Cypress Hill

Skull & Bones (Columbia)

Keeping the Faith
Does prolonged pot smoking lead to developmental hindrances? Do numerous bong hits drain the brain of crucial and resourceful cells? Who's to say? In the case of long-time blunt supporters and veteran hip-hoppers Cypress Hill, it certainly has stunted its creative impulses. Or at least those urges to do something new and original. How else to explain Skull & Bones, the group's fifth album, and the clumsy concept -- one rap disc, one rock disc -- at the center of it?

Commercially, it makes a lot of sense: Tie the best of both hip-hop universes, the hardcore street style and the suburban knuckleheaded white version of it, into one package and cover all the bases. In other words, Cypress Hill wants to have its Korn and eat it, too. Theoretically, it's not such a bad move for the Cypress crew -- its last couple albums were repetitive stiffs. The Godzilla-like squeals, so vibrant on the group's 1991 self-titled debut and its follow-up, 1992's Black Sunday, have become a production crutch for Muggs, and B-Real's nasal-infused rhymes are now more annoying than innovative. This double dose of Hill hell-raising approaches the same territory from a different perspective.

Ultimately, though, Skull & Bones is every bit as forgettable as 1998's IV. The "Skull Disc" (the rap one) is filled with tired weed-and-women rhymes that have been a part of Cypress Hill's repertoire for almost a decade. The "Bones Disc," with assistance from members of Fear Factory and Rage Against the Machine, plays like generic frat-house metal with little concern for stylistic shading. Skull & Bones, literally, is all about black (hip-hop) and white (metal). This comes to the fore on the double-edged industry slam "(Rap) Superstar," which is repeated on the "Bones Disc," as "(Rock) Superstar." The theme -- fame isn't all it's cracked up to be -- is a played-out one, and the rhythm track alternates between horror-movie strings and simple percussion. But somehow, these two versions capture what Skull & Bones is all about. Or at least what it thinks it's about. And what was that again? Never mind, pass that joint . . .

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