Ultra Music Festival

Ultra 2017 Headliner Cypress Hill Offers a Break From Spastic Dance Music

Cypress Hill
Courtesy of Primary Wave
Cypress Hill

In 1993, Cypress Hill dropped what would be its biggest hit and a portal into the mainstream consciousness, "Insane in the Brain." Perhaps what's more insane is how little time the West Coast rap outfit of B-Real, Sen Dog, DJ Muggs, and Eric Bobo has spent in South Florida over the course of the group's three-decade career.

"Believe it or not, with a couple of Cubans in the band, you'd think we'd be there every year, but it hasn't been that way," Sen Dog admits. "We must've been in Miami ten times or less... in our 25 years."

New Times spoke with the longtime MC ahead of Cypress Hill's headlining slot at Ultra Music Festival. Alongside the group, fellow Californian and hip-hop royalty Ice Cube will take the mike on the festival's live stage. So what's Sen Dog's take on a lineup that pairs some old-school rappers with a new wave of modern DJs?

"I think it says that if you stick around long enough, you're going to see just about everything. I have seen or been part of stranger things. The way music moves and where it goes, sometimes it'll be a little mind-blowing. Cypress has done EDM stuff like in Europe and Australia. I think it's a welcome break from all the spastic music they listen to... Hip-hop meshes very well with other genres, and this is just another one."

Despite the fact that Sen Dog's family moved to Los Angeles after leaving Cuba in the '70s, Hispanics across the country still have an affinity for Cypress Hill's music, whose fans often approach Sen Dog like an old friend.

"That has happened a lot. For some people, it's more than just a song to them; it's a racial connection. Spanglish wasn't invented in L.A. Wherever Latinos go, we reinnovate things."

"If it feels like I'm beating around the bush, that's because I am."

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He's had both hip-hop heads and what he calls "deeply" Hispanic people put his English-Spanish lyrics and the group's music above many other classic outfits because of their unique, ethnically all-encompassing style.

"We might be talking about getting stoned or grabbing a lowrider, but we're doing it in Spanglish, and that means everything to them."

Although the band has a forthcoming ninth album, Elephants on Acid, on the horizon, Sen Dog is stingy with details. Because of some setbacks and work that remains to be done, he doesn't elaborate.

"I will tell you that the album, it's really good material. I like it a lot, and I think people will too. We have experienced delays we didn't foresee. When the record is done, the record is done. And if it feels like I'm beating around the bush, that's because I am."

But he's up for discussing one of their more famous fans, Kurt Cobain. The Nirvana frontman was once quoted as saying, "Rap music is the only vital form of music introduced since punk rock." Whether or not that still holds true, Sen Dog understands precisely what Cobain was getting at.

"Kurt told me that himself one day. I honestly felt like that era, with Nirvana and Cypress Hill together, that era, the hip-hop guys had a strong global message. It was not just one of 'Look at me with my money and fucking bitches.' I think he felt connected to the guys who were being completely honest, from the inner soul. I think that's what they call the punk-rock spirit. I think Cypress Hill carried that, and still does, but in those [days] even more so because we were so young and so rebellious."

Although Cypress Hill was revolutionary in many ways, Sen Dog admits he is not a political person. He says he keeps a close eye on what happens in Cuba and other places that might affect the people there, but he's not one to dive into that arena. That is, unless one particular subject is broached, one that is near and dear to the hearts of all the members in the group: marijuana.

On any given day, take a look at the group's Instagram page, and more often than not, the words "wake and bake" appear in the captions. B-Real also has a weird obsession with National Geographic's Instagram that one can only assume has some correlation to his morning ritual.

Although this sort of public adoration for weed is now widely accepted, it wasn't always this way. For many, the progress that's been made in legislative halls throughout the United States hasn't gone quickly enough.

"It's taken a long time to get where we are. Remember, when the first Cypress Hill album came out, 1991, West Coast marijuana was highly sought-after by the authorities, and everybody was trying to shut it down... For us, the progress that we've made? We'll accept that. Would we have wanted it in a span of 15 years rather than 25? Yeah, of course, but it is what it is. Sometimes it moves at a slow pace, but state by state, they're recognizing the pros as opposed to the cons of the cannabis movement."

Ultra Music Festival 2017
Friday, March 24, through Sunday, March 26, at Bayfront Park, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-358-7550; bayfrontparkmiami.com. General-admission tickets are sold out; VIP tickets cost $1,249.95 via ultramusicfestival.com.