Skull & Bones
The album art of the new Cypress Hill release shows the members of Hill posing in front of what looks like the catacombs of Rome and features many more drawings that make one wonder why they haven't bothered trying to copyright the pot leaf. Even the title, Skull & Bones, would imply old artifacts resurrected for yet another mediocre major label rap record, but one listen would render this assumption ill-advised. Skull & Bones is by far Hill's most coherent and exiting release since their 1991 debut, and features mostly mind-crushingly elephantine beats, instead of the predominately lackadaisical "blunted" pot-core that soured both III and IV. Producer Muggs is the star of the show, with his post-Wu minor-keyed anthems often stealing the spotlight from the assuring concurrence of Sen Dogg and the always fascinating timbre of B-Real. Although the lyrics cover little new ground (pot, bitches, pot, guns, pot), they're confidently spit from rap veterans who spend the majority of Skull & Bones constantly (and maybe justifiably) bitching about the industry and reasserting that you don't want to fuck with them. The final songs on the record, six hit-and-miss rap-rock experiments, are cut from another dimebag entirely. Cypress Hill travels the precarious trail of rap-rock with sheer audacity and actually manage to pull it off most of the time, bouncing between confident chugging anthems ("Rock Superstar") and lightweight pap ("A Man"). Cypress has always rocked harder than most metal acts anyway, and on-board rock heavyweights from Fear Factory and Rage Against the Machine often end up buckling under Sen Dogg's vocal freight train. The tracks, which sound a lot like former collaborators Biohazard or a funkier White Zombie, suffer from over-production, but often end up sounding more honest, powerful, and worthy of repeated listening than anyone Kid Rocking it up and down your block.
Columbia Records, 550 Madison Ave., 26th Floor, New York, NY 10022-3211
Christopher R. Weingarten