Why It Matters
A musician, through melody, lyrics, and overall song composition can seep into our souls and voice our deepest fears, joys, and everything in between. Music has been known to strongly link to our personal identity. Music soothes and gives us a sense of reflections, reportedly like partaking in cannabis products making the marriage between the art-form and the plant quite synergistic.
In the United States, June is Black Music Month. Globally Black Music and Black Culture has set the tone for almost every touch point of coolness in modern day society. The relationship between black music, black culture and marijuana or cannabis has a clear throughline for better or worse. In recognition of Black Music month, we’d like to explore the relationships between The Culture and Cannabis. Standard definition of culture is a set of norms, behaviors, ideas, beliefs reflected in society amongst groups of people. Culture is also brought to the forefront via art, music, celebrations, customs, and more. The phrase “the culture” when spoken or heard often refers to predominately black culture with heavy emphasis on hip hop culture and derivates of its norms and creativity.
Jazz music, a great American art-form also created by black people that has deep roots to cannabis dating back to the early 1900s and the New Orleans Jazz scene. From Ella Fitzgerald to Cab Calloway sung about “reefer”. Louis Armstrong, New Orleans native and beloved jazz artist made referenced to marijuana in his music and spoke openly about its ability to increase his productivity. New Orleans banned its use in 1923. Funny enough Armstrong never had an incident with his usage in the city of New Orleans, but California at that time was another situation. Armstrong while between sets a at the Cotton Club in Culver city was enjoying a smoke when cops saw him (other someone alerted them). Ultimately his six months sentence was suspended. Armstrong went on with his great career until his death in 1971. Throughout his career he continued to reference marijuana in his work.
Reggae music has famously championed the global access to cannabis. Peter Tosh dedicated a now classic album in 1976 to the cause titled, Legalize it. Bob Marley music and cannabis icon converted from Christianity to Rastafarian in the 1960’s and therefore smoked marijuana and part of his religious practice. Because of his global crossover success and incredible images captured by photographers at the time many posters of him smoking hung on walls of fans. Bob often sang the medical benefits of cannabis and was well ahead of his time.
Rockers like The Beatles and Bob Dylan, country music icon Willie Nelson infused their music with homages to the cannabis plant but the 1978 drop of incomparable baritone voice of disco and RnB sensation Rick James singing about “Mary Jane” and her glory can’t be denied as one of this most well-known cannabis culture songs. Some could argue the groundwork for what was to come.
Hip hop no doubt has given the most modern-day roadmap about its uses from economics to creativity to lifestyle benefits. What early rappers presented in their work as it relates to cannabis can be seen as the same form of defiance as their jazz counterparts. During The War on Drugs and targeting specifically black men and boys, artists flat out said that not only is marijuana our lifestyle but livelihood. From hits like I Got 5 On It by Luniz to Dr. Dre’s Chronic album, artists were forecasting what they believed. In many ways we can say that musicians have been against the taboo of use so much so adult users are able to enjoy marijuana today while amongst like-minded people in shame-free spaces. The original 1997 Smokin’ Grooves tour featured Cypress Hill arguably one of the most iconic rap groups to ever fight for legalization. From songs titled I Wanna Get High, which did not mince words about their intentions, to 1993 DJ Muggs smoking on the Saturday Night Live stage resulting in a lifetime ban.
Continued pacing and persistence by countless artists using their platforms gave cover for others. Much of the criticism about it being the gateway drug and being a drag on society because of usage has been debunked. Many of these musicians and everyday people have become rather successful regardless of the harmful mythology heaped onto cannabis usage. Large cannabis companies owe a debt to the authenticity factor these artists brought to cannabis conversation, of which they benefit from now and going forward. Today’s popular music may reference cannabis so seamlessly that it could be considered boring however, musicians have added an elevated level of acceptance to cannabis consumption and for that the community will continue to be grateful.