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During his lifetime, the 33-year-old’s music rightly gained attention for its laid-back sound and ability to channel how great it feels to smoke an eighth of Gelato in one session with your best friends, particularly via bangers like “We Get High”, “Doe” and “Light Up Everywhere”. Through brilliant projects like 420 and High End Weed Music, the North Londoner arguably established himself as the Wiz Khalifa of the British rap scene, yet he was so much more than just a “weed rapper”, his confessional bars always in-touch with social issues and what it’s like to be a poor person trapped in a city as ruthlessly capitalist as London.
On the introspective, Adele-sampling track “Chasing Papers”, he conceded: “Snowed under with bills, can’t even pay rent / How we meant to cop a car or some garms to stay fresh? / They got us stressed out, some commit suicide to get out.” Brutally honest rhymes like these made Samson feel even more human to his fans, who respected his honesty as an artist so openly managing their mental health. For a lot of people, he took the stigma away.
When I interviewed Samson back in 2017, it was for a Time Out: London piece looking at the potential outcomes if weed was made legal in Britain. He had already gained notoriety in the tabloid press for going to popular sites (including the tube, an Asda supermarket, and the London Eye) and hotboxing them with joints stuffed with pure Kush. It was a controversial method that angered his critics—who were mostly white and middle class—and they subsequently labelled him a juvenile and a criminal. However, for others, including me, there was a sense Samson was trying to provoke a genuine debate around cannabis legalisation and show how its smokers aren’t really hurting anybody (his actions were far more subversive and thoughtful than the Daily Mail would ever care to admit).
We arranged to meet in Enfield on a weekday evening. I was told to be on the lookout for a van with its windows blacked out, which would then drive me down to the woods. When a very late Samson opened the door and gave me a hug, joking about me worrying if I was going to be buried in the woods after being kidnapped by the black Scooby Doo, it felt like I was catching up with an old friend. When we finally got to the woods and started smoking some very potent weed in the back of his van, I noticed an old white man walking his dog, who had clearly got a whiff. He then approached the car intently and I feared he might tell us off, but he recognised Samson and they exchanged kind words.
This unlikely exchange showed me exactly the kind of person Samson was. He possessed a warm personality that resonated with people from all kinds of backgrounds, and it’s the reason why his record label and weed-inspired clothing line, Dank of England, was so adored up and down the British Isles, in communities both black and white. If cannabis was to be legalised in the UK, you just knew it would be Black The Ripper’s iconic face (and ponytail) at the heart of the movement, whether through educating his community on the strains that could greatly improve their sleep, or helping free black people still serving outdated prison sentences for growing cannabis. Samson knew his gift lay in bringing people together via his music and showing them how the criticism around cannabis culture was so often linked to racism and misinformation. I’m sure this is a passion he kept right until the end.
I was only able to use a small section of our chat for the Time Out: London feature, but after Black The Ripper’s unfortunate passing, Complex gave me the opportunity to publish it in fuller form as a tribute to his legend.
Thomas Hobbs: Why is it so important for you to represent the weed community?
Black The Ripper: I’ve always been repping weed through my music, but with the Dank of England movement, well, that all started about two and a half years ago. I just knew there was a whole nation of weed smokers who were being suppressed. Their feelings towards their favourite plant were being suppressed, so I thought: let’s start something! DoE is massive now but it will get way bigger than this; this is only the early, early stages, trust me! The foundation blocks of what I want to build are only just being put into place. Dank of England is a clothing line, it’s a record label, but it’s going to be a seed bank. We don’t have a coffee shop in the UK yet, but I will have one in London whenever I’m allowed to, trust me.
Why do you smoke weed in public spaces? I sense it isn’t just stunts, but more about making a political statement...
Yeah, you do it, and afterwards everybody is horrified and looking at you like you’re the scum of the earth. But then they realise nothing got stolen, nobody got hurt, and nothing bad happened! That’s the point I’m trying to make. You can’t take the Daily Mail comments seriously, bruv. Even if a policeman walked in on me, what’s he gnna do? Nick me for this dreg, or something? Nah. It isn’t happening. Honestly, though, there are no stunts here. I’m just living my life. When we hotboxed the London Eye, there were 13 policemen at the bottom waiting for us. When I hotboxed the EasyJet plane, they banned me for life! I’ve been arrested so many times just because I like this plant. I know people in jail right now because they sold a plant. They didn’t hurt anybody or steal anything, they just either grew a plant or sold it, and when they’re released they can’t get job interviews. It’s disgusting.
Is there an element of racism behind some of the resistance towards cannabis?
Whenever we open a DoE pop-up shop for clothes, the police shut it down. They come and harass us every time we sell DoE clothing. That looks like harassment to me! If Adidas did a pop-up clothing shop, would the police do the same thing? I am not selling weed, I am doing a pop-up clothing store, yet the police come through like I’m this drug kingpin. They roll like Tony Montana’s in town. It’s crazy levels of harassment, but I don’t know if I would scream out racism either, as weed has nothing to do with any race. I smoke with all races. Me and you are about to smoke right now so it isn’t a race thing, bro! Maybe in these inner-cities it is as they disproportionately stop people who look like me to look for weed, but weed isn’t illegal because of racism. There’s many reasons. For one, people fear what they don’t understand, and they are born into fearing this drug. But if you look at our history, it’s only the last 90 years or so that weed has been illegal. Before that, people were smoking it in peace for a long time. There’s nothing to be afraid of! This is medicine and I hope the government will learn that. It’s something I’m trying to teach people.
What’s your message to Theresa May’s UK government?
Give people back their lives! Free everyone in prison because of this plant and let them see their families. Also, do your research and learn how weed can heal people. This drug can treat so many diseases and ailments. It has given me inner peace and relaxed me so I can forget about this concrete jungle that I’m living in. But then again, I know they won’t listen to me. Look at Grenfell! They don’t want to help or listen to working-class people.
What would you say have been the benefits of legalisation from what you’ve seen in Amsterdam and America?
First off, you take out the crime element and remove the dirty, unregulated weed off our streets. There’s crazy black ash weed out there that is driving people crazy. You might as well smoke spice; that shit is so bad! Take that away and people have more access to their medicine of choice rather than just dangerous skunk. Here in the UK, everyone is broke: nothing is made in England and this Brexit shit really works against people’s pockets, but if you legalised weed, you could make so much money back in taxes. There’s places in America that make $1m in taxes in 24 hours. It feels like the people at the top, who claim weed would be dangerous if it was legal, are also aware that if they legalise it they would create a whole generation of millionaires from working-class communities. That scares them! I want to be a black cannabis entrepreneur with millions and millions behind me, but maybe the thought of that is scary to some white man.
What music are you working on right now?
My next project is called DoE or Die, Vol 1 and that’s a Dank of England project with all the artists from the label on there, like Iron Barz and Stoner. My next solo project is Money Grows On Trees. I’m just working, man, giving the nation their tunes to smoke to. I guess I want to put the DoE brand into people’s heads. I want to unite people. There’s man in jail repping DoE, skater dorks, man who are architects. People love it! It brings people together. When I do these pop-up shops, I see people from every walk of life coming through. There’s no beef, just good vibes. How can people not see that this is a nice thing? It is a massive statement people can make by wearing a t-shirt that says ‘Dank of England’. People make friends just from wearing my t-shirt. You could be walking around Grimsby and someone sees it and then they come and hug you. Someone told me that happened! It’s creating a sense of community. It’s like a secret handshake.
What lessons would you like people to learn from the way you live your life?
I’m normalising weed in this country for a whole generation of people, and I hope people can see that. When I used to hold kilos of weed up to the camera and post it on the internet, people were scared, but now everybody does it. That’s all from me. I broke down the walls and got cussed out for doing it, but I did it so people could be free. I get a lot of abuse, but I don’t even care bro! The innovators always get the most hate, bruv. I want people to follow the blueprint I laid out... I didn’t see a cannabis clothing line before Dank of England, but now they are everywhere.
It’s 2017 now, so when do you see weed finally being legal here? And how will you tap into that?
Something in my head says within the next five years. But that’s just a guess. It won’t happen until we get more groovy people in power. Look: don’t be brainwashed about this plant. You watch TV and it’s followed like a bible, to some people, but don’t believe everything it says about weed. If everybody smoked it then a lot of our problems would dissolve. This country is designed off people being robot workers, but weed would wake people up and make people realise they don’t need those jobs to be happy. They don’t want you to be open-minded. They know that you go to school, get a job and then die unhappy. Weed can disrupt that. It can make you feel free. It’s why I called my album Motivated Stoner—I’m letting them know that stoners are still some of the hardest-working people out there. They’re getting high, but also smashing their jobs. I want the people to unlearn all of that bullshit they’ve been taught about weed. If I can help them do that, even in a small way, then my work is done.