BiographyIn 1986 the four friends form a rap group called DVX (Devastating Vocal Excellence), but change the name to Cypress Hill (after their neighbourhood's main street) when Mellow Man Ace leaves the group in 1988. By 1991 Cypress Hill have released a self-titled first album and their B-side single "How I Could Just Kill A Man" is storming up the rap charts. Their second album, Black Sunday, debuts at number 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and goes on sell more than three million units. Five more studio albums follow, but none reach the heights of Black Sunday.
ReviewFrom one perspective Cypress Hill's history is a music industry cliche. Exploding onto the scene with a fresh sound (Latin infused rap), their first two albums met with critical and commercial success and since then their efforts have been in steady decline. While this is broadly correct, it misses nuances like the Hill's genre defining rap/rock cross-over efforts (culminating in 2000's Skull and Bones) and their general willingness to push the boundaries of their art. Though these projects may not have sold as well as their early efforts, they can't be glibly dismissed as "a decline".
Still, it's hardly surprising that the majority of the hits on this collection are from their first three albums. The fracture that runs between the razor-sharp intensity and clarity of their early work and the eclectic experimentation of their follow-ups has never been clearer than here. With just one track each from their fourth, fifth and seventh albums, and nothing at all from 2001's Stoned Raiders, even the Hill themselves seem to acknowledge that their chart topping heydays ended around 1993.
And heydays they were. Incendiary tracks like "Hand on the Pump" and "I Ain't Going Out Like That" haven't lost one degree of their white heat. The carefree, madcap swagger of their biggest hit "Insane In The Brain" has, if anything, improved with age as nostalgia adds to its already considerable appeal. By contrast younger tracks like "(Rock) Superstar" are more intellectually interesting than viscerally powerful. They're certainly catchy, not to mention well produced, but they lack the kamikaze eagerness of track like "How I Could Just Kill a Man".
Though the gimmick of B-Real's high-pitched nasal vocals remain the Hill's most recognizable aural signature, you have to give credit to DJ Muggs as the beating heart of the group. Yes, Sen Dog and B-Real's lyrical prowess was a vital part of the equation but, with the perspective of time, Muggs has emerged as the true innovator. His groundbreaking combination of steady drum loops, staccato breaks and eerie ambient samples were the bedrock on which the Hill built their freewheeling, menace-laden signature sound.
As greatest hits offerings go, Cypress Hill could have done far worse. They have, for the most part, compensated for the deep division that runs though their work. The only major problem is their inexplicable decision to include two entirely new tracks in the line up.
Besides the fact that neither of the new tracks are particularly good, what on earth is the point of padding your own greatest hits? You're either worried that you won't be able to fill a hits album (which is, in this case, ridiculous) or you're trying to peddle your new stuff on the back of your old victories (which is just tragic). Either way, there are more dignified ways to bow out of the game.
- Alistair Fairweather
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