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Arts and Entertainment

LAist Interview: Sen Dog of Cypress Hill

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Tonight (10pm) marks the fifth annual installment of VH-1's Hip Hop Honors, a program saluting the contributions of the genre's pioneers and players. This year's honorees include: De La Soul, Slick Rick, Naughty by Nature, Too Shot and Los Angeles' own Cypress Hill.

For the last 20 years, the Hill has been rocking mics with their Cannabis laced brand of genre twisting music that combined hip-hop with elements or rock and Latin music. Sen Dog, born Senen Reyes, has been along for the ride for the highs, lows and really fucking highs of the band's journey that began in the late 1980s. Sen took some time to speak with LAist about that journey, along with the stoner flicks, the legalization of marijuana and the presidential election.

How fast have the last 20 years gone by?
Really fast. Actually I don't know if fast is the right word. Things have gone by rather smoothly over the last 20 years, which makes it feel like it has been pretty quick but there has also been a lot of hard work over the last 20 years to get us this far.

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20 years ago did you ever imagine you guys would be where you are today?
No man. No way. I never would have even imagined it. Who knew we could accomplish so much with our music?

What has been the secret of the group's longevity?
The secret is being able to continue to get out there and perform night after night, and bring your music to as many people as you can live and in-person. Allowing people from across the globe to witness our music from just a few feet away in the concert setting really has made the difference for us.

You guys were one of the first hip-hop acts to do the festival circuit, why do you think it was Cypress Hill that sort of opened the door for future hip-hop acts to get involved in festivals? Do you think your lyrical content being heavy on marijuana played a factor in winning over the festival crowds?
The content of our music really didn't have anything to do with us getting those festival shows. Festivals are already built on excitement and energy and the fans expecting quality music and because of that we made a good fit for those shows. Starting out on the festival circuit we were really excited to show people that even though we were a hip-hop act, we could perform live and bring it harder than any rock band for these huge crowds. We knew that if we could succeed on the festival circuit, that would open doors for us down the road for great success. We knew that all kinds of fans buy records, white kids, black kids, Latinos whatever it didn't matter. The festival allowed us to build an army, a multi-racial international army of Cypress Hill fans from all over who would support our music. We were one of the first people to go and do that and now every summer you see a hip-hop act tied to a festival.

What's it feel like to be apart of the VH-1 Hip Hop Honors?
It's a great feeling. It really feels good to be honored by your peers and the fans. To be acknowledged for all of your hard work in front of a large television audience is really an honor. It's really special. We never went out there expecting to get these kind of things, we just went out there and did the best we could with our music, gave all those fans the best performance we could possibly give them. It's great to be honored for doing something that you love to do. It makes me appreciate the things that I have accomplished with my homeboys even more. It's a big deal.

Are you looking forward to seeing other acts perform your hits?

Definitely. I have watched the shows before and thought that would be cool to sit back and watch some of the best guys in the game give their renditions of our music.

Last year there was a little controversy with the show, Lupe Fiasco didn't know the words to the Tribe Called Quest song he was performing and later defended it by saying he wasn't really that big of a Tribe fan growing up. If something like that happened with you guys this year, would you be offended?

No, it wouldn't really offend me. At this stage in my career I know how to take the good with the bad. I would hope that the artists up there on stage are doing it because they came up as fans of ours and aren't just up there because they could use the stage time. I'm sure that that's not going to be the case. Everyone involved is professional and will definitely do a good job.

Cheech and Chong are scheduled to appear, how much did they influence your career?
Definitely. I grew up loving their movies. They made it the stoner thing funny, they gave it a sense of humor.

What's your favorite stoner flick?
Cheech and Chong's Nice Dreams

How close do you think we are to seeing marijuana legalized?
I think you'll see it in a few years. Out here it's not really a thing, but there are other parts of the country where the people are very much afraid of the day when weed will be legalized. So I'm not going to hold my breathe or anything, but I do think we are getting much closer.

What do you think of the current state of the LA hip-hop scene?

Well you know it's not like I am out there catching shows and looking at some of the new cats as much as I'd like to be able to, I'm a busy man with shit to do. But I will say the state of hip-hop as a whole right now is in need of that one monster act, or that one masterpiece record that will spark a movement.

Whats your favorite in venue in LA to catch a show?
The Key Club. House of Blues too but I love the Key Club.

What was your weirdest encounter with a fan?
Doing a show in Europe some dude wanted to exchange pants with me. He came up to me after the show and said let's trade pants. I said I'll sign your autograph but I ain't giving you my brand new pants. It took some time to convince him I wasn't going to give him my pants, but eventually he got the point.

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What is your favorite Cypress Hill track?
I would have to go with "How I Could Just Kill a Man." That really was the one where I had that moment like, "Wow! We might be on to something here." Still after all these years that record still feels like our baby. With our later shit I would probably say "Riot Starter" and "Rock Superstar."

Speaking of "Rock Superstar" where did you guys come up with the idea to go in that rock direction as you did with Skull & Bones?
We grew up rock fans. I was definitely a big Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. We always said that one album we're going to rock out and it just kind of happened to be that album that we went and did that.

The label didn't care about you guys going in that direction?
Sony never stepped to us on the creative aspect of our music. They never once came to the studio, they always allowed us to be as creative as we wanted. They knew that we were going to give them a dope-ass album regardless of what direction we were going to take our music.

Lastly Keith Olbermann recently introduced a segment on his show called "McCain in the Membrane" highlighting the day's craziest moment from the McCain campaign and featuring a short snippet of "Insane in the Membrane." Would you be okay with collecting royalties off of that segment for another four years?
Royalties are nice and all but I just want to see the right guy for the job hold that position. There's questions I have regarding both guys, and I'd like to see as the process goes on some of those questions answered so that America can really decide who is best for the job.

Who do you think is best for the job?
I'm going with Obama.

VH-1 Hip Hop Honors, hosted by Tracy Morgan airs tonight at 10pm.