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30 years of Cypress Hill: Hip-hop revolutionaries, at Pavilion at Riverfront on Saturday, dropped debut album three decades ago

UPDATED: Fri., Aug. 20, 2021

Much has been made of how Nirvana’s “Nevermind” changed the course of music and pop culture when the game-changing album dropped in September 1991. However, the prior month, hip hop was revolutionized by Cypress Hill’s daring self-titled eponymous album. The slow, trippy beats, bizarre samples and noises and MC B Real’s quirky nasal delivery are just some of the reasons the album is worth celebrating 30 years after it dropped.

“1991 was a special year for music,” MC Sen Dog, aka Senen Reyes, said while calling from Las Vegas. “It was an amazing year not just for us during our rookie season but in general. The great Nirvana changed a lot of things. There was something in the water with all of these great bands, and Cypress was right in the middle of it.”

That’s no exaggeration since Cypress Hill, along with the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy, were among the three hip-hop acts who crossed over with alternative fans. By the time 1993’s powerful “Black Sunday” was released, Cypress Hill was performing before some of the most diverse crowds – hip hop, alternative, Black, white and Latino – in the industry.

“We were always an inclusive group,” Reyes said. “Our music is for everybody.” The seeds were planted with Cypress Hill’s first album. “How I Could Just Kill a Man” and “Hand on the Pump” remain potent and relevant. Expect those songs to be delivered when Cypress Hill focuses on its initial release when performing Saturday at the Pavilion at Riverfront. “We’re looking forward to revisiting that album since it’s exactly 30 years out,” Reyes said.

It’s uncertain how the Los Angeles-based act, who on this tour includes DJ Muggs and percussionist Eric Bobo, will offer the tracks. Will Cypress Hill play the album front to back or even include each cut in its set? “We’re still uncertain about how we’re going to go with it, but you will hear plenty of the songs from the first album,” Reyes said.

Much of the lyrical content is pro-marijuana. Cypress Hill has always been one of the most vocal recording artists who pushed to legalize cannabis. Washington and a number of states have done just that, and those born well after the year that punk broke may not understand how much of a limb Cypress Hill went out on during its salad days.

“It was a big deal,” Reyes said. “Nobody rapped about what we were rapping about. I remember when Muggs told me that he wanted B Real and me to be the Cheech and Chong of hip hop. I was concerned because I thought we would get blackballed or banned.” Instead, Cypress Hill was embraced by music fans. “I was so glad about their acceptance since what we did was so outlaw,” Reyes said.

“But we stuck to our guns throughout the whole journey. We came up with something as rebellious as NWA and Public Enemy, but we were on our own tip. But it wasn’t to get attention. We had an important message. Back in the day, we would read High Times magazine, and we were down with their take on cannabis and hemp and the environment and pollution. We wanted to change the world.”

Much is different today, and Reyes is surprised how many states have legalized cannabis (18 states and the District of Columbia). “It’s what we fought for our whole lives, but I’ll be honest,” Reyes said. “I never thought you could walk into a dispensary and order some joints just like you could go to a convenience store and buy beer.”

“It was such an uphill battle, but it has finally happened in some places, but there are still places that it’s not legal, and that’s terrible,” he continued. “There is so much good that comes from cannabis. We’re not done fighting for legalization. I’m hoping that someday soon that cannabis is legal in all 50 states.” In the meantime, Cypress Hill will tour behind its debut album.

“I’m looking forward to getting out there and playing those songs,” Reyes said. “So many fans have often told me that our first album is their favorite, which is amazing. We also can’t wait to get out and play anything since like everybody else we haven’t played in a long time due to the pandemic. But we’re excited about playing Spokane.

“It’s so beautiful there, and the Pacific Northwest reminds me of how special 1991 was. I was listening to all of those bands from Seattle like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. When our first album came out, it just timed out for us since we released an album in the right time and place. I remember how devoted we were to that album. We were more devoted to those songs than we were to girlfriends. We focused on it, and it paid off.”

Cypress Hill has enough tracks for a new album, which is scheduled for a 2022 release. Reyes isn’t sure if unreleased material will be previewed when the group returns to Spokane on Saturday night. “That’s up in the air,” Reyes said. “You’ll have to see what we’ll do, so come check us out. It’s an exciting time for us.

“Aside from our next album, there will be a Cypress Hill documentary, which will be out around April of 2022. It’s a look back at Cypress, but we’re also moving forward, which is amazing. If you told us in 1991 that we would still be together and that marijuana would be legal in some states, that would have made us very happy.”

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