“Most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, jazz musicians, and entertainers, Their satanic music is driven by marijuana.”
- Harry J. Anslinger, America’s First Drug Czar
The relationship between marijuana and Black music goes back further than Mariah and pacifiers, as far back as Louie Armstrong rolling gage in New Orleans brothels, as far back as Cab Calloway ranting about the “Reefer Man” and making anthems about “vipers.”
Having interviewed countless recording artists throughout the blunted ‘90s, I’ve puffed with more than a few. From partying with rappers Outkast in their smoky Atlanta studio to hanging-out with Method Man while he shot the Tical album cover to puffing with production wiz DJ Premier at the grimy D&D Studios, I have more that a few blunted stories.
Living every pothead’s dream, in 1993 I interviewed blunted rappers Cypress Hill for The Source. A long way from their native California Recording, DJ Muggs, B-Real, and Sen Dogg were at Studio 4 finishing the sonically superior sophomore album Black Sunday in Philadelphia.
As the first hip-hop representatives for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Cypress Hill was the original hip-hop prophets of pot. Before interviewing them, I read a few books and watched some videotapes on the history of hemp.
According to pamphlets published by NORML, hemp was once used to make clothes, paper and countless other products. Van Gogh painted on hemp canvases, Benjamin Franklin printed a newspaper on hemp and the early settlers used the material for clothes and boat sails.
Yet, it was not until the country’s first drug Czar Harry J. Anslinger was appointed in 1930 to head of the newly formed Bureau of Narcotics that America stepped back from a pro-weed stance. Supported by the government and newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, he put into motion a series of scare tactics including headlines of “Murder by Marijuana” and the campy 1935 propaganda film Reefer Madness.
A few days after reading all the spliff scholarship, I took the Amtrak to Philly to observe Cypress recording pieces of various songs. With tracks titled “Legalize It” and “Hits from the Bong,” it was obvious these boys from the land of Cheech and Chong were writing and rapping about a subject they loved. “It’s when you get to the point while smoking herb that everything is better,” Sen Dogg said.
With his gravelly voice, Sen Dogg sounded like he’d been smoking since the age of three. “Music sounds better, even your walk has a better stroll to it. Weed is something that enhances life. It’s not a drug and I don’t see it as a drug.” Pausing only to take a hit from a blunt, Sen continued. “I do everything better when I’m high. I write better, ride my skateboard better, make love better, and talk shit better.”
Sonic innovators RZA, Premier, Massive Attack, The Dungeon Family, Nas, The Pharcyde, Mobb Deep, Jodeci, Portishead, Tricky and countless others injected a sinister “blunted” style into their own productions. Unlike the lovey-dovey, sixties pop potheads, the weed dependent apocalyptic nightmares and urban paranoia of those 1990s artists were translated into gritty and additive compositions.
As the studio exploded with laughter, from across the room DJ Muggs yelled, “It’s a way of life, not a vice.” The Cypress sound, as created from DJ Muggs vast record collection, was a dense wonderland of screaming sirens, eerie echoes and slowed down funk. A New York Italian from Queens who took his dirty sound to the west coast and discovered gold in them hills, Muggs’ brand of artful noise was the beginning of a new era in weeded music.
Influenced by one another as well as the strong weed that became a requirement at all studio sessions, sonic innovators RZA, Premier, Massive Attack, The Dungeon Family, Nas, The Pharcyde, Mobb Deep, Jodeci, Portishead, Tricky and countless others injected a sinister “blunted” style into their own productions. Unlike the lovey-dovey, sixties pop potheads, the weed dependent apocalyptic nightmares and urban paranoia of those 1990s artists were translated into gritty and additive compositions.
That night in Philly with the Cypress boys, Muggs played me unmixed tracks from their soon-to-be classic Black Sunday. With each song, one could damn near smell the ganja smoke rising from the grooves. Standing behind his sampler, Muggs was an imposing dude when didn’t talk much.
“I was just doing what I was doing, making the type of records that I wanted to hear,” he said. “When Public Enemy came out they changed the face of hip-hop. When De La Soul came out, they changed the face of hip-hop; I wanted to do something different too.”
A hour or so later in the chilled out studio, I was sitting a few seats away from B-Real whose large throwback Afro and nasal vocal style had become his trademarks. Holding a yellow-sheeted legal pad in the studio, B-Real jotted down a few words, but it was obvious his textual rivers weren’t flowing. Tossing the pad on the table, he reached into his blue jeans pocket, took out two large sacks of smoke and stuffed a crimson bong with the red veined buds.
Minutes later, the group decided to visit a tattoo parlor instead of finishing the songs. “You should get one too,” B-Real said as we rode through the pouring rain towards the shop. “Don’t worry about the price, we’ll pay for it.” Initially the prospect of getting my first tattoo with Cypress Hill was exciting.
“I might get a winged dragon with a bleeding cat in his teeth etched on my chest,” I rambled, thinking about a grisly William Stout illustration I remembered from Heavy Metal magazine years before, it seemed like a great idea.
However, once inside the small shop, I watched the process of the needle digging into B-Real’s arm. Feeling queasy, I quickly changed my mind. “Naw, man, that’s not for me,” I mumbled as B-Real and Muggs, both with more tattoos than career criminals, laughed. It made me no difference, really. I might’ve been high, but not stoned enough to ride back to Harlem with a permanent Cypress-sponsored souvenir.
Over the years, I’ve heard a few real horror stories from journalists getting high with rappers. One friend got so blasted with DMX that he threw up in the rapper’s new ride. Another writer recalled being down in Georgia with a paranoid artist who was about to pull out his nine-millimeter on some strangers in a 7-11 parking lot.
Over the years, I’ve heard a few real horror stories from journalists getting high with rappers. One friend got so blasted with DMX that he threw up in the rapper’s new ride. Another writer recalled being down in Georgia with a paranoid artist who was about to pull out his nine-millimeter on some strangers in a 7-11 parking lot. “They keep looking over here,” the rotund rapper muttered.
Seven years after hanging with Cypress, I flew to Los Angeles to interview Snoop Dogg. Having seen the ridiculous rivalry between the East Coast-West Coast end with the murders of Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G., I was wary being a New Yorker in the city of angels.
Indeed, the last time I’d been there was a few weeks after Big’s death on March 9, 1997. Two years later, as the jumbo jet flew over the Grand Canyon,
I recalled the first time I had met Biggie at the famed Hit Factory Studios in 1996, where he was A&Ring Lil Kim’s 1996 kick-ass debut Hard Core.
After getting off the elevator, I peered through the glass doors that led to the massive studio. The room was b-boy crowded, packed with Brooklyn toughs talking smack, smoking cigarettes and toking weed. Pushing open the heavy door, everything suddenly stopped and the Timberland-boot-wearing men ice grilled me until I shivered.
“Who you?” Biggie asked roughly and for a minute, I really couldn’t remember. Looking me up and down, somebody noticed my geeky appearance and exclaimed, “Yo, I think that’s the guy from the magazine.” Nervously, I nodded my head and someone directed me to the recording booth.