By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
"People don't understand. You leave the neighborhood and they're like, 'Oh, look, he's too good for us now,'" says Real. "No. Not true. If I stayed, I was too accessible. Sooner or later, someone was going to knock on my door asking for an autograph and put a bullet in my head. You can't live as a sitting duck just waiting for the sharks to come in.
"A lot of people rapping about the gang life never lived it, and that's why it comes off fake, like a cartoon. But I earned the right to rap about this shit."
How do you know where I'm at/When you haven't been where I've been/Understand where I'm coming from?/While you're up on the hill in your big home/I'm out here, risking my dome/So here is something you can't understand: how I could just kill a man.
--"How I Could Just Kill a Man"
(from Cypress Hill)
B-Real and Sen Dog were brothers long before they were rappers.
Real says Sen was one of the first by his stretcher side in 1988 when he caught a .22caliber slug in the lung, an experience he recalls in chilling detail on "Lick a Shot," a song on Cypress Hill's 1993 album Black Sunday.
Taking a bullet, however, did little to suppress Real's appetite for the locura (crazy action) of gang life. "I thought gangbanging was the shit back then," he says. Watching his friend cough up blood was evidently enough for Sen, though. He got out of the gang and started working as a security guard for JC Penney.
The two friends kept writing rhymes as ahobby until an influential deejay named JulioG at the L.A. rap-powerhouse station KDAY introduced them to Muggs, who had moved to California from Queens, New York, and quickly established himself as a premier underground deejay.
Muggs had an idea for a concept album based on the experience of hanging out on Cypress Avenue in South Gate. Real and Sen were up for it and, by the spring of 1991, the trio's landmark debut LP, titled Cypress Hill, was on the street.
The album was an instant classic--a relentless, adrenalized blend of lowrider grooves, odes to the joy of burnin' Yesca (pro-pot anthems are now ubiquitous in hiphop, but Real and Sen were the first to champion the renaissance of weed) and vicious street fables where the moral is always shoot first and often.
Cypress Hill was revolutionary on several fronts: Muggs made an indelible mark onhiphop production with his innovative use of warped acoustic bass lines, swirling piano loops, spooky synthesizer squeals and East Coast-flavored "boom-bap" drum beats. Also, Real and Sen came out with a new style of rap vocals that melded Rastafarian patois with Spanglish, much of it rendered by Real in his signature, gritty, nasal whine. Lastly, there were the album's lyrics. A departure from the action-flick-violence standard of West Coast gangsta rap, Cypress Hill was loaded with lyrical vignettes that didn't glorify gang violence so much as they simply described it with sociopathic detachment. The overall effect was frightening. And, of course, extremely attractive.
Cypress Hill sold 1.5 million copies, and BReal's gangbanging days were done.
But, evidently, not forgotten.
Released late last year, Temples of Boom is more or less a treatise on the psychological toll of gangbanging. The lyrics are confessional, introspective and often paranoid, a look behind the mask of the mad-dog killer on Cypress Hill that reveals a pair of eyes full of fear, guilt and despair.
"I saw and did a lot of bad shit back then," says Real. "Shit I can't get out of my head, that I dwell on. What happened on this record is I tried to tell everyone about it, to get things off my chest. I wanted to use the record as therapy."--David Holthouse
Cypress Hill is scheduled to perform on Saturday, January 27, at Mesa Amphitheatre, with 311, and the Pharcyde. Showtime is 7 p.m.