How we made Cypress Hill's Insane in the Brain

‘It took a day to do the beat, three hours to write the lyrics, and an hour to record. There was a lot of weed being smoked’

Lawrence ‘DJ Muggs’ Muggerud, turntables, samples

I came up with the beat in my apartment in Queens, New York. At first, it was slower, but the stone-age drum machine we had could only go up or down in increments of six BPM. So when B-Real started rapping on it, I had to speed it up from 96 to 102. It went from being a slow groove to a club banger.

The format of the song is similar to Jump Around by House of Pain. I came up with the beat for Jump Around right after Cypress Hill’s first album. But B-Real, our rapper, didn’t want to go back into the studio so quickly. I offered it to Ice Cube but he passed, so I gave it to House of Pain – and it became huge. I wanted to do more with that sort of sound, so I packed Insane in the Brain with hooks.

I assembled the track in my apartment, putting the horns together with the bassline. There’s one sound people think is a neighing horse, but it was a horn. I read that I’m supposed to have sampled James Brown and Sly Stone, but that’s way off. It took about a day to do the beat, three hours to write the lyrics, then about an hour to record it. There was a lot of weed smoked but we were pretty prepared. When the vibe’s right, the shit’s right. We’d just go in and attack.

I knew it was going be a big record but I never imagined how big. I was a millionaire at 21. A lot of motherfuckers don’t survive that shit. Today, it’s got over 90m YouTube hits. If YouTube had been here in 1993, we’d have a billion by now. The song’s become iconic and seems to have struck a chord. I guess everybody goes crazy at some time in their life.

Senen ‘Sen Dog’ Reyes, vocals

I went to a hip-hop nightclub in downtown Los Angeles. B-Real had this blue Cadillac Seville, a really-nice-looking car. When I arrived, he was sat in it in the parking lot writing something. He went: “Check this out – ‘Insane in the membrane …’” I didn’t think much more of it, but felt it was pretty cool that a song was being born in a Cadillac.

Insane in the Brain derives from gang talk in LA. Back then, the Crips and the Bloods – who I ran with – were at war. You could have a shootout with the police or anyone. So if you walked up to somebody and said, “I’m crazy insane, got no brain,” you’d better be ready to prove that shit. That lingo was reserved for the hardest homies.

The song itself is about rival rappers who had dissed us. Chubb Rock did a whole song dissing B-Real, so I told B-Real, “Cook his ass real good,” which he did. I did my lyrics in New York when we recorded. It was winter and we had our bomber jackets on to keep us warm. I can’t remember everything because a lot of it was under the influence of mushrooms and marijuana, but my second verse is about Kid Frost.

Cypress Hill with DJ Muggs (second right).
Cypress Hill with DJ Muggs (second right). Photograph: Robert Knight Archive/Redferns

Before anybody had a record deal, we were real tight with him. Then when he got a deal things changed. We went overnight from being friends to not. The fact that I was dating his sister didn’t make it any better. So when he said some bad things about us, I popped back at him with the line: “Fat boy on a diet, don’t try it / I’ll jack yo’ ass like a looter in a riot.” I’m not much of a diss rap kind of guy, but at the time it was appropriate because a lot of people we knew were caught up in it.

Most of the enemies I had in the industry I’m cool with now, but back then we were young guys full of attitude and ego. Insane in the Brain was a life-changing moment. When the song came out, the whole world knew us. When we’d been in our teens, smoking weed outside my mom’s house, we had all these crazy dreams about being the Grateful Dead of hip-hop. And that’s exactly what happened.

• Cypress Hill’s latest album, Elephants on Acid, is on BMG.


Interviews by Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Sugarhill Gang: how we made Rapper's Delight
‘I’d heard this word hip-hop and just started going: “Hip-hop hippie to the hippie to the hip-hip hop”’

Interviews by Dave Simpson

02, May, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
Betty Boo on how she made Doin’ the Do
‘Much later, someone told me it was actually slang for cunnilingus’

Interviews by Dave Simpson

21, Jun, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
How we made Salt-N-Pepa's Push It
‘An aquarium told us that when they put the song on, the sharks started mating’

Interviews by Dave Simpson

07, Aug, 2017 @3:00 PM

Article image
Oxide & Neutrino: how we made Bound 4 Da Reload (Casualty)
‘There was a rise in gun crime and garage was blamed. We went from being on Top of the Pops to not being able to play anywhere. Then I was shot’

Interviews by Dave Simpson

29, Jan, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image and Sérgio Mendes on how they made Mas Que Nada
‘I turned up at Sérgio’s house with every record he ever made and said: “Bro, I’m your biggest fan.” He started tearing up and replied: “This is too much!”’

Interviews by Dave Simpson

22, Apr, 2019 @1:56 PM

Article image
Post your questions for Cypress Hill
As the classic hip-hop group release their 10th album and pass the 30-year mark, B-Real will take reader questions

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

11, Feb, 2022 @2:29 PM

Article image
How we made 3 Feet High and Rising

Posdnuos, De La Soul rapper: 'Our manager asked, "Stay in college – or be rap stars?" I was like, "Uh, I'll take rap star"'

Dave Simpson

29, Apr, 2014 @6:00 AM

Article image
How we made Public Enemy's Fight the Power
‘The hood was on its own, abandoned at every level. Fight the Power was
the anthem of the streets’

Interviews by Ben Beaumont-Thomas

07, Mar, 2016 @6:37 PM

Article image
‘I accidentally invented trip-hop’ – how we made DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing
‘People said: “Nobody’s going to listen to instrumental trip-hop.” But I was thinking of huge soundscapes, like the ones by Pink Floyd or Beethoven’

Interviews by Rich Pelley

27, Jun, 2022 @2:00 PM

Article image
Cypress Hill's B Real to open up medical marijuana dispensary
The rapper says he is open to the idea of live performances in the dispensary from pro-legalisation artists such as Snoop Dogg and 2 Chainz

Tim Jonze

18, Feb, 2015 @10:37 AM