Cypress Hill :: Still Smokin' - The Ultimate Video Collection
Label: Columbia Records
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
Throughout Cypress Hill's long and successful career, many people have
claimed kinship with the hispanic hip-hop homeboys for their own
agendas. That's not really unprecedented - any group in any genre
of music that reaches critical mass in popularity will be pressured
to use their influence among the people for the benefit of special
interest groups hoping to effect social or political change. What
is interesting though is the diversity of the groups that have all
tried to latch onto the Hill - politicos Rage Against the Machine, NORML, the
"Get Out the Vote" youth campaign, even the charity
Caring for Babies with AIDS pegged them for a promotional
poster with the proceeds going to the little ones who suffer
the hardship of HIV the most. While some artists would become
whiny, didactic, indulgent egomaniacs full of their own
self-importance under such circumstances (see U2's Bono) the
core trio of B-Real, Sen Dog and DJ Muggs have remained true to
the roots displayed on their self-titled debut 14 years ago.
Part Cheech & Chong, part latino mafioso, part frathouse party
boys and part P-Funkateers, Cypress Hill became arguably not
only the most successful hispanic rap group in history but one
of the biggest hip-hop crossover acts of all time.
Through the lens of "Still Smokin' - The Ultimate Video Collection,"
the Cypress Hill legacy is encapsulated into a two hour+ musical
marathon. There is nothing random or out of place to be found here -
the 22 videos which open this set are in chronological order and
cover every song ever heard on MTV or BET in their career. The
Hill triumvirate had the unique distinction of being popular right
from the start, first getting a groundswell of support from the
hardcore hip-hop heads with gritty tracks and videos for "The Phuncky
Feel One" and the controversial "How I Could Just Kill a Man."
The former plays like an Abel Ferrara film, full of dark hallways,
faces obscured in the shadows, and the flickering flames of
trash fires in backstreet alleys. The latter goes from the surreal
black, white and purple of their debut to an almost ULTRA
technicolor by comparison. Three interesting things to note
about this clip: Ice Cube's repeated cameos (before his feud
with the Hill over the song "Friday" turned ugly), the repeated
shots of pistols which were no doubt edited out for TV, and the
director's apparent unawareness that "one-time" refers to the
police. Each time B-Real references it, footage of some lanky
white dude attempting armed robbery is spliced in. Even if it
would have gotten the video banned from airplay (had to be a tough
sell with the number of guns as is), his lyrics should have been
illustrated by a heavily armed and properly uniformed officer
threatening B-Real in his home or out on the streets. The
clear directorial screw-up doesn't ruin the video, but they are
noticeable blemishes in an otherwise gritty street narrative.
If it gives you any idea how quickly Cypress Hill ascended after
their debut to rap and pop music's upper echelons, the DVD's first
six music videos are ALL from their debut album, which was
itself an impressive 16 tracks long in an era when many rap albums
were 10-12. In other words, on any other rap album from the day,
that would have meant the label budgeted and shot music videos for
over half the songs on it. That's Michael Jackson "Thriller"
numbers people. Of course it does help that it was cheaper to
produce videos in 1991 than it is today, when "gritty" was in and
on location shooting was preferable to Hollywood studio lots.
What's truly remarkable though is that Cypress Hill's popularity
did not peak until two years later, when MTV made the "Black Friday"
song "Insane in the Brain" one of the most overplayed music videos
of all time. So frequently did this video air that even Beavis
& Butthead jammed to it on an episode called "Foreign Exchange,"
which may have unintentionally taken their success level even
higher among teenagers and college students; after all the
episode was so hilarious I still remember it 11 years later
(even though I had to use the net to look up the episode's title).
After this point Cypress Hill clearly earned the right to big
budgets and big name directors, and flexed a little of that
muscle on "When the Ship Goes Down." It's among the most cinematic
of the Hill's videos, playing out like a cross bettween "Scarface"
and "King of New York," featuring protagonist anti-heros tired
of doing their drug syndicate's dirty work and wanting to strike out
on his own. While the hispanic lead tries a little too hard to affect
a Tony Montana-esque accent, it's still a good mini-movie and song.
Intentionally or not, B-Real's jheri curl afro in this one is hilarious.
The trend towards glossy, more cinematic videos continues onward
through the rest of their catalogue. Things get a little darker on
"Throw Your Set in the Air," which is shot in the "dusty dirty
film reel" style best seen on the Nine Inch Nails video "Closer."
The much more musically appealing "Throw Your Hands in the Air"
remix is the quintessential opposite: full color, vibrant, and
filled with shots of bouncing lowriders and rappers lamping in
recording studios. Erick Sermon, Redman and MC Eiht all show up
to rap their verses, which would date this video to 1995 even if
they didn't mention it repeatedly just by the fact that's the last
time all three were equally popular in hip-hop. This middle
section of videos is also notable for coming during a three year
hiatus of new material from the Hill, as both the videos for
"Illusions" and "Boom Biddy Bye Bye" were remixes from a
"Unreleased and Revamped" EP, the latter featuring a cameo from
Wyclef Jean. When the Hill finally reunited to record their "IV"
album in 1998, their influence on the charts had waned but their
cult status was well assured by their consistantly funky production
and unabashed love of marijuana, combined with their ability to
rip high energy live performances on tours like "Smoking Grooves"
coast to coast. "Tequila Sunrise" plays like concert
footage from one of those tours, which looks eeriely familiar to
me as I saw them play the The Palace around this time (somewhere in
storage I have a poster the Hill autographed, and I'm still trying
to find it). And speaking of marijuana, this video is followed
by the incredibly hilarious "Dr. Greenthumb." Is that Mini-Me
enjoying the buddha bless? It sure looks like him.
By the time Cypress Hill's videos enter the 21st century, they've
definitely matured to expensive high-gloss affairs, exemplified
by the "(Rock) Superstar" video with the big sets, digital
video editing, and giant stage constructed for Cypress to perform
their song in front of hundreds of hired extras. As this song
and "Can't Get the Best of Me" come during an era where Cypress
Hill seemed to be trying overly hard to crossover to a "Headbanger's
Ball" audience, it's hard for me to watch these videos without
being annoyed at how their slickness would put off that audience
and alienate some of their hardcore rap fanbase at the same time
(not me though, I've always been a bit of a metalhead on the d-low).
Fortunately before things got too out of hand, Muggs came along
with his "Soul Assassins" side project, and inserted Dr. Dre and
B-Real into the thumping and sick Public Enemy beat he looped
for "Puppet Master." In this case a slick video was entirely called
for, as it's surreal to see Dr. Dre looking like the Anti-Christ
Pope and B-Real coming off like the a horny horned Satanic goat,
controlling the whole world from deep beneath in the underworld.
The budgets have clearly become an impediment to doing multiple
videos off an album though, as both 2001's "Stoned Raiders" and
2004's "Till Death Do Us Part" only feature one joint: "Lowrider"
and "What's Your Number?" respectively. Both are laid back,
funky and amusing, representing the best of Cypress Hill's videos
quite nicely. It's a damn shame neither of these saw as much
replay as "Insane in the Brain" - in fact I'm sure I hadn't seen
either more than once before picking up this DVD.
The bonus features on this DVD are pretty damn chunky compared to
many music video compilations. Seven songs are presented live
from the Fillmore, the same performance they also recorded an
album for. There's also a promotional half-hour TV special
called "So You Wanna Be a Superstar," which was obviously shot
to coincide with their "(Rock) Superstar" video. It functions
as a mini-retrospective of the group's history, including clips
from the other videos you see on the DVD as well as footage of
people who obviously want to be rock superstars themselves.
For the Cypress Hill fan or hip-hop historian, calling this
DVD "essential" would be an understatement, but even for the
casual hip-hop fan the two+ hours of footage and music found
within is totally engrossing and wholly entertaining on many
different levels. What "Still Smokin'" illustrates perfectly is
just why Cypress Hill has achieved success on so many levels, and
why so many different people want to take a piece of that success
and use it for their own ends, whether selfish or noble. In the
end Cypress Hill has remained remarkably unaffected by it though,
with even their most recent videos showing that their #1 goal
still remains making the funky, blunted, hardcore hip-hop grooves
that appeal to their core audience and crossover at the same
time by being that damn good.
Content: 10 of 10
Layout: 10 of 10
TOTAL Vibes: 10 of 10
Originally posted: January 11, 2005