Hip Hop and Cannabis: The Transformation of Pop Culture

Snoop Dog, Dr. Dre, the Notorious BIG, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Cypress Hill, Wiz Khalifa, 50 Cent, OutKast, Redman, Kanye West, Nas, the Fugees, and Jay Z are only a handful of hip hop artists who have rapped about marijuana.

Afroman is probably best known for two songs about marijuana: “Because I Got High” and the positive remix to that hit.  While the original song enumerates a host of simple tasks he was unable to do because of his high, the remix, with lyrics like “I had problems with glaucoma, but then I got high” and “I used to take Xanax, but then I got high,” showcase cannabis’ paradoxical ability to render its users both couch-locked and high functioning.

While Scarface’s vulnerable lyrics to “Mary Jane”—“when you sad, depressed, and feeling strange—who you blame/need some company to keep you sane—call her Mary Jane/I love you Mary Jane/do your thang/ you’re all I need to keep me through this thang—true to game”—reflect on cannabis’ therapeutic effect on depression and anxiety, Talib Kweli’s lyrics from “D.R.E.A.M”—“I used to smoke so much weed that it clouded my brain/took a break had to find life’s meaning again/without the smoke in my lungs I started dreaming again”—show the stifling effect excessive cannabis consumption can sometimes produce.

While the relationship between cannabis and hip hop is lauded by some of the genre’s stars and rejected by others, scientific analysis of hip hop lyrics shows that cannabis and the musical genre have a deeply entrenched relationship. So entrenched, that some rappers have strains named after them. Rappers have been paying homage to the plant in their lyrics for decades, and this relationship has been both toxic and symbiotic for both industries.

At varying points in history, and for reasons both valid and ludicrous, hip hop and cannabis have been demonized and associated with crime and irresponsible behavior.

To steal the DEA’s language, hip hop and cannabis have been stigmatized as substances with no medicinal value and a high potential for abuse.

The Powerful Relationship of Cannabis and Hip Hop

At the same time, both hip hop and cannabis have been culturally transformative in powerful ways.  Cannabis is a non-toxic, medicinally potent, and lucrative product in a country ravaged by the far more dangerous—and, ironically, far more accessible—pharmaceutical drugs Andre 3000, Cannabis and Hip Hopresponsible for a wave of prescription drug abuse killing users at epidemic proportions.  And for decades, rap music has provided a non-violent, creative, and lucrative outlet for at-risk, marginalized people of color.

Another curious point of comparison between weed and hip hop is their relationship with race and immigration.  Hip hop’s African roots were forcibly transplanted in American soil when black African bodies became commoditized during slave trade.  And the immigration of Jamaicans to New York played an enormous role in the lyrical style and musical sound present in contemporary hip hop.  Cannabis was used as an ameliorative for slaves in South America, and eventually found its way to North America when Mexican refugees fleeing the Mexican Revolution brought it with them.  Xenophobia catalyzed anti-marijuana legislation, so it is no surprise that today, marijuana laws disproportionately punish people of color even though marijuana use is pretty equal between the races.   It is for these reasons that the stigmatization of hip hop and cannabis has always carried the distinct scent of an another epidemic sieging our country: implicit bias.

Most interestingly, despite powerful forces of opposition, marijuana and hip hop are both like, well, weeds.  They are resilient, adaptable, and pervasive.

Studies prove that hip hop is the most important music since the 1960’s, proving to be even more influential than the Beatles.

And cannabis?  While probably being the most legislated, it is also the most widely used illegal substance worldwide.

The Cons of Cannabis and Hip Hop

In no way am I saying that the hip hop and marijuana industries are perfect.  They are fraught with problems.  Hip hop lyrics can be ruthlessly misogynistic, and, yes, some are certainly guilty of romanticizing poverty and crime.  And the legalized cannabis industry has got a lot of work to do when it comes to ensuring the safety of its products—the potential presence of mold and pesticides in marijuana yields is concerning enough to ensure that any product purchased has been lab tested.

So yeah.  There are villains in both industries, but this doesn’t mean that both industries are the villains in and of themselves.  And as hip hop continues to permeate mainstream pop music and culture, it may play a powerful role in legitimizing, and hopefully, legalizing cannabis.

Hip Hop and Cannabis: Business Relations

There is perhaps no greater advocacy than a business investment, and hip hop artists who make the decision to invest in this nascent and risky industry are changing the way America and the world think and talk about cannabis.  Snoop Dog is one of the more well-known hip hop artists to capitalize on this venture.  His cannabis line, Leafs by Snoop, offers high quality cannabis products packaged in a beautiful, elegant brand that honors Cannabis and Hip Hophis devotion to the plant as more than just a way to get high, but, as he puts it on the company’s website, as a “common source of peace, love and soul that connects us all.”  The Game and Whiz Khalifa have also invested in the nascent industry, and their ventures make the powerful statements that legal cannabusiness can be sophisticated and modern as well as lucrative and sustainable.

It’s hard to ignore the powerful message this sends to marginalized communities that often turn to hip hop to find a mirror and a window.  Listeners see themselves unfold in the stories hip hop artists tell, but they also see another world not yet accessible to them.  Sometimes that world is sexist and violent and criminal.  But in this case, hip hop fans can look at Snoop, Whiz, and the Game and see black men benefiting from and changing the system by working within it.  In a country where black men are fed into the prison industrial complex, this is a powerful thing to witness.

Marijuana and hip hop have been underrated and attacked in this country since their arrivals, yet they persist as their universal utility adapts to the changing environment.  It is in their nature to survive, and it is in their nature to bring people together.

Hip Hop and Cannabis: The Transformation of Pop Culture was last modified: by
Dianna Benjamin

About the author: Dianna Benjamin is a freelance writer, teacher, wife, and mom horrified and fascinated by social justice and our inability--yet constant pursuit--to get it right.