Two years ago, Cypress Hill made it clear that a rock side to their music was ready to emerge when their CD, Skull and Bones, included a second CD of rock-oriented material.
Now with their latest release, Stoned Raiders, there's no avoiding the rock facet of Cypress Hill, as rock tracks are placed side by side with hip-hop.
Bandleader B-Real (real name Louis Freese) said fans shouldn't worry that Cypress Hill is shifting genres on them. It's simply another part of the group's long-established efforts to experiment and remain a cutting-edge member of the hip-hop scene.
"That's what you do as an artist. You gamble on your creativity," B-Real said. "And I wouldn't change that because I think that's what people respect about us, that we're not afraid to go against the grain."
According to B-Real, the rock element shouldn't be a total surprise. Cypress Hill dabbled in the style in the early 1990s when the group contributed tracks to the Judgment Night movie soundtrack and has frequently toured with rock acts.
But rock began to move further toward the forefront of the group's thinking when, prior to Skull and Bones, Cypress Hill was invited to do a track for a WCW wrestling compilation, and the group felt a rock-type track would be wellsuited to the theme of the project.
Pleased with their efforts, B-Real and his bandmates, Sen Dog (Senen Reyes), producer/programmer/instrumentalist DJ Muggs (Larry Muggerud) and percussionist Eric Bobo decided to explore the rock style further.
But B-Real said the group members also realized they had to be careful in how they presented this emerging facet of their sound. Part of their following is made up of hip-hop purists who were likely to resent any step away from straight-up hip-hop.
But Cypress Hill couldn't ignore the fact that they liked the way the rock- oriented material was turning out. Eventually they arrived at the idea of adding a second disc of rock material to Skull and Bones.
"The hip-hop fans might have gotten turned off by [the rock tracks], so we separated the discs, basically just so people can get into what we're trying to do," B-Real said. "It's there. If you want to listen to it, it's there for you listen to.
"The whole basis of it was so our fans understand that we're doing hip-hop and rock," he said. "Hip-hop is our roots and we'll always be doing it, but we're experimenting with this."
Actually, in a world where metal bands like Rage Against The Machine, Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park have come to freely mix rock and rap, it shouldn't seem so revolutionary that a group with the hip-hop history of Cypress Hill would explore a hybrid of the styles.
And the fact is, rock and rap work well together on Stoned Raiders. Songs like "Trouble" and "Amplified" show that Cypress Hill has a talent for crafting catchy and crunching rock guitar riffs that fit seamlessly alongside the rapped and sung lyrics. The song "Bitter" even eases back on the intensity of most rap-rock to deliver a more ambient change of pace for the CD.
Meanwhile, straight-ahead rap tunes "Kronologik" (which details the ups and downs of Cypress Hill's career) and "Psychodelic Vision" bob and weave nicely behind inventive beats and smartly timed raps.
In fact, Stoned Raiders may be Cypress Hill's strongest effort since the 1995 release Temples of Boom, which preceded a transition period for the group, which emerged from the Southgate suburb of Los Angeles in 1991 with a self-titled debut disc that featured the hit "How Could I Kill A Man."
A second CD, Black Sunday, delivered an even bigger hit, "Insane in the Brain," topped the album charts and firmly established Cypress Hill as one of hip-hop's premier acts.
But after Temples of Boom, the group's third CD, Sen Dog stepped away from Cypress Hill to start a rock-oriented band, SX-10.
At the time, B-Real frequently declared that he felt Cypress Hill would have little trouble carrying on without Sen Dog, who was a frequent songwriting contributor and whose hard-edged voice brought an important contrast to B-Real's more nasal-toned raps.
But the pared down lineup never released a full-length album. The two-year period that preceded Sen Dog's return and the next full-length CD, the 1998 release IV, produced only an EP, "Unreleased and Revamped."
B-Real doesn't deny that Sen Dog's departure shook up the chemistry in Cypress Hill, but he said that any tensions have long since been resolved and Sen Dog was welcomed back with open arms.
"I would say for awhile we were all a little bit disappointed and stuff," B-Real said of Sen Dog's departure. "But being his brothers, we understood what he had to do, what he felt he had to do ... I had a lot of respect for him because he went and did what he had to do."
For his part, Sen Dog quickly assimilated himself back into the group and demonstrated his commitment to Cypress Hill's future.
"He went out of his way to say to us that 'Hey, look, I want [to rejoin], and things were said, but I'm here and I'm down and I got your backs,'" B-Real said. "We were like 'S---, as far as we were concerned, you were just on vacation.'"
Cypress Hill thumps and grooves with the likes of Linkin Park and Adema this Tuesday at the World Arena.