Drugs & Leisure

How Cypress Hill Changed the Cannabis Conversation

On October 2, 1993, Cypress Hill was booked as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. The band was promoting their second album, Black Sunday, which —with songs like "I Wanna Get High" and Hits from the Bong" remains one of the greatest albums ever made to enjoy while also basking in cannabis's magical effects.  

Taken along with the 19 educational facts about cannabis they included in that album’s liner notes, it’s fair to say that Cypress Hill’s weed consumption was at that point already both prodigious and well advertised. So well advertised, in fact, that everyone from Saturday Night Live’s producers to the band’s own label, management and friends had felt the need to counsel them against doing anything as foolish as lighting up on air. But after playing “Insane In The Brain” without incident, during "I Ain't Goin' Out Like That," DJ Muggs strode toward the camera and announced: “Yo, New York City, they said I couldn’t light my joint, you know what I’m saying? Well, we ain’t going out like that!” And so, they were banned from appearing on Saturday Night Live ever again. 

Still, 25 years on from that Saturday night, it’s fair to say America’s attitude regarding cannabis has shifted. A number of people have lit up on air since then without consequence (Killer Mike, Zach Galifianakis and even Joan Rivers) and legalization—which began for medical use with California in 1996—has now arrived in over 30 states in one form or another.

There was no other form of entertainment championing the cause of legalization, and talking about education and the understanding of cannabis.

Looking back, Louis Freese, better known as Cypress Hill’s B-Real, argues his group had a significant role to play in making that change happen. “There was no other form of entertainment championing the cause of legalization, and talking about education and the understanding of cannabis,” he points out. “A lot of us took that torch from rasta artists such as Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and the like, but hip-hop was able to take it and hit a more mainstream audience. We were one of the pioneers in terms of bringing cannabis to the forefront and into the light in hip-hop, so it’s great to see each progressive step the movement has made since then.”

It’s easy to forget how rarely cannabis was rapped about before Cypress Hill’s self-titled debut, featuring tracks like “Stoned Is the Way of the Walk”, came out in 1991. If it was, it was often negative. For context, in 1988 Dr. Dre was rapping: “I don’t smoke weed or sess / Cause it’s known to give a brother brain damage.” By 1992, he was releasing The Chronic. “It was taboo before,” says B-Real. “We’ve gone from one end of our career where we were being banned from shows for lighting up cannabis, to now in 2018 owning a cannabis retail shop and it being the norm for it to be talked about in songs and on radio. That’s a big leap, but we saw all those steps along the way, so we saw it evolving.”

B-Real opened his Dr Greenthumb dispensary, named after Cypress Hill’s 1998 single, in Sylmar in the San Fernando Valley this August. Now a business owner as well as a campaigner, he predicts federal legalization is on its way. “I think they have no choice,” he says. “They may not say they want it to happen, because they’re worried about conservative and religious voters going away from them, but the one thing about politicians, and the like, is that they’re all about money. They recognize how much money this is bringing into the United States, how many jobs are being created from it and how many tax dollars are being generated.”

Although obviously pro-legalization, B-Real spoke out against Prop 64 in 2016 over his concerns that the way recreational legalization would happen in California would benefit big business to the detriment of smaller growers. “I’d been a proponent of legalization for a long time, and so for people to hear me saying that I would not vote for Prop 64 was quite shocking for some–but everything I said was going to happen is happening now,” he points out. “There are high taxes now and a whole lot of regulations, and that’s created a situation where the little people will get wiped out to make room for the big money that’s coming in. They will then lobby to get those taxes down and eliminate some of those regulations, because they want to be able to operate and have a certain margin. To me, it’s all set up now for big money to come in. I think a lot more needs to be done to protect smaller businesses.”

That legitimate cannabis businesses exist at all is due, at least in part, to the advocacy and influence of groups like Cypress Hill. Every cannabis CEO and future green stock millionaire can doff their spliff to B-Real for that. One thing that hasn’t changed through all of this is the Cypress Hill members themselves. At the end of last month the trio released their ninth album, Elephants on Acid.

The tracklist includes a song titled“Jesus Was A Stoner,” featuring B-Real rapping,“I'm called the weed messiah. Grab your lighter.”

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