by Alex Shtaerman
It goes without saying that very few rap groups can claim an iconic global following comparable to the one commanded by Hip-Hop legends Cypress Hill. And as B-Real, Sen Dog and DJ Muggs are set to be honored at the 2008 edition of VH1’s Hip-Hop Honors alongside fellow Hip-Hop luminaries Slick Rick, Naughty By Nature, Too $hort and De La Soul, the music and influence of Cypress continues to resonate over seventeen years since the brazen anthem “How I Could Just Kill A Man” exploded onto the airwaves in the Fall of ‘91 and sent Hip-Hop fans from South Central to Brownsville into a literal frenzy.
With over two decades in the game, Cypress Hill co-frontman Sen Dog has just about seen it all. From humble beginnings in Cuba to touring the world to laying the foundation for future generations of Latin MCs, Senen Reyes is a true Hip-Hop pioneer. And when he’s not recording and touring with Cypress, Sen can also be found fronting his heavy metal/rap fusion band SX-10. However, with virtually an entire career spent within the context of a group, Sen Dog’s much anticipated first solo album, Diary Of A Mad Dog, finds the MC less inclined to fall in line with any particular purpose, and as Sen himself puts it, “I just want to go in and record and come up with something cool that I like and I think my fans are going to dig it”. Recently we had a chance to catch up with Sen Dog and talk about everything from his new album, his experience growing up in L.A. and the new Cypress Hill album that is currently in the works!
RIOTSOUND.COM: The first thing I want to ask you about is your role with regard to the legacy of Latin Hip-Hop. Whenever we hear about a Latin rapper going platinum we always hear about Big Pun finally doing it in ’98, and while Pun is an incredible MC and not to take anything away from him, Cypress Hill went platinum seven year earlier. So, in your view, how come nobody mentions Cypress when it comes to the breakthrough success of Latin MCs in Hip-Hop?
SEN DOG: I think it’s because Cypress crossed over a long time ago to the mainstream market. And it’s not like we intended to cross over, the cross over came to us. We can’t help it if white college kids are buying our record like crack. We want to be successful and perform for the most audiences possible. When Cypress crossed over and became – how can I say this – like the Beastie Boys or something like that, that media stream that was covering us [before], all of a sudden they felt like we weren’t theirs anymore, we weren’t just a Hip-Hop band anymore, we were mainstream. And for that reason I think they intentionally look us over.
RIOTSOUND.COM: Does that ever make you bitter or resentful? For me, I grew up listening to your music and I always thought of Cypress Hill as hardcore Hip-Hop. How does it make a difference whether there are two people listening to your music or two million? If it’s hardcore, it’s hardcore regardless.
SEN DOG: That’s the same view that I have about it but I don’t have no bitterness towards anything because regardless of the fact of what people think we’ve still sold records in the millions and we’ve still toured with damn near everybody underneath the sun and we are twenty year vets [of the music business]. So [certain media attitudes] never stopped the band from being successful, you know what I mean. And the true true Hip-Hop heads never stopped listening to Cypress Hill. So that’s the way I look at it.
“growing up in the part of L.A. where it’s
predominantly Mexican, the Mexican kids didn’t
really like the Black kids. So you bring some Black
kids in there that talk Spanish and it’s like, we
really hate your ass [laughs]! So it was hard because
of the fact that we had to prove ourselves everyday”
RIOTSOUND.COM: You are a Cuban born American, so you’ve had the very unique experience of coming over from a country that we still, in the US, have basically no communication with. What was it like for you to be born in Cuba and then to immigrate with your family to the US?
SEN DOG: When we came over, my mom and dad and us four kids, we didn’t have any family out here or anything; so basically it was just us. And growing up in the part of L.A. where it’s predominantly Mexican, the Mexican kids didn’t really like the Black kids. So you bring some Black kids in there that talk Spanish and it’s like, we really hate your ass [laughs]! So it was hard because of the fact that we had to prove ourselves everyday, me and my brother. Going to school, walking home from school, playing sports or dating girls or whatever, we constantly had to prove ourselves that we weren’t no sissies or whatever. It made for a lot of fights, a lot of detention, being suspended and all that.
[After some time] we were finally accepted by our neighborhood and we became part of the neighborhood, we weren’t those “Black guys” anymore, you know what I mean. Eventually with getting into that whole breakdancing phase and MCing and everything, it became cool at that point because everybody was doing the same thing and we were at the front of it. Kids were looking up to us. When we rolled up, they were like, ok, someone’s going to rap here or someone’s going to breakdance or something is going to get crazy when these guys show up. So it was quite the experience growing up, from the initial culture shock to actually being looked up to for what you do in your culture and in your society.
RIOTSOUND.COM Your younger brother, Mellow Man Ace, actually broke into the music business before you did, dropping Escape From Havana in 1989. What effect did his success have on the path you would ultimately choose to follow in your own career?
SEN DOG: His success was definitely a positive thing. With him being younger than me and at one point having been part of our band and then taking off and doing the solo thing and blowing up, his success definitely pushed me to get my shit together and really dig in and get our music done and get it shopped and all that stuff. I mean, I was working in a warehouse for UPS while he’s performing on Soul Train, you know what I mean [laughs]. So it was definitely a little nudge and a little kick in the ass like, c’mon, let’s make this happen, let’s get serious about it, you know.
RIOTSOUND.COM: On your new album Diary Of A Mad Dog, you rhyme over a variety of music, with some tracks having a straight up West Coast flavor, some having a metal flavor and some having tinges of drum ‘n’ bass as well as other elements. How would you characterize the general musical direction of the album?
SEN DOG: There ain’t no direction there. I went in to record this album – and this is after having recorded and made conceptual albums with Cypress where musical directions were followed and all that – I’ve done all that before, so on my solo record I just want to have fun with it. I don’t even want to follow no direction or make a dark album or a moody album or a happy or sad album. I just want to go in and record and come up with something cool that I like and I think my fans are going to dig it. So if there is any direction at all, that’s what I was thinking.
RIOTSOUND.COM: There was a point in time when Cypress Hill received a significant amount of criticism for going in more of a rock direction and exploring musical elements outside of Hip-Hop. Why do you think it is that some fans as well as critics get so caught up in genres and sub-genres as opposed to just focusing on the difference between good music and bad music?
SEN DOG: I think they pay attention too much to what the media says, I think that’s what that’s all about. Instead of going and getting records and judging them for themselves and saying “ok, I like this record, it reminds me of this kind of music”, they read about it in a magazine or hear something on a show. And then when the album is getting two out of a possible five stars and in the magazine they already got you [characterized] as a rock/rap act or whatever, people subconsciously, without even noticing are prejudging the music and not even giving their own ears a chance to make the judgment and see what they feel about it. So if it wasn’t for [the media] I think it would all still be just rap and just rock.
Even with rock now, you got alternative rock, you got emo rock, you got soft rock, hard rock, heavy metal. I mean, it’s all fucking rock ‘n roll to me, man, you know what I mean [laughs]. And that’s the way I also feel about rap. I don’t know why they call it down south rap? It’s just rap, it’s Atlanta shit, it’s Atlanta niggas, you know what I mean. So it’s all about the way the media got shit broken down into sections. And it’s not just with music, it’s with people too. It’s with races and ethnicity and sexual preference and what you believe politic wise and all that shit. Almost everything in America is broken down into those kind of sections.
RIOTSOUND.COM: A lot of people probably want to know the answer to this question: why have we had to wait so long for a solo Sen Dog LP? What made 2008 the right time for you to drop this album?
SEN DOG: Before I never wanted to make a solo album because I was part of Cypress and that kept me busy. I was busy enough to where I didn’t want to do anything else. It was like, wow, if I had something else going on I’d really never be home. But it got to a point where Cypress was going through some changes as far as label wise, we were coming to an end with Sony after fifteen years and management wise we were beginning to make switches and there were some things internally in the group that needed to be ironed out. So we were really doing nothing man. We were doing ten or twelve shows a year, if that, and my personal manager Kevin Zinger, he’s the owner of Suburban Noize Records and SRH [clothing], we had a meeting and he was like “listen man, why don’t you just make me an album; we’ll get you some money and you go in and record, you’re not doing anything else anyway”. So I way like, ok, fuck it, why not? So I just [got in the studio] and started making an album. I’ve never wanted to make a solo album before or anything because, shit, I’m a part of Cypress Hill, that’s a full schedule right there.
“Me and B-Real as MCs and writers and rappers,
we give all the props and respect due to Muggs that
he’s got coming. We blew up off of his sound and all
that but we also wanted to work with other people too”
RIOTSOUND.COM: In recent years you’ve also worked with your brother Mellow Man Ace, the two of you dropped the Ghetto Therapy album in 2006. As far as the future, can we expect the Reyes Brothers to continue working together?
SEN DOG: Right now he’s doing his own thing. He’s working on an album and he’s writing a movie script with some movie people friends of his. And with me, I did the SX-10 record and I also did the Sen Dog solo record and now I’m focusing my energy on the new Cypress record. So far we got like 25 songs for that.
RIOTSOUND.COM: As far as the status of a new Cypress Hill record, where does that currently stand?
SEN DOG: The status is good right now, we’re pumping out a lot of songs every week and we’re looking at the first quarter of next year for releasing a new Cypress record.
RIOTSOUND.COM: Is it yourself, B-Real and Muggs that’s working on the album?
SEN DOG: No, we’ve done songs with Premier, we’ve done songs with Alchemist, Mike Shinoda, Tom Morello, Muggs, B-Real’s production crew Audio Hustlers and a few other producers. So it’s kind of like an open thing right now.
RIOTSOUND.COM: Why did you choose to work with multiple producers as opposed to sticking with the original formula?
SEN DOG: Because we’ve done that. We’ve done records where Muggs was the only producer for frankly the history of the band, really. Me and B-Real as MCs and writers and rappers, we give all the props and respect due to Muggs that he’s got coming. We blew up off of his sound and all that but we also wanted to work with other people too. We wanted to work with other producers in the game, guys that have good track records and are known to make hits. It’s just natural for an artist to want to do that and [try different things] at one point. Say we did ten albums under Muggs and we had a lot of success with Muggs and we’re not denying that but at the same time there’s a world of producers out there and we wanted to try to work with some of these guys and see how stuff comes out, and so far we’re pleased.
RIOTSOUND.COM: For those who might not know, you also front the rock group SX-10. For people who’ve never had a chance to hear SX-10’s music, what can they expect when they listen to an SX-10 record?
SEN DOG: With SX, if you listen to our first record which we did a bunch of years ago [Mad Dog American], you would hear a lot of heavy metal and rap stuff together. With our new album that we did, our more recent record, it’s still rap and I got some rap stuff in there but I also do some singing in there and it’s not just metal, it also has some funky material in there and it’s got some more classic rock sounds instead of just heavy metal. But I still keep the metal influences in there, so I think it’s a diverse sound of many different elements.
I tell people this all the time, if you believe it or not, this latest SX-10 record that we made is the best record that I’ve ever made myself vocally and lyrically. It’s the best I’ve ever sounded, the best raps I ever wrote [laughs]… everything! I’m not just jocking it because I want people to like it and I want the band to be successful but that’s really really how I feel. It’s the best record I’ve ever done. I feel like when that record finally comes out I think people are going to like it. I’m not going to [predict] how successful it’s going to be but I think it’s definitely going to be something where people are going to be like “damn! this sounds pretty good”, you know. To me it’s like what rap and rock and funk and Hip-Hop is supposed to sound like when you mix it all up.
RIOTSOUND.COM: You got Diary Of A Mad Dog in stores, also a new Cypress Hill album will be dropping in the coming months as well as the new SX-10 LP. What else should everyone be looking out for as far as Sen Dog goes and do you have any final words for the fans?
SEN DOG: As far as Sen Dog goes that’s pretty much it; you could also check out my new clothing line called Latin Assassin, we’re up on my MySpace at www.MySpace.com/LatinAssassinClothing. As far as the fans go, what can I say? I feel like these fans are like family to me. After touring so long and knowing them and meeting them and even going to some of their houses, I just gotta tell them that I love them all. And the band, that is Cypress, we love them all and we recognize that without the fan support I’d be selling groceries or something. So we love our fans and we want to say thank you very much from the bottom of our hearts. It just means so much to us to still be able to perform our records and we owe it all to our fans. And for that reason we keep going because we know that we owe our fans. After all the support that they’ve given us, we owe them.
For more news and info on Sen Dog stay tuned to www.MySpace.com/SenDog