TIDAL’s head of Latinx programming reflects on the life-changing influence of a fearless rap triumph.
It began with a big F-you to authority. “Pigs,” the intro song to Cypress Hill’s emblematic self-titled debut, which celebrates its 30th anniversary on August 13 with a new Expanded Edition, called out the barrio’s overseers. From the get-go you could tell these weren’t your usual Latino MCs rhyming about girls and parties. B-Real, Sen Dog and Latinx-by-association DJ Muggs weren’t about making nice; rather, they were about being heard, smoking bud and stomping out anyone who dare cross them.
Case in point: “How I Could Just Kill a Man” — a song about homicide and drive-by shootings, a lyrical how-to-snuff-out-your-enemies. Hola, hardcore Latinx hip-hop! Excuse us as we watch our papis and mamis clutch their collective pearls. But more important than the carnage was the fact that “Kill a Man” was the first time I remember hearing a Spanish word (cuss word) uttered on a rap song. Yes, there were tracks like (Sen Dog’s brother) Mellow Man Ace’s “Mentirosa” and Kid Frost’s “La Raza” that came before, but this felt different. Even though all these artists were from the West Coast, Cypress’ aesthetic came off very East Coast — largely because of the production by Queens, N.Y.-born Muggs. The music video was shot in New York City with appearances (essentially co-signs) from established acts like Ice Cube and Q-Tip. B-Real and his crew marching their way across Manhattan in dark hoodies looked like my older cousins in Brooklyn. I even ordered the same Cypress T-shirt from a back-page ad in The Source. Money well spent.
This murderous manifesto wasn’t necessarily the kind of music my immigrant parents wanted their preteen to consume, yet I listened to it religiously. It spoke to my hubris-filled heart. Just outside my tenement apartment, the Brooklyn streets of the ’90s were ripe with the lures of the fast life. Thankfully I used Cypress Hill (and A Tribe Called Quest) as inspiration to launch my career as a writer. I won’t lie and say Cypress didn’t influence me to try, ahem, other things as well, but above all they gave me confidence. For the longest, I didn’t know hip-hop was created by Black and brown youth in the Bronx. Latinos had been written out of the history books, even though pioneers like DJ Charlie Chase, graffiti artist Lee Quiñones and others were there since day numero uno.
B-Real’s signature nasal flow, Sen’s bassy voice and Muggs’ esoteric production created the blueprint for the hardcore Latino MC. After their debut, the game was clearly BC (Before Cypress) and AC (After Cypress). Fat Joe, the Beatnuts, Kurious Jorge, Delinquent Habits, Funkdoobiest, Pitbull, N.O.R.E., the mighty Big Pun and more — all owe a salute to the loco trio from Cali. And on behalf of every single Latinx kid who grew up a hip-hop head and is now blessed to call the music industry their casa, I say “Gracias.”