Cypress Hill’s B-Real: “I Probably Would Have Ended Up In A Cemetery Or Prison…”
Cypress Hill are back. Not just because they have a new album, but rather because said album, Elephants On Acid, also happens to be their best since 2000’s Skull And Bones. Released on September 28, the first Cypress Hill album in seven years sees rappers B-Real and Sen Dog reunited with the prodigious DJ Muggs on production. The outcome? A record that often harks back to the dark, claustrophobic, unnerving soundscapes of ’95 classic Temples Of Boom.
Next year Cypress Hill will be awarded their own star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, and they deserve it. Since first emerging in 1991, they have remained one of the most important rap groups in history – not least for being the first Latino hip-hop group to go platinum, as well as producing instant classics like How I Could Just Kill A Man, Real Estate, Insane In The Brain, Hits From The Bong and many more.
Their indelible imprint in rock cannot be overstated, either. Before you even consider the fact that B-Real went on to form Prophets Of Rage with Rage Against The Machine and Public Enemy members, their influence on RATM’s incendiary debut alone is crucial. That’s to mention nothing of their collaborations with the likes of Deftones and Rancid, plus regular appearances at numerous rock festivals – including Lollapalooza in real life and ‘Hullabalooza’ in one classic episode of The Simpsons.
It has all been an extraordinary journey for Louis ‘B-Real’ Freese, who managed to turn his life around from being a member of LA’s notorious Bloods gang – someone who, as a young man, experienced a bullet from a .22 pistol piercing his lung – to change the sound of hip-hop forever, and become one of the most prominent voices in the battle to legalise weed in the States.
When K! catches up with B-Real to find out about the new Cypress Hill album, he’s already hard at work on another project: the second Prophets Of Rage record.
“It’s really fucking cool,” he beams. “I can’t wait for people to hear it. I would imagine it would come out next year, we’re still dialling in a few things, but what we do have is pretty powerful.”
But before that comes our way, it’s time go insane in B-Real’s membrane and find out about Cypress Hill’s glorious return…
What does Elephants On Acid say about Cypress Hill in 2018?
I think what it says about us is that, 27 years later, we can still be out of the box and interesting and do it as good, if not better, than anybody else. I really love the album. I didn’t know how I was going to feel about it (laughs) because we started three or four years ago, and I had been far removed from it from the time we recorded it. Our rule in Cypress Hill is that we do the songs and we leave them there with Muggs; we don’t take them out of the studio, we don’t get married to what we record at that particular time, because we know that Muggs, as a producer, is meticulous in terms of how he’s going to arrange it. He might change the whole song up. A lot of artists might get burned out by that, but he’s our brother. We started with Muggs so we know he does that, so we put 100 per cent trust into that process and he always works the magic. This was no different. We hadn’t been together in maybe, like, eight years before that, and it was an interesting process getting back into studio form with Muggs and then being removed from it for such a long time. When he felt comfortable enough to send it to us, I was like, ‘Fuck, this is amazing.’ He’s definitely on fire right now. I’ve been listening to it to learn the songs for when we have to play them live, and more and more I’m just realising how incredible he is as a producer. If you’re a Cypress Hill fan, he did not let you down as a producer. That’s how I would look at it as a fan.
A lot of the standout songs are the extremely dark and violent ones, like Locos, Insane OG and Warlord. You’ve spoken previously about how you want to portray violence without glamorising it, so what’s the trick to pulling that off?
I just grab from the life I was living before music saved me. I grabbed from some of the stuff that my partners that I was running with at that time were living, too – it’s a depiction of a life that we definitely led. Some of it is artistic, in terms of things you know about people who lived the lifestyle, you take from that. I wrote the album in terms of a story for an individual searching for redemption, feeling guilt, anger and isolation. Oddly enough, people relate to those fucking songs. Temples Of Boom was sort of along those lines, and when people come up to us, a lot of times they’ll say, ‘Temples Of Boom is my favourite album.’ Those were some of our darkest songs in terms of all of our albums we’ve put out. Tapping into that particular base of fans was the idea for Elephants On Acid, because we thought some of our fans like that kind of dark, raw, gritty type of unnerving shit (laughs).
DJ Muggs seems to have had something of spiritual awakening that led to a lot of the music on Elephants On Acid. Have you experienced something like that yourself?
We’ve all had our spiritual awakenings, they were just maybe in different forms, if you will. Some of us had to catch up with others (laughs). My spiritual awakening was when I became a priest in Ifá, some people call it Santeria – what’s known as Babalawo, a high priest. My spiritual awakening happened then. The music Muggs brought forth gave me an opportunity to do something different, to take that light into the dark, you know what I mean? That’s sort of what this album represents: darkness trying to come into the light, and they’re fighting each other. We’ve always been like that Yin and the Yang – the light and the dark.
It’s going back a long time, but surely your view on life also changed pretty drastically when you were shot…
When I got shot as a gangbanger, nah… there’s no spiritual awakening there. At least it didn’t happen for me. What happened to me is what happens to a lot of gangbangers that lived through gunshot wounds: we start feeling like we’re invincible. I look at what life was before I got the opportunities just to do what I do now, and I look at it with the mentality of, ‘I’ll never go back.’ What I subconsciously planted into my head is that if I don’t work I’m going back to shit, you know (laughs)? I try and keep a healthy diet of interesting stuff, something I’m passionate about and want to do well and excel in.
Do you ever wonder how things would have panned out if you hadn’t committed yourself to a life of music with Cypress Hill?
Well, where I was when Muggs and Sen, and Sen’s younger brother [Ulpiano Sergio Reyes aka Mellow Man Ace] came and got me, I was, uh, running with a pretty terrible crowd. Most likely, I probably would have ended up in cemetary or prison, which is almost the same. I definitely would have ended up there. Thank God it didn’t end there (laughs).
Instead you got to change hip-hop forever with Cypress Hill, and go on to record songs with Dr. Dre, and form Prophets Of Rage members of Public Enemy and Rage Against The Machine…
Oh yeah! Exactly. It’s something that I’m very grateful and appreciative for, because I never saw that coming. All of it, pretty much. I’m just thankful that I got to work with some of my idols, that was something you can only dream of. The other day I was thinking about how many features I’ve done with all these different artists and I was amazed to see what it comes up to… I’m trying to dig in my memory banks to try and remember exactly who we all worked with (laughs). It’s crazy. Those two dudes, Muggs and Sen, they came and got me at a time when they could have probably gotten along without me at that point, because [Cypress Hill] was very, very new. We hadn’t even done any demos. They took a chance on me, and I appreciate that because they could have totally done it without me. They had Sen’s older brother, Mellow, who was very talented and could have carried the load they wanted me to try to do. But they saw something in me, and we were all really good friends and they wanted to give me the same opportunities that they were going to try and get. I’m always thankful for what they did; I wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t.
There’s an official Cypress Hill documentary in the pipeline, too. How did that come about?
We’re just getting started on the documentary. That’s going to be interesting looking back when we go into all the old footage from back in the day. People have asked us for it, we’d always thought about doing it, but we didn’t want to do one of those biopics because they’re popping left and right and we don’t want to feel like we’re cashing in on a wave of that shit, so we thought a proper documentary would serve us well, and if someone wants to make our movie later on, cool, do that!
Is there any part of your past you’re dreading re-encountering when it comes to making it?
Nah. I mean, there’s always unpleasant parts throughout your career and stuff like that, but there’s nothing that would rehash something totally horrible. We’ve had our times, but for the most part, even during times when we were separate from each other, disagreed, or even had some tension, we’re brothers. There’s nothing we could rehash that would be like a stab to the heart (laughs).
You’ve said previously that Cypress Hill have been shafted on a lot of recognition you feel you deserved. What things specifically?
Well, you know, when we would talk about cannabis it was still taboo throughout our career for the first 10-15 years. We wouldn’t get opportunities that other groups with less success than us would get. We’d get overlooked. On top of that, we would get labelled as a ‘marijuana band’ as opposed to just a music group. We achieved a lot as a group, and we talked about more than just cannabis.
A lot of people smoke weed and don’t feel the need to fight to make it legal. When did it change from being something you just smoked to something that became a political action?
It was always both. We grew up getting High Times magazine and reading the freedom fighter articles. And we agreed. A lot of people were going to jail that didn’t need to be in jail for it. We were activists from the jump. We’re happy that the opportunities are opening up and laws are changing, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Cypress Hill musician Bobo recently opened up to Power 106 about his biggest high – taking mushrooms on a plane. What’s yours?
In terms of cannabis, it had to be getting on an excalibur bong with my man from Sublime: he hit it and I saw that he was having a hard time and I felt he shouldn’t be high by himself (laughs). So, I took a hit with him and I chopped my own damn head off. That was pretty fucking high. In terms of psychedelics, there was a show in Canada and some guy came and gave us a bag of mushrooms and we hit them before the show. While we were onstage it just hit us so heavy. That was one of the biggest, stoniest times.
Just over 18 years ago you made Rap/Rock Superstar to explain the amount of bullshit people have to go through to make it in music. How would you update that song now for 2018, in terms of what you’ve been through since?
It’s still that, just x1000. You have less privacy now because you have people walking around trying to track your every movement with social media networks. The way that the game has changed now with free downloads and streaming, a lot of it has changed, yet some of it remains the same. It’s also about trying to evolve into what the artist is right now, and still keeping your integrity. It’s tough. They make it tough. But if you’re passionate about music and you want to keep doing it, you find a way to make it happen.
Was your integrity ever challenged over the years – did anyone try and make you do things you didn’t want?
We challenged ourselves to try and make things a bit different. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The main thing is to stick to your guns no matter what, because you have to live with it after. Whatever you’re going to do, do it the best you can.
A long time ago, The Simpsons paired you up with the London Symphony Orchestra, and Sen Dog recently hinted that could actually happen one day soon. Please update us…
We’ve gone back and forth on that a few times. It’s something we’re trying to work out, but it’s not necessarily so easy because [the orchestra] have to chart the music and, obviously, recreate the music and it will take a bit of time. But yeah, it’s definitely on our to-do list. We wanted to make that happen because we thought it would be very interesting.
Has the idea of stopping ever crossed your mind – do you ever see an endpoint for you and music?
We don’t necessarily think about end points, we think about, ‘What is next after we’re done with this?’ But since we still love doing music, everybody is very passionate. Muggs keeps very active with a number of projects and albums he’s producing. Sen Dog, when he’s not doing Cypress Hill, has his Powerflo band, and myself, right now I’m working on the next Prophets Of Rage album. As long as we still want to do music we’ll still do it together. Before going into this Elephants On Acid album I thought it would maybe be my last Cypress Hill album, but that can always change. The way you might feel after you do it, and after we’re out there performing, it’s like, ‘Fuck, let’s do another one.’ That’s how artists are. We might say, ‘We’re going to retire,’ and the next year there’s a fucking new album coming out. Too Short did it to us, like, five times. Jay-Z did it to us a number of times and look, he’s on tour with Beyoncé right now killing it!
So how do you feel about the prospect of it being your last Cypress Hill album now?
We still have a whole lot of love for what it is we do, and we have a whole lot of love for Cypress Hill because it allowed us to do all the other stuff we’re doing now. We’ll always remain loyal to it. I believe as long as we can still do it, we will (laughs).
Words: George Garner
Photos: Eitan Miskevich