It has been more than eight years since Cypress Hill released their last full length-album, Rise Up at the turn of the decade back in 2010. Courting a louder, more aggressive sound and enlisting a full assortment of different producers to help handle the album’s production, the group departed from their original raw, moody, ominous sound in exchange for a more uptempo vibe before going dormant again for the better part of the last decade. However, now in 2018 Cypress Hill has finally returned and the blunted, marijuana loving band of stoned marauders has once again returned to the Hip-Hop scene with their latest offering and ninth studio album Elephants On Acid. On top of being the group’s first album in nearly a decade, the project also marks the return of the group’s original sonic architect DJ Muggs, once again back serving behind the boards. Not only marking Muggs’ first contribution to a Cypress Hill album since 2004’s Till Death Do Us Part; but also serves as his first time leading as the group’s sole contributing producer since Stoned Raiders back in 2001. However, while DJ Muggs may be back in the driver’s seat serving as the group’s sole producer for the project, Elephants On Acid is far from being a return to form album for Cypress Hill.
From the moment fans hit play, something long time listeners will notice off the bat is the change in the group’s overall sound on their latest offering in contrast to past releases. In a departure from their last bombastic entry, Elephants on Acid is a psychedelic, acid-rock infused experiment of an album, taking the group in both a new sound and direction that had yet to be fully explored in past entries. While Cypress Hill has experimented with spacey, psychedelic inspired production on individual songs such as ‘Illusions’ and ‘I Wanna Get High’ amongst others in the past; Elephants On Acid surprisingly marks the first time the group has dedicated an entire album attempting to capture the sound beginning to end. Needless to say, the psychedelic inspired production and new buzzy rock elements suits the group members very well. Both B-Real and Sen Dog sound more than at home over the both album’s subdued, spacey production, as well as its more lively offerings; and the entry is easily DJ Muggs’ most ambitious catalog of work that he’s crafted for the group yet. While Muggs’ production truly is a spectacle that needs to heard in its entirety to be fully appreciated, the change in direction for the crew’s overall sound does take some time adjusting to, and is bound to polarize some listeners. While ambitious, well executed and even sometimes hypnotically catchy at times, the album never truly ever manages to re-create the dark, dusty, spooky sound Cypress Hill came to be known for. Nor does it ever quite reach the unique, vibrant, funkiness that Muggs’ was able to create on many of Cypress Hill’s original early releases during the group’s heyday either. This may in part be largely due to the different approach Muggs’ opted to pursue on the album’s production this time around.
Muggs’ himself has stated in interviews that a majority of the instrumentation heard on the album’s production was played live, either by himself or studio musicians. This move was likely influenced due in part to the ever increasing legal difficulty and financial cost involved in making a traditional Hip-Hop record comprised of sampled elements used in the group’s past production. In fact, according to Muggs, there’s only one sample throughout the entirety of the album. A small portion borrowed from the Japanese smooth jazz group Hiroshima. While this isn’t necessarily bad thing, this does give the album a slightly more modern sound and feel on many songs than that heard on the group’s past releases. While DJ Muggs does make his best efforts to help make these new arrangements sound like old samples; whether its re-sampling live renditions or even with added record pops and manufactured grime, long time listeners with a trained ear are still likely to take some notice. There are a few select moments, such as ‘Blood on My Hand’ and ‘Holy Mountain Interval’ when the album does come eerily close to mimicking the production heard on the group’s third album, III: Temples of Boom. This most notably comes from the use of Indian sitars, organs and psychedelic bass grooves which create the dark, moody, spooky sound that came define much of DJ Muggs’ early production for Cypress Hill. In fact, strangely enough even the album’s artwork featured on the cover of Elephants on Acid looks like it could easily sit comfortably side by side with that of the gloomy illustrations of Jamie Caliri featured on Temples of Boom. However, while Temples Of Boom was able to maintain this dreary, foreboding atmosphere throughout the album’s entire run time, only sparingly does it show up on Elephants On Acid. Again, this largely comes from the more rock inspired elements and modern sounding production derived from the studio musicians Muggs’ enlisted to contribute to the album. That being said, bringing in outside talent to contribute to the album’s production does manage to reap unexpected rewards for open minded listeners who are willing to give the crew’s new approach a chance.
Elephants On Acid is a bold experiment, taking the group into new sonic territories yet to be explored. This daring new approach is perhaps best encapsulated in the album’s opening track ’Band Gypsies’. Easily album’s standout cut, ‘Band Gypsies’ is a psychedelic, guitar laced anthem, dripping with Middle-Eastern embellishments such as sitars and arabic ululations which set the tone for much of the sonic experimentation heard on Elephants On Acid. The track’s spoken word intro and chorus come courtesy of Sadat and Alaa Fifty Cent, two Egyptian artists who were tapped to contribute to the project while the group conducted a portion of the album’s recording sessions in Egypt. In fact, many of the live musicians brought into the studio were actually local musicians picked off the streets of Egypt to perform; which also explains much of the album’s sound and character. However that being said, not all of Elephants On Acid is spent in uncharted waters and jarring experimentation. Immediately following ‘Band of Gypsies’, ‘Put Em In The Ground’ takes the group back into more familiar territory. Serving as a gritty, boom-bap laced entry, the track is bound to conjure up memories of the bands early days in the imaginations of long time listeners who have been around since the group’s debut album and Black Sunday. Other tracks such as ‘Locos’, another uptempo track also brings Cypress Hill back into familiar territory and are bound to take long time listeners on a stroll down memory lane. With dark, brooding production, intermingled with verses rapped in Spanish (courtesy of Sick Jacken) and raw lyrical imagery courtesy of B-Real and Sen dog; ‘Locos’ is easily amongst one the best selections that Elephants On Acid has to offer. The track is perhaps the closest the album comes to replicating that vintage Cypress Hill and is bound to be a fan favorite amongst long time hardcore listeners.
The album is not without it’s flaws however, one of the most glaring being the heavy use and over reliance on skits. Including the album’s intro, eight of the project’s twenty-one tracks are either instrumentals or interludes that are peppered throughout the album’s runtime. While interludes and instrumental tracks are not a uncommon feature of past Cypress Hill efforts by any means; they’re unfortunately utilized with a extremely heavy hand here on Elephants on Acid. In the past, interludes such as these were used sparingly and served as placeholder where listeners could stop and catch their breath; or were utilized by the group to accentuate the spooky, haunting atmosphere in later efforts. Here however, the sheer over abundance of these skits and interludes only seems to distract from the overall experience, rather than add to it. This flaw is made all that more obvious when other numerous tracks such as ‘Jesus Was A Stoner’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven’ have long drawn out intros and outros as well, which only further drags the album. When all is said and done, no less than ten minutes of the album’s fifty-two minute run time is comprised of instrumental skits and interludes; not including vocal tracks that just happen to have long intros/outros as well. Sample heads will likely find even more frustration in the fact that these instrumental skits and interludes strewn throughout the album are often times the closets thing we get to a grittier sample like sound on the album. Only serving to further tease listener who have been waiting for a return to form Cypress Hill album helmed once again by DJ Muggs. Above all though, what these superfluous interludes mostly just feel like are time fillers. They contribute little to the overall experience, interrupt whatever momentum the album is able to build up and ultimately just come across as stuffing meant nothing more than to pad out the run time of the album. Likewise, some tracks on the album do feel like rehashings of other past, classic Cypress Hill songs. ‘Crazy’ for example, while not a track bad necessarily, unfortunately sounds a re-treading of ‘Insane In The Brain’; just minus the memorable hook of its classic predecessor and replaced with a generic sung chorus.
Fortunately, aside from these issues, Elephants On Acid is by in large a successful venture and yet another solid, if unique effort in Cypress Hill’s long, illustrious catalog. To an extent, it’s almost admirable that a group that has been around as long as Cypress Hill nine albums into their career is still pushing the envelope, as well as the bounds of their own music. While many Hip-Hop performers and groups that have been around as long as Cypress Hill have long transitioned from releasing new music and into the role of legacy performers the group proves it is still more than capable of delivering a few surprises. A testament to their creativity and ingenuity, nearly thirty years into their careers the group continues to challenge not only themselves but, the fans as well to step out of their box and explore new realms yet unexplored in their music. Is Elephants On Acid for everyone? Probably not, the group’s departure into new musical territory is bound to incite a myriad of different reactions depending on what type of experience fans are hoping. However, if listeners are willing to forgo these preconceived expectations and a few slight stumbles here and there Elephants On Acid is bound to deliver at the very least a unique, listening experience that only Cypress Hill can deliver.
Elephants On Acid is available now to purchase on CD in stores and available on digital platforms as well to stream on Tidal, Spotify, Apple Music, Prime Music and iTunes.
1. Tusko (Intro)
2. Band of Gypsies
3. Put Em in the Ground
4. Satao (Interval)
5. Jesus Was a Stoner
6. Pass the Knife
7. LSD (Interval)
8. Oh Na Na
9. Holy Mountain (Interval)
10. Locos (Feat. Sick Jacken)
11. Falling Down
12. Elephant Acid (Interlude)
13. Insane OG
14. The 5th Angel (Instrumental)
16. Reefer Man
17. Thru the Rabbit Hole (Interlude)
19. Muggs Is Dead (Interlude)
20. Blood on My Hands Again
21. Stairway to Heaven