Cypress Hill’s past and present are colliding this spring — happily, according to the long-lived rap troupe’s Sen Dog.
First up is the new — Back in Black, Cypress Hill’s 10th studio album, is out Friday, March 18th. A fresh batch of tour dates comes right on its heels, including a run on Slipknot’s “Knotfest Roadshow” during May and June. On April 20th, meanwhile, comes Cypress Hill: Insane in the Brain, a comprehensive Showtime documentary directed by Cypress’ longtime tour manager, photographer and archivist Estevan Oriol.
“It’s kind of bugged out that the present and the past are colliding like that,” Sen Dog tells Consequence by phone from California. “Here we are, as grown-ass men, and we’re coming back into our past and talking about that at the same time a new record is coming out. But I feel like Cypress Hill is still an important band, and I think that our story needs to be told in a certain way. And with new [music] at the same time, I think that makes for an interesting conversation.”
There is a thread tying the two projects together, however. Sen Dog (real name: Senen Reyes) says he and his groupmates — B-Real (Louis Freese), DJ Muggs (Lawrence Muggerud) and percussionist Eric “Bobo” Correa — went into Back in Black, which was produced by Black Milk, with a specific vision.
“I think a good ol’ hip-hop record was the way to go, like almost back to our roots, but kind of with more maturity and things like that,” he explains. “There’s nothing really experimental on there or anything like that. We still want it to be something that celebrated, that you can party with, but the main focus was, 30 years later, ‘Let’s do a record the same way we started, but advanced and into the future.’”
And Detroit rapper Black Milk — whose production credits include work with Slum Village, Elzhi, Lloyd Banks, and Danny Brown, as well as his own work — was key.
“We got a bunch of beats from different guys, and we thought we’d start off with Black Milk ’cause we heard some tracks from him, and they were interesting,” Sen Dog recalls.
Among the first was the 2021 single “Champion Sound,” with a laid-back beat and a bit of Latin vibe. “There was a certain kind of hip-hop history feel to his tracks. We said, ‘OK, we’ll work with this dude here for these couple of songs,’ and after that we were like, ‘Hey, let’s see if that dude has anything else he wants to kick our way,’ and we just kept working with him.”
Black Milk, he adds, also struck the right balance of contributing and knowing when to let Cypress Hill chart its own course.
“He would come in and play us the tracks, and then he’d leave and be, ‘Let me know when you guys do your vocal arrangements’ and then we’d send them to him and he’d do his thing,” Sen Dog says. “So it wasn’t like he was in the studio every day trying to get us to do something. It’s not that process any more. He would go write us some more tracks while we worked on the other ones. It was a pretty dope way to do it.”
Fronted by the single “Open Ya Mind” and “Bye Bye” (featuring Dizzy Wright) as well as “Champion Sound,” Back in Black finds Cypress Hill doing a bit of stock-taking, especially on the closing track “The Ride.”
There are also plenty of discussions about the group’s favorite subject, marijuana, and Sen Dog says it was fascinating for him and B-Real to write about it in context of the ever-evolving state of legalization, particularly in the U.S.
“Thirty years ago we were just shouting, ‘Legalize it!’ We didn’t know what was going to come with that,” Sen Dog explains. “We thought we were educated on cannabis back when we started because we read High Times a lot. But we got a chance to go out and tour and meet growers and people who have a lot of knowledge of what has gone on the last 50 years as far as the cannabis industry goes.
“The younger Cypress Hill wouldn’t have gone that route. The younger Cypress Hill would have been ‘Hits From the Bong’ and “I Want to Get High’ and this and that. We never thought about what it would take to sustain a legalized marijuana community… that’s constantly changing. So we thought it was important to touch on that, and that’s where I think the maturity comes in.”
Fans will get a chance to review Cypress Hill’s growth during the Insane in the Brain documentary, for which Oriol drew on his own memories and extensive archives and conducted new interviews with all of the group members as well as admirers and associates.
Sen Dog says the process was “a bit mind-blowing,” particularly in remembering some of the hard times during the groups career — including the slow start for its 1991 debut album, which was moribund until DJs discovered “How I Could Just Kill a Man” on the flip-side of “The Phuncky Feel One,” turning it into a gold-certified No. 1 hit.
For Sen Dog, the documentary also gave him a chance to fully explain his two-and-half-year hiatus from the band during the late ‘90s, when he formed the rock-rap group SX-10 — which in turn informed Cypress Hill’s Stoned Raiders album in 2001.
“I didn’t know Estevan was going to ask me about that,” notes Sen Dog, who’s also wrapping up a new album by his current metal band Powerflo for release later this year. “But when he did I thought it was a good time to address it. “It was a time when I had a lot of trouble touring and staying consistent on that level. The band got bigger but I still felt the same, like that kid from South Gate, California. I wasn’t making that adjustment, and there was some anxiety and depression in there that I had to talk about, and it felt good getting that off my chest.
“And I needed that. Without that break I took, I don’t think I’d be around here right now. That helped me get my head straight. When I realized I was bored and I was broke and I wanted to come back, the brothers were there for me. They were waiting for me to make my move, and we’ve been pedal to the metal ever since.”
Cypress Hill will push the pedal down on Back in Black with an album release show on March 18th in Rio Rancho, N.M. Then, after a sprinkling of headlining dates and festival appearances in April, the group will join the Slipknot Roadshow 2022 in University Park, Pa., for a month-long run.
That tour with Slipknot is definitely a very modern look,” Sen Dog notes. “We’ve opened for Metallica before. And KISS. I don’t know too many hip-hop guys that get the chance to do that kind of thing. It’s always exciting. I don’t know what it was that [Slipknot] saw that made them want us on the road with them, but, hey, we’re down. We perform with many different people, in many different genres. We look at everything as a challenge.”
Catch Cypress Hill on tour; tickets are available via Ticketmaster.