When it comes to unexpected comebacks of the last few years, the Eagles and Meat Loaf have nothing on marijuana. Ever since the first wave of punk rock denounced anything that even remotely reeked of hippie vibes, pot has been pop’s leading four-letter word. In the ’80s, it was impossible to imagine buffed stars like Bruce Springsteen and Sting toking up before a show.
But the recent wave of ’70s nostalgia brought with it an old familiar scent. For upstart rockers and rappers alike, pot signifies not just an inexpensive high, but also an expression of good old rock rebellion. The so-called evil weed is so uncool that it has become, to some, the epitome of cool — it’s hip to be stoned.
Just look at the youngster-dominated lineup of the compilation album Hempilation” Freedom is Norml (Capricorn), which includes the Black Crowes, Blues Traveler, Cypress Hill, and Ziggy Marley. The album benefits Norml, the pot advocacy organization, and to bolster that theme, the bulk of it features those bands (and 13 others) remaking stoner anthems from rock’s purple-haze past. A few of the covers are surprisingly good. Blues Traveler exhibit a shocking degree of funk on Sly and the Family Stone’s ”I Want to Take You Higher,” and Allman Brothers guitarist Warren Haynes and his offshoot band, Gov’t Mule, do a doom-and-gloom take on Steppenwolf’s antigovernment tract ”Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam.”
The way the album and its contributors thumb their noses at the just-say-no mentality is, outside of vigorous moshing, what remains of rock anarchy as we know it. It’s just too bad that most of Hempilation is either grating (the Black Crowes’ grotesque rendition of Bob Dylan’s ”Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”) or as impotent as a two-year-old joint (Widespread Panic’s pale version of Van Morrison’s ”And It Stoned Me”). Like most of the current wave of tribute and remake albums, it will only encourage you to return to the original recordings — preferably straight.
As hip-hop’s leading jokers, smokers, and midnight tokers, Cypress Hill contribute a live version of one of their most inconsequential songs, ”I Wanna Get High.” The song first appeared on the L.A. trio’s 1993 Black Sunday — an album that, with its overdose of songs about the glories of marijuana and pot-factoid liner notes, pushed Cypress more than one toke over the line. They haven’t spent the last two years flushing their stashes down their toilets, either. Their third album, Cypress Hill III (Temples of Boom) (Ruffhouse/Columbia), opens with the sounds of someone lighting up a joint.
Temples of Boom soon turns into a bad trip, though. Darker and less willing to rock the house than their previous records, the album is hard and sullen. Its beats and bass lines crawl along like a Jeep going 10 miles an hour, and the characters who inhabit these songs boast of gang pride and ”smoking MCs.” It’s standard hip-hop practice to toss off gangsta lyrics like those while claiming the songs are meant as warnings against violence. So it goes with Cypress Hill, yet they manage to pull it off. The dealers and hustlers in these songs are so drug addled and gun crazed that you’d have to be high to worship them. The narrator of ”Illusions” is downright pathological, boasting about being ”hooked on chronic” and about ”living in my own world to my own degree.”
Sounding and acting tougher is standard for platinum-level rappers who want to prove they haven’t sold out. Yet this tack ultimately backfires for Cypress Hill. It was the interracial trio’s mix of urban nightmares and fatback, low-rider energy that fueled their frisky 1991 self-titled debut and the best moments of the inconsistent Black Sunday. Temples is comparatively monotonous and sludgy; even the carnival fun-house feel of ”Funk Freaker” is, to use a smoking analogy, a drag.
More troubling, head rapper B-Real spends way too much time dissing those who criticized the band after Black Sunday crossed over to a white audience. In his clothespin-on-the-nose voice, he lashes out at fellow rappers and journalists on both coasts; ”No Rest for the Wicked” explicitly blasts Ice Cube for, among other things, putting ”a pipe on your cover even though you don’t smoke Buddah.” If any scientific organization needs proof that too much marijuana induces paranoia, here it is. Hempilation: C- Cypress Hill III (Temples of Boom): C+