April 11, 2010
Cypress Hill - IV (October 6, 1998)
There was a three year gap in between Cypress Hill's third album III: Temples Of Boom and their fourth offering, appropriately titled IV. During that lapse, DJ Muggs released a solo album under the Soul Assassins banner, frontman B-Real recorded with his other group that he could never officially be a part of due to contractual issues with Ruffhouse Records (that would be The Psycho Realm), and Sen Dog formed a rock band, SX-10, whose music I have never actually heard, so I don't have any discernable opinion about it. That move made complete and total sense to me, though: Cypress Hill may have been straight hip hop through and through (at least, they were at this point), but they had an ability to bring in the rock audience in a more convincing fashion than most other rappers; I'm sure all of their glorification of marijuana use had something to do with it.
Anyway, when Cypress Hill reunited (although they never actually broke up), they recorded and released IV, their most varied album to date. DJ Muggs, who handles all production duties, dove further into the sound that he experimented with on III: Temples Of Boom: namely, blunted trip-hop that you could dance to, if under the influence of the right combination of substances. This can be seen as a good thing: there were a good number of bangers on their third opus, even if the project as a whole didn't quite pan out. Suffice it to say, IV proves that their breakthrough single "Insane In The Brain", which woke up the stoners who weren't particularly fond of rap music, wasn't intended as a crossover hit; that shit just happened. (This remains true even though IV contains the crew's first obvious attempt to play to that market, which I'll get to when I get to it. I will say that the track in question isn't intrusive enough to fuck up the overall listening experience.)
For his part, B-Real jumps at the chance to put his lyrical work with The Psycho Realm to good use, delivering deeper meditative sonnets to the listeners while his partner in crime Sen Dog amps up his hypeman role into something more Flava Flav and less Spliff Star. They even ceded a little bit of work to longtime Soul Assassins affiliate Barron Ricks, who appears on multiple tracks. Together, the four men delivered a far more potent product that Ruffhouse was expecting, making IV harder to market that their previous efforts. Sure, singles were released and videos were shot, but as the album contained nothing as immediately appealing as what sold the last three records, IV was mostly ignored. It eventually went on to sell more than five hundred thousand copies, but nobody lists this as their favorite Cypress work. Hell, hardly anybody even acknowledges the wakaflockin' thing, save for Muggs himself, who names IV as his biggest accomplishment as a producer.
Since that guy has also provided the score for porno flicks, I'm going to have to go with Muggerund on this one.
1. LOOKIN' THROUGH THE EYES OF A PIG
On which Cypress Hill proves that they are capable of writing a song from a viewpoint which opposes their own. Over a dark and moody funk loop, B-Real rhymes as a police officer , detailing both the good and the bad with equal candor. For a crew that hates cops so fucking much, they have certainly studied their enemy well. Or maybe B-Real just watches a lot of procedural dramas on CBS. Either way, other than the fact that it fades out before the final verse is complete, this was a good way to kick things off.
I've always felt that this track was underrated. Sen Dog and B-Real race each other over one of the fastest-paced Muggs instrumentals ever; this sounds like his homage to Eric B. & Rakim's “Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em”. Sen Dog's threat to drop you “like one of them ill bad habits” is quite possibly the dopest thing he's ever said, and that bar is surrounded my an entire verse that is just as hot. This shit still rocks today. Listeners that only know “Insane In The Brain” may even find something to like on here.
3. FROM THE WINDOW IN MY ROOM
The title sounds like it would be a better fit for a slow R&B song about lost loves or becoming a peeping tom because you just can't stop checking out the hot chick across the way or something, but B-Real and Sen Dog take it and twist the Muggs beat into one of their typical violent tales circa their self-titled debut. The lyrics are all inconsequential, but at least the music was interesting. The interlude at the end sets up a running theme, but it still sounds out of place.
4. PRELUDE TO A COME UP (FEAT MC EIHT)
Over some blunted piano keys, B-Real and West Coast stalwart MC Eiht trade verses with about as much chemistry as B-Real and Sen Dog, who does not appear on this track. DJ Muggs provides an instrumental that makes MC Eiht sound relevant again; I'm curious as to why he hasn't worked with him more, perhaps on one of those DJ Muggs vs. projects. This was pretty nice.
5. RIOT STARTER
The beat sounds like an interpretation of Public Enemy's “Lost At Birth”. The high energy rivals that of the earlier “Checkmate”, even though the “hook” on here is unnecessary and even kind of creepy. As per usual, B-Real takes center stage, delivering three verses, each more harried than the last, while Sen Dog handles the ad-libs with care. I had completely forgotten that this song existed, so this was a pleasant surprise.
6. AUDIO X (FEAT BARRON RICKS)
Given the sheer amount of pot that B-Real has smoked over the years, I was kind of amazed that he is even capable of speed-rapping: I thought those particular brain cells were the first to go, unless you happen to be Twista. The gimmick of this track (B-Real and his guest spit every other bar in a quick fashion) gets annoying rather quickly, and Muggs provides an imitation of a Southern bounce beat that may have fit in better on one of his Soul Assassins albums. Barron Ricks sounded okay, though.
7. STEEL MAGNOLIA
Sadly, not based on that weepy chick flick, although that would have been fucking amazing: B-Real could finally prove his range. Instead, this is yet another rapper's ode to his collection of weaponry. The instrumental is frustrating, and nothing memorable is aver spoken: it takes a lot these days for a rapper to sound creative when praising his/her gun.
8. I REMEMBER THAT FREAK BITCH (FROM THE CLUB) (FEAT BARRON RICKS & ERIC BOBO) / INTERLUDE PART 2
You know what the other three Cypress Hill albums were missing? Sex raps. Also, any sort of indication that any fuckable women even existed in their universe. And I have to say, curiosity factor aside, I'd rather hear these guys talk about weed. Barron's line “My dick was hard enough to dent her car” was pretty funny, but other than that, and I realize this sounds weird, it's almost as if Cypress Hill has always been above this subject matter. The interlude at the end is also boring as shit.
9. (GOIN' ALL OUT) NOTHIN' TO LOSE
When it comes to fast-paced Cypress Hill songs, third time is not the charm. Unlike “Checkmate” or “Riot Starter”, their spiritual cousin “(Goin' All Out) Nothin' To Lose” sucks balls, no thanks to the repetition of the phrase “going all out”, which is used at least four hundred and thirty-seven times, and not just on the chorus. Even if they had stuck with just one of the two song titles used on here, and not crammed them both together, this shit would still sound terrible. Moving on...
10. TEQUILA SUNRISE (FEAT BARRON RICKS)
Cypress Hill and Barron Ricks get drunk and handle some business down in Mexico over a Muggs instrumental that sounds like it was stolen from Delinquent Habits. Remember them? Anyway, Barron's reference to The Punisher was unexpected, as was the fact that this track, IV's first single, is actually fairly entertaining, if not that great. (The horns take this over the top.) I believe there may also be an official remix featuring Fat Joe, but I've never heard that song, so I cannot confirm. Still, this is a much more concise first single than anything else Cypress has released up until this point.
11. DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES
The Muggs instrumental is fucking good, as if The Rza and The Alchemist hooked up and had a tiny beat baby. For his part, B-Real wastes no time decimating it: as a result, this track approaches the best songs from the first half of Black Sunday (still the best half, in my opinion), albeit updated for 1998. Nice!
12. FEATURE PRESENTATION (FEAT BARRON RICKS & CHACE INFINITE)
This posse cut featuring Cypress Hill and friends (Saturday mornings on Fox!) is as dull as the butter knife I jammed into an electrical socket in an effort to wake myself up. And now I'm dead, burnt to a crisp. All because “Feature Presentation” put me to sleep. Thanks, Cypress Hill! You're great!
13. DR. GREENTHUMB
The comical skit at the beginning, something that the Hill isn't really known for, runs far too long to be truly effective. (Which is probably why they never really do them.) Once the song starts, though, the stoner cousin to “Dr. Knockboots” (by Nas, a labelmate by way of the parent company Columbia at the time – why hasn't Muggs tried to get a beat to God's Son yet?) never quite overcomes its corny gimmick, but it still manages to hold your attention. This wasn't that bad, but the instrumental, as simple as it is, helps make this work.
14. 16 MEN TILL THERE'S NO MEN LEFT
In a past life, the members of Cypress Hill must have been pirates: song titles such as “Dead Men Tell No Tales”, “16 Men Till There's No Men Left”, and “Ice Cube Killa” betray their previous incarnations. Unfortunately, unlike “Dead Men Tell No Tales”, this track is fairly boring, so B-Real's quest to take out sixteen of his rap peers to win the throne himself doesn't resonate with the audience. The Muggs production certainly doesn't help any, as it sounds like something from the inferior second half of Black Sunday. The singing at the end also weirded me out. And yes, I just used “weird” as a verb.
15. HIGH TIMES (FEAT ERIC BOBO)
Well, I suppose we were due: there hasn't been a weed anthem on IV for about two tracks now, and one with a title such as this one is so fucking obvious that I can't believe it hadn't been done by these guys already. As far as I'm concerned, “Illusions” (from III: Temple Of Boom) is the Citizen Kane of Cypress Hill's blunted hallucinatory dedications, and “High Times” doesn't even make it out of the starting gate. (“Dr. Greenthumb” skates by due to its kitsch value.) This doesn't make me want to smoke: this makes me want to complain about how lazy my stoner friends are. And if it's one thing weed does not do, it's boil your blood. Pass.
16. CLASH OF THE TITANS / DUST
DJ Muggs uses his trademarked sound bites (the guy shouting “Attention!” and the breathy female voice that quietly says “assassins”, usually after someone mentions the word “soul”; the only one missing is the guy who yells “The time has come!”) as a crutch, but “Clash Of The Titans” actually benefits from this handicap, as this is the most theatrical instrumental he has crafter for Cypress Hill to this point. B-Real also seems to relish the opportunity to spit over something different. “Dust” is an trip-hop instrumental interlude-slash-promotional warning for the eventual DJ Muggs solo album Dust. It's both pleasant and uninteresting all at once.
17. LIGHTNING STRIKES
Given Cypress Hill's cult following with mosh pits, it's surprising that it took them four albums to throw the rock audience a bone, especially since they would actually be pretty well suited to the louder, guitar-driven sounds of rock radio today. Which is why it's disappointing that this song sucks so fucking much. This ridiculous track is loud for no reason, it isn't cohesive with the rest of IV, and it only seems to exist to cause white people to fight each other at live shows. Also, it isn't a very good way to end IV. The skit at the end is also pretty stupid, but at least it ties up the album's on-again off-again storyline.
My copy of IV contains the following bonus track.
18. CASE CLOSED
Almost as if “Lightning Strikes” never existed, Cypress Hill pick back up where they left off, verbally attacking unnamed rookies in the rap game. Unfortunately, I have no idea who they're talking about, but angry Cypress Hill has made a lot of good songs, and this one is no exception.
IV contains different bonus tracks depending on the country you purchased it in, but I've never personally heard any of the the other ones, so I can't write about them fairly. If you're familiar with them, let me know if they are worth the hunt in the comments below.
FINAL THOUGHTS: IV was the first album of the new Cypress Hill era, the one where people stopped giving a fuck about Cypress Hill, but its reputation is undeserved: IV is their darkest album, but it deserves to be lumped in with the first three as prime examples of their ability to craft good music. In fact, I enjoyed more of the tracks on here than I did on III: Temples of Boom. The Muggs production explores some new territory, while B-Real broadens his rhyme horizon beyond mere weed anthems for lazy people, with actual results. IV should be known as the album where Cypress Hill took their last great stand against hip hop, throwing every good idea (and some bad ones as well, naturally) against the enemy, and while they ultimately failed and fell into irrelevancy (as far as the rest of the music world was concerned), the team of B-Real, Sen Dog, and DJ Muggs recorded an unheralded album worth revisiting. They may not have ever mastered the art of crafting an album (as opposed to a collection of singles), but on IV, they come the closest to accomplishing that very goal. Go ahead and give it a spin with some fresh ears: you will be pleasantly surprised.
BUY OR BURN? I think you should buy this shit. Not only is it better than you expected, it's also cheap, since nobody likes this album. Except for me, anyway. If you give it a spin and change your mind, let me know in the comments below.
BEST TRACKS: “Clash Of The Titans”; “Checkmate”; “Riot Starter”; “Case Closed”; “Dead Men Tell No Tales”; “Lookin' Through The Eyes Of A Pig”; “Prelude To A Come Up”; “Tequila Sunrise”
Catch up on the other Cypress Hill write-ups by clicking here.