“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.

 

Twenty minutes later, as Kim and I sat in the control-room talking, Biggie walked in. “Yo, I’m sorry about what happened out there,” he said, deadpan as a black Woody Allen. “But next time, announce yourself or something.” We both laughed and everything was cool. Holding an already rolled L, he pulled a lighter from his pocket and asked the magical question, “You smoke?” A few months later, Biggie was dead.

After landing at LAX, my editor and I drove out to Snoop’s house. It was an hour-plus ride to Claremont, where Snoop was having a party and in my hedonistic mind it was going to be one of those wild-out affairs with nude chicks splashing in the swimming pools and champagne bubbles flowing down their cleavage.

Having made his vocal debut in 1992 on Dr. Dre’s first post-N.W.A single “Deep Cover,” the drawl-voiced rapper had a tone that reeked of reefer. Like a velvet-clad pimp leaning back in a crimson Cadillac, Snoop’s voice rode the grooves until he became the supreme pot poet of his generation.

As we entered the spacious crib, Snoop and his attractive church-going mother Beverly Broadus greeted us at the door. A few feet behind them was a life-size cardboard cutout of Tupac Shakur, middle finger raised in a Thug Life salute.

Dressed in green camouflage suit and a pair of leather Converse sneakers, Snoop welcomed us to a party that was a more a family and friends affair than the orgy I had anticipated. Walking down the stairs into the sunken living room, he introduced us to sharp-suited Uncle Junebug and rapper Warren G. From the nearby stereo romantic role-model Barry White sang “It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me.”

Hoping to score some cool points, I told Snoop how I once shared a joint with Barry White in Brussels. “Barry told me how when he was a teenager, he was in a gang called the Businessmen and smoked bush in the park in South Central with his friends,” I told Snoop. “In his deep voice, White said, ‘Bush is the only high for human consumption. All that other shit is synthetic drugs made by man. Bush is a plant that grows out of the ground, just like a rose or a tree or a tulip.’”

 

Sliding behind the wheel of his car, D'Angelo looked around on the floor and found a cassette of Marvin’s underrated Here My Dear. Starting the car, D. slipped the tape into the player. Before saying another word, he opened the glove compartment and pulled out a cigar and a sack of weed.

 

Snoop laughed. “Barry White is a real O.G. Many people don’t know that Barry White comes from South Central and he’s straight gangster, except in an R&B way. He’s one of the originators of what we did. When I put on one of his old CDs, I let the whole thing ride; don’t touch it—that’s Barry White, kick back.”

After we chatted a bit, Snoop was ready to play tracks from his then-upcoming disc Top Dogg. Pointing to a door across the room, he said, “My studio is in there.” Painted in a bizarre yin and yang design, with a ceiling fan, a Daz Dillinger poster on the wall and a well-worn couch where we sat down. Slouched next to us was a grinning Chicano who passed Snoop a Ziploc baggie overflowing with sticky buds.

Minutes later, after instructing another friend to roll the blunts, Snoop emptied the entire bag on top of Marvin Gaye’s I Want Youalbum cover. “I stay high,” Gaye once told his biographer David Ritz. “I respect reefer; if you’re an artist, you’ll recognize its creative possibilities.” Though he was asked many times not too smoke weed at Motown’s famed Hitsville Studios in Detroit, Marvin refused to stop.

Watching Snoop’s homeboy crumble the weed on the Marvin Gaye album cover, I thought about an interview I did with D’Angelo in 1995, a few months before his weeded soundtrack Brown Sugar was released. “I met her in Philly and her name was brown sugar,” D’Angelo crooned on the title track. “See, we be making love constantly, that's why my eyes are a shade blood burgundy…skin is caramel with those cocoa eyes, even got a big sister by the name of Chocolate Thai.”

After connecting with D’Angelo over drinks, conversation, and cigarettes, he offered to drive me home when the interview was over. Sliding behind the wheel of his car, he looked around on the floor and found a cassette of Marvin’s underrated Here My Dear. Starting the car, D. slipped the tape into the player. Before saying another word, he opened the glove compartment and pulled out a cigar and a sack of weed.

Concentrating on the task, D’Angelo split the casing, dumped the tobacco out of the window and built a blunt that would have made Marvin proud. Firing it up, he took a deep hit from the tightly rolled Philly as the bluesy funk of “Time to Get It Together” mixed with the smoke. “One of the reasons I like Marvin Gaye so much he didn’t give a fuck,” D’Angelo explained. “He just said whatever the fuck he wanted to say, but he did it so dope motherfuckers had to appreciate it. He was an artist, a true artist.”

D’Angelo was only ten years old when Gaye was gunned down by his minister father in 1984. “It was a Sunday, and we were coming home from church. We stopped at my cousin’s house and the first thing he said was, ‘Yo, Marvin Gaye got killed by his father.’ I thought he was joking. After that, I had nightmares for years.

“Finally, I had to go to a shrink and she broke the whole thing down for me. His father was a preacher and my father was a preacher. I can’t explain what happened, but one day I was able to listen to his voice without being petrified. I can’t explain that either.”

Twenty-four hours after Snoop’s party, I returned to his house for our interview. Already puffing from a blunt when I walked in the door, Snoop asked, “You still smoking?” Laughing, he slapped me five. “You look a little hazed.” Hell, more than likely I was still buzzed from our listening session the night before.

 

Twenty-four hours later, Mrs. Broadus handed me a bottle of cold water. Rubbing my eyes, I was slightly ashamed to be so stoned in front of someone’s mother. However, instead of judging me, she simply smiled and shook her head. “You shouldn’t try to keep up with Snoopy when it comes to smoking that stuff,” she advised. “He’s used to it.”

 

An hour and three blunts later, photographer Davis Factor (grandson of cosmetic baron Max) arrived and we all retreated to the backyard for the photo shoot. Not used to sweating in the Cali sun after smoking high-grade grass, I felt nauseous and stumbled back into the house. Sitting on the couch, I slowly faded to black and slept for an hour.

“Baby, are you all right?” a honeyed voice asked. As my eyes flickered open and I saw Snoop’s lovely mother standing over me. Sitting-up, I was as dazed and confused as a Zeppelin record. “I’m fine,” I croaked. The night before, we had sat together on that same couch as Mrs. Broadus cheerfully recounted stories about her baby, “Snoopy.” Telling me about her baby boy singing in the choir at Algonquin Trinity Baptist Church when he was a kid, she smiled.

“Snoopy had such a beautiful voice. First he was in the angel’s Choir when he was small, then he was part of the Youth Choir. He also went to bible study and even took piano lessons for a while.” Yet, while she was a church-going woman she seemed able to deal with her son’s then maddening life of guns and violence. “When he was going through the drama with Death Row, around the time that Tupac died and Biggie died, I asked the Lord to please cover him in holy blood and protect him from evil. That’s why now I give him a lot of love and kisses, because in his line of work he needs it. I might not like all the things he be saying, but I love him. And I support him.”

Twenty-four hours later, Mrs. Broadus handed me a bottle of cold water. Rubbing my eyes, I was slightly ashamed to be so stoned in front of someone’s mother. However, instead of judging me, she simply smiled and shook her head. “You shouldn’t try to keep up with Snoopy when it comes to smoking that stuff,” she advised. “He’s used to it.”

From my spot on the couch, through half-open eyes, I saw the Tupac Shakur cutout with its middle finger in the air and was transported on weed fumes back to the night of his death on Friday the 13, 1996. Shot numerous times six days before, nobody really thought that Tupac—who came off like a hip-hop Superman—would actually die. However, in the end, Tupac proved to be just another mortal.

 

Disturbingly, Pac took his last breath the same night EMI Records had thrown a grand party in New York City celebrating the platinum success of D’Angelo’s groundbreaking Brown Sugar. Indeed, what began as a joyful night of music and style (the event was co-sponsored by Giorgio Armani, with everyone dressed fashionably) turned somber when word spread though the crowd.

Women started crying, men shook their heads and everyone seemed somewhat confused. Walking over to the bar for another flute of champagne, I bumped into my friend Tracii, who worked for Payday Records. Tracii was with Tricky, a new artist from England whose debut Maxinquaye was released five months before Brown Sugar. A month before the D’Angelo party, Payday had released Tricky Presents: Grassroots, which was recorded at DJ Premier’s sonic sanctuary, D&D Studios.

Tricky passed me a thick spliff the moment we were introduced. Dressed in a stylish suit, Tricky was dark as an eclipse with a croaky voice and bloodshot eyes. The first time I’d heard his ominous voice, he was exhaling a mouth full of blunt smoke on the title track of Massive Attack’s 1991 masterpiece Blue Lines.

 

“Most of my songs are all done on weed,” Tricky told me.

 

“So you’re the guy who makes that suicide music,” my girlfriend Lesley blurted and Tricky laughed as though her comment was funniest thing he’d ever heard. Contrary to his seriously scary persona on disc, Tricky was a cool dude.

Raised in a Bristol council estate (housing projects), Tricky was as first influenced by reggae and rock. “I was about fourteen when I first smoked weed with a kid named Leroy,” Tricky recalled in 1997. “We smoked some with hash and when it was time to walk home, that was the first time I truly understood the meaning of the word paranoid.”

It was also during this period that Tricky was turned on to American hip-hop. “There was a guy called Bugsy, a half-caste dread who was the cousin of my girlfriend,” Tricky explained. “We used to go buy weed from him and he always had these tapes and Slick Rick’s ‘La Di Da Di’ was on one of those tapes. We were sitting around smoking weed and when I heard that, it was over man. Then, I heard (Eric B. and Rakim’s) ‘Check Out My Melody’ and nearly wet myself. Slick Rick and Rakim changed my life.”

Afterwards, Tricky saw the classic hip-hop film Wild Style and knew that music was going to be his life. Along with his then-collaborators Nellie Hooper and future members of Massive Attack and Portishead, they formed a sonic collective known as the Wild Bunch while still teenagers. A few years later, the so-called trip-hop artists made some of the most beautifully melodic, angst ridden, neo-dub, futuristic pop and postmodern hip-hop on the planet.

While Tricky’s vocal co-star Martina Tobley-Bird had a hauntingly charming voice, Tricky’s murmured vocals and poetics had the ugly beauty of an abandoned factory with broken windows, covered in rust. Like Premier, Muggs, and RZA, he created spliff symphonies for a new generation of angst-ridden listeners. Yet, unlike other weeded producers, who reputations for being the slowest beat makers in the business, Tricky knocked-out tracks quickly.

 

While in Canada the day before, a reporter asked Tricky. “I wonder what your music would sound like if you didn’t smoke weed?” Standing next to him, I thought about the question in relation to other talented artists who I had smoked blunts with over the years.

 

In addition, he did many remixes and contributed songs to moody soundtracks including Strange Days and The Crow: City of Angels. By the time we hooked-up for an interview in 1997, Tricky had already released three albums and one EP.

“Most of my songs are all done on weed,” Tricky told me as we sat upstairs at Saint Andrews Hall in Detroit. Within the hour, he would be heading to the stage as the DJ spun the muted vocals of Snoop Dogg’s “Freestyle Conversation,” the same song he used to open every show. With a plastic bag full of buds next to him, Tricky built yet another blunt.

While in Canada the day before, a reporter asked Tricky. “I wonder what your music would sound like if you didn’t smoke weed?” Standing next to him, I thought about the question in relation to other talented artists who I had smoked blunts with over the years.

Indeed, it was a query that would’ve been perfect if directed at either Cypress Hill, Sleepy Brown, Snoop Dogg, The Notorious B.I.G., D’Angelo, DJ Premier, Method Man or, the only one I’d never passed a blunt to, Tupac Shukur. More than likely, they would’ve had a similar answer.

“So do I,” Tricky replied, having just finished a spliff in the aptly named green room. “So do I.”