I used to listen to a lot of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, no joke. I still think Helplessly Hoping is one of the saddest, prettiest songs ever. And the chorus of Southern Cross is probably permanently etched into my brain. But it always bothered me, the ending of Judy Blue Eyes. At first, it bothered me because I couldn’t understand the words at the end. The song becomes playful and then Stills bursts out into a foreign language. I assumed it was Spanish at the time.
Later, I believe Stills (or CSNY fans, not sure which) put in real Spanish lyrics, but in earlier interviews, Stills made remarks about how he had purposefully sang the coda in broken Spanish, wanting it to be essentially incoherent. Even as a young punk, that did not sit well with me. It sounded like a tourist’s interpretation of what Cuban music sounds like, and later, when I really listened to Cuban music, that became even more obvious.
It’s interesting, getting older, when it comes to music. In the late 90s, I remember a lot of people getting awfully bent out of shape about Déjà vu sampling Steely Dan’s Black Cow. Of course, this had a lot to do with the fact that the rappers who sampled Black Cow didn’t bother to ask permission and thus got themselves sued. But then again, rappers had been getting away with that kind of stuff for years. Part of it was that the tidal wave that is hip hop had not quite swept all preconceived notions away. There was still an argument about whether rap was music back then. The other part was that it was perceived as laziness, using someone else’s music in that way. In the case of Déjà vu, most of the criticism was legitimate- the only thing that really sticks out about the song, in retrospect, is the Steely Dan sample, which remains awesome.
Armada Latina is an entirely different experience. First of all, there’s the generational aspect. I bet most people who have listened to Armada Latina don’t even know (or care) who CSNY are (I’m not entirely convinced most people listening to the song are even aware of who Cypress Hill are). They certainly don’t care about hip hop co-opting a part of a song. And they most definitely do not consider it laziness.
But beyond all that, there is something else still at play here. This song reminds me of warm nights in Brooklyn (I know, I never lived there, I don’t know why it comes to mind). I am reminded of a colorful bar on the corner, people spilling out of it and drinking while music pulses. I am reminded of the different sounds and people and the beautiful clash of everything. It brings to mind Junot Diaz, in a way, this idea that this is the world we live in now. In this world, you don’t listen to Stills sing in gibberish; in this world, you get the real thing and if you don’t know the translation, then look it up, cabron, because that’s your problem.
I don’t know if Cypress Hill meant it that way, if they picked this sample because of it. After all, setting all of that aside, this song is just good. It should be played all over the place this summer. And it makes me happy when groups like Cypress Hill make a reappearance, because, selfishly, it makes me feel less like a member of the AARP. But I have to admit that the reason it tickled me as much as it did on first listen is how fiercely Cypress Hill and (okay fine)