Cypress Hill's impact comes into focus in new documentary Cypress Hill's '90s sensational hit "Insane in the Brain" is also the title of a new Showtime documentary out this week about the hip-hop group.

Cypress Hill's impact comes into focus in new documentary

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Cypress Hill has been blending hip-hop and rap with Latin roots and a punk-rock edge for more than three decades. They released a 10th album this year, and their story is now being told in a Showtime documentary directed by their tour manager, Estevan Oriol, who calls their sound unmistakable.


ESTEVAN ORIOL: The way B-Real and Sen delivered the lyrics were like nobody else was doing at that time. It was just something cool and fresh and new for LA.


CYPRESS HILL: (Rapping) Bro, I got to maintain 'cause a [expletive] like me is going insane, insane in the membrane, insane in the brain.

MARTINEZ: The group was made up of B-Real, Sen Dog, DJ Muggs and Eric Bobo, who openly and unabashedly smoked marijuana on stage. I got a chance to ask B-Real about the group's start.

All right, so I know and I remember when Cypress Hill got people's attention in 1991 with "How I Could Just Kill A Man" and then two years later with "Insane In The Brain." But for me, "Latin Lingo," off the debut album, was the first time that I had heard Spanish words that I grew up with in a major hip-hop album.


CYPRESS HILL: (Rapping) What's up, homie (ph)? Don't you know me? Simon? Ain't you the brother of the mas pingon? Straight up, and I'm down with La Raza. Kid Frost got my back.

MARTINEZ: Why did you guys put that song in your debut album?

B-REAL: When we first got signed, we got signed based off the fact that Sen Dog could rap in Spanish. And this - the demo that got us pretty much our deal - we never used it on the album, and it was a song that Sen Dog rapped completely in Spanish. And we didn't necessarily want to do that. We wanted to, like, sprinkle our albums with Spanish stuff. So doing the Spanglish style was one of the things we thought would be a good entry, and it represented us.


CYPRESS HILL: (Rapping) But wait, they're clowning on me 'cause of my language. I have to tell them straight up, it's called Spanglish. Now who's on the pinga?

B-REAL: That song was important in that way of showing people, you know, this is how we live it. This is who we are as Cypress Hill. We're Latino kids trying to come up, and it represents that culture.

MARTINEZ: Yeah, and I think back to that time - so 1991. That's when the documentary takes us back to, 1991. I think back to 1988. That's when the film "Colors" came out and "Straight Outta Compton" came out. And I think for the rest of the country, they saw LA through that prism, that just strictly black and white prism. And I think what happened with what you guys did, B-Real, is that I think you had an opportunity - and you did - to showcase LA, the realness of the city, kind of this Latinidad, this Afro Latinidad, that really wasn't seen or heard anywhere else outside of the city.

B-REAL: Yeah, we didn't really have much representation in that time. You either saw one side of the spectrum or the other, but not anything in the middle. And I think we represented that.

MARTINEZ: Now, you know, one of the things that I think, if anyone knows just basic information about Cypress Hill, B, is that they know your voice. They know your voice. I want to play a clip from the documentary where you're in the studio, and you're listening back to some early demos of what you were trying to do.


B-REAL: (Rapping) Very simple, this exchange, how it's lyrically arranged at your disposal, my proposal, as explained, from the brain (ph)...

MARTINEZ: Now, yeah, that is a far cry from the higher, more nasally pitch that you ended up having that the world knows you by. How did you find that voice, and why did you find that voice? Why did you have to find that voice?

B-REAL: Well, I had to find that voice because the voice that I was using wasn't really cutting through and being distinct and being something that might wow people. It definitely wasn't that. And Muggs would always - in the earliest days of, you know, us getting involved in making music, he would bring back music from the East Coast that would inspire us and stuff like that. So one of those albums was a soundtrack for a movie called "Wild Style," and there was a rapper on there who was also an artist - like, a visual arts artist, whatever. His name was Rammellzee. And, you know, he had a rap style where he'd be rapping in his talking voice, which was a deeper voice, and then out of nowhere, he'd pitch up his voice and be on a really high register out of nowhere. But it sounded so [expletive] cool.

And, you know, one day, Sen Dog's brother and myself were messing around with some lyrics, and we both started pitching up our voices to emulate Rammellzee. But I didn't think the guys were going to like it. I thought they would laugh and - you know, laugh it off, and then I'd have to figure something else out. But, you know, Muggs was like, yo, that's it right there.


CYPRESS HILL: (Rapping) I'm not a loco, but I'm looking just till punk go, oh. Now you can't see I'm real great? Check out the story to the glory of the real estate.

B-REAL: And that became the voice from that time, you know? It was out of necessity and out of - through inspiration that I came up with that voice, you know?

MARTINEZ: You listened to stuff like The Doors, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin. You guys had those kind of influences. What was it about those groups that appealed to you guys?

B-REAL: I think what they all had in commonality was a little bit of darkness in their music. And, you know, that drew me in. And, you know, I actually was listening to that music before I knew what hip-hop was, so - and I think Muggs and myself and Sen Dog had that in common. So when it came time to doing our stuff, you know, we used the pieces, fragments of the things that influenced us, you know, and I think we came off in the way of - that we were influenced. You know, our music was definitely hard and slamming and dark - at times, a little bright, you know, but, you know, we were doing our version of the way that maybe Black Sabbath would do Black Sabbath.

MARTINEZ: And, you know, I think about the albums "Nevermind," by Nirvana and then your album, the self-titled "Cypress Hill" - came out in 1981, about a month apart. Then two years later, '93, "In Utero" and "Black Sunday" come out about two months apart. I mean, B, I'm 51 years old. Those albums are tattooed on my Gen X heart. I mean, what themes do you think mark the era that maybe Cypress Hill shared with groups like Nirvana and Pearl Jam?

B-REAL: I just think that the rawness of the albums and the unapologetic nature of both of them just resonated into people that needed a voice like that. You know, we're just, again, doing us, you know, being artists, you know, sort of living in the moments, as opposed to looking ahead and what the future holds. You know, we're trying to make the future. Yeah. You know, I don't think we knew the impact, but we realized it. And, you know, when we sort of come into it, we embrace it. We said, you know what, we're going to go full steam ahead with this and just keep pushing 'cause this is something beyond any of us dreamed about.


MARTINEZ: That's B-Real speaking about the new Showtime documentary, "Cypress Hill: Insane In The Brain."

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.