Rise Up, the latest album from High Times cover boys Cypress Hill, is an exercise in meeting expectations,. Multiple odes to marijuana? Check. Token attempts at rap-rock crossover? Of course. Cheech and Chong in the interludes? What do you think?
The LA outfit has managed to stay in popular culture for nearly two decades after their initial release by pimping their particular brand of stoned, just-menacing-enough gangsters. This caricature sometimes masks the fact that they’re underrated musicians, definitely capable of crafting songs with appeal beyond those with a case of the munchies. Rise Up has some of these songs, particularly on the first half of the album. “Light Up,” benefits from Pete Rock’s mojo behind the tables, as B-Real, Sen Dog and co. rip off some battle rhymes. “Get Em Up” bounces with frenetic energy as does the Tom Morello collaboration “Rise Up,” a classic LA protest song, tapping into the dirtier side of the city that simmers beneath the shine.
But Rise Up’s redundancy derails its climb to the summit. A second Morello collaboration “Shut Em Down,” is almost indistinguishable from “Rise Up,” as both the rhymes and guitar screeches get repetitive. The same goes for the aforementioned Jane jams as B-Real falls prey to lyrical laziness. “K.U.S.H.” eschews verses for listing all the famous people who have smoked up with the group. Put that bong down, we know you can do better.
If the group stripped out the quota smoking tracks, and the unnecessary La Raza tribute “Armada Latina,” they’d be left a foundation for a much more vital album. They certainly still have something to contribute lyrically. “Armed & Dangerous” is the best example—Jake One’s beat gives Hill a more modern sound, while B-Real takes a break from the gangster posturing to remind up-and-coming rappers that the group’s worked hard to get where they’re at: “In a year’s time some of you punks won’t matter/Let’s see if you can hang when you climb the ladder.”
Of course this line begs the rebuttal: Does Cypress Hill still matter? Six years between albums is an eternity and all in all, it’s not a comeback performance that suggests Cypress has much new to offer. This album may not be their last gasp, but their stock ain’t exactly rising.