In the kaleidoscopic world of early 1990s hip hop, where iconic groups like Public Enemy, N.W.A, and De La Soul reigned supreme, a trailblazing Latino rap act emerged from South Gate, California to become one of the greatest hip hop groups of all time.
Cypress Hill, with DJ Mugg’s unmistakable production, B-Real’s distinctive voice and their electrifying bilingual delivery, would go on to become the first Latino rap act to attain platinum status, paving the way for a new generation of Latino artists, like Big Pun, to follow in their groundbreaking footsteps.
“Basically we were just trying to formulate what our sound was going to be because [at that time] we had no idea,” B-Real recalled in a 2016 interview. “But what we did know and what we were trying to do is to create that [unique] sound.”
“All of the other groups that we idolized and loved, groups like Run DMC, The Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, all of them had a formula, they had their sound and you knew when one of their songs was coming on,” the Cypress Hill rapper continued. “So before we got signed we were trying to come up with whatever our sound was going to be and at the same time we were doing all the other shit that we were doing.”
The spirited beginnings of Cypress Hill date back to 1989 when they recorded a demo that caught the discerning ears of Ruffhouse Records. Signed by the label, the group released their self-titled debut album in August 1991. The double A-side lead single, “The Phuncky Feel One”/”How I Could Just Kill a Man,” quickly gained traction on urban and college radio stations, catapulting the group to the top of Billboard’s Hot Rap Tracks chart and securing a No. 77 spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
Cypress Hill’s infectious beats and gritty West Coast influences resonated with fans from all walks of life. Two more singles, “Hand on the Pump” and “Latin Lingo,” were released from the album, with the latter capturing the essence of the group’s multicultural identity by masterfully blending English and Spanish lyrics. This signature linguistic dance would become an integral part of Cypress Hill’s enduring legacy.
The West Coast group’s debut album sold a staggering two million copies in the U.S. alone, peaking at No. 31 on the Billboard 200, and earning a double platinum certification from the RIAA – a first for a Latino rap act.
B-Real: We were the first to prove that Latin groups can do it, like you said, we had platinum before Pun came along. Pun’s achievement was no less, he was the first solo Latin rapper to bring home the platinum plaque. So we both did something groundbreaking, we came in as a group and he came in as a solo artist. It’s just that he got recognized as the first Latin [artist] because we never really emphasized on the fact that we were Latin, we just wanted the music to speak for us; and it worked.B-Real Interview: Smoke N Mirrors | RiotSound