Cypress Hill’s recording career goes over three decades deep. In 1991, the trio of Louis “B-Real” Freese, Senen “Sen Dog” Reyes, and Lawrence “DJ Muggs Muggerud found both critical and unexpected commercial acclaim with their self-titled debut album, providing uncompromising descriptions of street life and popularizing the use of marijuana on record. Cypress Hill were a phenomenon during the early to mid-1990s, selling millions of records and touring the world. However, after the early ’00s, the group was mostly dormant, only sporadically releasing new material.

In 2018, the group released Elephants On Acid, their first album in nearly a decade. It was a weird concoction of hard rock, eastern world music, and distorted imagery. It was dope, but some found it a bit esoteric. Recorded during the days of the COVID lockdown, Back In Black has been positioned as Cypress Hill’s return to their “Gangsta” roots. It’s one of the best projects of the group’s career since their original boom.

Back In Black is more of a spiritual homecoming than a sonic one. The album does sport a back-to-basics vibe, but it’s not the “classic” Cypress Hill soundscape per se. Black Milk is one of the best producers of the 21st century, known for his complex production stylings that still sound stripped down. He’s known for his expertise at crafting drum tracks, and his work on Back In Black is masterful in that realm. The snares and kicks hit hard with neck-snapping strength throughout the length of the project.

Furthermore, Black Milk mixes things down differently than other Cypress Hill albums. The clarity of B-Real and Sen Dog’s vocals is almost off-putting, especially after decades of hearing their raps echoing through the dusty haze of Muggs’ dense mash of soul, funk, and rock samples. Black Milk seems to make sparse use of sampled material, relying heavily on his own programming skills.

Like many projects of the late 2010s/early 2020s, Back In Black doesn’t overstay its welcome. At 10 tracks and 30 minutes in length, the crew speaks their peace and moves on. But three decades of recording has made Cypress Hill efficient in their execution. They were indeed one of the first crews to rap extensively about their marijuana use, and their pro-weed anthems are intrinsic to their legacy. Throughout Back In Black, they dance extensively with the girl that brought them. Even with the national movement toward legalization and decriminalization, replete with ubiquitous pot dispensaries dotting every corner of even mid-sized cities across the United States, the crew reminds us that there’s still a long way to go.

Sen Dog and B-Real confront the new reality of weed use nearly a quarter of the way through the 21st century on “Open Ya Mind,” noting how federal law enforcement are still looking to make high-profile drug busts. They scoff at the increasing corporatization of weed sales, as B-Real raps, “Special interest money coming like Monopoly running things / But there ain’t no stopping me, they can’t offer a fucking thing.” The gothic, 2Pac influenced “Come With Me” is a straightforward, slow-rolling dedication to the power of weed use. It may be well-trod ground for Cypress, but they still make things entertaining.

The crew invoke the vibe and message of their early days through Back In Black. “Bye Bye” serves as the 2020s version of “How I Could Just Kill a Man.” B-Real, Sen Dog, and guest Dizzy Wright detail the realities of living in the hood over Black Milk’s “fucking menacing” drum track, describing the necessity of staying sharp and armed in this environment. “I’m having visions of a bunch of bad decisions,” Sen Dog raps. “That I might regret later but this is the life we living.”

Black Milk’s minimalist approach serves the group well. “Hit ’Em” sounds like an ode to Beastie Boys’ “Paul Revere,” with B-Real and Sen Dog trading short verses over complex percussion and keyboards. On “Champion Sound,” he blends raucous guitars and thunderous drums, as B-Real and Sen Dog celebrate the group’s past and future. While B-Real raps, “in the hardest times, we write the hardest lines / Never were blind to the crime for nickels and dimes,” Sen Dog proclaims that “In all black coming through like the Raiders out the tunnel / In the way we gonna rush you: all bite, no muzzle.”

Occasionally Black Milk creates beats that echo the aural sensibilities of Cypress’ earlier work. “The Original” is the musically busiest track on the album, feeling like an early Muggs opus. Sen Dog handles most of the rapping duties, describing the crew’s journeys throughout the city, blasted out their minds, trying to steer clear of the LAPD and their enemies.

“The Ride,” Back In Black’s final track, evokes similar sensibilities to their 1995 single “Illusions” and not just because of the vocal scratches from the song in the chorus. B-Real delves into his own wounded psyche, recalling his past slanging drugs, as well as his struggles with depression and PTSD. He describes his slow healing and seeking his own salvation through music. “Elevation comes with the sound of the drums,” he raps. “We all connected no matter where you’re hearing it from.”

Like all dope returns to form, Back In Black succeeds because Cypress Hill not only honors their past, they also chart a course for its future. I have no idea if they plan on continuing to work with Black Milk, but if nothing else, he has given the group inspiration to return to their roots and remind everyone of just how they got down. I’m eager to see where the crew will go during its fourth decade.


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