Halloween’s right around the corner, and when it comes to New York’s Halloween traditions, you would be hard-pressed to find a longer-lasting hip-hop standard-bearer than Cypress Hill’s annual show. Emanating this year from the Best Buy Theater on October 30 (Devil’s Night, for you Midwest transplants), Cypress Hill celebrate almost two decades of tricks and treats in the home of hip-hop with La Coka Nostra, Immortal Technique, and Vinnie Paz.
We spoke to Sen Dog about the group’s proud New York tradition, as well as their appearance on The Simpsons and infamous banning from another New York institution, Saturday Night Live.
How did your Halloween New York tradition begin?
Man, you know, that’s a good question. I think we were on tour at one point and happened to be in New York at that time, and it went really well. Somewhere along the way, two or three years in a row, we just kept doing it. The fans kept coming out and supporting it. I can’t thank the New York fans enough for the continual support of this event. I think this is number 18.
Do you recall your first show performing in New York?
Our first show was, I wanna say our first album’s release party. I think it was on us and Tim Dog who were on Ruffhouse Records together. I remember our first actual gig that was an actual gig was with Ultramagnetic, who have always been one of my favorite hip-hop bands of all time. And to share the stage with Kool Keith, Ced Gee, Moe Love, and TR Love, I was like, “Wow, this is really cool.” After Ultramag’s set, Keith called a bunch of MCs to the stage and everyone was freestyling. It was awesome.
Given how extensive the Cypress Hill catalog is, is it ever a challenge figuring out what the setlist is going to be?
Yeah, it has been at times. There’s so much stuff we wish we could perform, but there’s not enough time to do everything. We try to come up with different stuff to do, but you just can’t leave certain songs out of a set. It’s the other songs that go around those big-time songs, and the challenge is to find the songs to do between those songs that are going to keep the energy moving and the vibe positive.
Do you have any particular songs you’re really proud of that you wish were as well-known as those big songs?
There was a song, “Money,” with a really cool instrumental, that I thought was really good, but it was overshadowed by something else on the record. And on the last album, Rise Up, there were some really great tracks we did with Jim Johnson, one that featured Marc Anthony and Pitbull. A lot of great Cypress songs have never been heard. They’re in a vault, and there’s definitely stuff where I wish all those songs could be [out].
Are they unreleased for sample reasons?
Ah, I don’t know. I think DJ Muggs is a little paranoid about them sometimes and puts them in a vault. [Laughs] I remember, I think for the Death Do Us Part record, we recorded over 45 songs, and there’s a lot of stuff we worked on really hard that just didn’t make the record. We’ve recorded over 100 songs that have never seen the light of day. It might be dated by now.
You ever do any of those live?
No, for the most part, once they don’t make the record, they go away and I haven’t heard them since. Cypress has always been a hardworking band, not just on tour, but in the studio as well. When we get on a roll and start recording, there’s no date on the board that says, “This is the day we stop.” We just keep going and going.
Your appearance on the “Homerpalooza” episode of The Simpsons has lived on in syndication for almost two decades now. Do you recall how they first reached out to you?
Yeah, they got ahold of our management at the time and said they were working on an episode with Smashing Pumpkins and a bunch of other artists and wanted to feature Cypress in it. I was like, “All right” — I’d seen The Simpsons, but I didn’t expect what was going to happen behind it. When that episode came out, it opened us up to a whole new generation of kids who were young enough to just know what The Simpsons was and what hip-hop and rock music was. They were growing up from being little kids to being young adults, and we got them at the perfect age with that episode.
I remember, I was in a supermarket once and this lady with a little boy walked by me. They were having an argument. The second time I saw them, the lady walked up to me and said, “Excuse me, sir, can you please tell my son that you were not on The Simpsons cartoon?” I told her, “Lady, I wish I could, but he’s right.” He was about eight or nine years old. That helped us into our future with these kids, and they’ve been with us ever since. That’s one of those moves where, if I had to make over again, I totally would.
Another memorable TV moment you had was your Saturday Night Live performance, which resulted in Cypress Hill being banned from the show. Just to dispel the rumors, is it true that Muggs lit up a joint on air (at 4:24 in the above clip) because the SNL crew kept persistently telling him not to?
Well, there’s a lot of stories behind why Muggs lit that joint. I remember Saturday Night Live gave us a greenroom and said, “Do whatever you want in here, just don’t light up out of here.” Muggs felt like he needed to make a statement with his performance. It wasn’t just the Saturday Night Live people saying he couldn’t smoke up on air. It was everyone: our record label, our management, our friends. I felt like, to me, Muggs wanted to make that statement. He asked me to light the joint up on stage, and I said, “I’m not doing that, man.” Before we did that second song, we agreed that we weren’t going to light up nothing. If you look, I was surprised that he did that. People loved it — people at the show loved it, because at the after-party they said, “That was so cool.” But when the hammer swung and we were banned from Saturday Night Live forever, we understood how serious it was. And understandably so — the world wasn’t ready for anything near that at that time. If he did it now, I don’t know what kind of backlash he’d have, but in the early ’90s, it earned us a kick in the ass from Saturday Night Live, and I haven’t seen that episode in reruns. It would have been cool to do Saturday Night Live again, but me personally, I didn’t think it was a great thing to do for our first time on SNL, but we paid the price and we moved on.
Has SNL reached out since to discuss ending the ban?
No sir, not at all. I would not expect them to.
On a lighter note, this year also marked your first time playing the Gathering of the Juggalos. How was that experience?
It was fun for me. I’d never done a show with an audience that rambunctious and wild and rowdy and throwing shit at me. It was kinda cool and weird because, most of the time when you’re on stage, you have control over the audience. You have the mic and the pull to say what happens on stage. With that audience, they were out of control, there was nothing controlling them. Cypress, our thing is a lot of crowd participation, and things we would do, they would take, carry it on, and make it their own. I really would like to do it again now that I know more or less what the get-down is. I would be able to perform better there. I thought it was a whole different get-down. If I go back there again, I will be a complete fucking fool and have as much fun as that crowd is having.