CYPRESS HILL, Black Sunday
Melody Maker, July 31st 1993
by Simon Reynolds
The first words you hear are "I wanna get high", and the rest of
Black Sunday is riddled with references to blunts and bongs.
Outspoken advocates for the legalization of hemp, Cypress Hill's
'blunted' sound defines hardcore hip hop today. The first time I
heard the term, I assumed 'blunted' had something to with dope taking
the edge off aggression, mellowing macho tensions into stoned, woozy
cameraderie. Actually, it comes from the Phillies Blunt, a cigar
which B-boys hollow out to make enormous joints. But my original
misapprehension actually fits Cypress Hill's fuzzy, muggy sound
perfectly: their laidback songs simmer with a violence just barely
held in check.
It's so right that this LP's release coincides with a record US
heatwave. Cypress Hill capture that humid, heat-hazy unreal feel
where walking the streets is like being inside a bad dream. Cypress'
music blurs the borderlines between psychedelic and psychotic. The
songs sound deceptively jaunty (the samples are all upful slices of
Sixties soul, Meters-style proto-funk, jump-blues, doo-wop), but the
lowest-of-the-low-end bass exudes a baleful, viscous menace. Rappers
B-Real and Sen Dog's nonchalant nursery rhyme delivery only increases
the marrow-chilling quality of the lyrics, a non-stop namedrop of
weapon slang (gats, glocks, AK's, sawn-offs, et al). The cartoon
violence ("coming out blasting like Yosemite Sam") and the jeering
"nya nya nya" playground chorus of "Hand On the Glock" add to the
impression that gangsta-ville is populated with overgrown schoolboys.
Talk about arrested development: Cypress Hill's world is so
retarded it's almost prepubescent. If there's no misogyny here, it's
only cos it's a boy's own world. The only tender line on the album
is "I love you, Mary Jane"--and it's not about a girl. Cypress aren't
as deeply into male-bonding as those other current hardcore rulers,
Onyx (slam-dancing slapheads whose chant is 'let the boys be boys!').
But their world is chastely fixated on two things: stupefaction
("Legalise It", "Hits From The Bong") and paranoia ("Insane In the
Brain", the creepy "Cock The Hammer", where samples shimmer like
spectres in the far corner of your vision).
Cypress Hill's soundscaper DJ Muggs is inspired, but he's a
fundamentalist. Shunning the arty advances of the post-De La Soul
bohemians, he takes rap back to the old school days when "get a
little stupid and pump that bass" was the rallying cry. Despite
their Cuban/Italian-American/Mexican composition, Cypress refer to
themselves as "niggas", in solidarity with the black lumpen-
proletariat. "Real-ness" is gangsta rap's watchword these days.
Ironically, the quest to be harder and realer than the rest has
spiralled out of control, resulting in a grotesque cartoon of ghetto
reality. Cypress' shrill loops of horn or soul-screams (the "kettle's
boiling!" effect invented by the Bomb Squad) make me think of a
'Beano' angry bloke with steam coming out his ears, blowing his lid.
Black Sunday is samey, thematically (it's all about getting
wasted or wasting the other guy) and musically (there are no
departures like the debut's sultry "Latin Lingo"). It's a
consolidation of DJ Muggs' influential sound, not an evolution. The
feeling of continuity is increased by quotes from earlier songs,
while "Hand On The Glock" is a (brilliant) remake of the debut's
"Hand On the Pump". But it's a magnificent, malevolent monotony.
Black Sunday is a chiller-thriller that'll have your blood running
cold even as the thermometer tops 99.