(L-R) Sen Dog, DJ Muggs and B-Real of Cypress Hill in their ’90s heyday. (‘Cypress Hill: Insane in the Brain’/Showtime)
If you come to Cypress Hill: Insane in the Brain expecting weed smoke, raucous live footage and a gritty back story—congratulations! There’s an ample amount of all three.
You’ll also get the usual documentary staples: archival footage, personal stories, and a smattering of glowing commentary from hip-hop insiders, including Ice-T and Chuck D. What elevates Insane in the Brain—a Showtime production premiering, naturally, on 4/20—is its journey through the sheer unlikelihood of Cypress Hill’s success, and the barriers they overcame to achieve it.
The film is directed by Estevan Oriol—a longtime friend and tour manager to the band, as well as a talented photographer and music video director in his own right. Across 87 minutes, Oriol effectively breaks down the great number of cultural and legal barriers that could have prevented B-Real, Sen Dog and DJ Muggs from becoming global stars with record sales exceeding 20 million. And he does it from a uniquely personal perspective.
First, the Los Angeles group managed to get out from being under gang affiliations, and the danger that posed. (B-Real recounts getting shot in the back by rival gang members in the 1980s.) Second, they had to wheedle their way into a hip-hop scene sorely lacking in Latino representation. (Cypress Hill was the first Latino rap group to go platinum.)
Third, they had to stay out of jail while publicly flouting anti-marijuana laws all over the world. (Much is made here of the fact that Cypress Hill were one of the first artists to openly and enthusiastically smoke weed on stage nightly, including during a now-infamous appearance on SNL that earned them a lifetime ban from the show.) Fourth, they needed to transcend genres. A major source of their success in the 1990s was winning over crowds at alternative rock festivals like Lollapalooza and the UK’s Reading Festival. (They warmly recall their time on the road with Nirvana and Hole here.)
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Published: April 15, 2022