Cypress Hill - Insane in the Brain

Cypress Hill: Insane in the Brain: Tough, Tender, and Smoked Out

In this Showtime documentary, Estevan Oriel struggles to encompass the complexity of a highly unique West Coast group.

Directed by Estevan Oriel as part of Mass Appeal’s ongoing series of Showtime music documentaries, Cypress Hill: Insane in the Brain struggles to encompass the complexity of a highly unique West Coast group. The band’s origins in South Gate are dutifully documented. Oriel, a longtime friend who photographed and helped manage their tours, makes clear that Cypress Hill’s classic 1991 debut only arrived after years of painstaking demo development. Months after Cypress Hill drops, it takes a fortuitous sync of “How I Could Just Kill a Man” in Ernest Dickerson’s cult movie Juice for the album to finally take off. Subsequent concert footage depicts the group as international road warriors as well as pioneering advocates for marijuana legalization, thanks to memorable album cuts such as “Light Another” and “Hits from the Bong.”

Mostly, Oriel emphasizes Cypress Hill as tough, tender, and smoked-out musicians. The arrival of Eric Bobo, the son of late jazz percussionist Willie Bobo, prompts a discussion of Latin influences on their music, as exemplified by “Latin Lingo.” B-Real notes with pride that Los Grandes Éxitos En Español, a 1999 compilation where they re-recorded their biggest hits in Spanish, helped sparked the Latin hip-hop movement.

One of Insane in the Brain’s standout moments arrives when Muggs remembers flying to New York to meet with Def Jam A&R Bill Stephney, who advises him that his fledgling group needs a concept. (Earlier, Muggs and the crew play an old demo track, revealing how B-Real sounded before adopting his famously nasal voice.) Inspired, Muggs decides that Cypress Hill will be “the Cheech & Chong of rap.” Cue the actual Cheech & Chong, who joke that they taught B-Real everything he knows. It’s not only an amusing scene because it represents an “aha” moment connecting two generations of Latin-American pop culture. It’s also because the genial, fun-loving image the scenes evoke cut against the group’s early hardcore persona. After all, the first single from their excellent 1995 third album, III: Temples of Boom, is called “Throw Your Set in the Air,” which opens with the sounds of a young initiate being “jumped” into a gang. At one point in the film, B-Real notes that he spent time in the streets and was shot. But Oriel chooses not to dwell on that period in the rapper’s life.

Other aspects of Cypress Hill’s three-decade career are omitted. The group’s many side projects go unmentioned, save for Sen Dog’s rap-metal band SX-10, which is explained as part of the hypeman’s quest to avoid burnout and try different things. Chuck D appears as a talking head, but he doesn’t bring up Prophets of Rage, a band he shares with B-Real as well as members of Rage Against the Machine. There’s nothing on DJ Muggs’ underrated Soul Assassins crew — although producer The Alchemist, an early Muggs protégé, lends commentary — and Cypress Hill’s memorable war of words with Ice Cube’s Westside Connection. Those latter two eras are noted in Oriel’s 2020 doc LA Originals and Peter Spirer’s 2003 doc Beef II, respectively. Even the song that inspired the doc title, “Insane in the Brain,” which stands as Cypress Hill’s biggest chart hit, is barely mentioned.

Cypress Hill’s first three albums, especially 1993’s Black Sunday and Temples of Boom, have macabre, sepulchral textures and bleak visions of the afterlife. B-Real and Sen Dog treat violent retribution as a given, and Muggs’ hazy, atmospheric production gives the tracks an ominously psychedelic tone akin to The Doors and Black Sabbath, the latter whom the group cites as an influence. Those albums are arguably Cypress Hill’s most enduring work. Insane in the Brain offers plenty of anecdotes about the making of their debut, then oddly skips ahead to endless scenes of gigs, bypassing a deeper look at their mid-90s gems. The unabashedly playful “Dr. Greenthumb” from 1998’s IV inspires branding opportunities such as B-Real’s cannabis business. A 2000 single, “(Rock) Superstar,” underlines their hard-rock bona fides and concerts with Y2K rap-rockers Limp Bizkit.

B-Real, Sen Dog, Muggs, and Bobo are in their fifties now. It makes sense that they’ve opted for a portrait that reflects their current reality as hip-hop survivors, touring the world for smoke and profit. In a final scene, Cypress Hill gather to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It’s a triumphant moment, and Insane in the Brain elicits a round of cheers for the crew, even if Oriel doesn’t show everything it took for the long-running quartet to get there.



Lil Yachty, Let’s Start Here

Lil Yachty’s Let’s Start Here has earned notice for its decidedly space-y and vaporous tones, the result of a collaboration with Chairlift’s Patrick Wimberly, Jeremy “SadPony” Raisen and his brother Jeremiah (best known for work with Lizzo and Yves Tumor), and bassist Jacob Portrait of Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Yachty aims for Gen-Z psychedelic fervor: think Travis Scott, Tame Impala, and Swae Lee’s Swaecation half of Rae Sremmurd’s SR3MM. On “The Black Seminole,” Diana Gordon squalls as if mimicking Clare Torry in Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky.” For “I’ve Officially Lost Vision,” Yachty harmonizes, “I did way too much drugs, I’ve been swimming in space.” Texturally, Let’s Start Here is ear candy. Who doesn’t love laconic, shoegaze-y guitars? But it also seems banal. Given groundwork laid by similar explorers such as Andre 3000 and Kid Cudi, Yachty doesn’t commit much of himself. The predominant theme in this Urban Outfitters-bound soundtrack is molly-tinged dream-pop euphoria and coy sentiments like, “Meanwhile/You’re done/Had a little too much fun/I cannot stop touching you” on “We Saw the Sun.” Early praise for Let’s Start Here from industry mandarins such as Questlove and Apple Music’s Ebro Darden may have prompted backlash from a segment of rap fandom that objects to any whiff of maximalist stench. But give Yachty credit: He knows how to assemble and sequence an hour of shambolic melodic charms, even if his dusted symphony feels more like a wispy breeze than a desert storm. Guest vocalists include Justine Skye, Fousheé, and Daniel Caesar. Other producers include Jam City and Magdalene Bay. Tory Lanez’s name is in the credits for “Paint the Sky.” Do with that information what you will. Quality Control/Motown Records.

Thes One, Farewell, My Friend

In an L.A. Times interview with Oliver Wang, Thes One described former group People Under the Stairs as defined by their “outsider-ness.” He and high-school friend Double K, who passed away in 2021, made music informed by a community of rare breaks, and that sense of not being the “cool kids” in L.A.’s turn-of-the-Aughts indie-rap scene inspired bristling, ornery raps, adding tension to the sunshine melodies. Yet time heals old grievances, and Farewell, My Friend, a tribute to Double K, is unabashedly soft and yearning. The filtered jazz-funk loop on “Young Mike and Chris Floating Free” and the disco breeze of “Mike and Chris Leave for Their First Tour” are rendered in a nostalgic glow for those halcyon years. Musically, they’re a reminder of how crucial Thes One’s sound has been to the “chill hop” aesthetic, and why he deserves to be mentioned with more celebrated beat makers like Fat Jon and Nujabes. Sequenced like a tone poem, Farewell, My Friend is nevertheless familiar territory for Thes; even as he put out PUTS albums, he also issued instrumental projects like 2007’s Lifestyle Marketing. Double K’s edgy yet good-natured thug-isms are missed. The album includes contributions from keyboardist Kat010 and bassist Headnodic, both formerly with Bay Area group Crown City Rockers; drummer Paul Caruso, and guitarist Saint Ezekiel. Their musicianship take center stage on the second half of the album, particularly “The Bell Tolls for People Under the Stairs” and “Survivor Syndrome.” Thes One released Farewell, My Friend on his label, Piecelock 70.