Back In Black is set to be Cypress Hill’s final “traditional release” as a hip-hop group.
While this may come as a disappointment to some, these hip-hop moguls should be applauded for drawing their esteemed music career to a close in a dignified manner. The album presents 10 tracks, all making use of digestible verse-chorus structures, a variety of flows and true hip hop authenticity in their subject matter.
Cypress Hill set out the release in full force, utilising classic West Coast melodic production on Takeover that unapologetically boasts a Californian hip hop sound. There are also hints of other styles embedded into the musical fabric, with samples and boom-bap aplomb as the group come out all guns blazing. Cypress Hill continue to draw on classic hip-hop subject matters in their lyricism, with clear anti-Police/pro-Weed messaging (Open Ya Mind), standing up to oppression (“If we stand together, we can always overcome ‘em” Bye Bye feat. Dizzy Wright) and nothing-to-something narratives (Open Ya Mind).
When they switch to a more choral and soulful direction on Champion Sound, this moment is taken as an opportunity to reflect and recognise their importance in hip hop history (“Foundation Lane, we paved the way”).
While paying homage to their 90s hip hop roots and sticking to familiar ground works well to some extent, it does occasionally have the tendency to wear thin. This stylistic choice is entertaining on the early tracks of the album, but becomes a little lacklustre by track 5 Come With Me. Much of this music functions as an excellent mood-setter, if you want to recreate the vibe of blasting it from a lowrider in LA (The Original).
That said, there is a lot of bravado boasting about how they’ve still got ‘it’, with a lack of acknowledgement that ‘it’ has changed in the last 20-30 years. There will always be space for this sound, but it sits among many variations and subgenres of hip hop. Moreover, the virtuosic scratching on The Ride is impressive, by this point, the lack of variety is not enough to have meaningfully sustained the listener’s interest enough to appreciate this.
It is a shame to think we may never see another big release from Cypress Hill, but Back to Black acknowledges the group’s legacy while gracefully bowing out. Although the repetitiveness of their sound can veer towards becoming stale at times, it cannot be denied that the group sticks firmly to their roots and provides the appropriate energy and musicality to these tracks; whilst allowing ample time for each group member and collaborator to shine through.