Cannibus Hip-Hopicus

Check your headz....

Like any pop-music genre, rap runs on formulas. But L.A.'s

Cypress Hill have stretched theirs beyond any reasonable expectation.

For more than seven years and four albums, they've managed to enjoy wild

success

without ever having to reinvent themselves or tweak their recipe at all.

Cracking into the same white, alternative crowd that the Beastie Boys are

popular with, the group has continued to give these kids what they

apparently want: namely, songs about the police, gangsta-styled tracks that

double as braggadocio and last, but not least, odes to pot, which Hill

members claim to consume vast quantities of.

This formula has catapulted the three members of Cypress Hill --

B-Real, DJ Muggs and Sen Dog -- into a realm of pop-music superstardom

rarely enjoyed by rappers, let alone by a group of mostly Latinos. Their

three previous albums have all gone gold or platinum, yet the group has

never been considered in the same vein of "hip-pop" as Puffy or Will Smith.

As enigmatic as this success may seem on the surface, Cypress Hill's last

album, Temple of Boom, was a tongue-in-cheek flaunting of the keys

to their longevity. "Boom" is slang for marijuana and a simple reference to

the group's low-end sound. For their fans, so long as Cypress bring "the

boom," their records are a hit. Lucky them.

DJ Muggs deserves a good deal of the credit for the group's appeal.

Though the Wu-Tang's RZA is usually thought of as the master of dirty,

dusty grooves, Muggs was pumping out grimy, bass-heavy beats years before

RZA gained any notoriety. Muggs' productions are distinctively funky yet

fairly simple in nature. He excels in finding thick, rolling basslines and

then adds drum tracks dragged through the sonic dirt of the SP1200 sampler

(the sampler of choice for early hip-hop producers). The results are songs

that still crackle with the static of vinyl records, resulting in a

deliciously dark sound that captures the urban underbelly of a decaying Los

Angeles.

When Muggs fires these tracks up ("Goin' All Out" being an

excellent example), there's a frantic, rushed feel to them, raw aural

adrenaline that pumps across the speakers. Dropped into a slow tempo-ed

groove, songs like "Tequila Sunrise" mimic the effects of a dope high,

altering reality like paranoia-inducing mood swings. Either way, they are

hellaciously funky efforts with a sound that's become as distinctive as a

fingerprint.

The downside is that you can only repeat yourself so many

times before wearing the formula thin, and at 17-tracks long, IV can

ill afford to carbon-copy itself too many times, which the album does.

Sure, there are some great-sounding songs, but the lesser filler

"Checkmate Fool," "Dead Men Tell No Tales") is made all the more mediocre

by the lack of musical diversity on the album.

The same goes for doing the same kinds of lyrics to death, and B-Real

and Sen Dog can't seem to invent any concepts that they haven't already

played with dozens of times before. The album starts with "Through the Eye

of the Pig," which copies the same anti-police vibe that the group kicked

off with its first hit, "How I Could Just Kill A Man" (on Cypress Hill's

self-titled first album). Great urban politics for certain, but what's new,

docs?

On the stronger end, Cypress still know how to kick some

bravado-type shit, as evinced by songs like "Goin' All Out" and "Feature

Presentation." B-Real's signature nasal flow gets aggravating at some

points, but the group wisely spreads it out by giving Sen Dog some more mic

time as well as inviting frequent cameos, including MC Eight on "Prelude to

a Come Up" and the unofficial extra Cypress Hill member Barron Ricks (from

Hill protégés Call O' The Wild).

Of course, what Cypress Hill album would be complete without praise

rapped to the cannabis sativa. In fact, talkin' 'bout weed is so nice,

they do it twice ("High Times" and "Dr. Greenthumb"). Simply said -- no

new surprises here, though the hypnotic beat of "High Times'" was worth at

least one listen through. I can't say as much about the album's

dishonorable mention, "Freak Bitch," which evidently fulfills Cypress

Hill's misogyny quotient.

But what did you expect from Cypress Hill? No matter how down on them you

get, they still turn out the kinds of records that at least half a

million people want to buy. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.