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"We’re Still A Force To Be Reckoned With": Cypress Hill's Eric Correa & 'Insane In The Brain' Doc Director On The Band's Trailblazing Legacy
Cypress Hill with Estevan Oriol

Photo courtesy of Sony Music

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"We’re Still A Force To Be Reckoned With": Cypress Hill's Eric Correa & 'Insane In The Brain' Doc Director On The Band's Trailblazing Legacy

'Cypress Hill: Insane In The Brain' premieres April 20 on Showtime. GRAMMY.com spoke with documentarian Estevan Oriol and percussionist Eric "Bobo" Correa about the hip-hop group's unique sound and longstanding activism.

GRAMMYs/Apr 19, 2022 - 07:58 pm

In 1994, Estevan Oriol was riding in a helicopter above Woodstock on his way to work with Cypress Hill. The tour manager and photographer was so blown away by the crowd below — roughly 500,000 people gathered to see the band — that he pulled out his video camera and started shooting.

"You can’t get any more of a golden memory than that," says Oriol. "That feeling was next level; it hasn't been matched to that day."

After landing backstage, Oriol made sure the band’s microphones were set up, and all the mixers were working before they walked out onstage. "As soon as they started playing, it was like a storm," recalls Oriol. And he videotaped that, too.

Now, this very footage Oriol took has been compiled into a documentary called Cypress Hill: Insane In The Brain, which premieres on April 20 on Showtime. Oriol, best known as the director of the Netflix tattoo documentary, LA Originals, shares behind-the-scenes footage, old photos and intimate interviews with the band dating back to their origins.

Cypress Hill is a snapshot of West Coast culture: A rap group with Latin roots; cannabis activists long before it was trendy. Composed of beatmaker DJ Muggs, rappers B Real and Sen Dog, and drummer Eric "Bobo" Correa, the members of Cypress Hill are still together 30 years later, despite a few breaks in between.

Oriol first met the group just as they formed a band in the late '80s. As he recalls, he visited their namesake Cypress Avenue in South Gate, Calif. with his friends, where he met B Real and Sen Dog.

"We became friends," said Oriol, who started photographing the band in their early days. "The reception from the crowd was insane [at] their first debut show [in] 1991, and you can see it in the documentary, the crowd were singing along, right off the jump. Then we knew right off the bat, this is going to be what it is."

From South Gate To The Main Stage

Despite their humble beginnings on Cypress Avenue, the group quickly found their fanbase through their often raucous, punk and metal-influenced live shows.

Cypress Hill came up alongside other major purveyors of West Coast hip-hop in the early 1990s, yet they blazed a unique trail among their contemporaries. On hits like "Insane in the Brain" and "Hits from the Bong," they dared to step out of traditional boom-bap beats to actively pursue reggae and dubstep influences. They were also the first major rap group to fuse hip-hop with metal and Latin funk sensibilities.

According to Correa, a part of the group's unique sound comes from his upbringing as the son of Latin jazz musician Willie Bobo. "The most important lesson my father taught me was to keep your ears open, appreciate all different types of music," Correa says. “You can favor one type of music, but it's great to be well rounded, use elements from different types of music and use it for your style."

Cypress Hill's hybrid strain caught the ear of the heads at Ruffhouse Records — a Columbia venture that was, at various times, home to the Fugees, DMX and Nas — who signed the group in 1989, just a year after their formation. Their song "Shoot 'Em Up" was part of the soundtrack for the 1992 cult crime film Juice (starring fellow West Coast rapper Tupac Shakur), and they performed at Lollapalooza the same year. In 1993, their album Black Sunday debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart.

Lyrically, onstage and in interviews, the members of Cypress Hill have been outspoken advocates for the medical and recreational use of cannabis in the US. They often brought enormous bongs onstage and took hits in front of the audience. In 1993, DJ Muggs caused controversy after he sparked a joint on "Saturday Night Live." Cypress Hill have been banned from the show ever since.

"They’ve been promoting the legalization of marijuana for 20 years, consistently," notes Oriol. "They’ve been living this way long before Cypress Hill was a band and they’re going to be doing it way after, they are pushing the movement to legalization."

Cheech and Chong were some of the band’s first influences and friends, who encouraged them to advocate for cannabis. The comedians are featured in the documentary, too. "Without saying it, Cheech and Chong passed the torch to Cypress Hill, being the advocates for that movement in the late 1980s," adds Oriol.

Over the course of their 30-year career, Cypress Hill have sold more than 20 million multi-platinum albums and were nominated for three GRAMMYs. They collaborated with Pearl Jam and Sonic Youth. In 2019, they became the first hip-hop group to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and, this March, they released their tenth studio album, Back in Black.

"Thirty years is a long time; we bonded as brothers, we went through ups and downs together," says Correa.

Showcasing An Insider's POV

Oriol was hired by DJ Muggs to tour manage House of Pain, who were close friends with Cypress Hill, which eventually led him to working with the band in 1994. Oriol's first day on the job was Cypress Hill's Woodstock '94 performance, and he stayed with them until 2005, working a variety of roles — from merch guy to security, tour manager and DJ.

Behind the scenes, he shot footage and photos of the band as a hobby. Over three decades, he accumulated over 300 hours of footage, and three file cabinets full of Cypress Hill photos, contact sheets and negatives. Roughly 90 percent of the footage in Cypress Hill was taken by Oriol, making the documentary a true insider’s story.

"Telling this story from an insiders’ point of view was the only way this story could have been told," Oriol tells GRAMMY.com. "They deserve way more than what they have now, in terms of acknowledgements and credibility."

According to Correa, who joined the group after being the drummer for the Beastie Boys, watching the documentary brought him back to that first show he performed with the group in 1994.

"I loved how it showed us from our true beginnings until now," he tells GRAMMY.com. "A lot of it brought back memories because when you’re in the moment, you’re not thinking about anything else.

"Still A Force To Be Reckoned With"

As Cypress Hill begins their national tour this summer, the group feels like they still have work to do. They're as dedicated as ever to stumping for the national legalization of marijuana, and to have fans hear songs from their recently released Back in Black.

"We still have more to do, a message to get across," Correa says. "We can celebrate the strides we made with cannabis, but there’s more to do — [marijuana is] still illegal federally. We still got a lot more to say. We want to keep making music for our fans."

This long-awaited documentary will help tell Cypress Hill's story to a younger generation, some of whom became fans through their parents. Cypress Hill: Insane In The Brain will also highlight many key moments in the band's history that were made pre-internet and otherwise lost to time.

"We always kept our eye on the prize — to continuously make the best music we can, to perform at the highest level we can," Correa continues. "We’re still a force to be reckoned with, not just to be looked at in the rearview mirror."

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Tash Sultana, Imagine Dragons, Neil Young To Headline BottleRock Fest

Tash Sultana

Photo: Frank Hoensch/Redferns

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Tash Sultana, Imagine Dragons, Neil Young To Headline BottleRock Fest

Headliners also include Mumford & Sons, Gary Clark Jr., Logic, Santana, and Pharrell Williams

GRAMMYs/Jan 8, 2019 - 02:21 am

BottleRock Napa Festival announced the lineup for its seventh-edition kickoff to summer festival season on May 24-26 with headliners including GRAMMY award winners Imagine Dragons, Mumford & Sons and Neil Young, playing with Lukas Nelson's band Promise Of The Real. Other headliners include Gary Clark Jr., Sylvan Esso, Logic, Lord Huron, OneRepublic, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Santana, Tash Sultana, and Pharrell Williams.

"We're putting the rock into BottleRock and owning it," organizer Dave Graham told Billboard. "We love rock, we love guitars, and it's reflective of the lineup we put together." In addition to spectacular artists and some of the world's greatest guitarists, other festival favorites include the Williams-Sonoma Culinary Stage and the Silent Disco, which will host GRAMMY nominees Crystal Method and Paul Oakenfold, among others.

BottleRock's distinctive variety is evidenced by GRAMMY winners Big Boi and Juanes in the lineup. Other nominees booked for this spring's bash include Cypress Hill, Anderson East, Skylar Grey, Elle King, and Midland.

Variety can be the brightest joy of an eclectic festival like BottleRock and we've been following many of the diverse artists scheduled to play in May, including AJR, Madison Beer, Bishop Briggs, Dustbowl Revival, Jeff Goldblum, Marian Hill, Jenny Lewis, the Regrettes, the Soul Rebels, and Vintage Trouble. The Napa Valley Youth Symphony will return again to add to the local flavor.

Tickets for the three days go on sale on Jan. 8 at the festival's website, and one-day tickets go on sale on Jan. 10.

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Remembering Syl Johnson: 5 Essential Tracks From The Soul Great And Self-Proclaimed "Most Sampled Artist Ever"

Photo: Clayton Call/Redferns via Getty Images

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Remembering Syl Johnson: 5 Essential Tracks From The Soul Great And Self-Proclaimed "Most Sampled Artist Ever"

Is that true? Who cares! Syl Johnson was a titanic force in soul and blues, creating classics like "Is It Because I'm Black" while incontrovertibly changing the hip-hop landscape.

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2022 - 07:34 pm

Syl Johnson proclaimed himself to be "the most sampled artist ever." Was he right? Depends on how you look at it. Quantifiably, he might not even be close: the WhoSampled database has the soul singer tallied at 414, while James Brown — the most-sampled artist on the site — has accumulated a whopping 14,353. But what if you take the word "most" spiritually — in terms of impact — and consider his braggadocious persona? Who could deny this cheeky king his crown, scepter and sash?

Whether or not the Godfather of Soul lapped him several times in the number of samples, it's undeniable that Syl Johnson's work has appeared in some of the greatest hip-hop songs ever. He's sampled on Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" and "Fear of a Black Planet" — does it get more monumental? — to say nothing of cuts by Boogie Down Productions, Wu-Tang Clan, Kanye West and Jay-Z, Tupac Shakur, N.W.A. and Cypress Hill. The list reads like a history of hip-hop, even if that last artist was a bone of contention.

In the crate-digging omniverse there's an ocean of options, so why did all these hip-hop heavyweights clamor to sample Johnson? Because his songs ruled. "Different Strokes," "Come On Sock It to Me" and "Concrete Reservation" are classics of the nexus of blues, soul and R&B.

Sadly, the singer/songwriter and record producer passed away Feb. 6 at age 85 of congestive heart failure, according to his daughter, Syleecia Thompson. And as CBS Chicago reported, he died just days after his older brother, Jimmy Johnson, passed at 93.

In a statement, Johnson's family described the singer as "a fiery, fierce fighter, always standing for the pursuit of justice" whose musical legacy "will be remembered as impeccable and a historical blueprint."

Even if one were to remove his many samples from the picture, Johnson's legacy would be ironclad. Born Sylvester Thompson in Holly Springs, Miss. to farmer parents, he moved to Chicago with his family in 1950. By the end of the decade, the guitarist was accompanying bluesmen like the mighty Junior Wells and Jimmy Reed. He released his first single as Syl Johnson, "Teardrops," in 1959.

In 1967, Johnson signed to Twilight (later Twinight) Records and recorded those aforementioned enduring tracks. But his biggest hit came in the following decade: after signing to Hi Records in Memphis in 1971, his 1975 cover of Al Green's "Take Me to the River" brought him his widest exposure to date. Johnson later became popular among hip-hop producers, though he was often rankled by unauthorized sampling and compelled to legal action.

When the dust settled, though, Johnson emerged as a true soul great with a noteworthy ability to create popular funk and soul dance music as well as topical, poignant message songs. In 2010, Numero Group released a lavish boxed set titled Complete Mythology, thus constructing a modern-day entryway to his catalog. In 2015, he got his own Rob Hatch-Miller-directed documentary, Any Way the Wind Blows.

Even though he may not be a household name — can everybody be? — Johnson's inimitable songbook, charmingly cocky attitude (he humbly deemed himself a "multifaceted genius") and hip-hop legacy shine on forevermore. Here are five essential tracks by the late soul man.

"Come On Sock It To Me" (1967)

While a little milder than the volcanic singles that would succeed it, "Come On Sock It to Me" is a groovy, appealing slice of soul with an excellent, call-and-response chorus between Johnson and the horns. (Sidebar: why are there no modern songs about "socking it to" somebody?)

"Different Strokes" (1967)

First, you hear Johnson's wolfish "Unngh!" and some giggling in the background — then, the irresistible, slamming rhythm section, with a whipcrack snare sound. Featuring stabbing horns and an uber-confident vocal performance, "Different Strokes" is Johnson at full bore. The song was sampled in songs by Wu-Tang Clan, Kanye West and Jay-Z, and featured in Public Enemy's "Fight The Power."

"Dresses Too Short" (1968)

Did these lyrics about a catcaller who can't help himself ("Why do you blame me, baby?/ I didn't tell you to put it on!") age particularly well? No, but does everything need to? Dig "Dresses Too Short" for its infectious funky soul groove and impressive horniness.

"Is It Because I'm Black" (1970)

Johnson got more topical and resonant with "Is It Because I'm Black" — with the help of a major kick from the drums. "The dark brown shades of my skin, only add color to my tears/

That splash against my hollow bones, that rocks my soul," he croons poetically. "I didn't want to write no song about hating this people or hating that people," Johnson later told Numero Group. "It's a sympathy song."

"Take Me To the River" (1975)

This easy-breezy soul classic inspired renditions by everyone from Foghat to the Grateful Dead to Bruce Springsteen — and Johnson, too. This superb version serves as a reminder of Green's bulletproof writing — and Johnson's ability to inhabit another's tune with panache and attitude.

Today, give Johnson a few spins — whether it's a tune that sampled him or one of his unforgettable singles. Does this "fiery, fierce fighter" — his loved ones' words — deserve any less than a royal sendoff?

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Pink, Faith Hill, Michael Bublé Among 2019 Walk Of Fame Honorees

Pink

Photo: Steve Granitz/Getty Images

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Pink, Faith Hill, Michael Bublé Among 2019 Walk Of Fame Honorees

Cypress Hill, the Lettermen, Tommy Mottola, Teddy Riley, and more will be immortalized in Hollywood for their contributions to recording

GRAMMYs/Jun 26, 2018 - 06:11 pm

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce has announced its selections for the Walk of Fame class of 2019, and its filled with musical stars. GRAMMY winners Pink, Faith Hill and Michael Bublé are among those who will receive a star on the famous Hollywood, Calif., walkway.

Other honorees from the world of recording include GRAMMY-winning songwriter/producer Teddy Riley, GRAMMY-nominated hip-hop group Cypress Hill, record executive Tommy Mottola, and GRAMMY-nominated pop trio the Lettermen. Another trio receiving a star, GRAMMY winners Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris will be honored together for their work on Trio. GRAMMY-nominated soul singer Jackie Wilson will receive a star posthumously.

"The Committee always tries to select a group of talented honorees that appeal in various genres of the entertainment world," said Vin Di Bona, television producer and Walk of Famer himself, who served as chair of the Walk of Fame Selection Committee this year. "I feel the Committee has outdone themselves and I know the fans, tourists and the Hollywood community will be pleased with our selections. We are excited to see each and every honoree’s face as they unveil that majestic star on Hollywood's most famous walkway."

Additionally, Idina Menzel, Cedric the Entertainer, Judith Light, and Paul Sorvino will be honored in the live theater/live performance category. Stars will also be awarded to honorees from the field of film – including Alan Arkin, Robert De Niro, Kristen Bell, Anne Hathaway, and Tyler Perry – and television, such as Mandy Moore, Terrence Howard, Candice Bergen, and Alvin & The Chipmunks.

Dates have not yet been scheduled for next year's induction ceremonies, but at least for Pink it will have to fall somewhere between her newly extended 2019 Beautiful Trauma World Tour schedule.

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10 Essential James Bond Theme Songs: From Shirley Bassey To Sam Smith & Adele
Nancy Sinatra and composer/conductor John Barry prepare to record the theme music for 'You Only Live Twice' in 1967.

PHOTO: Bettmann / Contributor

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10 Essential James Bond Theme Songs: From Shirley Bassey To Sam Smith & Adele

Agent 007 turns 60 on Oct. 5, and his taste in music remains impeccable. GRAMMY.com revisits 10 James Bond theme songs by Shirley Bassey, Nancy Sinatra, Adele and others that have soundtracked the adventures of the world's most infamous spy.

GRAMMYs/Oct 5, 2022 - 01:42 pm

Sixty years ago, on October 5, 1962, Agent 007 pointed his Walther PPK at the audience onscreen and fired his first shot. The screen bled red, the surf guitar riff of Monty Norman’s "James Bond Theme" filled the air, and a legend was born. A modestly budgeted noir shot in Jamaica, Dr. No was the first of the many spy adventures inspired by Ian Fleming’s pulpy novels.

No other cinematic franchise has been so thoroughly and completely informed by music like the 007 films. The blueprint developed and chaperoned by John Barry — who wrote the music for the first seven outings, then returned intermittently for an additional five — infused the saga with its existential cosmovision:  slightly jaded, ever cosmopolitan, at times beautiful and profound.

Barry’s music made the action scenes soar, and, most importantly, added a tinge of bittersweet complexity to the improbable seduction scenes. It was the music, not the acting or special effects, that made the character of Bond human. By 1965, the theme songs had become a stylized ritual of their own that stretched out the canvas on which the colors and set pieces merged together.

There are 25 official titles in the Bond saga, and dozens of songs — some incidental, others rejected, many of them global hits. These 10 are absolutely essential.

Sam Smith - "Writing’s On The Wall" (2015)

Bond title songs have generated grand moments, but also a few spectacular misfires (remember Lulu and "The Man With The Golden Gun"?). When Sam Smith’s melancholy, strangely monotone track was first unveiled, critics were quick to pan it. But the song has staying power, and its mournful melody works particularly well within the context of Spectre.

In retrospect, it’s one of the series’ deepest anthems. Fun fact: Radiohead submitted a Spectre song, but it was rejected for being — surprise, surprise — a tad depressing.

Shirley Bassey - "Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" (1965)

Following the epic success of Goldfinger, Welsh diva Shirley Bassey was asked to return for this jazzy Barry composition meant for Thunderball, the fourth 007 adventure. The lyrics are preposterous ("Damoiselles and danger/Have filled the stranger’s past"), but Barry saves the day with a muted trumpet, stately acoustic bass and a melody filled with longing.

When the finished recording turned out to be too short and Bassey was unavailable, Dionne Warwick was enlisted as a replacement. Her version is just as good, but was also canned in favor of Tom Jones’ "Thunderball" after the producers insisted on a title track featuring the actual name of the movie, even if the word itself had no real meaning.

Louis Armstrong - "We Have All The Time In The World" (1969) 

The first official Bond movie without Sean Connery is a bit of an incongruous mess, but it found Barry in a creative high. Combining lush orchestrations with electronic instruments, he wrote an electrifying instrumental for the title sequence, then worked with a dying Louis Armstrong on this moving ballad to accompany the story’s tragic shock ending.

Shirley Bassey - "Moonraker" (1979)

Bassey’s final 007 track — she certainly should have been asked for a few more — found her teaming up with Barry for a luxurious ballad that revels in swirling strings, a Morse code-like triangle pattern and a subliminal nod to late ‘70s disco opulence.

With Bond flying into outer space to fight the megalomaniacal villain, Moonraker was one of the silliest films in the series. Bassey’s regal touch added gravitas and a welcome hint of sadness.

Adele - "Skyfall" (2012) 

During the ‘90s, Bond songs strayed away from the majestic sensibility branded in their DNA. It took Adele and a 77-piece orchestra to bring it all back.

"Skyfall" is a self-assured piece of songwriting that mirrored the film's narrative renewal. Written by the singer with producer Paul Epworth, "Skyfall" begins with mysterious piano chords, then matches the immensity of the Shirley Bassey school of thought with Adele’s soulful reading.

Duran Duran - "A View To A Kill" (1985)

Keeping Barry as the official 007 composer well into the ‘80s was a wise decision, but updating his sound was also necessary. Reportedly, the pairing of Academy Award winning Barry with such chart toppers as Duran Duran and A-ha created friction — but you could never tell by listening to this wicked new wave romp that glitters with the band’s glamor while maintaining that solemn Bondian touch. Playing it live was an altogether different story, as Simon Le Bon’s infamous bum note became one of Live Aid’s most talked about moments.

Jack White and Alicia Keys - "Another Way To Die" (2008) 

On paper, inviting the White Stripes front man and the exquisitely gifted Keys for a joint 007 composition was an intriguing concept. The resulting track not only exceeded every possible expectation, but it also brought Bond closer to the redemptive noise of blues-fueled rock’n’roll.

White performed the ferocious drum beat himself, while kick-in-the-pants brass, grungy guitar licks and Keys’ exhilarating vocal gymnastics add to the exuberance. The repetitive piano note in the intro stands as a cool tribute to spy movie fundamentals.

Shirley Bassey – "Goldfinger" (1964) 

A jazz star at the time, 27-year-old Shirley Bassey was inside the vocal booth on Aug. 20, 1964, struggling to reach those impossibly high notes at the end of "Goldfinger." Suddenly, the orchestra musicians heard some fidgeting, then saw a bustier land on top of the booth. After which the awesome Miss Bassey delivered the notes just the way they were supposed to sound: reckless, liberated, bombastic.

The message was loud and clear: by definition, Bond songs were meant to be fun and loopy ("such a cold finger beckons you to enter his web of sin"), interpreted with both panache and a serious touch. For an alternative reading, try the velvety, pared-down demo by original lyricist Anthony Newley.

Paul McCartney and Wings - "Live and Let Die" (1973) 

"Live and Let Die" was rock royalty: written by Paul and Linda, recorded with Wings and 10cc’s Eric Stewart, produced by Beatles helmer George Martin. Linda came up with the idea of a reggae section in the middle, and the instrumental pyrotechnics featured a massive symphony orchestra.

Ironically, one of the 007 producers suggested re-recording the vocals with Thelma Houston after Martin played him the finished "demo." Logic prevailed, and "Live and Let Die" remains to this day a highlight of McCartney’s concerts, hitting a sweet spot between the exalted and the meditative.

Nancy Sinatra – "You Only Live Twice" (1967)

If you need one desert island Bond theme that perfectly encapsulates the elusive poetry of Barry’s vision, "You Only Live Twice" is it. Self-professed "problem child" Nancy Sinatra was terrified of recording the song in London in front of an orchestra, and her final performance was composed using bits and pieces from 25 different takes.

Perhaps it was Sinatra’s underwhelming vocal power that made her performance so incredibly vulnerable. It is also one of Barry’s best arrangements — languid, exotic, devastatingly sensuous. And that spiraling melody... The song has been sampled by Robbie Williams, covered by Bjork and Natacha Atlas, and used on TV shows to evoke the idealized splendor of ‘60s pop culture.

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