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“Pigs,” the opening track on Cypress Hill’s self-titled debut, does a wonderful job of setting the album’s tone, both lyrically and sonically. Emcee B-Real uses the nursery rhyme “This Little Piggy Went To Market” as a template to portray the Los Angeles police as a diverse but rotten entity. Although the song focuses very narrowly on cops, we are introduced to the album’s cartoonish portrayal of the violence that was very real and pervasive in the group’s blighted South Gate neighborhood. The emotional and psychological consequences of being oppressed by police are not explored on “Pigs,” nor are any other issues that arise from living in a troubled environment explored at any point in the record. To Cypress Hill, murder and other criminal mayhem are simply jumpoff points for making fun, strangely upbeat music.
The signature Cypress Hill sound, courtesy of DJ Muggs, is organic, psychedelic, and carnival-like. Distorted electric guitars are the predominant melodic instrument on the LP, which is quite unusual for a 1991 hip-hop album. The other obvious distinctive element of Cypress Hill’s sound is the lead rapper, B-Real. His unnaturally nasal delivery, coupled with his superior sense of rhythm, make for a unique listening experience. The overall sound is so captivating that the lyrics become secondary, although some lines are just too ridiculous to be ignored (“me and you, bruca, we should be humping,” for example. Positive K would never be so forward.).
Despite the album’s many unique characteristics, Cypress Hill often feels very much like an eighties album due to the tried-and-true breakbeats, the percussive use of melodic samples, and the thin bass. Brief instrumental numbers serve as an equivalent to “DJ cuts” from the previous era. Like other 1991 classics, it’s clearly a transitional record, unprecented in both its strong sense of Hispanic identity and its fascination with marijuana, yet familiar in its stylistic connection to the roots of hip-hop.
Like some of the best vocal duos in hip-hop (Chuck and Flav, Tip and Phife, Monch and Prince Po), there is a clear disparity in talent. B-Real is easily the more capable emcee. Sen Dog’s role is limited to backing vocals and brief, rhythmically imprecise and weird verses, such as his four-bar masterpiece on the incredible “How I Could Just Kill A Man.” The verse is especially notable for the lines “I’m not gonna waste no time fucking around like I’m straight humming/ Humming, coming at ya—and you know I had to gat ya.” The passage further accentuates Cypress Hill’s eccentric irreverence and it would be nearly impossible to guess what he meant by “humming” if B-Real did not clarify the lyric later on in the song (the hum in question is that of a bullet). The strange character of the song is only intensified by a stuttering saxophone breakdown that suddenly comes out of nowhere, yet seems to fit in with the off-kilter vibe.
Toward the end of the album, the songs lack the weight of the opening tracks, but Cypress Hill never quite drags. The social significance of “Latin Lingo,” which is rapped largely in Spanish, is undermined by the relatively bland production, but its placement between the funky “Something For The Blunted” and the slightly less funky but still tight “The Funky Cypress Hill Shit” prevents the album from losing too much momentum. The more downtempo numbers such as “Latin Lingo” and “Stoned Is The Way Of The Walk,” lack the high-energy zaniness that is the strong point of most of the other songs. As a result, these tracks do not fare so well, but they are not too damaging to the album. Cypress Hill is a fun effort that manages to feel light while being blatantly sociopathic.