This year Cypress Hill was one of the groups VH1 centered their annual Hip-Hop Honors on. Sen Dog has been doing a lot more than just group work, though. He has his duo, The Reyes Brothers, with Mellow Man Ace, and just last week he released his first solo album, Diary of a Mad Dog. RapReviews caught up with the legend to find out more about his solo work and also to discuss whether the streets are still relevant in today’s Hip-Hop scene, why the O.G.’s continue to rap, and how having a “slight” heart attack changed his life.
Adam Bernard: You’ve done work as a part of Cypress Hill. You’ve done work as one half of The Reyes Brothers. What made you want to do a solo album?
Sen Dog: It just came to a point in time where we weren’t doing much with Cypress. We were just being released from our contract with Sony and we were changing managers and things weren’t going especially well within the band. We were doing four or five shows, or whatever, and my manager, Kevin Zinger from Suburban Noize, pushed me to do a record on his label. I wasn’t really doing much so I was like the hell with it, why not?
“It was overdue. I should have done something, but the Cypress thing had a hectic schedule to it. The right time came about.”
AB: I was wondering how you ended up on Suburban Noize because I wouldn’t necessarily link you with them.
SD: Kevin Zinger’s been my personal manager for like fifteen years or so. It was overdue. I should have done something, but the Cypress thing had a hectic schedule to it. The right time came about. Hopefully this is the first of many solo records.
AB: Other than the obvious, how will this project differ from your previous group efforts?
SD: Whatever feel I wanted to go in with that day, that’s what I did. Most of the time I feel like having fun, or experimenting. That’s the way it differs for me.
AB: How many tracks did you record and how many of them didn’t make it?
SD: There were a good six or seven that I didn’t go with. Most of the time when something like that happens I think it’s my fault on the vocals, either not seeing my vision through, or maybe the vision I had wasn’t a really good one, so it’s just like never mind that track. In Cypress we always recorded a bunch of songs and streamlined it. I started recording this album last year and in the process of recording that album I had what doctors refer to as a slight heart attack. It put me in the hospital for eight or nine days and then just getting back to feeling good to where I could remember shit and write songs again took about three or four months. I think that time that I had to take off from the studio definitely set me back in delivering the record.
AB: How do you define a SLIGHT heart attack? In my mind any heart attack is pretty damned big.
SD: There are different levels of them. When I was going through it I never had any brain pressure, or headaches, or any jaw line pains, or anything like that. If that would have happened it would have been a whole different, bigger, deal. I basically had tightness around my chest and numbness in my arm. I was able to get to the hospital and walk in there. I never lost consciousness. I guess those are some of the differences between a slight and a real one.
AB: Do they know what brought it on?
SD: Just basically hard living. Years and years of partying from when I was a kid. Growing up I was partying with drugs and alcohol, smoking cigarettes, not eating right, and eventually it adds up. When you get older later on your body’s eventually going to say “fuck it.” Even though you feel indestructible you gotta take care of yourself.
“I try to work out as much as I can and I definitely appreciate my second chance. I definitely appreciate things more now.”
AB: How have you changed your life since then?
SD: I try to work out as much as I can and I definitely appreciate my second chance. I definitely appreciate things more now and I never want to be in that kind of shape again where my life is at risk. Shirt hurt like a motherfucker. I’d hate to have what they say a REAL one is, so I’ve taken the necessary steps to improve my quality of life.
AB: Moving back to music, there are a lot of artists out there who are calling for older emcees to step aside and let the young artists eat. How do you address those concerns of the up and coming emcees who are looking to get a little shine?
SD: Well, they young emcees are going to have to accept what’s out on the playing field already, because that’s what you gotta compete with. There are older artists out there still making money and still supporting their families and that’s what life is really all about, so the young cats gotta figure out how to get to the level where the veteran acts are at. Instead of wishing they were gone maybe they could learn shit from them, learn the art to longevity and stuff like that. As long as you have the ability to make money and survive doing something why the fuck would you stop?
AB: LL just released another album last week and he’s been doing this for over 20 years.
SD: It’s who he is, it’s what he is, it’s what he was born to do, it’s what he loves. Recording, being in the studio and going through the artistic process of making an album, putting it out and everything, it’s almost like having a kid and raising it and watching it go out into the world and succeed. It’s what we do, so if we still have the ability to do it at 50 years old why wouldn’t we do it? Mick Jagger does and everybody thinks he’s cool.
AB: What can be done to bridge the generational gap that has developed between the older Hip-Hop artists and their fans and the younger Hip-Hop artists and their fans?
SD: I would think more of a togetherness feel, more collaborations between O.G.s and young cats, that type of a thing. It would be cool and as a younger cat growing up I always gave props to the O.G.s I met, the guys I was influenced by. I bought their records and I wanted to be like them and I think that me being that kind of cat at as a young guy, and seeing how those guys reacted, and how I react now when somebody comes up to me and gives me their demo, I know how to appreciate that moment and make it special for them and listen to the music and appreciate them for being young Hip-Hop artists. They’re appreciating me by coming up to me as a veteran and giving me their demo and seeing what I think about it. There’s got to be more of that connection.
AB: If you heard an artist who was young and you dug would you do the cosign of jumping on a track with them?
SD: Yeah, man.
“It doesn’t really matter anymore what the streets think […] because now there are so many different ways to market a rap record.”
AB: Back in the day if the streets didn’t like what an artist was doing they weren’t going to get enough respect to survive. Nowadays it seems like anyone with a silly dance or a good marketing campaign has an instant co-sign. How have you seen the role of the streets change over the years and does what the streets think about an artist matter anymore?
SD: It doesn’t really matter anymore what the streets think, in my opinion, not so much like it used to, because now there are so many different ways to market a rap record, or a rap artist, other than the urban community. There are so many other avenues to market these guys because the whole world is watching them, it doesn’t really matter if you guys like him or not, we’re gonna take him somewhere else and he’s gonna blow up. If he doesn’t blow up in this urban part of America we’ll take him to an urban part of Europe and he’ll blow up there. Now it’s more about what the media is saying and what the media is showing instead of how Hip-Hop started which was what the streets were saying, what the streets were listening to and dictating. That’s why you probably will see a lot of cats that come and go quickly. As soon as they got here they’re gone, or they’ll last two or three years and then there’s a new nigga rockin out, there’s a new popular radio hit, but that’s just the way the system and the game is set up. We were always thinking of longevity, so we were always thinking about making dope albums and not necessarily a hot single and then seeing what the buzz on the street was. It would be interesting to see if Cypress were to come out now how it would be because it’s definitely different. It’s more of a media based industry now when before the streets were very important, now it’s what TV show you’re seen on, or where they put your stuff. People, eventually they’ll catch on.
AB: As a Latin emcee there’s no doubt you’ve seen the way a lot of Latin Hip-Hop artists are segregated from the mainstream. Why do you think it is that a lot of these artists only get play on stations like Mun2, or MTV Tres?
SD: Well, there are some people who don’t understand Spanish and if they don’t understand it they’re not gonna buy it, they’re not gonna support it. When we started to do Cypress we made the conscious decision that we weren’t gonna be old and talk Spanish with it because we wanted people to be able to understand us in all countries and I think that if you want the world to understand where you’re coming from and dig your groove then you gotta speak to the world in the world language and that’s English, everybody knows that. There’s no problem with radio stations playing Latino Hip-Hop. Pitbull’s all over the place. Tego Calderon, they play his shit all over the place. They know what they’re doing. They figured out the system, how to do it. Eventually you’re gonna see more cats learn what to do to get on that mainstream radio play. Until then they’re gonna be more or less segregated, or stuck in another system where they don’t want to be. They want to be worldwide, they want to be universal, but you gotta get down universally to be accepted universally.
AB: Finally, what do you feel your legacy in Hip-Hop is up to this point and how would you like to add to it before all is said and done?
SD: My band’s legacy that we’ll leave in Hip-Hop is that we were a real outspoken band saying what we wanted to say, what we believed in; right things, cool things, whatever, we were outspoken with our beliefs and people respected that about us. That’s why we have Cypress fans around the world, because of the way we came with it and weren’t shy about it. We were pioneers and radicals in that sense.
AB: How would you like to add to that?
SD: I would like to add to that by just continuing the band and putting out some more records that the newer generation can get into. On our last European tour I was watching the crowd and some fans were bringing their ten, eleven and twelve year old kids to see Cypress for the first time and that was special to me. I want to be able to continue that and be like when Cypress comes to town the whole family can come get down. I’m so grateful to all the fans for all the support they’ve given to us, I want to continue by returning and giving them more music and more good times to remember.