Dark beats, a lo-fi recording style and lyrics that describe smoking only the best herb all help to paint a vivid picture of the coolest weed-smoking rappers to come out of the 90’s hip-hop scene. These marijuana activists, Cypress Hill, haven’t released any new studio material since 2004’s ‘Til Death Do Us Part and are now nearing the eve of the release of their newest effort, Rise Up.
There is much hype surrounding the new album because of the fact that Cypress Hill finally fulfilled their contractual obligations with Sony and just recently signed with Snoop Dogg and his new Creative Chairman position at Priority Records. Having worked on the new record for five years or more is also generating a good amount of the noise surrounding the upcoming unveiling, and after releasing such classics as their self-titled, Black Sunday, and Temple of Boom does the new album live up to all of the swarming hype? The realization, sadly, doesn’t even come close to all that surrounds it. Even with all of the talented guest artists, there are only a handful of songs on Rise Up that save it from failing completely.
The album opens with a recorded voice praising Cypress Hill for all of the things they have accomplished. “Futuristic funk with a die-hard dedication to a certain herb,” the voice says… and then the first beat of “It Ain’t Nothin'” drops and ruins almost all hope for a new classic Cypress album. Pretentiousness steps to the forefront and becomes the theme for most of the new effort.
It seems as if four different types of songs make up the entirety of Rise Up. First: there is a newfound sense of seriousness that plagues a couple of them, second: mainstream ideas take over a good half of the album, third: celebrity endorsed/pretentious songs make up a couple more and fourth: the good stuff is left little to no room to breath. Gone are the dark beats and lyrical mastery. Gone is the gritty recording style. What’s left is an overproduced record that sounds as if it’s going to appeal to and please only the masses, not long time fans.
The slow, sappy beats are found on songs such as “Carry Me Away” and “Take My Pain.” Mike Shinoda accompanies Cypress on the first and helps to produce a song that tells of a fucked up kid on the streets. The song bobs and weaves, in and out from rap segments into Linkin Park-esque choruses that seem really out of place in a Cypress Hill track. “Get It Anyway”, the best of the emotional rap songs, is slow, catchy and spits rhymes of gangstas, hustlers, and lighting up all over the world. This one will probably become the biggest and strongest radio hit of the album as it has a solid beat that flows well throughout the entire track.
Songs like “K.U.S.H.” and “I Unlimited” make up only a few of the mainstream songs on Rise Up, but it’s tracks like these that make an old fan lose interest real quick. Cypress Hill have never been the one’s to name drop but this album is littered with celebrities and pot-heads (Cheech and Chong) alike who seem “down” to endorse and support the new direction being taken here. It’s as if the group uses the power of famous to justify the fact that the old Cypress Hill we all came to know and love is gone. All of the marijuana activist publicity has gone to their heads and “K.U.S.H.” will become the new theme song for the end of the new-age prohibition.
Classic gangster rap that truly appealed to kids in the 90’s exists on Rise Up, but the songs are found few and far in between. “Rise Up” features Tom Morello, from Rage Against The Machine, whom provides a funky guitar riff that accompanies the lyrical fire, perfectly. “Shut Em’ Down”, the strongest track in the second half, follows suit and feels as if it should be placed on Bones, the second disc from their Skull and Bones effort released in 2000. “Pass the Dutch” though, is Cypress Hill at their best. This one ranks up there with the greatest of marijuana-induced songs; “Hits From the Bong” and “I Wanna Get High” will have to take a back seat for a while as all of the tokers get used to smoking to the new fat beats and lyrics that speak of one main rule that must be followed when having a sesh with friends and family alike: always pass to the left hand side.
With all of that being said, most of the material on Rise Up feels as though it was written and produced for a completely different hip-hop group; the music doesn’t seem to represent Cypress Hill true to themselves. B-Real’s unique high-pitched vocals are gone and Sen Dog’s deep contrasting shouts are barely even recognizable. Old bombastic rhymes and beats have all been washed out and toned down to make way for an album that seems to give up all that Cypress has worked for. Bass heavy rhythms and odd sample loops have been set aside to make room for a more radio-friendly listen. Most of the old psychedelic-fused rap has become completely extinct. Instead, what remains, is an old, dusty skeleton of what used to be. There is a certain type of progression here but one that, somehow, drifted off in a direction completely opposite that of what old fans were expecting. So, in that case, say hello to a newfound Cypress Hill. Drink up satellite-radio generation, this one’s for you.