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Kings of the hill
The Cypress boys do it again

Ten years and six albums into their career, the stoner-rap visionaries Cypress Hill are now officially elder statesmen of hip-hop. But a funny thing happened to the group ó B-Real, Sen Dog, Muggs, and Bobo ó along the way: they started collaborating with luminaries from the LA punk-metal scene and writing rock songs. Released to rock radio just as the rap-metal wave was cresting, the groupís Y2K hit "(Rock) Superstar" became their biggest chart success in years. It also paved the way for the inventive rap-rock fusion of their current album, Stoned Raiders (Columbia).

Cypress Hillís last album, the double disc Skull & Bones (Columbia), kept the rap and metal separate. Stoned Raiders integrates the two into a whole that recalls one of the bandís closest kindred spirits, the Beastie Boys of the early í90s. "You know, we did some harder stuff on the last album," says Cypress musical mastermind Muggs over the phone from Chicago, where the group are on tour with newly christened rock superstars Linkin Park. (The tour comes to Tsongas Arena in Lowell for a sold-out show this Monday.) "We kept it separate because our band wanted to stay hip-hop. But no matter how much I or B-Real wanted to keep it hip-hop, the band wanted to grow as its own life form into this other thing. We kinda held this lid on it, but we took the lid off and boom, big records again. But the last album was separate still, so this album we said, ĎThe next progression is to intertwine the musics.í "

Long renowned in the hip-hop world for his dark, gangsta-inspired production style, Muggs was actually listening to rock and roll way before he got into rap. "Man, I grew up on the Doors and the Eagles and Zeppelin and the Who and Sabbath and freakiní Cream . . . all shit like that. I shared a room with my uncle, who was like my brother. It was velvet posters, black lights, lava lamps ó he was a straight hippie in the í70s, when I was growing up. Before I was into anything, when I was just into playing GI Joe, that shit was around me."

Classic rock may have laid an essential musical foundation for Muggs, but thatís not the primary influence youíll hear on tracks like the albumís first single, "Trouble," which sounds like Rage Against the Machine on a Floydian drum íní bass binge. Fear Factory bassist Christian Olde Wolbers contributes a crushing metallic guitar riff to the songís chorus, and long-time Cypress percussionist Bobo lays down a jittery beat from behind the kit. According to Muggs, making the transition from producing hip-hop tracks to recording with a live band wasnít as hard as it may seem. "Iíve known Christian for a few years. He hangs out with some of my people, so I had him come in and do some shit with me. Rogelio Lozano from Downset [who appears on two tracks] is one of our homies. When it comes to bands, you gotta deal with egos, you gotta become a psychologist. But a group like Cypress, I pretty much hire the band and control it. So they know what to expect when they come into the game, you know?"

The Linkin Park tour is the latest in a long line of rock-friendly outings for Cypress, who long ago established themselves as one of the few big-name acts in hip-hop worth seeing in concert. This time out, theyíre playing straight-up hip-hop for half the show and performing with a band (which includes both Wolbers and members of SX-10, Sen Dogís side project) for the other half. "We definitely take pride in it," says Muggs of the groupís live show. "On this tour, we donít have the production money that Linkin Park does, to build a set and shit, so we gotta come up with raw energy to keep the show moving. I create the show like a movie, where thereís an intro, a middle, a peak, a letdown, and a climax at the end. So itís just taking you all these places emotionally, you know what I mean?"

Along with their reputation as a stellar touring act, itís Cypressís ability to evolve that has enabled them to stick around so long in the fickle world of mainstream hip-hop. "When hip-hop started out, it was an urban punk rock," says Muggs." Now itís a formula: you put in some sweet R&B shit, get a singer to sing on it, and youíre getting on the radio. I mean, itís a business, so thereís some motherfuckers who are tired of still being broke after three records. Theyíre like, ĎFuck it, Iím gonna do this shit.í Itís cool, I know where theyíre coming from, because Iíd probably do the same damn thing myself if I had to. But we never had to confine to anything, because we dictated our success how we wanted it."

Cypress Hill open for Linkin Park this Monday, February 11, at Tsongas Arena in Lowell. The show is officially sold out.

Issue Date: February 7 - 14, 2002
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