Founding member Sen Dog explains why ‘Free Ya Mind’ calls for an instant end to prohibition
Since their self-titled debut dropped in 1991, Cypress Hill has waived the stoner flag as high and proud as any mainstream artist, past or present.
Many pot culture icons offer occasional odes and imagery that normalize the plant, but Cypress took destigmatization to new heights throughout the 1990s and 2000s, both on record and in real life.
It’s not just their Billboard success, including three top 10 albums and six Hot 100 hits. Their triple OG status was earned by over three decades of work destigmatizing that helped pave the way to legalization. They even have proprietary strains like Dr. Greenthumb’s Em-Dog, plus five fully-licensed dispensaries across California.
Their latest album, Open Ya Mind, channels their decades of weed wisdom toward the inequities that exist across the industry.
The album cover depicts a mock-Monopoly board that illustrates the current state of the weed game. The artwork and title track include lyrics dedicated to legacy growers, sellers, and buyers who continue to feed the legal industry’s rapid growth.
“I know that states might say one thing, but the Feds can always step in and change shit around,” said founding member Sen Dog on a call with Leafly.
“The Monopoly thing, you can basically see it happening if you’re out on the street and you have dispensaries in your area. And for the longest, the country’s always been against monopolies and whatnot.” —Sen Dog
Leafly asked Sen to break down the new project and his group’s history of rising above stigmas and leading the struggle against prohibition.
Leafly: What are you smoking right now?
Sen Dog: Right now as I’m speaking to you, I’m smoking on some OG Kush. That has been my favorite strain for years. But I will say that I do like Runtz. I got turned onto that recently, that (one) I like a lot. And the Bubba Kush and the White Widow, those are some of my favorites right there.
Leafly: How did you overcome the early stigmas that come with being known as ‘the weed band?’
SD: When we first came out, being an outright open stoner was kinda taboo. People didn’t really talk about that. You had some artists that mention taking a puff here or there. But it wasn’t really widely talked about it.
Leafly: What price did you guys have to pay as pioneers?
SD: When we took our (pro-cannabis) stance, I kind of felt like opportunities that were being given to other bands were maybe not given to us because of our stance on marijuana.
Some opportunities we would have been good for maybe, people looked past us because they weren’t ready to deal with that other side of us that took that stance: ‘we’re activists.’
Leafly: Now that it’s become legal and commercialized, the industry looks a lot like hip-hop did when you guys debuted.
SD: As hip-hop has gotten more popular and bigger and more powerful, you see these companies that were not stepping to hip-hop artists (before), now use hip-hop artists for everything. But now that things are a little bit different, we’re seeing a change.
Not that we’re complaining about opportunities. It’s always good to get more here and there. We’re working with beer companies and things like that (now). So I think the stigma of it is not as great as it once was back in the days.
Leafly: The record shows that you were in the earliest class of hip-hop artists to take ownership of the plant, and all that came with it.
SD: We’re very proud that we were the ones to take that chance and dedicate a whole band to marijuana, more or less. But we don’t take all the credit for it. It had to be somebody to take that stance, and other people run with it and do their thing too.
Without jocking ourselves or patting ourselves on the back or whatever, we know that Cypress Hill rocked, and what we did to change the perceptions and views of marijuana.
But it’s not something that we go bragging about or anything like that. Like, ‘Cypress, we did it first!’ It’s ain’t even like that. The fact is what it is, but it wasn’t like we shut the door behind us. We left that door wide open.
“That right there is what I’m most proud of. That we got people to stop being closet stoners and be open with it [laughs].” – Sen Dog
Leafly: The beautiful thing about the plant and music is they will always grow with and belong to the people.
SD: So many people around the world enjoy marijuana. How could you actually just say Cypress is the only ones that could do this?
Nah. We left that door wide open for anyone who wanted to do it and join us in the struggle. And people responded. But there’s other rock bands that came out and said these guys are right, let’s get behind this movement.
Without being too bold or bragging about it, it ain’t about that. It’s just about furthering the community and making it bigger and better.
Leafly: But as artists, you do realize the impact your music had on society slowly normalizing the plant, right?
SD: We do recognize that we had a very vital role in the legalizing and normalizing of marijuana and where it’s gotten to now.
When we would smoke with all those other groups of that time, they really were all like, ‘Why didn’t we think of really (rapping about weed)?’ But they were all (happy) with (our success). Everybody was cool, and everybody was friends and supporting one another. Right there, we made some friends for life.
Leafly: Were there any other artists back then who could survive a hot box with you guys?
SD: People would come in and hang out, take a rip here or a rip there. But back in those days, we came out smoking heavy, and it wasn’t too many people that could hang with us in a room for a period of time and get stoned with us, you know?
As far as like other guys we used to hang around really tight with, A Tribe Called Quest, and Leaders of the New School, and Busta Rhymes. All those guys from them days. We were all blunted up and zooted up.
Leafly: What’s the most legendary session you can remember taking part in back then?
SD: “I can tell you that Gang Starr (DJ Premier and the late, great, Guru) was real heavy into the whole smoking thing. I remember our first few times in New York, we went to hang with them. They were hanging at some famous jazz dude’s house. And we had this smoke out and party session that lasted like all night long.
These guys did not stop smoking. I always gave Gang Starr props because Guru was always down to chief out with us.
Those days in New York, I remember Tribe was there, and Leaders, and Gang Starr was always hanging around. Back in those days, didn’t nobody really smoke like us and how we did it. Except the Gang Starr dudes, (they) were all about it.
Leafly: What was the research and writing process for ‘Open Ya Mind’ like?
SD: There was research done, but we stay up on the changes and the laws and what’s going on from state to state. This is something that we talk about daily. Especially when we’re on tour.
So we already knew what was going on. We researched some things in different states. But we kind of knew what was going on and we just needed to talk about it and put it out there.
“Got me stressin’, it’s depressin’, couple miles away at the dispensary they selling weed everyday.” – B-Real, “Open Ya Mind” (2021)
SD: That line and others like it are a nod to the independent weed dealer that is still trying to exist in this world of legalized cannabis. It’s about the stress of having legalized cannabis in your area.
It used to be something that you did, now people can bypass you and go to a spot and buy weed legal, and get more of a selection.
There’s a lot of things in the way of good people just enjoying a smoke. There’s more to it than just, ‘It’s legal now.’ There’s a lot of high taxes and fees and what not. And people are still being imprisoned for cannabis that I feel are wrongly in prison.
Leafly: There are still a lot of dues to be paid by the industry to legacy advocates and entrepreneurs.
SD: As far as helping out brothers that are incarcerated behind cannabis, I think that’s a great thing to do. I know people that are still in that situation, and they’re hoping one day soon to be released. We have to raise awareness about that, actually not just raise awareness about it.
But raise (awareness) all the way to where these laws get changed concerning that kind of thing. Because these are non-violent offenders and I think prison should be for violent offenders. That’s just my opinion. But I actually agree with that movement, I think that’s a good thing to do, it will help a lot of families.
There’s people that commit way more violent crimes and whatnot. And there’s just a whole thing there to explore, to open up your mind to, if you choose to be that way. You can choose to ignore your what we’re saying and just go about your business.
Nowadays, it’s becoming a corporate thing, which I like to call “Big Pot,” like Big Tobacco. People are getting squeezed out, and it is what it is.
Leafly: Is it possible to stop ‘Big Pot’ from becoming the new ‘Big Tobacco?’
SD: The thing about it being legal and everybody can take part in it is, for the most part, a lot of street guys have been squeezed out. But there are guys that got incredibly fire shit, that no matter what they got in the stores, you’ll still go to that old school connection for that incredible fire.
But it is a fact that the little guy is getting squeezed out. And that was never a thing with marijuana. It was always, anybody could grow it, anybody could sell it.
For people dependent on making some money on the side, it has become an issue. When you take something away form somebody that they’ve had for years and years, and they’ve gotta figure something else out, it becomes an issue.
Leafly: As an OG, how do you envision an ideal industry looking?
SD: I think anybody should be able to grow it and sell it no matter what state. But at the same time I don’t work for governments and I don’t make the laws and shit like that.
If you get a group of growers together, or businessmen together, it makes more sense for them, but not so much for the consumer. Because now we’d be paying commercial prices for something we used to grow in our backyard.
And that’s the whole monopoly issue when it comes into play. The fees and licenses —the average person could never open a dispensary because it takes millions and millions of dollars.
And make it more of a corporate structure situation. So it just depends on what state and who’s the governor.
And we’re not talking about one person. We’re talking about the whole cannabis community as a whole being involved in knowing their rights and what the government tries to do from day to day to get more money out of the situation, or just shut it down period, you dig?
So there’s a lot there that needs to be discussed, and hopefully maybe even change a few things.”
Leafly: Do you think the industry will follow a trajectory of alcohol after prohibition? Or will it have a more powerful impact on society?
SD: Legalized marijuana is here to stay, so I can only see it getting more powerful and stronger and more commercial like alcohol. At the same time, I also see it being more of an important role in the every day person that needs to medicate just to function better through life.
So I see a bigger commercialization of it on one hand, and on the other side, I see the positivity aspect of hopefully there could be more mom and pop dispensary situations. Where it ain’t all about just corporate marijuana. It’s also the married couple that are trying to get ahead. So they can open a dispensary. And it’s made affordable to them.
It’s not where they have to go find investors and mortgage their house and hardly eat or whatever. Nah man, make it to where anybody that wants it or thinks they can do it can handle it like a liquor store.
Leafly: Is it possible to build a balanced industry in America where the people truly have equity?
I see that imbalance of the future of cannabis, and what we’re trying to attempt in this country. I kind of see it blowing up into a major thing, bigger than it is now.
And hopefully my feelings are right about the average person being able to own more of a say in the ownership of these businesses instead of just contributing to these businesses by going and buying their product.
It’s a fine line I talk about, I know. But somewhere, sometime, I think that needs to happen. To where the people get more of a stake in the success of the growing legalization of cannabis and hemp.