Hip-hop changes, but Cypress Hill is still performing. ‘We want to keep our legacy going’

For those who are old enough to remember the rise of West Coast rap in the late 1980s, and its subgenre gangsta rap taking over radio waves in the early 1990s, Cypress Hill being considered “a party band” in 2019 feels a little off.

While it’s true that one’s public persona can change with time — take Snoop Dogg hosting a variety show with Martha Stewart on VH1 — it would have been difficult to predict that the three-time Grammy Award nominees in Cypress Hill not only would be performing hits like “Insane in the Brain” in front of all-ages crowds 30 years into their storied career, but that the kids in attendance may very well have been the ones to protest tagging along with their nostalgic parents.

We’re all now over two decades removed from the East Coast-West Coast rap feud of the mid-’90s, but the Southern California-representing Cypress Hill still exude danger when they break into hits like “How I Could Just Kill a Man.” Cypress member Sen Dog says it’s just something the group has had to overlook with time.

“They’re there, and they’re there to have a good time,” Sen Dog tells The News & Observer during a break in Cypress Hill’s “West Coast High 2019” tour, which will have them stopping at the Ritz in Raleigh March 2.

“Was there [ever] a little bit of a struggle with that? Yeah, there was a little bit of a struggle with the message of that song [being overlooked], but it never really bothered me because the song did well [in sales],” he said. “There was a message to it. The message was self-defense to the forces of offense; that a lot of people just got what [they] deserved. It was for people who would ask ‘How I Could Just Kill a Man’? It’s exactly that, and a lot of songs have been done about it, but we put a twist on it.

“Either way, the people that get it get it, the people that don’t, don’t. They just jam out to it. And that’s okay with me.”

Q: It was eight years since Cypress Hill had released a new album, before “Elephants on Acid” hit shelves in 2018. What pushed you to get back into the recording studio again after all that time?

A: It’s just the love of what we do, you know? We’re not bored with Cypress Hill, whereas you see a lot of artists that come out, and they get bored with whatever they’re doing after five or 10 years. We’ve been touring around the world for 20 years for crowds that are excited about [new music], so if we want to keep our legacy going, making albums or recording new music is what it takes to keep it going.

Q: You guys were part of the first wave of West Coast rappers to capture mainstream success. Looking back on it, what are some of the big difference that you see in how hip-hop is portrayed now as compared to back then?

A: A lot of the changes are more physical; I mean, Lil Wayne [Tha Carter V] did his thing and was one of the first to really come out tatted up with dreadlocks, but now, where he was nearly the only one that really looked like that then, he gave birth to a whole bunch of dudes that just ripped that look off.

[Another] big change is that then it was much more about love for the culture; now it’s just about yourself. Back in the day there was more [expletive] that you did to uplift the culture of the community, the hip-hop community, and make sure that it got bigger and stronger. Now it’s just ... make sure I’m the one getting bigger and stronger.

Q: Does that frustration also help explain that eight year gap in between “Elephants” and 2010’s “Rise Up”?

A: That was basically our bad. We took too much time off after our last tour; we were out there, working for the money and everything, but we took a lot of time off after it was over and didn’t really start thinking about another record [until much later]. We had toured out there for about two years longer than we should have. Then it was a process of getting with [Cypress member] DJ Muggs, who was touring the world himself, [producing records for] people around the planet. So we had to wait for our pieces to come together, and for everything to be right in the perfect world.

You want to go in there and do an album, [finish it] in five or six months, get it out there and tour...sometimes things are going to take longer than what you wanted to take them. That’s just the way it is.

Q: One of the things that really jumps out about the current tour is that it’s a co-headlining run with nu metal band Hollywood Undead, which wouldn’t be my first guess at a group for you guys to partner with on the road. What led to this partnership?

A: A couple of years ago, I got invited to the studio by their management to listen to one of Hollywood Undead’s albums, and they were like, “Why don’t we do a tour package together?” I [didn’t] see a problem with that. We’re always [openminded to touring partners], so when it came time to do this tour, they were available.

I think this [tour] represents [the West Coast] well. I think the Hollywood Undead guys are a great band. They’re out here trying to make it happen, and you’ve got to respect that.


Who: Cypress Hill with Hollywood Undead

When: 7:30 p.m., March 2

Where: Ritz Raleigh, 2820 Industrial Drive, Raleigh

Cost: $32.50

Info: RitzRaleigh.com or 919-424-1400