Let’s be blunt, it’s no new revelation that weed and music make a delightful pairing. 

The history of THC-infused music dates back to early twentieth-century jazz musicians, long before Snoop Dogg was rapping “Smoke Weed Everyday”

Before the 1900s, the recreational use of marijuana was obscure and primarily used for medicinal purposes. It wasn’t until ten years later when cannabis migrated into the United States from Mexico, that the use of cannabis cigarettes was popularized. 

This came at a time during the Great Migration when African-Americans began moving to the predominately white, northern regions. In Texas, Mexican citizens also started to enter the United States. 

Racially prejudiced laws formed in the 1930s, when politicians cited marijuana as the cause for violent crimes in the era. The US government even changed the word from “cannabis” to “marijuana” in legal reports to associate the drug with ‘Mexican-ness’. Newspaper articles were filled with ads with titles like “Marijuana, a Mexican weed known to cause insanity”.

Poster for the 1936 film ”Marihuana Weed with Roots in Hell”

All I know is the most violent getting stoned has ever gotten me is when I ferociously ripped into a bag of All Dressed Ruffles. 

The propaganda that was used to “fight a drug war” led to a devastating effect on Black and Latino-American communities. To make matters worse, the criminalization of the drug was instigated by the Boggs Act of 1951 and the Eisenhower Narcotics Act. These legislative acts imposed minimum mandatory sentences that are fundamentally racist and were used to arrest and incarcerate people of colour. 

Playing Jazz and Smoking Jive

It all began in the red light district of New Orleans, where artists like Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, and Dizzy Gillespie played sets at jazz clubs in Storyville. 

Black musicians were in the midst of birthing a new form of music; jazz. With roots in blues and ragtime, jazz artists broke conventional barriers by experimenting with rhythm, improvisation, and time.

The free-form improvisational style of jazz was known to be elevated by Mary Jane’s ability to shift the perception of time. Where an artist could typically fit a single note in, they could suddenly fit two. Marijuana’s warm and fuzzy social effects were also great in creating camaraderie between musicians. 

Louis Armstrong playing his trumpet with a cannabis cigarette in hand

In the 1920s and 30s, many songs were written with the common theme of, you guessed it, cannabis. In this era, the slang terms for marijuana included reefer, weed, gauge, jive, and Mary Warner. 

Smokers were referred to as vipers, named after the hissing sound made while puffing on a joint. 

Burning Paper with Beatniks 

The use of weed and jazz music remained closely associated in the 50s when it caught the attention of white beatnik poets, writers, and musicians. 

Beatniks were young people who belonged to a social movement that stressed self-expression and artistic freedom. They rejected societal norms through their anti-materialistic and anti-capitalistic values. 

The stereotypical beatnik look consisted of black turtlenecks, berets, and horn-rimmed glasses.

Poets like Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac lived at the heart of the beatnik literary sphere. Their poetry was often accompanied by bebop jazz, frantically playing in the background. 

Poet Allen Ginsburg at a marijuana rally in the mid-60s

When I listen to beatnik poetry, I imagine myself in a rustic cafe, sipping on espresso, getting stoned from the smoke-filled air. I definitely also am sporting a goatee in this imaginary scenario. 

Rock ’n Rolling Up

Bridging the gap between poetry and mainstream music, Bob Dylan rose to the forefront. No stranger to mentioning weed in his songs, Dylan became a legend for his unchartered lyrical deliveries. 

In 1964, Dylan introduced The Beatles to marijuana in a New York City hotel room. This beautiful moment shaped rock ’n roll history and sparked the beginning of a counterculture revolution. 

Weed became symbolic of the hippie movement, which centred on opposition to the Vietnam War, civil rights, feminism, and environmental awareness. The rock ’n roll world began to embrace experimental and psychedelic sounds, piquing marijuana curiosity across the masses. 

Purple Haze (Live at the Atlanta Pop Festival) (Digital Video)

Footage of Jimi Hendrix playing Purple Haze live at the Atlanta Pop Festival

A small group smoking weed at the Woodstock Music Festival in 1969

It’s Time for Ganja

Reggae and cannabis go together like peanut butter and jelly. 

Born in Jamaica in the late 60s, the genre of reggae was deeply tied to the Rastafarian culture, in which marijuana was used as a religious sacrament. 

Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve probably seen photos of Bob Marley with a billowing cloud of ganja smoke in front of his blissed-out face. Posters of this famous iconography have made their way on dorm rooms walls around the globe. 

A focused Bob Marley rolling a joint

In 1976, Marley’s band member Peter Tosh released the cult classic song, “Legalize It”, publicly advocating for the legalization of marijuana. Since then, reggae’s defining pot activists have endured arrests and persecution for their use of the herb.

High off Hip Hop 

During the early 80s, popular commercial music shifted from rock, over to hip hop. Black MCs became the face of cannabis promotion and were often featured smoking in music videos. 

Groundbreaking groups like Run D.M.C., Public Enemy, and N.W.A were the first to start rapping about weed as an act of rebellion. Hip hop’s roots as an underground culture make it inevitable that these two subcultures would intersect and create an ever-evolving relationship. 

For some artists, being a high-profile stoner is integral to their image. This is certainly the case for Snoop Dogg, who has built a successful career thanks to his affinity for the plant and its surrounding culture. Since its release in 1993, Dr. Dre’s album The Chronic has sold over 5.7 million copies. Named after highly potent weed, it’s no surprise that this is where Snoop Dogg made his debut performance. 

Dr. Dre – The Next Episode (Official Music Video) ft. Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, Nate Dogg

Wiz Khalifa, Cypress Hill, and Method Man are some other acts that have been propelled by the world of cannabis. Hip hop transformed smoking weed into more than just a way to get high, it inevitably turned it into a lifestyle and business. 

Living the High Life

It may seem counterintuitive, but the genres that allude to pot the most are country and western. Hank Williams Jr. sang about the drug over 40 years ago, Willie Nelson has been building a weed empire since Snoop was still in diapers, and Kacey Musgraves has no problems singing about smokin’ up. 

Country icon Willie Nelson is still smoking weed at 88-years old

Since its inception in the 70s, heavy metal and weed have best buds. Ozzy Osbourne’s legendary band Black Sabbath released the first song to use a looped track of coughing from a toke-gone-wrong in its intro. Their hit Sweet Leaf is dedicated to ganja in all of its glory. Weed-influenced subgenres like “stoner rock” and “doom metal” have also been derived from metal. 

It seems like whatever genres you listen to, it somehow involves getting stoned to the bone. 

Even though smoking marijuana has become synonymous with relaxation and peace, it’s important to acknowledge its historical and political relevance.

It’s easy to sit back and enjoy the grassy herb with some tunes blasting, but with cannabis, reform comes a necessary conversation about social equity, policing, and racial justice. To this day, while governments are happily taking their cut of marijuana sales, Black and Brown’s people are being disproportionally persecuted for cannabis-related arrests. The impact of the War on Drugs has always been targeted at minority communities and continues to tragically change their life trajectories. 

If you’ve learned something, light one up for me. For now, it’s time to blow this joint. 

 

HEADER IMAGE SOURCE; PAISIA WARHAFT

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