Vinyl Treasures: Cypress Hill

Am I the most qualified person to write about hip-hop or rap? I think not.
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Am I the most qualified person to write about hip-hop or rap? I think not. Until a few years ago, I usually found rap musically void with an absence of harmony and humility. If I could help it, I limited my listening sessions to the sound systems of cars stuck next to me in traffic jams. But even though it might appear out of my—and perhaps your—comfort zone, I think Cypress Hill is a masterpiece.

Senen Reyes (Sen Dog), Lawrence Muggerud (DJ Muggs), and Louis Freese (B-Real) were the nucleus behind this 1991 Ruffhouse/Columbia release, and, by employing samples brilliantly, they created an organic, grooving audio collage that sounds like a house band in heaven. Samples include Jimi Hendrix, Grant Green, James Brown, Lowell Folsom, Albert King, Parliament, Junior Walker and the All-Stars, Muddy Waters, and more. All the tracks have a humanity and harmonic intelligence that is inspiring and real, and while they were composed from samples, they manage to sound as if a cohesive unit of human musicians slammed down grooves while crafting interesting hooks. “Real Estate” has an infectious guitar sample over a Sly Stone-inspired groove I never tire of. “Psyco-betabuckdown” sounds like a Prince “Black Album” out-take, and “How I Could Just Kill A Man” is my favorite track. It sounds like Bootsy Collins, Grand Funk drummer Don Brewer, and Jeff Beck pounded out a downbeat, while an infectious, looping guitar sample of Jimi Hendrix repeats.

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Cypress Hill is so musical and inspiring that I’ve internalized its esthetic of playing organically creative loops, and this has changed my guitar playing. By embracing a repeating a part in my live playing, I can utilize the familiarity and power of a part so immovable that it becomes hypnotic.