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Cypress Hill: Skull & Bones

Hip-hop's first Latino superstars, the members of Cypress Hill have made a career out of giving fans exactly what they want and little more. Constantly touring despite its less-than-stellar live performances, the group has never been heavily concerned with challenging itself. The new Skull & Bones, Cypress Hill's commercially savvy but misguided rap-rock fixation aside, is essentially more of the same. Rooted, as always, in Muggs' stoner-gothic production and frontman B-Real's nasal delivery, the album features still more songs about violence and marijuana, delivered with proficiency but little inspiration. Cannily fitting one CD's worth of material onto two discs (one helpfully titled "Skull," the other "Bones"), Skull & Bones' "Skull" half is devoted to straightforward hip-hop, while "Bones" delivers the sort of hyper-masculine rap-rock that's so popular nowadays. It's a clever move that allows versions of Skull & Bones' best song to appear on both discs, as "Rap Superstar" on one disc and "Rock Superstar" on the other. Yet another song about the perils of fame and the importance of staying true to oneself, both versions feature vintage Muggs production and perceptive lyrics that allow each to overcome the familiar subject matter. Aside from its first singles, however, the songs that stand out here are the ones that mine B-Real's flair for dark humor: "Stank A** H**" is a potent rebuke of unnamed stank-ass hoes, while "Can I Get A Hit" is a similarly caustic guide to weed etiquette. But beyond those songs, Skull & Bones is stormy and fairly boring, particularly the "Bones" disc, which haphazardly adds heavy-metal guitars and occasional live drums to some of B-Real and Sen Dog's most tiresome verses. It makes sense that Cypress Hill would want to cash in on a trend it helped fuel with Lollapalooza appearances and work on the Judgment Night soundtrack. But the group's work here suffers from the same Achilles' heel—weak lyrics—that plagues so many of its fellow rap-rock fusionists.