Stoner rap has had an evolution that is not quite like other sub-categories in Hip-Hop. From being its own genre to dissolving into more prominent forms, though it’s never lost the essence of what made it great. It’s become lazier, trying to fit two criteria, slow-to-mid-pace beats and rapping about smoking marijuana or displaying the culture in passing as the topic steers in another direction. Cypress Hill are the masters of it, and they continue to prove that on their 10th studio album, Back In Black. Prominent for acquiescing stoner-culture (positively) with gangsta rap and Chicano rap has given them a platform to bring out themes of gang violence and cultural differences, allowing the fans to indulge in smooth weed raps with layers in the song’s personality. Back In Black continues to show there is enough in the motor, especially after a solid return with Elephants on Acid–B-Real and Sen Dog are back in prime form; however, the production eventually begins to sound too similar–specifically the percussion.
Back In Black is poignant and smokey, delivering darker lyricism about life or blissful tracks about smoking weed. As constructed, the tracks have a consistent aura while transitioning from topic-to-topic. It can shift from a realistic view of adolescence and young adulthood to taking us on a journey to get higher. “Come With Me” is an immaculate vibe with its lusty hi-hats and trickly guitar strings as they interlope “Hail Mary” by 2Pac on the chorus to fully reel you into the verses. B-Real and Sen Dog deliver with lines that work as both soothing and inspiration, from B-Real’s first verse with the lines: “Blessed by the desire to create the fire/I must get you higher/You’re required to enjoy it, it inspires,” and Sen Dog’s second verse: “Mind reaching for higher levels, I never settle/I was a young pup from out of the ghetto that set the tempo/God bless the leaf, rest in peace/To anyone that stands between the legalization that we want to see,” blending beautifully as the two trade-off eights-bar verses. It’s simple to make tracks like this interesting, as there as easy ways out–slow tempos = easy to flow–making it uninteresting–you just have to make it fun for those to kick back and replay.
There aren’t many tracks like “Come With Me” on Back In Black as they tackle musical and street growth, and legalization, specifically in the track “Open Ya Mind,” which takes a stance on issues that underline why it’s needed. From reform in the judicial system to the economic benefits that stem from it, they keep it grounded while explaining, though it’s not hard when they tell us to smoke and open up our minds. It has a funkadelic core with hard-hitting snares entwining us with its smokey demeanor, making it a track that is painless to repeat. It goes the same for the others, which oozes with that braggadocio confidence, which has been one of their best traits–they have an innate swagger that comes off naturally to them. They introduce with that swagger on “Takeover” as a reminder to the listener about their greatness. As well, It’s fitting when they trade bars with rapper Demrick on “Certified” and “The Original,” which sees the two keeping it OG. They ooze a semblance of their past work at its peak.
Unfortunately, after “The Original”–the three tracks that follow meld together into a coherent mess of orchestration as you lose yourself forgetting when “Hit Em’” starts and then wishing for “Champion Sound” to end, as it comes across as a little forced–the percussion patterns begin to mirror each other too closely. “Hit Em’” isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s as forgettable as Dizzy Wright’s verse on “Bye Bye.” His softened and raspy voice offers little to the track, though it properly mirrors Sen Dog’s equally forgettable verse–his voice gives him presence, so it isn’t difficult to remember it like that, but it isn’t one of his strongest verses. While three of the last four tracks offer little to be desired, it doesn’t disappoint like “Bye Bye.” B-Real offers rhythmic gymnastics, with his multi-syllabic flow that can cause tongue twisters if you were to rap along. It wastes a solid song, but it’s easy to skip and indulge in the other great songs Cypress Hill has to bring.
Back In Black shows that Cypress Hill has enough in the tank. If we consider 2010’s Rise Up as a fluke pivot to try something new, especially when Sen Dog sounded burnt, then Elephants On Acid shows that their deviation didn’t have the personality from when they were at their peak. It’s a fun ride that is slightly forgettable but a thrill to have them continuing to make solid gangsta/stoner raps.