MUSIC: Sen Dog
Featured in Freestyle Volume 07 2009. Story by Cristian Diaz. Photography by Estevan Oriol.
Sen Dog is a lot of things, many of which are just straight-up gangsta. One third of the legendary hip hop crew Cypress Hill and a staunch promoter of the almighty chalice (I'm talking ‘bout weed fools), he exhales the indo smoke with Freestyle for some fresh words on his new debut album, heart attacks and being a porno star.
What’s been going on in your life, Sen?
Just been working on getting my solo record out and also working on the Cypress Hill record. We actually just received an award at the Hip-Hip Honours in New York a couple of weeks ago, so that’s been about it.
Sounds like business as usual with Cypress, so what's been the reason behind this solo album that you’re releasing now?
Basically just doing more things as an artist, you know what I mean, more challenges and what not. Introducing brand new things that have been part of my mind and using them to challenge myself professionally, musically and emotionally. You know, I can be my own artist; I can be my own musician, that kind of thing. Don’t get me wrong I’m not leaving Cypress any time, I love being in Cypress Hill and that won't ever change.
Listening to the tracks on the album they’re a lot more upbeat in comparison to the darker sound of a Cypress record. Was it a conscious effort to move away from your previous work with Cypress Hill?
I like the more up-tempo and funky sound. I like the beat that makes you want to shake your butt or break dance. I’m a groove writer so when I hear music that’s got groove to it, you can dance to it before you think about making a rap to it, that’s the kind of thing I like to do.
What are some of your influences musically?
Oh man, well starting with the legends, like Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath you know what I’m saying! Grateful Dead, Otis Redding, Tito Puente and Funkadelic.
What’s been going on with regards to the other band that you occasionally work with, SX-10, again that’s another kind of progression that’s more punk-rock style?
Yeah, the band has just finished up a new album, which will be out the beginning of next year. It’s a really good record, a way good record actually and I think people will be surprised.
Have you found working solo drastically different to working in a group environment? How do you find the process of actually making a record?
Well it could actually be a lot more gratifying because you’re making stuff happen all on your own. It can be very frustrating because you’re always going to get to that point where there’s a drought period. Everybody gets writer’s block and not having the luxury of B-Real to lean back on I’d be like “Hey, B-Real, I’ve kind of got a drought, man, help me out”. I didn’t have that luxury so it was a big difference in that sense, but it also helped me learn something about myself, that I’ve got the ability to make it happen when the pressure’s on.
Would you say that it’s definitely a harder process working solo than working in a group?
Definitely. With my producers I was working with I wasn’t getting any lyrical ideas or anything so I had to get all the tracks together myself. I had to grind it out, kind of like slug it out, you know, but it eventually got easier after a while.
Is this first album where you’ve gone back to your Latino roots, you know what I mean? Explored the Latino sound?
Well I did an album with my brother called ‘The Reyes Brothers’ a couple of years ago; we didn’t do any Spanish tracks on there at all. So on this first record I wanted to have a couple of tracks that Latino people could identify with, so I put two on there. There’s one called ‘Stand Up’ which is actually an uplifting song speaking to young communities, you know, let’s get our stuff together, be proud of who we are and our community. Then there’s another one called ‘Hood Rat Love’ and that’s basically
There’s a massive Puerto Rican and Cubano influence in the States that’s certainly shaped the country’s music scene. Do you still have a lot of ties back with your homeland? Do you have a large fan base there?
Actually I don’t know about fans but there’s a lot of family over there I keep in contact with. We’ve actually never had the opportunity to go play there as we’ve never been asked or anything. Maybe in the future.
You talk a lot about Latin gangs in songs and with Cypress. What was your situation like growing up in LA as a kid?
Growing up in LA there’s definitely a thing about having backup because if you didn’t there was going to be nobody there. Other people could sweat you and if you didn’t have backup that meant you were going to get punk’d every day. Plus growing up being black and Spanish I was kind of like a Martian. The Mexican kids had never seen no black Latino that could talk Spanish and the blacks were like “we’ve never seen no ni**a that don’t talk English.” There were others like me; we were kind of like the weirdos that they thought they could kick our ass every day. So we had to prove ourselves every day going to school, after school, whatever, we had to prove ourselves and in the process of that just start making friends and before you know you end up in a crew. I come from a good family, a church family. I was a good athlete, I played various sports and my parents were married and went to church and all that shit, but the gang environment was something that they didn’t know anything about because every Sunday it was church, but Monday through Friday I’m scrapping on the way to school, at school, after school so you don’t really have a choice. I mean you can get by but you’re going to get your ass kicked a lot. Get in a crew and nobody is going to mess with you. I ran with some guys. There were some knuckleheads and we did a lot of ass kicking and sometimes got our own asses kicked, that’s how it was. That’s life in LA. It’s been like that for 100 years, who you’re down with and if you’re not down with anybody you’re going to have problems, you know what I’m saying?
Yeah I get it, so was there a certain crew that you were associated with?
I was from a crew called the ‘Neighbourhood Family’, which is a Blood gang. That was my introduction into the gang side of life and then later on when I got older I started my own clique in my block, which then turned into the whole Cypress Avenue. Because Cypress Hill is more than just a rap group, you know what I mean, it’s a family, a football team, it’s a gang, it’s everything, it’s a secret society-all that shit!
Are you a different person now because of your experiences in the past?
Oh yeah definitely. I can see shit coming a mile away. I could tell you as a matter of fact when there was going to be some shit going down, I can almost sense it like a premonition or some shit, you know, it’s like being on the street, you gain a lot of knowledge from the street and a lot of knowledge about people and what they’re capable of.
I read that you suffered a mild heart attack and you’ve put that down to hard living and partying lifestyle. Are you still into that kind of scene or have you changed it up a bit?
No, f**k no, I changed it up a lot. Definitely, that shit scared the f**k out of me, it was a warning sign, the whole second chance and everything. Appreciating life more and taking care of my body more and all that stuff, staying in the gym, keeping the cholesterol and the high blood pressure down all that shit.
But let’s be honest, do you still have some time for a bit of extra curricular activities? Puff the magic dragon style?
Oh yeah. Still puffer definitely man, you know what I mean, shit I’m about to roll one up now. I don’t think the weed had anything to do with my condition. I think it was alcohol, cigarettes, you know, the late hours and not sleeping a full night. That’s pretty much my life everyday. I never stopped the party, you know. I just kept partying, even when I was off the tour I just kept the party going. That was cool 20 years ago, you know, I’m 40 years old now and the body is eventually going to wear out. I thought I was indestructible. I still feel like I could walk through a wall or something, but that’s obviously not the case.
What country in the world has the best puff?
Amsterdam got da bombest herb on Earth. It’s legal there and they don’t have to hide it to grow or nothing, so it’s pretty much grown to perfection each time. I like the Kush, the OG Kush, whatever strength of Kush.
Being a veteran of the hip-hop scene, what are your thoughts on its current state?
Hip-hop is going through a transformation of sorts. I think it’s going away from the whole glam rap with the f**king thousand lights and all that shit. We’ve definitely outgrown that phase already. The community is tired of hearing about that. It’s all about knowledge itself and knowledge of understanding one’s self. It’s gone away from that and it’s gone through this phase of diamonds, hot cars, hot pussy and all that shit, it’s going through a transformation where the more conscious rapper is being shot out, I’m checking for Common, I’m checking for Mos Def. I’m not checking for ass-clapping music or anything like that. That’s fading out, man, like long-haired heavy metal bands before Guns ‘n’ Roses and Nirvana hit. We now move into the 2000’s and shit we’re coming up on the most important presidential election ever in the history of the United States. There’s war in the Middle East, in Africa and there’s so much more to rap about besides f**king pussy, riding cars and shit. I’m just saying the overall message of hip-hop has been lost. Hip-hop was always about the message and that’s how it’s going to be again.
Yeah man it’s all so true. I mean I listen to someone like Immortal Technique or Rage Against the Machine and I hear what they’re saying because it’s on such a deeper level. Do you think that someone like Immortal Technique could ever appeal to a larger more commercial audience?
That’s the power of music. Never underestimate the power of music. A powerful song is like a hurricane, a tornado or some shit that once it takes off is unstoppable. I’ve been there with Cypress when the band’s bigger than all of us and we have no control over it. Musicians ahead of the times with their ideology are sometimes looked at as freaks because they think a certain way, but when they get an entire group to follow along then they are looked at as f**king geniuses.
You did a lot of massive festivals with Cypress, are there any special ones that bring back good memories?
Well yeah, one that comes to mind is the Woodstock festival in ‘94, where we played to 500,000 people, you know, that was an amazing thing to be part of for sure. The Teenage Rampage, our first festival in Australia was also dope.
Craziest shit that’s happened to you at a show?
I remember one time I was doing a show where I was rapping and all of a sudden I felt something behind and it was Courtney Love trying to pull my shorts down. She would have been in for a surprise because I wasn’t wearing underwear that day!
Can you play any instruments and shit? Play the guitar? Hit the drums?
Yeah I can play a guitar but I’ve never played songs on tour and I don’t know if I ever will. I got some friends like Slash, Dave Navarro or Tom Morello so they just play and I admire. But I rock out pretty f**king awesome in my garage though.
Off topic a bit here but I have noticed that a lot of rappers are turning to acting these days, do you think you could ever branch out in that direction?
The only kind of actor I could be is a f**king porno actor. I don’t think I could be like a Will Smith or Tom Cruise or some shit, but slashing some pussy, that’s probably more my shit.
I heard that you love bikes and being from LA you must have knowledge on the low rider scene?
LA has this thing about being cool, even before the word cool existed. I’ve got one low rider but I’m more of a motorcycle man, like I was riding Harleys about eight years ago. We’ve got our own little crew we ride with. That’s the thing that I like doing the most, just riding the Harleys’ and the Choppers’.
Your plans for the future, Sen?
Everything, I’ve got to put shit out there. Cypress Hill is the mother ship, you know and all other avenues have opened up for us through the mother ship. Like with B-Real, he has all this stuff coming out, Eric Bobo and of course Mike Duffy have solo’s out. I think that’s why we still have Cypress. We’ve never tripped out on each other doing anything else if it’s going outside the band and putting out a record individually or with another group. B-Real did his thing, I did SX, Muggs did all his records and we feel stronger as a unit, you know. If B-Real goes out and does a solo record and it’s successful, that helps Cypress too.
Lastly Sen, any parting words of wisdom for the Freestyle reader’s out there?
If you believe in yourself and you can actually see yourself doing it then you can do it, so go out there and make it happen. Me and my friends are proof of that. But you have to believe in yourself no matter what other people say, even your own family. It’s there for the taking, you’ve just got to go there and take it. Nothing special is easy. If it’s something special it’s most likely involving hard work but you’ve got to pursue it and you’ll get there.
To find out more about Sen Dog, visit www.myspace.com/sendog
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