December 26, 2013

When Cypress Hill Met Dubstep: Four Gut Reactions Waiting For The Drop

Back in 2012, Cypress Hill were at a crossroads. Having released their last project, Rise Up, two years prior, the founding trio of the group, made up of rappers B-Real and Sen Dog alongside their producer-slash-deejay Muggs (Eric Bobo also counts as a member, but he has nothing to do with today's article), counted themselves as members of a musical genre that none of them felt as comfortable with as they may have before. This was evident when you recall their excursions into rap-rock and reggae, which I'm sure most of us would like to gloss over, but that shit really happened, you can't will it out of existence. So they did what any reasonable rap group might do when faced with career-altering decisions: they went to the club.

Now some of you two may be familiar with dubstep, a sub-genre of dance music that seems to have been designed solely to differentiate old people from their youthful counterparts. It's kind of like being at a rave in the 1990s, with the pacifiers and glowsticks and mostly shitty music mixed in with genuine classic tracks and the drugs that can alternatively speed up and slow down everything that is happening around you, and if there's any rap group that is familiar with the effects an illicit substance can have on a listening experience, it would be the three potheads in Cypress motherfucking Hill. (Side note: one of the best examples I've found in media that most closely represents what it's like to go to the club when you're out of your twenties was on that one episode of Spaced (I believe it was in the first series) where the group plans to go out, and then completely overdoes it. You just can't be as spontaneous as you were in your youth: everything needs to be planned in advance. I like to believe that the members of Cypress Hill made a date with one another to go club-hopping the following Saturday, and lots of naps were taken beforehand.)

Cypress Hill - Cypress x Rusko EP (June 5, 2012)

The trio chose to go on an extended hiatus while forging their own paths within our chosen genre. B-Real and Sen Dog stumbled upon the then-newish musical fad through the UK-based Rusko, whose own take on the sound falls on the side of slightly more conventional, if only to garner a larger fanbase (and get his videos played on MTV, which usually shows them at three o'clock in the morning during Clubland). Somehow this partnership resulted in five tracks packaged together simply as Cypress x Rusko EP, as B-Real and Sen Dog felt inspired enough to apply their nasally tones and their gruff hypeman vocals, respectively, to a collection of noisy noise-like noise.

The underlying music isn't great, but “Lez Go” ultimately works, thanks to B-Real (and to a much lesser extent, Sen Dog)'s commitment to not getting lost within the instrumental. Rusko goes out of his way to create a sort-of hip hop-esque narrative with his electronic bleeps and bloops, while B-Real complies by reciting two verses that illustrate just how much he understands what Rusko was trying to accomplish on here. As a result, “Lez Go” is entertaining, wholly inoffensive hip hop (well, if you conveniently forget about the casual swearing) that just so happens to have a busier beat than most rap songs today. Not bad.

For what I feel are obvious reasons, I was afraid that this song was going to be a Rusko-sanctioned remix of the underrated Cypress Hill song “Roll It Up, Light It Up, Smoke It Up” (the group's contribution to the Friday soundtrack). Thankfully, it's an original composition. Unfortunately, though, it isn't a very good one. Rusko's dubstep tendencies directly contradict how relaxed one is supposed to feel after smoking a bowl: this shit would make even the most chill pothead paranoid that the Blu-Ray player is out to kill him. As for the rhymes, well, I realize B-Real and Sen Dog made appearances, with actual verses and everything, but none of this was good enough to not make me want to skip over it.

Rusko builds his beat around the sounds of gunfire, which is innovative for dubstep/EDM but rather par for the course in hip hop. Still, it's only mildly annoying, which is a plus. Sen Dog actually spits the first verse, something he so rarely gets to do, while B-Real brings up the rear, but while these two sound far more alert than you may be used to (hearing guns firing all around you would probably sober you up really quickly) and fail to say anything truly memorable, “Shots Go Off” isn't really all that bad, either. Huh.

If you ever wanted to hear Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley's vocals processed through a computer program so many times that he sounds like the Reggaebot 3.1, here's your chance. Rusko approximates a decent-enough reggae-tinted instrumental that both B-Real and Sen Dog sound fairly terrible over. Seriously. Neither man seems to be sure of their respective abilities, and the music overpowers them and takes their lunch money at every turn. This was a no.

This was so bad that I'm going to cut this review short. Oh wait, the EP is over anyway? Wonderful.

Not to be outdone, Lawrence "DJ Muggs" Muggerund, who didn't even really contribute all that much to Rise Up in the first place due to outside commitments, happened to also “discover” the same musical genre around the same time, and felt the same way his Cypress Hill partners claimed to in order to not make it seem like simple bandwagon-jumping: he believed, like Sen Dog before him, that "dubstep is a natural progression of hip hop). Muggs was no rapper, though, so his approach to the unknown took a more reasonable tactic: he's a producer, so he started producing fucking dubstep tracks. Duh. Now Muggs wasn't one to shy away from musical genres outside of hip hop: his trip-hop album, Dust, was released in 2003 and began collecting dust on store shelves in 2003. Still, I like the fact that most of your favorite producers and rappers are actively aware and enjoy other artists outside of their circles: that's why I can't understand anyone that “only” listens to rap, or “only” listens to country, or whatever. You guys are fucking up: open up your mind and stop missing out on life and stuff.

Anyway. For obvious reasons (read: Cypress Hill is a rap group), Muggs has always been more successful when he worked alongside a rap outfit of some sort (see: Cypress, House Of Pain, any of those Soul Assassins projects he released that were mostly pretty good), so instead of pairing up with a Rusko or a Skrillex, he chose to craft the beats himself, but hired rappers to perform over them. This must have been very disappointing for the artists chosen, which include underground favorites like Freddie Gibbs and Danny Brown, who got to work with one of the most legendary producers in the game (yeah, I said it), but for a project well outside of their comfort zone (although I mean that statement more for Fredward than I do Danny, who doesn't discriminate when it comes to beats).

Muggerund's work ended up stretching out over three separate projects: two EPs, released in rapid succession, and the actual album, Bass For Your Face, released earlier this year. Which makes for a lot of what he has named “West Coast dubstep” for a hip hop blog to handle. But hey, you're probably on winter break or something, so you have the time to parse through this.
DJ Muggs - Sound Clash Business EP (October 16, 2012)

Have you ever wanted to reach into a song and slap the shit out of the artist for having ever conceived of it in the first place? No? Just me? I take this shit too seriously? Be that as it may, that was exactly what I wanted to do to Muggs after listening to this bullshit. Muggerund's idea of "West Coast dubstep" seems to be a “everything and the kitchen sink, and also really goddamn loud” approach, making “Dank” sound disjointed, migraine-inducing, and, worst of all, not remotely entertaining. Fans of A$AP Rocky's performance on the Skrillex-produced “Wild For The Night” might feel the need to check this one out: I beg of you, don't. Rocky barely factors, as his occasional bars are distorted to high fucking heaven within the Muggs instrumental that never goes anywhere. Sigh.

Apparently this is the new DJ Muggs anthem: it also appears on the Sound Boy Killa EP and on the actual full-length album all of this was building toward. This dubsteppy trap beat sounds like Muggerund's response to the phenomena that surrounded Baauer's “Harlem Shake” earlier this year: it's almost as though he were hoping that it would lead to memes of its own. And just like “Harlem Shake”, it's okay in small doses, but stretched out ten times longer than actually necessary. Interesting enough, but this isn't the blunted Muggs work we all know and love: in fact, I would think he had to be stone-cold sober to put something this calculating and exact together, and you can hear that in the final product. Not a compliment.

Muggs abandons this whole dubstep thing for roughly two minutes, delivering instead a reggae-tinged “Muggs Mood”. Fans hoping that he would also turn that particular genre on its ear, Major Lazer-style, will be sorely disappointed, as he sticks to the status quo. It's alright, I guess, but did it really have to be made. Was any of this really necessary, when you sit and think about it?

Here's a lame-ass pun I'm sure tons of other reviewers also came up with but ultimately chose not to use because, again, it's a lame-ass pun: it's interesting that Muggs calls upon Chuck Inglish of The Cool Kids to lend some lyrics to “Richter Scale”, since the entirety of Sound Clash Business is about DJ Muggs trying to be seen as a cool kid who is totally into dubstep and isn't too old for it at all. Unlike Pretty Flaco on “Dank”, Muggs decides to let Inglish's bars appear relatively close to one another, thereby approximating what many experts refer to as a “guest verse”. More low-key than the rest of this EP, but still, what the fuck did I just listen to? Chuckie is buried underneath the music, so at least he gets to deflect any criticism thrown his way.

5. BOW
The fifth and final track on the Sound Clash Business EP tries its damnedest to establish DJ Muggs as some kind of master of this sub-genre of EDM, but thanks to a few artistic choices, it actually leaves the listener wishing for him to get back to producing actual rap music. There isn't anything wholly original on here, or on the EP in general, and it's impossible to believe that this project led to two additional attempts at dubstep domination, but guess what! That's what the rest of the write-up is all about! Fuck, the things I put myself through just to keep this blog interesting.

DJ Muggs - Sound Boy Killa EP (December 18, 2012)

For the first time, one gets a sense of exactly what Muggs was going for with his excursion into dubstep, aside from the obvious possibility of a lot of fucking money, I guess, if it took off. The title track to this, his second EP, is a little frustrating, but overall it succeeds in sounding like what the score to The Matrix would be if the movie were released today and was annoying as shit. Muggs infuses the proceedings with just enough drama to make things slightly less uninteresting, although the vocal samples used throughout take the audience completely out of the project. Still, if this is indicative of what he was trying to do, he could actually be decent at it with a bit more practice.

The dubstep equivalent of a mundane existence broken up by occasional flares of excitement immediately followed by regret. In short, this was dull. Muggs seems to know the tools to utilize when crafting a song of this nature, but he hasn't yet figured out how to put his all into the track, and because of that, “Different” sounds the same as every-fucking-thing else, for lack of a better pun that could also double as a valid critique. I'm pretty sure that's supposed to be Camp Lo's Sonny Cheeba credited as a guest, but unless he's the dude who shouted two random ad-libs that Muggs replays throughout, I couldn't find him at all. Bleh.

This is the exact same track as from the previous EP. 

Some of you two might be thinking to yourselves, “Max, you're clearly not going to 'get' these songs because you're not hearing them tin the proper context: you're not at a club and you're obviously not high right now, since you're still writing coherent sentences, although you are still writing this sentence as though you truly believe that anyone reading this would actually give enough of a shit to think it.” And you're right, to a point: if the song were any good, then drugs and/or alcohol would only enhance the inherent goodness of it all, but if the track is shitty, then it would have the capability of harshing my buzz. “People Of The Earth”, and its tendency to throw everything in Muggs's computer at the listener, falls into the latter category. I don't need to be high to fucking hate this song.

Muggs throws his Cypress Hill bandmates a bone, remixing a track from III: Temples Of Boom (although, unless I'm mishearing things, he may have actually used the Spanish-language remake) into a ridiculous dubstep free-for-all. B-Real's nasally vocals, alongside Sen Dog's ad-libs, serve to show the listener what is missing from Sound Boy Killa, apparently: the lack of human interaction between Muggs and anyone else makes it seems like the fucking machines are taking over, which isn't appealing when the apocalypse sounds this annoying. This was bad, folks. And before you chastise that previous statement, just know that I realize Muggs didn't technically work with B-Real and Sen-Dog while remixing this song, but he did work with them when he produced the original, far superior version, so that sentence still works.

Most dubstep is about waiting for the beat to drop. Well, Muggs has managed to create a song that's all about waiting for the track to end. At least, that's what I took away from this.

DJ Muggs - Bass For Your Face (January 15, 2013)

Kicks off promisingly enough: Gangsta Gibbs unleashes some trap raps over a dramatic-as-fuck Muggs instrumental that sounds more modern than his Cypress Hill stoned masterpieces, but it's all a bait-and-switch, as our host reverts back to his ill-advised Dubstep obsession at the halfway point. Hilariously, though, Gibbs clears the fuck out before the changeover, almost as though even he wanted to do with Muggerund's questionable career move. Fredward sounds just fine, if a bit simplistic, on his half of the track, but the back end quickly devolves into a nightmare. Weird.

Yet again, the exact same track as appeared on the EP that shares its name.  What the fuck, man?  Was it that difficult to come up with an extra song?

I actually dug the hell out of this instrumental: its reggae-tinged beat sounds like a lost song from The Specials that never existed. Muggs bends the song components at will, crafting a solid track guaranteed to relax the listener, and also might cause them to give in to their weed-induced paranoia, given the creepy vibe throughout. A nice oasis in the crappy desert I fear Bass For Your Face will ultimately be, at least based on those two EPs.

Rahzel hasn't had all that much of a recording career after leaving The Roots, so his guest appearance credit on here was initially exciting and intriguing: would the Godfather of Noise create some of the tricky dubstep poses with his mouth? How would that even be fucking possible? But the end result, sadly, sucks. Muggs and company (as this is a remix to a song whose origins I don't know and/or give a shit about) turn in an amalgam of dubstep and dancehall where neither half is celebrated, and the whole thing blows up in his goddamn face. What's going on, Muggs? Do you need to talk to someone?

Muggs reaches out to UK grime artist Killa P for a collaboration, but unfortunately this is still a dubstep song. It kicks off interestingly enough, approaching the harder, grimier sounds that the UK is known for, but then throws everything out the window when it remembers that, oh yeah, Muggerund was deliberately going for a specific type of music on this project, and it had better act accordingly, because fuck you, audience. P sounds alright, I suppose, but it's not like “Come On London” serves as a proper vehicle for the guest: if this is your introduction to the man, then you'll probably never take a second look, as this shit will do nothing for you. Moving on...

Anyone who actually listened to Muggerund's last attempt at branching out from hip hop, Dust, may feel that guest crooner Belle Humble's performance on “Safe” is merely a natural progression from trip-hop to dubstep, as though Muggs has merely transitioned from mimicking Portishead to actively trying to sound like an Ellie Golding remix. There isn't anything really wrong with “Safe”, generic sense of being aside, except for the fact that DJ Muggs produced it: instead of blazing marijuana-laced trails as he has in the past, here he sounds like every other fucking dubstep track playing on SiriusXM's EDM channel at any given time. It's not good or bad: it just is.

Oh great, Roc Marciano's sleepy, apathetic flow paired up with the overly-caffeinated dubstep beats of DJ Muggs? Sure, this will end well. To his credit, Marcy actually sticks around for the duration of the track, lending two verses while in foreign territory while Muggs does his best to not bury his guest within the pounding electronic noise. Roc Marcy is completely out of his element, but he still manages to sound exactly the same (read: I wasn't impressed), because he probably didn't record to the actual beat used on here: I wouldn't be surprised to learn later that Muggs tricked all of his collaborators into contributing because they thought this shit was going to be for another Soul Assassins project. Speaking of which, we need a new Soul Assassins project, a real one, not this type of shit. The actual music on here was alright, but it begs the question: was Muggs trying to bring hip hop into the world of dubstep, or vice versa? Because either way, it doesn't appear to be working. Also, how many times can I use the word “dubstep” in a single post? Asking for a friend.

Unlike every other rapper that appears on Bass For Your Face, it would seem that Detroit's Danny Brown would fit in the most over a dubstep beat, given his overall malleability as an artist and also the general company he keeps and also I like the dude, for the most part. However, he hardly factors on “Headfirst”. Sure, his vocals are present and accounted for, but Muggs manipulates them almost beyond recognition, and since he didn't really contribute all that much in the first place, the end result is a noisy goddamn mess that needs to get off my lawn. A shame. (In my original notes for this track, I apparently wrote that this was “a sham” as opposed to how I really ended the paragraph; I don't think I was that far off the first time around.)

This song, on the other hand, somehow works. Muggs attempts an appalling-on-paper combination of dubstep and old-school hip hop, and manages to connect with the audience, miraculously enough. He is assisted by the significant contributions from the UK's Dizzee Rascal and Los Angeles' Bambu, both of whom contribute interesting performances. Rascal is a veteran of the UK's grime scene, so he actually fits over the Muggs production, while Bambu merely does his thing, somehow forcing the music to cater to him instead of the other way around. A late-game gem.

The fuck was this shit?

Bass For Your Face ends with two additional bonus tracks.

Although Public Enemy's Chuck D. was somehow blackmailed into appearing on this, the first of two bonus tracks on Bass For Your Face, his performance is filtered and altered so heavily that his presence is negligible. Sadly, the only quasi-memorable aspect of “Wikid” is how Muggs somehow worked in the drums from Schooly D's “P.S.K. (What Does It Mean?)” (or, if your mind works like mine, Siouxie and The Banshees' “Kiss Them For Me”) into a dubstep track as seamlessly as he did.

Is this take so bad that the remix, which appeared earlier in the evening, is now wholly justified? Not really. In fact, I now believe that the song should never have been recorded in the first place. However, I sort-of liked this version a tiny bit more, mostly because I just heard it and I cannot be bothered to listen to the other take again. Ever.

AND SO? I give kudos to any artist who can successfully get his or her message across in a different medium than the one they're best known for, and that definition stretches to include rappers who choose to appear, and shine, on non-rap songs. B-Real and Sen Dog end up much more successful at this dreadful fucking exercise than their counterpart DJ Muggs, although the primary reason for that might be because all they had to do was rap: hell, Rusko's the dude who had to craft all the blips and haws and whatever the fuck. Yes, a couple of the tracks on Cypress x Rusko EP sound like what could literally be heard as the duo punching a time clock, but they ride Rusko's beats well enough that I was at least convinced that they knew who he was before the project was released. Muggs, however, doesn't get to walk away as unscathed as he did when nobody gave a shit about Dust. At least he kept his trip-hop experiment to himself (and some no-name vocalists): Sound Clash Business, Sound Boy Killa, and Bass For Your Face all feature guest rappers you two have actually heard of that get knocked down several notches (save for Dizzee Rascal and Bambu, who manage to rise above the material) in his quest to dominate a different musical genre. The problem is that most of Muggerund's work behind the boards sounds average at best: none of this shit would ever burn up the clubs. I applaud the man for trying something new, but the fact that he thought this was a good idea baffles me: most of Bass For Your Face sounds like shit, and those EPs don't fare very well, either. In closing, there's really no need to check into any of these releases: I just did you guys a favor, because of the type of goddamn hero I am. But if this is your bag, baby, B-Real and Sen Dog squeak out ahead in this race, and Muggs should be embarrassed about his output here. All in favor, though, of pretending that Cypress Hill never went down this road, raise your hands. (I've heard rumor of Muggs telling reporters that the next Cypress album will sound more dark, like their third album III: Temples Of Boom, so it's clear to me that the trio would also love to forget this detour ever happened. I say we let them.)



There's more to Cypress Hill than just “Insane In The Brain”, you two.


  1. best collection of albums ever..

  2. Hey Max, I tried that "bass for your face" a while ago out of curiosity as a Cypress Hill fan and I am still recovering. It was indeed horrible, didn't even try the others you wrote about. Kudos for sitting them all out man. Have a drink on me !

  3. AnonymousMay 03, 2014

    thanks for taking one for the team! Dust was not that bad, depends mood your in, i liked it on a chill sunday afternoon.