photo & text by nacrowe
CYPRESS HILL was the first HIP HOP group i ever got into. i discovered them through a LEBANESE classmate when i was attending middle school in NIGERIA. looking back i find it hilarious that i learned about the seminal WEST COAST HIP HOP group after i permanently left the greater LOS ANGELES area. but thats how it went. my friend was really into DRUG CULTURE, which sadly was the case with many classmates i had while living in LAGOS, one of the biggest drug ports in the world.
oddly enough for a band so closely identified with WEED CULTURE, their self-titled debut album CYPRESS HILL (COLUMBIA, 1991) is not really all that concerned with marijuana. yes there are songs like "STONED IS THE WAY OF THE WALK," "LIGHT ANOTHER" and "SOMETHING FOR THE BLUNTED," but with songs like "PIGS," "HAND ON THE PUMP," "HOLE IN THE HEAD," and "HOW I COULD JUST KILL A MAN," the lyrical focus is more memorably attuned to the routine hardships of being a minority living in URBAN AMERICAN and the need for survival and community in a oppressive system that limits your ability to prosper within LAW ENFORCEMENT, HEATHCARE and EDUCATION frameworks. i dont believe CYPRESS HILL glorifies gang membership or activities, more just provide a window into the reasoning and mentality of those who join. and make no mistake, they join out of limited access to better opportunities and models of past success. i always found it interesting when conservatives or white people i know who outright dismiss acts like CYPRESS HILL and then turn around and patronize them and their community about how the choices they make.
maybe it comes with having lived overseas, but i am not so quick to judge those with lived experiences i didnt share. such was the case when i was in MYANMAR, VENEZUELA, ALBANIA and NIGERIA over the years. i didnt grow up as a minority surrounded by racist LAPD cops attending failed overcrowded and underfunded schools. so all i can do is listen and attempt to empathize or at the very least, see the situation from their vantage point.
and that perspective is the gift that CYPRESS HILL and other similar WEST COAST HIP HOP artists like ICE CUBE, TUPAC SHAKUR, KENDRICK LAMAR, SOULS OF MISCHIEF, SNOOP DOGG, THE PHARCYDE and TOO $HORT have given the world of music enthusiasts. it is why i keep going back and revisiting their early run of albums, especially their debut, which is well worth further investigation and essential for anyone interested HIP HOP or AMERICAN CULTURE write large.
thank you CYPRESS HILL for retweeting this! so amazing!