Cypress Hill – Back In Black: Review

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.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Curren$y – Pilot Talk IV: Review

Say what you will about Curren$y and his musical output, but the credibility from his consistency has allowed him to immerse himself in the universal hip-hop sphere, easily acquiring great producers, like Harry Fraud and The Alchemist, for his projects. It continued to show throughout 2021, as he dropped six projects – ending on Christmas Eve with the fourth installment of his acclaimed Pilot Talk albums. Unlike past Pilot Talks, the fourth is produced entirely by Ski Beatz, producer of illustrious tracks like Jay-Z’s “Dead Presidents” and past tapes. His production is on full display while riding a vibe that gives Curren$y a level stage to deliver solid tracks buoying on his lyricism. 

Pilot Talk IV is jazzier than most of Curren$y’s projects this year; it adds definition to the percussion with luminous and lax vibes, along with the array of layers from the horn and wind sections makes the album a smooth flight from start to finish. It emboldens its cultural influences, which derive from prominent music in Louisianna – particularly, NOLA. Though, I’m not here to proclaim Pilot Talk IV is some immaculate album, as it still bleeds the typical Curren$y-Andretti colloquialisms and poor choruses. We hear it prominently in his intros, which lack energy, unlike his tracks that switch fluidly between intricate flex raps and introspective-musicality. The same goes for the integrations of the instruments and style that come from Ski Beatz. Ultimately, what we receive is better than an average Curren$y album. 

After opening with two wind-centric beats, Ski Beatz reinvigorates the boom-bap style and adds that stoner touch to the BPM on “Non Fungible.” Curren$y plays on NFTs, turning his flexing to slight cautionary tales as he looks at the value of things in short. Like NFTs, there is a niche sense of serotonin due to the originality, but it’s only short-sighted. Curren$y raps: “We did the money dance in the Bentley store/I got an eye for the hundreds and a fast car/A passport, an ounce full of killer in the bag/We mad smart, showed up hella high/Dress sharp, front row, game four at the playoffs/Money in the bank ain’t safe at all/Money in the bank any day could be lost.” Though he notes that banking isn’t safe, he shows us how the glitz and glamour can swing by swiftly before reminding us of the tried and true shoebox system – storing money in a shoebox under the bed.

The transitions are seamless, even as it goes from an overly jazzy-brass core in “The Scene” to the soulful-percussion centric “Memory Lane,” which sees Curren$y reminding his listeners and fans of his purpose for this musical production – think 2016 when he dropped a mixtape every month for a whole year. Curren$y wants us to eat, and “Memory Lane” makes that known as he raps: “Uh, them niggas couldn’t afford a floormat in my car/’Cause they don’t work this hard/I didn’t get in this shit to be a star/I got in to start a war/And show my loved ones how to live large.” Curren$y is an artist who sticks to his guns, even when most tracks don’t land with the flair, but it camouflages itself to allow for one seamless listen without skipping a beat. It’s predominantly the case here, with a few decisions leaving me bewildered.

One decision came on the second track, “AD6,” featuring Jay Electronica. There are no qualms with the feature outside of how it sounds. It isn’t the first time they did a track together, previously joining forces on the first Pilot Talk. However, on IV, Jay’s verse sounds like it came from a phone and is barely polished to make it sound clearer. It sounds like a right swipe to get it flowing for a release date, but it doesn’t completely take you away because the verse isn’t poor. Jay Electronica understood the assignment, and Curren$y matches him bar-for-bar. It’s not a knock against Curren$y, but Jay Electronica can take things in peculiar but pertinent directions, elevating his lyricism to a higher plateau than Curren$y. Jay Elec raps: “From Tchoupitoulas to Napoleon, Desire, North Miro/Me and Spitta spit a flame of magic that’s uncontested/Jet Life, Roc Nation, can see the planes, it’s so majestic,” reflecting on the strength of their collaborations as two real MCs from New Orleans – note the people he mentions.

Throughout Pilot Talk IV, you’ll continue to find its footing because it doesn’t steer away from a Curren$y album, or project, checklist. It has a breezy stoner coating on intricate and luminous production, keeping us flowing from start to finish. It’s to Ski Beatz’s credit, as he never fails to impress, even when it takes a minimalist approach on “Workers and Bosses.” It translates well with the final track, “Finger Roll,” which flourishes with a back-spotlight on the electric guitar, allowing it to feel fresh with Curren$y adding that essence of unity by flexing and smoking with his homies.

Pilot Talk IV ends a great year for Curren$y, even when it’s just placed upon a pile of a plethora of albums/mixtapes/EPs that stay in constant rotation. You can claim that it can get repetitive but at times, you break apart the complexities between his music, his fan base, and his consistent stylistic choices that keep him on a plane all his own.

Rating: 8 out of 10.