Interview: Sen Dog (of Cypress Hill)

on March 16, 2010, 12:01am

After almost 20 years in the business, millions of albums sold, a string of hits, and a concrete place in the forefront of West Coast rap, Sen Dog of Cypress Hill has found himself and his group in an unfamiliar place: New management and representation, a new record deal, and an album offered up to an audience who hasn’t heard a single note from the group in over six years. While the “starting fresh” archetype is normally played out, there’s some fleshy details in the band’s story you may never have expected.

The band’s new album, Rise Up, will be their first with Priority/EMI Records, an imprint headed by someone else in a new place, Snoop Dogg. While Sen said their old label, Columbia, and the old management were clearly not interested in a future with Cypress Hill, he also points out that the six-year gap, the longest in the group’s history between albums, also came from their own decision to take a breather for the sake of the band.

“We reached a burn-off point, where there was no inspiration,” Sen said. “We had to take a detailed look at everything for the benefit of the band. Along the process of it all, you lose focus and it can get as hum-drum as shoveling shit, and with the last album it got to that part, and we came to an end of that run. We had to have people miss Cypress Hill some so we could bring our A-game shit.”

A lot of it though was also Sen’s own feelings regarding their last release. He’s quick to tell you the dark Til Death Do Us Part wasn’t his favorite; in fact, he remarks he couldn’t tell you what was on most of the record. And while a 2008 solo album, Diary of A Mad Dog, was fun, “it wasn’t as fun as it was with Cypress Hill.” With the new album comes that chance to once again get excited about the music.

“We had an agenda of not having an agenda,” Sen said. “We’ve done all that experimental shit, now we want a record that’s fun, exciting and, energetic. It’s a new era of Cypress Hill.”

And the album does show a side of the band not seen in quite some time. An album standout, “Armada Latina” features the unlikeliest of guests: Marc Anthony and Pitbull. The Latin singer and Mr. 305  combine with the band for a song that lives the Latin flavor while still banging along with the vibe of a West Coast summer anthem. It’s largely light and innocent, but with plenty of their trademark grit, and comes across as effortless, just as they intended. But once more, Sen is quick to cut to the core of the issue, letting us know the album isn’t all fun, at least for him.

“People would say, after six years you’re over,” Sen said. “But we’re still the same damn people. We’re still for the legalization of cannabis, but we’re more intelligent about it. We still have an appreciation for music, but now we want to to cross bridges and get the best out of our friendships. We’re poised, after six years, with one of, if not the best albums we’ve ever done.”

One of those friendships is with Tom Morello, who appears on two of the album’s tracks. Sen calls Morello one of the best guitar players in the world, saying that his sound and guidance lets them experiment even further, something they’ve never been one to shy away from. But more than just happy to let him play on the album, Sen said fans “shouldn’t be surprised” if Morello makes a few live appearances when the band hits the road in support of the album’s April 20th release date.

Another friend may be less obvious than the rap-rock-and-beyond guitar virtuoso: Slayer’s Dave Lombardo. Sen and Lombardo, both born in Cuba, were in the same science class in high school. The mere mention of their friendship brings thoughts of insane Hollywood late nights and the glory that would be a collaboration.

“We’re talking about it,” Sen said, before once again bluntly and ominously saying, “Don’t be surprised.” There’s a motif in there somewhere.

While there are no major U.S. tour dates set, expect the band to hit the road in some way or another, especially on the European festival scene. Talk of Sen’s favorite past festival stops (which include Glastonbury and Pinkpop) moves on to music he’s feeling; nothing on the radio, but lots of Talib Kweli, Common, and Q-Tip. Despite the decades of work, the adulation of a massive cross-segment of music fans, and even the recent turmoil, Sen shows he’s still the passionate young MC from years ago by defending the one constant throughout this tale: Genuine hip-hop music.

“I don’t want to sound like an asshole, but the current state of hip-hop is too materialistic,” Sen said. “To me, hip-hop is about being proud of my culture and the way we talk and dance. Now it’s all about me me me, my house, my jewels, I don’t identify with that. I have a nice car and jewelry, but to me, hip-hop’s about Public Enemy uplifting a whole damn world. Hip-hop’s about touching kids mentally.”

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