure it has something to do with the better weed that we have nowadays, but joints were how I was first introduced to marijuana—sneaking off and smoking little pinners here and there. And that’s how I’ve always kept it. Just put a paper around that thing, light it up and smoke it. It’s the easiest way.
We’re better rollers now. Back in those days, joints were skinny at the bottom, fat at the top, or vice versa. We didn’t really know how to roll then, but now we’re master roll men.
Master roll men with the option of pre-rolls.
Sen Dog: Exactly. You don’t have to go in there and buy bud. You can just buy it rolled up already and put it in your bag and go.
I kind of like where things are going for the cannabis industry and what they have to offer. There’s something there for everybody; you just need to figure out what it is and what makes you, you.
Is there a brand or strain you always have on hand in the studio or with you on the road?
Sen Dog: Dr. Greenthumb supplies everything on the road, so there’s always a good amount of weed and pre-rolls on the bus, you know, ‘cause of our good friend [laughs]. The guy Berner from the company Cookies—he takes [weed] down for the tour and whatnot, so between [Berner and B-Real] and our brother Kenji, there’s always been good smoking, especially now. The weed on the bus is extremely fire.
I heard you guys also dabble with weed-infused meats. Is that on the road too, or just here in Los Angeles?
Sen Dog: We have partners around the country who take care of us on that level. I’m always surprised by what people cook down to take on the road or even hang out with, but in Los Angeles, Bartz Barbecue is pretty fire shit.
You guys have a new album out—Back in Black. What was the inspiration behind it, and how do you hope it resonates with fans?
Sen Dog: Back in Black is Cypress Hill returning to our roots. It’s a true hip-hop album. I know people are used to us mashing things up with other stuff, but not this time. We wanted to put together a traditional hip-hop album and prove to a lot of people that we still have the ability to do that kind of thing.
We worked on the album with producer Black Milk out of Detroit, which was the first time I’d worked with him. His vibe was so pure and confident. Not in a conceited way or anything, more when a guy knows he’s good at something, he knows he’s good at something. The way he presented himself and the way he talked to us was the way that I feel artists of our tenure should be spoken to. He made it really easy for us to do what we do.
We would knock down the songs and then send them to [Milk]. By the next time we’d heard them, he had changed the whole musical bed around. So it wasn’t the same song, but it was better than the song we’d done originally. He did that throughout the entire album, so by song six or seven, we were like, “I can’t wait to hear this shit when he sends it back,” because we knew it was going to be special.
To work with a super positive-minded person who’s hard to frazzle or get pissed off or anything like that, I felt like we were in the right situation at the right time. We don’t want to work with anybody who’s not a fan of ours to begin with. We want somebody who’s like, “Oh, I get to work with Sen and B? Yeah!” And that was [Milk’s] attitude. Black Milk has this ability to make anybody he works with sound badass, even better than their prior history. I don’t know if that quality is taught or learned or if you’re born with it, but he has it, and it’s just cool as fuck.
Do you think it’s a combination of him knowing he’s good at something, having that positive energy, and then being able to infuse that into the music?
Sen Dog: I do think it’s partly that for sure. You can’t be the best if your attitude sucks. When you have good vibes about you, I think that spreads around to whoever else is around you.
If that’s the environment that’s being cultivated between you guys as you’re creating the music, then inherently, the musical output is probably better.
Sen Dog: Yeah, if that wasn’t happening, the music wouldn’t sound spiritually correct.
There’s something about music—when it sounds spiritually correct—that makes it resonate with people on a deeper level.
Sen Dog: My favorite kind of person I like to meet when I’m meeting fans and whatnot is the person who comes up to me and says, “Hey, man. I don’t smoke any marijuana, but I love Cypress Hill.” When you make records from your soul, you touch other people, even if they’re not on the same walk of life that you’re on. You touch them enough where you’re like, “Hey, I want to listen to this. It’s got nothing to do with my life, but I want to listen to it.” Somehow, people live vicariously through your songs into a scene they have nothing to do with. That honesty has to come out of you first in order to get that reaction from other people.
You also have a new documentary, Cypress Hill: Insane in the Brain. When you look back, what are some of the defining moments from the group’s history that embody what it means to be Cypress Hill?
B-Real: Celebrating 30 years last year and 31 this year is surreal. We appreciate it most definitely. We’ve been able to stick around when most thought we weren’t going to be around for only one or two years. Every album they were calling us “done” because they couldn’t believe we had gotten on in the first place with what we were talking about. They thought we were lucky with the first album, and then the second album comes out and busts them in the face.
People kept counting us out, so to be here 30 years later with a documentary about the 30-something years of Cypress Hill and telling our story… some of the stories that took us through the time of us coming up to where we are now. And then also, this year releasing a new album… you don’t expect that as a young artist. You’re sort of just doing you right there in that moment. You’re not thinking about 10, 20 years down the line. Unless you were groomed to do this shit and someone said you gotta think five, 10 years down the line, sort of carving it out in your head first. Unless you have someone who is educating you on how you look at this, you’re sort of just going on in those moments, living it. You’re not thinking about how long you’re going to be around. You’re fighting to stick around every fucking day of your career. Then 30 years go by and you’re like, “Oh shit. We’re still here.”
It’s fucking awesome, man, to be here 30 years later and still be doing sold-out shows and functioning at the highest levels—no pun intended. When we do these shows and really still bring it and are relevant in that arena. So it feels great to be celebrating 31 years of Cypress Hill and we’re excited about the doc.
Eric “Bobo” Correa: Seeing the evolution [of Cypress Hill] in the doc kind of put things in perspective for me because we were just living in the moment. We weren’t thinking of what was to come. We could say one day we hoped weed would be decriminalized, but we weren’t thinking we’d be in this reality now still doing it.
When we did shows like Saturday Night Live, we never intended to disrupt anything, but we also wanted to show who we were and what we were about. I think people expect to see that—even now at our shows—a coming together of people.
So in a way, the undercurrent of the group is unity.
Eric “Bobo” Correa: In a way, yes. We consider ourselves brothers, a brotherhood. And smoking is about unity, smoking the peace pipe, coming together, and everything will be peaceful. It’s always been about that, and in a way, it is unifying.