From “cheeba cheeba” and “indo” to “kush” and “blunts,” marijuana and the slang it inspires have long wafted through hip-hop culture. It has evolved from virtually unnoticed lyrical asides to the main topic of hit songs, and even a briefly flourishing sub-genre. Today, much like the marijuana industry that operates openly in several states, weed rap seems like a permanent, inescapable fact.
In some ways, weed rap is no different from any other American musical art form that celebrates a good smoke. Jazz in the Roaring ‘20s, folk music and psychedelic rock in the ‘60s, and funk in the ‘70s all promoted the idea that getting “stoned” was a pathway to freedom of mind and spirit. Concurrently, these days it’s not hard to find references to marijuana in pop music ephemera like Florida Georgia Line’s “Smoke,” or throughout Miley Cyrus’ hosting gig at the Video Music Awards last year. It’s as mainstream as the phrase “420,” which has grown from a joke among college kids to an unofficial national holiday celebrated on April 20 (as well as, yes, any day at 4:20 p.m.).
When rap music began in the early ‘80s, there was a small amount of weed talk. You may have overlooked it — back in those days, there was no Genius.com or millions of self-appointed rap experts on Twitter. Be honest: Did you really notice when LL Cool J rapped, “Earl rolls the weed” on “Rock the Bells”? Or when N.W.A’s Ice Cube rapped, “Since I was a youth, I smoked weed out” on “Gangsta, Gangsta”? These phrases were hidden in plain sight within lyrical flurries, presented so unremarkably that it took a few repeat listens to realize they presented an activity that could get one arrested, or at least suspended from school.
The early ‘90s were awash in odes to marijuana that served like special handshakes, and if you wanted to be down, you had to make a weed rap song
Cypress Hill generally earns the credit for turning marijuana from a perfunctory aspect of urban life to a consuming passion. The L.A. trio’s remarkable self-titled debut, released in August 1991, only had three songs dedicated to the activity nestled amidst typical post-N.W.A displays of street knowledge like “How I Could Just Kill a Man,” a convincing argument for stand-your-ground gun rights, and “Real Estate,” a sharp analysis of gentrification.
But “Stoned is the Way of the Walk,” “Something for the Blunted,” and “Light Another” tapped into the youth Zeitgeist, and B-Real, Sen Dog and DJ Muggs were smart enough to capitalize on it. Soon, the group was working with the marijuana advocacy organization NORML, appearing on covers of High Times magazine, and scoring Billboard Top 20 hits like “Insane in the Brain.”
The early ‘90s were awash in odes to marijuana that served like special handshakes. If you wanted to be down, you had to make a weed rap song. Snoop Dogg’s “Gin and Juice,” a Top 10 hit in the spring of 1994, became infamous for the chorus, “Rollin’ down the street, smokin’ indo.”
Redman helpfully offered the instructional “How to Roll a Blunt,” and crafted an image of weed-fried psychosis that paid homage to the ‘70s ensemble Parliament Funkadelic. He then paired with Method Man for the 1995 Top 15 hit “How High,” which made imaginative use of Silver Convention’s 1975 disco chestnut “Fly, Robin, Fly.”
As an easily recognizable sub-genre, weed rap petered out sometime in the late ‘90s. As far as consumption habits, marijuana was as commonplace as cigarettes. The new vanguard was expensive bottles of alcohol. Witness Jay Z’s verse on his Neptunes-produced 2000 club anthem “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)”: “Got six model chicks, six bottles of Cris(tal), four Belvederes, got weed everywhere.” More noticeable is when he raps, “Drunk off Cris, mommy on E.”
Amid a dangerously expanding smorgasbord of mind-altering concoctions, weed rap almost seems quaint and comforting
That leads to marijuana’s current, post-millennial status as an ingredient in a club cocktail. Today’s rap scene is full of pills and thrills. Thought leaders like Danny Brown brag about their ability to do everything, whether smoking “Blunt After Blunt” or dosing himself with pharmaceutical substances like Adderall. Once-forbidden drugs like MDMA and cocaine have become casual brags on popular tracks like Schoolboy Q’s “Hands on the Wheel.” Regional tastes like “syrup,” a mixture of codeine and soft beverages like soda or fruit juice, inspire No. 1 albums like Future’s DS2. Thankfully, no one has begun rhyming about how great it is to shoot heroin.
Amid a dangerously expanding smorgasbord of mind-altering concoctions, weed rap almost seems quaint and comforting. On their 2011 hit “Young, Wild & Free,” Wiz Khalifa and “uncle” Snoop Dogg treat smoking weed as a small act of nonconformity akin to wearing mismatched socks. For others, like New Orleans rapper Curren$y, it’s just part of the baller’s life and being young and fabulous enough to enjoy a good puff during business hours. For these latter-day weed rappers, marijuana is the proper workingman’s luxury.