Top of the Hill

B-Real says Cypress Hill's message is still blunt.

Most of that "stuff" probably won't appease critics of hip-hop, since its primary theme is street violence. B-Real attempts to justify the menacing, paranoid words on "Boom Biddy Bye Bye" and "Locotes" by pointing out that "you can't run from your past. And as negative as that lifestyle was, it taught me a lot of things. Lyrically, I wanted to get deeper into the things that have been affecting me these last couple of years. Whether it's positive or negative, I wanted to talk about it on this album and take it a step higher as far as the content."

Still, Cypress Hill is at its best when focusing on music--and the man who deserves most of the credit for the advances in this area is DJ Muggs. While many current producers favor densely layered textures and samples, Muggs doses III with trippy, minimalist beats. According to B-Real, "We wanted to make our sound deeper and stronger--something that people could really bug out over." Muggs succeeds on that count: He mixes the stark atmospherics of earlier Cypress Hill long-players with ambient synthesizer tones, ghostly wails, African drums, strums of sitar and samples ranging from the chants of Buddhist monks to Samuel Jackson's Ezekiel 25:17 speech from Pulp Fiction. The result is the perfect complement to B-Real's chronic-enhanced rhymes.

Muggs steps down from the production duties on one of III's offerings; Wu-Tang Clan's RZA is behind the boards for "Killa Hill Niggas," and he and fellow Clansman U-God also rap a few of the song's verses. But don't expect the band to collaborate with Ice Cube anytime soon. The Cypress Hill mob contributed to the soundtrack to the recent Cube film Friday, but as III's "No Rest for the Wicked" attests, B-Real now views him as an enemy. "He stole from us--from the song 'Throw Your Set in the Air'--because we let him hear it before the album came out," he argues. "We said, 'Check it out, we've got a few songs from the album,' and let him hear them." Two months later, B-Real continues, the chorus from "Set," as well as terminology unique to Cypress Hill, showed up in an Ice Cube original. "We called him up and he straight-up denied it," he adds.

Fortunately for Cypress Hill, rivalries sell almost as well in the world of rap as does praise for dope. But B-Real insists that he doesn't want this turf war to overshadow the accomplishments on III. "We just wanted to show people that we could make good music whether we were talking about pot or about life on the street," he says. "Now we've got the satisfaction of knowing we can hang with anybody."

Cypress Hill, with 311 and the Pharcyde. 7 p.m. Tuesday, February 27, Mammoth Events Center, 1510 Clarkson, $20, 830-

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