In the early 1990’s hip hop began making its transition from street music to a global phenomenon. This period, often referred to as the “golden age” of hip hop, saw several artists go from neighborhood legends to worldwide superstars. In the aftermath of NWA’s rise to stardom, another LA based group named Cypress Hill broke into the mainstream hip hop scene.
Cypress Hill was unique in many ways. They were a multi-ethnic group, and one of the first major hip hop groups to feature a Mexican rapper (B-Real). More importantly, they were the first group in any musical genre outside of reggae that was upfront about their love for cannabis. Previously, counterculture groups like The Beatles made thinly veiled references to cannabis in their songs and it was freely consumed at their concerts.
But Cypress Hill, who had songs like “Stoned is the way of the walk”, was up-front about their infatuation with cannabis and marijuana smoking in a way no one had ever been before.
To be certain, Cypress Hill were not flower children. Both the group’s lead rappers, B-Real and Sen Dog, had grown up in gang culture on the mean streets of the West Coast. They had numerous gangster hip hop classics such as “Hand on the Pump” and “How I could just kill a man”. But their bread and butter was cannabis.
Even Bob Dylan’s classic “Everybody Must Get Stoned” was titled on the record liner as “Rainy day women, #12 and 35”. Cypress Hill on the other hand, didn’t try to hide anything. They had lyrics, song titles that all revolved around their exploits smoking cannabis while doing “gangster shit” around Los Angeles. It caught on like wildfire. An entire generation of hip hop fans came of age listening to Cypress Hill.
When that generation reached voting age, they powered the legalization of medical cannabis at the polls in California in 1996. Over the next several years, 37 more states would legalize cannabis on a medical or recreational basis. It can be argued that none of this would have been possible without Cypress Hill pushing the cultural envelope on cannabis.
Once they broke through, Dr. Dre did The Chronic, which is widely hailed as a masterpiece. But it touched on the same themes as Cypress Hill’s debut album. Suddenly cannabis use became “cool” among the same young hip hop fans that are today’s pro-cannabis legalization voters. It was no longer possible for movies like Reefer Madness and law enforcement propaganda to drive the conversation on cannabis. There was literally an entire generation of people who grew up smoking it; and they weren’t going to be held back any longer.
Not long ago, Cypress Hill received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They will always have a place in the pantheon of great hip hop artists. It is well-earned. But it’s possible the group’s greatest contribution to our current culture is the fact that they smashed the stigma surrounding cannabis use into a thousand pieces.
They smoked on their records. They smoked at their concerts along with their fans. They toured the entire country and inspired young people to legalize cannabis. They didn’t care who tried to stop them. It’s not a stretch to say that without Cypress Hill, today’s cannabis revolution may not have started for another several decades.
G13 Club is a private social club for medical and recreational cannabis users based in Barcelona. It is also a space for musical and artistic development that promotes a multitude of activities focused on the expression and exhibition of urban, hip hop, reggae and skate culture.