Cypress Hill's B-Real and Sen Dog Talk Weed, Rap, Punk, Gang Life, and Being Cuban
Cypress Hill's Sen Dog, B-Real, and Eric Bobo.
If you're ever in Amsterdam, cop a slab of paper-flat hash, palm the sheet, and breathe hot air on it. Once the sheet becomes pliable, load it up with OG Kush, roll it like a blunt, and smoke up till society melts. That's what Cypress Hill's B-Real calls "the giggle stick."
Obviously, he and his South Gate homies -- Sen Dog, DJ Muggs, and Eric Bobo -- are legendary weed connoisseurs. They're also the original-gangsta kings of hyperviolent stoner-trap rap. And their rhymes have been soaked in the blood of Los Angeles since the 1980s.
But you might not know that these Westside locos are Cuban. While B-Real's mom and her family are from the island, Sen Dog was actually born in Pinar Del Rio. And before Senen Reyes ever stepped foot in L.A., he lived in Miami.
"In Cuba, my dad was a high school teacher," Sen Dog says. "The government wanted him to teach communism and Stalinism. He told them to fuck off, so they fired him and put him in the pen for a few years.
"One day, they released him and told him to get the fuck out. We left Cuba when I was eight years old, and we lived in Miami at this refugee apartment called Casa Libertad. It was an old hotel that had been done up to house temporary Cuban refugees, and we were there for, like, three months. The majority of my family is still in Cuba to this day. They were scared to try and leave and get mass murdered."
Sen's parents didn't want to "be around a bunch of Cubans," so they moved to California's South Gate neighborhood. He and his brother Melo Man Ace got into breakdancing, hip-hop, and smoking out with their homeboy Louis Freese, AKA B-Real.
Those early days were spent sneaking into downtown clubs like Alcohol Salad and The Radiotron to take turns rocking the mike. "I wasn't old enough to be there," remembers Real, "but Tony G was the DJ running shit back then, and we were friends with him and Julio G. He let us come in and kick rhymes every now and then, but I'd always choke.
"Sen and his brother would go and smash their verses. But I could never bust my rhymes and I wasn't great at freestyling. It was a cool time, man. That movement was kind of the early beginnings of what shaped hip-hop in L.A."
The street life surrounding the fun of club nights was truly dangerous, though. "I was involved in gangs for a good long time in my youth," Real says. "And one particular night, I was with some homies that I used to bang with. We were walkin' down the street to go get some weed, and we were on a thin line between Blood and Crip neighborhoods.
"We had left the strap at the house for some reason. These Crips rolled up and we said our proverbial fuck yous to each other. They started lettin' off shots, and one ricocheted off a wall, bounced through my back and hit my lung. I went to Killer King hospital [otherwise known as Martin Luther King Jr. Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center], dealt with my injuries, and got out tryin' to be supergangster. That's the nature of it -- you get up, dust off, and get back to work."
The guys attended South Gate High School. "I had a couple of classes with Dave Lombardo from Slayer," Sen recalls. "He's Cuban too. My first live show ever was at South Gate High, seeing Slayer play at lunch. Dave would invite me to his shows. And from there, I started searching for more. Suicidal Tendencies were from across town in Venice, and they had that punk rocker cholo thing goin'. I was drawn in, like, 'Yeah, that's my shit.'"
And that's how hardcore punk and metal inspired the Hill to fearlessly mix genres, an artistic decision that led to a Sony deal and over 18 million in worldwide record sales. Instead of making the obvious jump into Latino rap, B-Real, Sen Dog, and crew teamed with Pearl Jam and Sonic Youth on the Judgment Night soundtrack, and struck a crossover goldmine.
By 2010, though, after veering away from Spanish rap to avoid being stereotyped, Cypress Hill cut a track with Pitbull and Marc Anthony called "Armada Latina," produced by South Florida hit machine Jim Jonsin. "He was a cool dude, a real producer. I was fucking deadpan when he made the record, no reaction. But if he's reading: Thanks, I'd love to work with you again," says Real.
So yes, they've lived here. They've recorded with the 305's best. And they've toured the MIA. In fact, B-Real and Sen Dog's first business trip to Miami was part of a package tour with Rollins Band and Beastie Boys in 1992. "The Beastie Boys always embraced us," Real says, thinking back. "We always stand in appreciation for one of the few groups that helped propel us to where we're at now."
As for the Beasties' late leader Adam Yauch, Sen recalls: "He was one of the dudes that really influenced me. He was a serious rhyme spitter, and when he hit the stage, you couldn't take your eyes off him."
Four years later, Cypress Hill was back at Bayfront Park. And when B-Real threw a fresh-rolled blunt into the crowd, a girl named Jenny Rose from Boca Raton caught it. "I took it home, stuck it in the freezer and smoked it for like the next three years on birthdays and 4/20s," she recalls blissfully.
Such is the potency of a crew that's tirelessly proselytized for and capitalized on the world's favorite weed -- this Cypress shit can keep you high for decades. And when Real, Sen, and the Hill hotbox Grand Central, they'll be bringing that fire with them.
"We're gonna take you through our whole musical archive," Sen Dog insists. "We want you to remember where you were the first time you heard each of those songs. But we grew up a little bit since we started. So we don't throw our weed into the audience anymore."
That's probably a smart decision considering the federales set up SoFla resident and reggae lifer Buju Banton for a big fall on a bogus drug and gun charge. "Bro, wow," Sen says. "I hadn't heard of that guy since like 92'. I don't know him or talk to him. But if it's a setup, I wouldn't be surprised. That's happened to a lot of people in America."
Maybe, though, these Cypress Hill homies are protected by a higher power. After all, B-Real is a santero. "I've been a babalao for like ten years now," he confirms. "And I gotta tell you, some of the dopest rhythms I've ever heard come from the bata drummers. They're spiritual and ritualistic and invoke certain divinities. One day, if I can find the right drummers, I would go down to Miami and do a whole Caribbean-style hip-hop thing, straight outta Cuba."
"We've been talking about playing in Miami again for a long time. We're excited to meet the people, and say thanks for the support over the years."
Cypress Hill. With Action Bronson. Tuesday, November 13. Grand Central, 697 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets cost $25 plus fees via fla.vor.us. All ages. Call 305-377-2277 or visit grandcentralmiami.com.
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