CYPRESS HILL: DECONSTRUCTED


Over the summer, I participated in the NEH/Vectors Summer Institute in the digital humanities and if you noticed why my post productivity took a dive…well, that’s partly why. The main fruits of that labor will reveal themselves later this fall (it’s related to my research on Filipino American mobile DJ crews) but one of the things I can share in the meanwhile is a very cool bit of media/authoring software called Scalar which, among other things, allows you to annotate media files such as video and sound clips.

What I mean by this is you can timecode notes to trigger during playback, allow you to add “pop-up” remarks to a song or video as it plays.

As it were…I had recently been thinking a lot about Cypress Hill’s “How I Could Just Kill A Man,” partially because I was writing about the debut Cypress Hill album on the occasion of its 20th anniversary. I always thought “Kill a Man,” was a great song but in more recent years, I started paying attention to all its subtleties and nuances and came to the conclusion that it is one of the best produced hip-hop songs, ever. DJ Muggs really went to town in that beat; it was like a mini-showcase of skills for a producer that had yet to become a household name but you get the sense, in hindsight, that Muggs was trying to make it clear to everyone, a new talent had arrived and was ready to wreck shop.

I could try to explain – in text – just what makes the song so good but with the annotation function in Scalar, I thought it was more useful to provide you with a way to both listen and read at the same time. Plus, I invited my friend (and musicology professor) Loren Kajikawa to contribute his own analysis.

Want to peep? Check it out: “Breaking Down: Cypress Hill’s “How I Could Just Kill A Man“.

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4 comments to CYPRESS HILL: DECONSTRUCTED

  • sdboy619

    how come no mention of the “all wanted was a pepsi line” wasn’t that a line from the Suicidal Tendencies song Institutionalized..i was always thought it was a cool nod to the group without actually saying the groups name. Or am I just making stuff up?

  • Krizzy3

    @sdboy619

    Yeah, weird omission, also no mention of the “what does it all mean” sample that’s used by De La Soul, etc. even though it’s used throughout the song.

    It’s one of the dopest beats and songs ever, but really, it’s not that nuanced – it’s just several loops (the drill thing, the drums, the Tramp sample, the Hendrix guitar, a couple of samples for the middle switch-up) and then the couple of vocal samples that weren’t mentioned.
    It’s not like PE or Pete Rock stuff where there’s a ton of nuanced little things going on, or even Death Row-era Dr Dre where there’s a ton of little keyboard lines played live weaving in and out of the whole thing.

    In fact Mugg’s big strength was knowing that you could often just loop up a main riff and add some drums and it would sound ill.

  • Krizzy3: You’re talking about layering and I agree – when done right, there’s tons of nuance there too. But I’d say you’re underselling the idea that what’s happening in this song is merely “just several loops.” It’s also about knowing how to put those loops together to make the song sound the way it does. And having just spent an unhealthy amount of time listening to the Cypress Hill debut album, there’s actually very few other examples you can point to on there where there’s as much going on.

    But hey, to each their own. I’m not trying to cram “it’s nuanced!” down anyone’s throat. I made my case for the song and if people don’t hear it, so be it.

  • Krizzy3

    Well there’s layering in this song – the loops are layered over one another… I’m talking about having a lot more samples, like a snare from here, a little bit of horn from there, etc. And having breakdowns with a ton of samples, like PE’s Night of the Living Baseheads.

    I think you could argue that there is nuance WITHIN any of the particular loops on Kill a Man, like the drill noise is quite a complex noise on it’s own, but the analysis didn’t really show that.

    It was basically “loop A comes in… loop B joins it… loop B falls out, loop C comes in, all loops play together, etc…”

    Most golden era hip-hop tracks with loops have as much going on with regards to just bringing in a loop, then adding one, taking it away for a bit, etc.

    I think it’s nuanced in the actual choice of samples and there are nuances within the samples, but as far as the construction of the track, it’s quite a straightforward procedure going on.

    Muggs was a genius at often just putting a break and a main riff together and usually just one or two other sounds added, which most of those tracks on the debut were, and on Black Sunday. Ironically I think his beats started to fall off when he got more nuanced in the construction process on some of those later albums.

    Props on looking at their debut though, definitely more analysis and focus needs to go on all the real classics from back then.

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