By Kelly Dearmore
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As a teen, he relocated to L.A. with his mom, "going from Pro Keds, Lee Jeans, Le Tigres, and do-rags to khakis, Converse All-stars, white T-shirts, and gang-banging--two different worlds. I got into a fight the first day and whipped some kid's ass."
Muggs quit school in 10th grade to sell weed and work construction, deejaying on the side. He started spinning at clubs, and for a local crew who went by the name of DVX, which included future Cypress members B-Real and Sen-Dog. Somewhere along the way, he won the West Coast DMC turntable championship and signed on as DJ for New York group 7A3. The group had a song on the Colorssoundtrack, put out an album on MCA, and had their second album shelved. Bored with deejaying, Muggs set his sights on production, starting with demos for B and Sen, who'd redubbed themselves Cypress Hill.
Signed to Ruffhouse/Columbia, the group made a splash among the core hip-hop contingent and beyond with their now-classic, self-titled debut. Muggs started his Soul Assassins production company, signed House of Pain, helped score them a label deal, produced their debut, and hit paydirt with "Jump Around." Cypress' sophomore album, Black Sunday, spawned the radio megasmash, "Insane in the Brain," which went pop without compromising its hard edge or street cred.
Soon, everyone wanted that Muggs flavor. In addition to churning out six albums for Cypress, the bicoastal producer has forged tracks for Funkdoobiest, Xzibit, Ice Cube, KRS-One, and Goodie Mob. He's spun out remixes for everyone from Goldie to Me'Shell NdegeOcello. He collaborated with Sonic Youth and Pearl Jam on the Judgement Nightsoundtrack, and ventured into trip-hop with Tricky on Juxtapose. And on the latest Cypress album, Skull & Bones, he mixed his usual, "dusted," fat-bottomed hip-hop with trendy, live rock-rap fusion, performed by members of Rage Against the Machine, Fear Factory, and others.
Does he ever feel like he's selling out, or leaving hip-hop behind?
"Fuck no, man. I'm a musician. I can do anything. It ain't no selling out. People buy into me. I've never had to change my approach to make money. I grew up listening to disco, rock, soul, R&B, rap, and I like all of it. Next year I might fuck with an African drum record."
In fact, if there's one thing Muggs is passionate about, it's the diversity of his résumé. "I really respect Rick Rubin," he says. "He put out Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Run DMC...and Slayer. I've seen a lot of hip-hop producers get real hot, not diversify or challenge themselves, and fizzle out. [Doing other types of projects] is like a vacation for me. I go away, come back, and can't wait to do hip-hop."
"Regular shit. I love sports, I've got season tickets to the Lakers, I go to the horse-races, the gym, play golf with the homies, go to record stores, drive around [in his '63 Impala ragtop], go to a club...." He runs down the list in an apathetic, I-don't-give-a-fuck-about-this-question tone. These are just distractions.
Most who know Muggs call him an intense workaholic. Some consider him self-absorbed and aloof. They're probably half right: Muggs doesn't care about me or you...unless you happen to be a member of his extended Soul Assassins family.
Muggs says he coined the term "Soul Assassins" in '91, after the first Cypress album came out. "We had so many people down with us--a social club of Cypress muthfuckas. Not everyone could rap and be in the group, so everyone with a talent was down with Soul Assassins."
These days the Soul Assassins are a multifaceted alliance of producers, rappers, artists, filmmakers, low-rider car mechanics, and anyone who can "bring some shit to the table." The crew's tendrils stretch far. Core members include Cypress Hill, who have their own Soul Assassins Radio show on the L.A. airwaves via KKBT-FM, soon to be in syndication; Son Doobie, formerly of the Muggs-produced act Funkdoobiest, and now an on-air personality at KPWR alongside Muggs' friend A-Love Miller; former House of Painer turned b-boy-bluesman Everlast, back in the crew after a temporary schism some years back (to which Muggs attributes "immaturity, lots of money going on, egos"); former H.O.P. member DJ Lethal, who mans the decks for Limp Bizkit; famed underground producer The Alchemist; illustrator/low-rider car muralist/ink-slinger Mr. Cartoon, whose ornate handiwork marks the epidermis of everyone from Muggs to Method Man; and Estevan "Scandalous" Oriol, who Muggs matter-of-factly refers to as his brother. Scandalous manages Cypress on the road; pinch-hits for Muggs on the turntables when he's too busy to tour; runs Joker, the crew's low-rider-inspired line of clothing; snaps photos for album covers; and directs music videos, including the new GZA clip for Soul Assassins II.
They work on each other's projects, and they work separately. They hang out, talk shit together, smoke blunts together. There's talk of getting a warehouse that will contain Muggs' recording studio, Scandalous' photo studio and lab, Cartoon's tat parlor and design studio, an area that houses Joker, and an editing bay for future forays into film. (Scandalous, Cartoon, and Muggs have just finished penning a screenplay called Ink, about the skin-art scene.)