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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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