So what’s that?” I ask Louis “B-Real” Freese.
“That sound in the background – working on some new material? Another ‘Insane in the Brain,’ perhaps?”
“Man, that’s the ice-cream truck.”
I laugh because … crazy insane, got no brain … that’s pretty much all I can do. He laughs because the idea of him making music that sounds like an ice-cream-truck jingle is apparently as ridiculous and unlikely as certain modern rappers — he’s not going to name any names — making music that actually has balls.
“Oh, man … well, do you ever stop and get some ice cream?”
“Not from that truck, I don’t.”
The recreational dope-smoking and exaggeratedly nasal-voiced frontman of the legendary Cypress Hill has marched to the hard beat of his own turntable — a real one, one you can touch — for 20 years now. Which is why he’s fine with discussing those young’ns who prefer the easier beats created by Garage Band plug-ins or some iPhone rimshot app, or all the other things that Freese, one of the best-selling Latino rappers ever, thinks are wrong with the current state of hip-hop.
“`Hip-hop` has gone real electronic, as opposed to where it was in the ’90s, which was real sample-heavy,” Freese says. “Some people still use samples and whatnot, but it’s not as prevalent as it used to be. People are making more of an electronic type of sound and not having to deal with sample clearance. I think you need a combo of both styles. What you hear on the radio is more of that electronic style. … If you ask me, that’s a little generic, but this music goes in cycles.”
In the early ’90s, Cypress Hill’s style helped define one such cycle. The sample-heavy sound achieved on the band’s 1991 self-titled debut (they were the first Latino rappers to sell a million records), is considered one of the most widely copied templates in hip-hop, innovative enough to land it in “Most Essential Album” lists from Rolling Stone, Spin, and Q magazines. It eventually went double-platinum. Two years later, their sophomore record, Black Sunday, debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, at the time the highest Sound Scan metric ever for a rap group. It eventually went triple-platinum.
The soundtrack to the summer of 1993? That album’s hit single, “Insane in the Brain,” which did strike a hypnotic, ice-cream-truck-type subconscious chord thanks to a wild-eyed, hydraulics-pounding, and almost punk-inspired video that took a sledgehammer to suburbia via heavy rotation on MTV.
“There were some kids out there that weren’t being spoken for in hip-hop and had no voice and we kind of filled that void,” Freese says. “We spoke for a generation of kids that maybe weren’t into punk rock or metal, who didn’t fit into any of those things.”
Freese says the song’s popularity — the unshakeable chorus went on to become a pop-culture trope — was one the first times he marveled at the power of rap.
“The first time we played it live, it was crazy,” he says. “It was right after the single came out, and we started making a lot of noise.”
Seventeen years later, Freese is still making noise the way he thinks it should be made, without sounding like a robot.
“I think that `electronic` mentality is taking a little away from what makes hip-hop hip-hop,” he says. “That grittiness, that rawness, just that whole vibe.”
He won’t speak for the genre, “but for us the future is lookin’ good. Snoop Dogg brought us over to EMI Priority, and we’re about to do a bunch of touring on this new record `Rise Up`,” he says. “We’re excited to get out there, to get back up on the horse and ride.”
“Well thanks for your time, man. Maybe grab you some ice-cream before you do.”
“Nah …” •