Published on October 29th, 2018 | by voxx0
Cypress Hill – Elephants on Acid
The veteran rappers recapture the energy of their early-‘90s heyday on a heavyweight comeback…
As evidence of engagement with the wider world goes, responding to National Geographic animal photos on Instagram with an elephant’s head emoji is about as hip-hop as it gets. Anyone who had noticed Cypress Hill’s victim-free social media reboot of the old school graffiti tag might have momentarily fantasised (after checking it was really them) about the kind of music the veteran Latino rappers could be making in such an expansive, nay globalist, headspace. Elephants On Acid doesn’t so much trample such optimistic imaginings into the ground as overwhelm them with a gleeful Dumbo dream sequence of unexpected phantasmagoric delights.
In short, this album is an absolute monster. Not since Oliver Reed took that trip over the Alps in Michael Winner’s classic war film Hannibal Brooks has there been such an improbably well-realised elephantine odyssey. From the 50-second opening sitar and tabla overture on ‘Tusko’ to the heartfelt and affecting five-minute finale ‘Stairway To Heaven’ (which is an original rather than a cover, although the shadow of Led Zeppelin does fall across proceedings at other points), Elephants On Acid finds Cypress Hill not only recapturing the dynamism and urgency of their early-’90s heyday, but also taking that energy somewhere completely new.
There’s always been a classic rock element to Cypress Hill’s music – ever since they sampled Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Are You Experienced’ on ‘How I Could Just Kill A Man’ – so that’s not where the freshness resides. It’s the seamlessness of the fusion which is the real breakthrough here. To say Elephants On Acid is a classic rock record in rap clothing – or vice versa – would be putting it too simply. What this album does is replay rock’s often deliriously bogus journeys Eastward in search of new forms of transcendence – from The Beatles and the Maharishi to Brian Jones in Morocco (technically more south than east as the crow flies, but the point stands) – through a heavy duty West Coast hip-hop filter.
Take the allusively-titled single ‘Band Of Gypsies’ – and its DJ Muggs-directed video – for example. Amid some excellent iPhone camera footage of the pyramids from the perennially underrated producer’s record company-sponsored holiday in Egypt, the video posits the song – utterly plausibly on its own terms – as a US/Arabic ‘Walk This Way’, with Cypress Hill as the rock dinosaurs and Egyptian rappers Sadat & 50 in the Run-D.M.C. role. This is a beautiful dream all the more tantalising for the improbability of its ever coming true.
It’s not just producer Muggs who is on top form here. Sadat & 50’s exultant ululations and committed enunciation of the word “hashish” seem to put rappers B-Real and Sen Dog on their mettle… or perhaps they’re just pissed off they didn’t get to go on the holiday to Egypt. Either way, the former’s trademark helium squawk and the latter’s gruffer interjections hit their straps right from the off, and comparing the irresistible power-surge of ‘Band Of Gypsies’ with the lacklustre rap-reggae crossover (featuring the guy from Rancid!) of the lead single from the last Cypress Hill album DJ Muggs produced (2004’s weary-sounding Till Death Do Us Part), it’s like the work of a different group.
Cypress Hill might easily have squandered the huge potential of that opening shot in a cordite dope haze of ever longer Latino rock-rap jams. Instead they do the opposite – tightening the album’s focus as it goes on and effecting a couple of breathtaking switchbacks to keep the listener on their toes until the final knockout blow.
The average length of these 21 tracks is somewhere around two and a half minutes, and at first the balance seems a traditional split between longer vocal numbers and shorter, largely instrumental interludes – punctuating the action the way ‘comedy’ skits might’ve done (for better or worse) in olden times. But roughly two thirds of the way through, Elephants On Acid goes through the looking glass and the instrumentals suddenly get longer than the actual songs. It’s a shame Beavis and Butt-Head are not still with us to assess how mind-blowing that moment is.
Mike Judge’s most critically astute creations would also have appreciated the landmark of Cheech & Chong theology that is ‘Jesus Was A Stoner’ – “This is a new revival, Judas goes into the soil to enrich the cycle.” The woozy sing-along of ‘Reefer Man’ will blunt the sensibility of even the most diehard straight-edger, and Beatles-inspired hip-hop producer’s skit ‘Muggs Is Dead’ banishes all but the most deep-rooted fear of the carnivalesque.
B-Real and Sen Dog’s reputation as a rap tag-team has always rested more on the emphatic force of their delivery than a knack for Wildean aperçus, but both are bringing their respective A-games throughout. And while Elephants On Acid has none of the explicit polemical edge of B Real’s side project (with Chuck D and various Ragers Against The Machine) Prophets Of Rage (whose 2017 anti-Trump anthem ‘Unf**k The World’ is the video to send to anyone complaining how they don’t write protest songs any more), this unrepentant party album does have an underlying drift of outer-national open-mindedness – “Everywhere I roam I can call it home” – which acts as a welcome antidote to the codeine-drenched introspection of so much contemporary rap competition.
While the currently dominant Kanye/Drake/Future model of mix-tape mutability and last-minute streaming service sea-changes is consistent with hip-hop’s origin story of rupture and adaptation, there is a side of rap’s legacy this methodology doesn’t recognise. The yearning for a monolithic artefact which can be pored over, in the way that It Takes A Nation Of Millions …, Midnight Marauders, Wu-Tang Forever or The Slim Shady LP were, is no less valid for having a nostalgic element to it. Even – perhaps especially – at its most futuristic, hip-hop has always had that component.
For younger listeners who have learnt to recite rap’s tablets of stone in retrospect, the excitement of having a new Rosetta Stone to decode for themselves can only be guessed at. “I’m building my stairway to heaven but I keep finding my way back down” is the unexpected emotional twist in this epic tuskers’ tale. Regret might be the elephant in the room, but listen up and you won’t be sorry.
- By Jake White