Battle Scars

There's no need to impress upon Cypress Hill's Louis Freese that the Devil loves to frolic in the City of Angels. More than once around Los Angeles, Freese has caught Satan's hellish gaze and lived to tell about it. Freese -- known to his fans as nasal-voiced rapper B Real -- had to move to the relative security of a home in the Hollywood Hills after a 1994 incident at his former digs in Venice forced him to come to a sobering realization: while he may think his days as a gang-banger are over, some around South Central L.A. haven't accepted his resignation just yet.

"These fools came in waving their Uzis around and robbed us -- got some weed, jewels and a couple of my guns," B Real recalls. "They've got us on the floor and at their mercy when a couple of my friends came by and knocked on the door. With my homeboys coming up there, that scared these motherfuckers off. I moved out of there after that, and I've beefed up my gun situation."

B Real's Venice run-in is the subject of "Boom Biddy Bye Bye," from Cypress Hill's latest release, Cypress Hill III (Temples of Boom). On it, the rapper sets a few of the threats he heard that night to a methodical groove: "Put your ass on the floor and don't ask why / Put the Glock to your dome and you start to cry / Any last prayers before you die / Rock a bye nigger, boom biddy bye bye."

On its third album in five years, Cypress Hill -- B Real, Sen Dog and DJ Muggs -- takes a step back to the more ominous tones of its self-titled 1991 debut, emphasizing a heavier groove than ever before. B Real says that he's seeing things a lot more clearly these days, and what he sees isn't for the squeamish. "I dunno, I just think that I'm thinking a little more than [on] the last shit," he says. "My thoughts are more clear, even if they are more gloomier."

Though B Real is only in his mid-twenties, his vida loca has already taken plenty of turns, including fatherhood as a teenager and countless brushes with death. B Real was still fiercely loyal to his Hispanic gang when Sen Dog turned him on to the hip-hop scene. At first, B Real says, he didn't think rap could give him the same adrenaline rush as the streets. But as time went on, his talents in front of a mike -- and a trip to the emergency room to remove a .22-caliber slug from his back -- convinced B Real otherwise.

But B Real, who now collects pricey, chromed-up low riders the way he used to collect gang tattoos, is hardly boastful about his past. On Cypress Hill III, the hard-core drive of "Throw Your Set in the Air" (a "set" is a gang member's hand signal signifying his or her affiliation) and the manic tone of "Illusions" are B Real's wake-up calls to kids tempted by the dangerous lifestyle he once led. As B Real now realizes, a gang-banger's affiliation can be close to impossible to shake.

"The funny thing is, some people don't understand why I talk about all that shit in my songs," he says. "Well, I've jacked and, man, I've been jacked. And people need to know about it."

With all the tough talk on the new CD, it would be tempting to assume that Cypress Hill has left behind its mellower, pro-hemp postulating -- the sort of stoned-out party babble that got the group noticed in the first place. But not to worry; the reefer references are still plentiful on Cypress Hill III, especially on the lead-off "Spark Another Owl." Strangely enough, that stoner tag helped Cypress Hill gain its crossover appeal as a white kid's rap group, as well as its high-profile slots at Woodstock '94 and Lollapalooza '95. B Real says, however, that he hopes the tougher sound of Cypress Hill III will strengthen the group's clout with non-whites. As a symbol of that eagerness to win over its own, plans are in the works to release a Spanish-language EP.

Still, whatever language he speaks, B Real makes his opinions on Cypress Hill's drug of choice resoundingly clear. After all, he fronts a group that, when on tour, requests dressing rooms stocked with rolling papers, not Oreos and wine spritzers. The Cypress Hill guys have appeared on the cover of High Times and participated in very public benefits for N.O.R.M.L., the national group that continues to lobby the government for the legalization of marijuana. Surprisingly though, B Real -- who, describing Cypress Hill shows as "one big contact" high, will gleefully take a hit off a blunt passed from the mosh pit -- hastens to point out that he'd like to see weed decriminalized first, as opposed to out-and-out legalization.

"There's still an awful lot to be learned on all sides [of the debate] before we say it should be legalized," B Real says. "That's why I say decriminalize before we legalize."

Cypress Hill performs at 8 p.m. Thursday, February 1, at the International Ballroom, 14035 South Main. Tickets are $22.50 and $25. The Pharcyde and 311 open. For info, call 629-3700.

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Greg Barr
Contact: Greg Barr