May 28, 2018

Cypress Hill - Stoned Raiders (December 4, 2001)

The fall of 2001 was a strange time. Post-9/11, the United States was on heightened alert for possible terrorist attacks, and nobody was really sure how they were supposed to proceed with their everyday lives. We were told to continue shopping, to continue traveling, lest “the terrorists win”, as though being frightened into never leaving your home was their primary goal in attacking U.S. soil (instead of destroying the fabric of American life). The entertainment business was also affected by the events of that fateful day, but in different ways: many actors, comedians, musicians, and artists began to question whether the timing was appropriate for them to do their jobs. Some took the initiative to make careful edits to their product to remove scenes or background elements that some may have found offensive or triggering. Others chose to address the conflict head-on, with varying degrees of aggression. (Remember when Ghostface Killah claimed that he would take on Osama Bin Laden himself on the Wu-Tang Clan’s Iron Flag, released in December of 2001?) And still other groups of people made their best efforts at business as usual, pretending that nothing had happened as a way to help audiences cope with the horrific details that were still being delivered by the media at the time, and also possibly to help themselves process everything.

Cypress Hill, obviously, falls into that final category, because I wouldn’t have even brought it up otherwise.

If one were to conveniently ignore the events of September 11, 2001, then the sixth full-length project from Cypress Hill, Stoned Raiders, would make complete sense. The trio, made up of rapper B-Real, rapper-slash-hypeman Sen Dog, and producer DJ Muggs, had dropped their double-disc fifth album, Skull & Bones, one year prior, and that project was notable for including the first reported instances of the Hill exploring the unfortunate musical sub-genre of rap-rock, their attempt to build on the unexpected fanbase that had latched on to their brand of blunted hip hop to such a degree that Cypress Hill found themselves touring alongside legitimate rock acts. It also included one of the group’s biggest hits, “(Rock) Superstar”, which earned them airplay away from hip hop flashback shows, thanks to the addition of crunchy guitars to the overall formula.

Stoned Raiders, itself named after one of the standout tracks from their third album, Temples of Boom, takes the Skull & Bones experiment one step forward, as Muggerud used this as an opportunity to work live instruments into the recording sessions, all of which skew much more toward Bones (the rap-rock portion of the previous project) than Skull (the hip hop album, obviously). This was obviously the direction Cypress Hill was heading in prior to any terrorist attacks, but it worked to their advantage, as the aggression inherent in the rap-rock sub-genre could be seen as a perfect outlet for Americans who just weren’t sure how to comprehend how the world was changing around them at the time. It was pretty popular at the time: in 2001 you could still turn on the radio and hear songs by the likes of P.O.D., Korn, Limp Bizkit, and the like, and they were played without a hint of irony.

Stoned Raiders is still a rap album, as Cypress Hill could never truly abandon their core fans (although they certainly would try: there was literally no reason for them to enter the dubstep world, but they sure as fuck did at one point). The guest features are limited to folks that old heads would appreciate: the Hill’s West Coast foundation is represented by rap legends MC Ren and King Tee, and also Kurupt, who is still sitting on the shelf even though he’s long past his sell-by date, while the East coughed up cameos from B-Real’s fellow stoners Method Man and Redman. But while this is still predominantly a hip hop project, the live instrumentation (which, unlike the Beatnuts’ foray into the field on Milk Me, contains a lot of guitars and trip-hop effects) aimed at a different audience, one the Hill hoped would somehow stumble upon the project even though the singles released from Stoned Raiders didn’t connect with any audience.

As such, Stoned Raiders sounds confused and out of touch with reality, just like the United States did in the fall of 2001. See, I brought it back to the beginning. Full circle and all that.

It also suuuuuuuuuucccccccckkkkkkksssssss.

On which DJ Muggs goes all-in on the guitars and live drums. Cypress Hill fans hoping for his more blunted sample-based production should proceed with caution.

With music sounding as though it were lifted from an Incubus album (they were popular in 2001, and I think I’m selling the reference just fine), albeit an experimental drum-n-bass one. It’s already clear which audience the Hill was aiming for with Stoned Raiders. For his part, B-Real adjusts fairly well, although the severe tonal shifts would terrify any stoner, but Sen Dog essentially drowns during his verse. The underlying instrumentation isn’t bad, but it’s a pretty steep departure from their world, and let’s be real (ha ha), calling the song “Trouble” almost guarantees the suburban angry white (supremacist) male teen  demographic. B-Real ostensibly raps on here, but this did not feel in any way like a rap song, if that makes any sense.

A much more straightforward hip hop track, although still not a very good one. B-Real’s autobiographical lyrics tell the story of Cypress Hill up to 2001, which was interesting, as it proves that he’s more flexible of an author than anyone (including myself, to be honest) gives him credit for. He could probably pull a Prodigy and write a compelling book someday.  But Muggerud’s bland beat fails him, as do the callbacks to other Cypress hits, one of which inadvertently implies that “(Rock) Superstar” dropped in 1995, which absolutely wasn’t the case. Guest star Kurupt appears only to play the Sen Dog chorus role, which makes no goddamn sense as fucking Sen Dog also appears on the hook: maybe he was just visiting the studio that day and got dragged into a recording session? There’s also a brief instrumental interlude toward the end that sounds far more intriguing than the entire song that precedes it.

Given that guest list, you are absolutely correct if you think “Southland Killers” would feature DJ Muggerud’s approximation of some West Coast gangsta shit. While his instrumental is pretty simplistic, it’s still the best one on Stoned Raiders thus far, which I think says a lot about the Hill’s ambition for this project. MC Ren’s threatening monotone tackles the first verse (and the intro), but while he sounded alright, King Tee absolutely murders his contribution, which would have been recorded during his brief tenure on Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label. B-Real and Sen Dog are forced to share the final verse, neither fully comfortable in the cramped space. But King Tee though.

Muggs was so in love with the music on “Bitter” (which is pretty good, all things considered) that he allows the beat to ride unencumbered for a long while: B-Real doesn’t even start rapping until around the one minute and forty-second mark. “Bitter” is an appropriate title, not only because Louis sounds jaded as hell during his performance, which is far more lyrical than anybody ever gives him credit for, but also that chorus? Left me feeling bitter as all hell. It’s fucking terrible and was completely unnecessary. But as an experiment, this track should be considered the epitome of what Cypress Hill was aiming for when they decided to implement more live instruments into their work.

The stars fail to align on “Amplified”: the guitar and the drums never seem to be in the same groove, and neither Sen Dog (who is the primary rapper on here! I know, right?) nor B-Real can help but sound stilted over the musical backing. “Amplified” doesn’t even sound loud enough to warrant that song title. It was kind of funny to hear Sen Dog being his own hypeman throughout his two verses, although not amusing enough for me to recommend you ever listen to this shit.

To Muggerud’s credit, the music on “It Ain’t Easy” has an immediacy that the rest of Stoned Raiders thus far has severely lacked. True, this sounds like the type of rap-rock junk that was prevalent on radio airwaves in the early part of the millennium, but there were some good rap-rock songs, you know. Yeah, I just admitted that: not every rap-rock track was trash, just the vast majority of them. B-Real and Sen Dog at least seem to be relishing this attempt at career reinvention (well, B-Real’s, anyway: Sen Dog already had a side project at the time in one alt-rock group, SX-10, and has since become the lead singer in another, Powerflo), so even if their valiant effort to sound partially inspirational on “It Ain’t Easy” failed, it doesn’t mean Cypress Hill are failures. This time.

*clears throat* Bor-ing! *takes seat*

While “Memories” came fully equipped with a Muggs instrumental that sounded like a castoff from a fifth-rate Dr. Dre knockoff with a quarter of the musical knowledge and none of the talent, “Psychodelic Vision” at least sounds like an early-millennium Cypress Hill track: even with the use of actual instruments, Muggerud gives the beat enough of a dusted-ish feel for it to sound good while one is high. B-Real really does use the phrase, “you feel froggy, then jump” during the chorus, but there’s a rhythm to his vocals that has been missed, his three verses on here contributing a major part of what is the best track of the evening up until this point. An enjoyable gem that doesn’t rank with the Hill’s finest work, but it certainly does the job.

10. RED, METH & B
The lazily-titled “Red, Meth & B” only needed two more of hip hop’s most prolific stoners (Snoop Dogg and Curren$y) in order to cover all of the bases. Over a bizarrely jaunty, radio-friendly Muggs beat built for… I don’t know, backyard barbecues that take place in club settings?, the Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man and Cypress Hill’s B-Real trip and fall on their own fucking faces, having been bested by the instrumental, while Reggie Noble’s elastic flow adjusts itself beautifully as he outruns his opponents. This shit sucked overall, but it made me wish for something that will absolutely never happen: a DJ Muggs vs. Redman album. If any producer (qualifier: from the “golden” era of hip hop) could get Reggie back to his Dare Iz A Darkside dank, spacey environment, it’d be Muggs. @ me.

If “Memories” came from a fifth-rate Dr. Dre knockoff, the second single from Stoned Raiders, “Lowrider”, is the product of a third-rate impressionist that at least took some of the right lessons away. That’s right, Muggs has leveled up two full rates, but to be fair, he’s (usually) fan-fucking-tastic at being DJ Muggs. “Lowrider”, which purportedly features (in an uncredited role) Sen Dog’s younger brother Mellow Man Ace, an original Soul Assassin who had a hit single with “Mentirosa” but vanished soon after, but the man barely factors, leaving the heavy lifting to B-Real and Sen Dog, who both deliver pleasant-enough gangsta pleasantness over a pleasant-sounding pleasant beat pleasant pleasant. But please note that I never used the word “good”. 3/10 would not listen to again. And why did the instrumental interlude afterward last for more than two minutes? What the shit, bro?

This crunchy rap-rock dumpster fire proves that Cypress Hill didn’t pay close enough attention to the criticisms leveled at the Bones disc of Skull & Bones

Unless I just missed something important, nowhere on “L.I.F.E.” is it ever explained what it is supposed to be an acronym for. And it isn’t a typo, as guest crooner Kokane (thoroughly wasted on here) spells out the word “life” during his chorus, so maybe this should have been called “L-I-F-E”? Given the strange introduction, the “L.I.” part may stand for “legalize it”, but as far as the rest, feel free to correct me in the comments below, as this wasn’t a decent-enough song for me to put in all of the effort required to give a shit.

Cypress Hill choose to end Stoned Raiders with a sequel to one of their biggest hits. This is officially canon: “Here Is Something You Can’t Understand” is the follow-up to their self-titled debut’s “How I Could Just Kill A Man”, and the two songs share the same chorus, which makes sense, since the combination of the two titles make up the entirety of said hook. Muggerud’s instrumental isn’t nearly as hard-hitting or shoulder-jostling as the original, and neither B-Real nor Sen Dog can muster up the energy to help justify this creative decision. But the real reason this shit tanks is guest star Kurupt, who is nowhere close to his peak on here and comes across as an unranked amateur who overlooks lyricism in favor of easy misogyny and general ignorance. He must make the best goddamn seven-layer dip, because I can’t understand how he keeps getting invited to the party, you know?

The following bonus track is included on various special editions of Stoned Raiders.

The Muggs beat on here is downright poppy when compared to the rest of Stoned Raiders, but “Weed Man” is ultimately a forgettable exercise with a dumb chorus. Sigh.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Stoned Raiders is the most disappointing entry into the Cypress Hill catalog up to this point in their careers. B-Real sounds fine behind the mic, his nasally tone adapting pretty nicely to the shifts in subject matter: indeed, Stoned Raiders contains some of the Hill’s most serious attempts at songwriting, even though it also steers into the same world all of their other songs have come from. But it feels like Muggs took the lead with the creative direction, composing instrumentals with other musicians that reflected where his mind was at the time, and then later invited B-Real and Sen Dog to come play. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Stoned Raiders began life as another one of those DJ Muggs vs. projects before he chose to just make it a Cypress Hill album instead. The best comparison I can make is that the Muggerud of Stoned Raiders is equivalent to how The RZA switched his entire brand and took control of the Wu’s sound post-Iron Flag, eschewing sample-based beats for his brand of digital orchestration, and the rest of the group felt obligated (read: trapped) to still perform to the best of their abilities, even though they all not-so-secretly disagreed with this direction. Stoned Raiders isn’t entirely rap-rock: there are a handful of tracks that hew more closely to what made them popular in the first place. But in their effort to expand upon their sound, Cypress Hill inadvertently lost the vast majority of the audience that made them famous in the first place. At least those first four albums still exist, right?

BUY OR BURN? The fuck do you think?

BEST TRACKS: “Psychodelic Vision”… and that’s it, really


Catch up with Cypress Hill by clicking here, and there’s a bit more on DJ Muggs, as well.


  1. Although Trouble and Lowrider (ESPECIALLY Lowrider) absolutely deserve your trashing (even though they’re guilty pleasures of mines), most of this album didn’t. It is what it is.

    I personally find it to be a better result of their efforts in the rapcore market than Skull & Bones. Keyword: market.

    1. TBH Max didn't really trash "Trouble" so much as express how nonplussed he was by it (in the actual meaning of the word, not "it now means 'unimpressed' for *some* reason"); my only real problem is the chorus, which isn't a good fit for Cypress Hill. The blow-by-blow reads as less harsh on the album than the intro text, or for that matter, the entire review for "Skull & Bones" – for that matter, the Last Words sum up the albums as "disappointing experiment that doesn't really work" vs. "irredeemable trash fire."

      Off-topic, but I can't be the only one who saw "pull a Prodigy" and read it as both applying to Kurupt and meaning, "gradually clawing one's way out of derp oblivion," can I?

    2. You're not. I've used that phrasing in two different ways now. Hoping for the trifecta.

  2. AnonymousMay 28, 2018

    Psychodelic Vision is your favorite song off this shit?! Gimme some of whatever you’re drinking!

  3. Some thoughts:
    * I could swear I've heard "Trouble" some time or multiple times in the early 2000s playing on extreme sports shows and/or video games at my friends' house. So when I (first?) (re?)heard it I kind of glazed over it as TRL-made piffle – upon seeing it from the drum-n-bass angle, my estimation of it has improved considerably, but it's not quite essential.
    * "Bitter" probably has the best backing by default, purely by virtue of using David Axelrod's "The Mental Traveler" as instrumental backing (RIP).
    * "Amplified" sounds like a B-rate DJ Premier beat, only composed for rock.
    * To me, "It Ain't Easy" sounds more like a competent melding of a good rap song and good rap chorus than a rap-rock song proper. ("Good rap-rock song" is actually probably more applicable to "Trouble").
    * The beat to "Red, Meth & B" is mostly ass. For that matter, so is "Psychodelic Visions'", though I didn't think Meth embarrassed himself. ("L.I.F.E." and "Psychodelic Visions" should've switched instrumentals).
    * It boggles the mind that George Lopez isn't somehow involved with "Lowrider."
    * This isn't really a rap-rock album with West Coast tracks sprinkled in; it's more a West Coast rap album with rap-rock to add flavoring (10 straight rap tracks to 5 rap-rock ones – also keep in mind that the rap-rock is probably Sen's idea). In an interview with Complex, Muggs said the direction was a conscious choice to challenge himself; at the very least, he says it's the only Cypress Hill album he dislikes.

  4. AnonymousMay 29, 2018

    max you on fire at the minute

  5. AnonymousMay 31, 2018

    Edo G & Master Ace or Mc 8 album which way is west not this garbage in starting to think you're a dick rida

    1. Weird that you would call me a "dick rida" for a review where I trash the project in question. Maybe you just meant to call me a dick?

      Thanks for reading!

  6. AnonymousJune 01, 2018

    I don't know if you listened to A$AP Rocky's new album but if you heard the song ''Asap Forever'' and saw the glorious video (i remember that you're a film maker, Max), and then listened to the album ''Remix'' which features T.I and Kid Cudi, you'll see that it takes the cake for the most unnecessary remix of all time, as you would say.

    1. I haven't listened to the album version nor watched the video, but I've heard the original take, and I wasn't a fan. I remember liking that Moby song back in the day, but Rocky somehow ruined that for me, too. But I'll give the video a watch, and I'm sure I'll listen to the album take eventually.

  7. AnonymousJune 01, 2018

    Also Max, i love you, keep doing what you do.

  8. AnonymousJune 02, 2018

    you're a 100 percent a dick rider coz u checking a bad album u keep ignoring the good ones but I'll keep on reading coz I love this blog a lot

    1. That…is not remotely what "dick rider" means. Like, at all. "Hater," maybe (at least in the sense of "I'd rather look for things to trash on – even/especially deserving targets – rather than check for anything good"), but that is the exact opposite of what anybody has ever used the term *dick-riding* to describe.

      Assuming you're talking about his treatment of Cypress Hill – Max has reviewed all but their last two group releases, and Skull & Bones is the only one of those he's called as having no redeeming qualities. (The debut, unreleased EP and IV all got positive reviews, and while he doesn't really like Black Sunday or III: Temples of Boom he doesn't seem to hate them).

  9. AnonymousJune 05, 2018

    thank you but I was talking to max not you

    1. OK, but your use of "dick rida" was too off-base to let pass without comment