The day rap fell between the cracks

Cypress Hill | Brixton Academy, London
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Cypress Hill's 1993 breakthrough Black Sunday straddled every hip-hop fault line. Racially, Italian-American rapper B-Real joined Latinos DJ Muggs and Sen-Dog in a traditionally black-American art. And in the paranoically murky, dub-deep soundscape Muggs placed around B-Real's capering, helium-high raps of violent injury, mental anguish and marijuana-use, a new musical frontier was opened, crossing over toward white fans of similarly murky, disaffected grunge.

Cypress Hill's 1993 breakthrough Black Sunday straddled every hip-hop fault line. Racially, Italian-American rapper B-Real joined Latinos DJ Muggs and Sen-Dog in a traditionally black-American art. And in the paranoically murky, dub-deep soundscape Muggs placed around B-Real's capering, helium-high raps of violent injury, mental anguish and marijuana-use, a new musical frontier was opened, crossing over toward white fans of similarly murky, disaffected grunge.

Black Sunday, then, was a vital step in hip-hop's current dominance of American music, as well as a brilliant document of mid-Nineties LA. As late as 1998's "Eye of a Pig", which daringly delved into an LA cop's mind, Cypress Hill's creative vitality stayed strong.

Skull and Bones, their new album, though, shows the tank suddenly empty. On it, their former preoccupations - LA, the world, human emotion - are been abandoned in favour of an endless whinge about the problems of being millionaire rap stars, and Cypress Hill's maligned greatness.

The record's breathtaking vacancy is alleviated only by a bonus disc of hardcore rock, where some of the sonic intensity and barrier-breaking of old is stored. So when the band take the stage and erupt into a thrashing, dense buzz, it seems Skull and Bones may have just been a bad dream.

If only. It doesn't take B-Real long to start listing perceived detractors in the hip-hop press, and to invite journalists to "suck my dick". For Hill, it seems a generous offer, but the insular vanity of the rant is otherwise depressing.

With wealth and the power to communicate so readily available to them for so long, this descent into thin-skinned, self-obsessed petulance seems a woeful waste.

When "I Ain't Going Out Like That" kicks in, and Muggs's old, booming bass-led sound takes hold, the band's cathartic, creative charge briefly re-emerges. Then B-Real asks "Do you wanna get high ?" and lights and sucks on a joint with the elaborate rebelliousness of a 14-year-old at his first party.

In south London and surely, by now, South Central LA, it's a gesture that means nothing; an everyday act performed with childish conviction that stands as another example of Cypress Hill losing touch.

When, on yet another dope anthem, "Dr Greenthumb", B-Real joins drummer Bobo for an extended solo, laughing, crying, and running for it all seem options.

The effort that Cypress Hill have put into the show can be seen in B-Real's sweat-drenched shirt, and the hardcore fans at the front seem satisfied. But whenever the band's new guitar-roar drops, the noise of conversation is deafening, and many members of the audience wander away before they're finished.

They finally close with "(Rock) Superstar", the new album's most cogent description of their current, confused state. Perhaps they need to think much harder about what that job means.

Comments