Why the Hip Hop Nation Is Getting High on "The Chronic"June 22, 1993
Something has happened. The spliff, the holy weed of devout Jamaican Rastas, has mesmerized a generation of Black American wannabe "rude bwoys" who are now talking about naturalness, even going back to God when they "take a likkle whiff 'pon di sinsemilla." No more "suckin' on the glass dick" — Crack "slangin'," ya duds, is wick-wicky-wickable wack.
The hip hop nation is getting high on "the Chronic." I see them everywhere, with their bald heads and edge-of-the-ass baggies, slitting the sides of cheap Phillies Blunt cigars — gutting and stuffing the cavity with sticky California skunk grass, Indica, Afghan, even Africa's exotic Durban Poison weed.
"Blunts have made it fashionable to smoke pot again," says Ilchuk, 32, a crossbred Latino and first generation B-boy who grew up on da Loisaida. "Just about nobody in hip hop circles smokes crack or cocaine anymore. In the last two years, I've seen ganja make a big difference in terms of less kids smoking crack, angel dust, and all the other dangerous drugs." Since he overcame a serious crack addiction six years ago, pot has been his only high.
"The spiritual side of ganja was definitely brought to me by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. I learned the hard way that not all drugs are spiritual."
Used to be that Black American kids would see me (a Trinidadian) on the streets, check out my dreadlocks, laugh, and say, "Hey Rastaman, teach me to build a spliff?" Now they're puffing on their own macho blunts, blowing smoke rings through Flavor Flav gold teeth.
I am surprised, though I shouldn't be. After all, what did homies do in the mid '70s, after Kool Herc and other Jamaican DJs in the South Bronx taught them the art of toasting, rhyming over a rhythm track? Brothers took it, reinterpreted it, and reinvented it to a beat, rhythm, and style of their own bigger-than-life reality. They created hip hop, a music that is loud, imposing, impossible to ignore.
Though they borrowed the technique of the Jamaican DJs, few of the rappers and little of their audience took up the spirituality.
But by the early '80s B-boys began heeding the message of marijuana carried in reggae music. In September 1980, Marley initiated the bond at Madison Square Garden, headlining with the Commodores and Kurtis Blow, then the big hip hop star. It was Marley's last New York performance, and he stole the show — introducing his music and his ganja to inner-city Black America.
There began a vigorous intermarriage of the ghetto musics of Kingston and the South Bronx, a phenomenon best epitomized by Shinehead, Yellowman, and now Shabba Ranks and Mad Cobra. In 1985, Run DMC's "Together Forever" declared: "Cool chief rocker/don't drink no vodka/I keep a bag of cheeba in my locker." Now rap groups like Cypress Hill are in the news for sporting hemp clothing as part of their call for the legalization of marijuana.
It's easy to forget that Pot Prohibition and its black market, has lasted 50 years — much longer than the other Prohibition — and that previously the forbidden plant had been a normal cash crop, with many uses. "Ganja is from the earth, it's natural, God made it. I can't question it the way I question all these other man-made highs," says Ilchuk. Reggae turned B-boys on to the natural high. Now they've pumped up the volume and taken it to another level — blunts, the Chronic.
But what else is to be expected of the B-boy, ambitious, restless, eager to be recognized, screaming, "I am! I am!"?
He licks and rolls a bigger, more formidable-looking bazooka than anything Marley, Tosh, or any rude bwoy ever devised. Rastamen have always built their joints like ice cream cones: Women stay in the other room while their lions gather to pass spliffs or cutchie pipes, and reason.
Now see the B-boys building their blunts, bigger and longer, and brown too, like a big Black dick.
That's macho, that's rebellious, that says fuck you in a big way.
Watching them pass blunts around to each other, enjoying the same potent, male bonding Rastas share when they drum round a fire at a Nyabinghi ritual, I'm having flashbacks. I'm sitting with Bob Marley on a bed in his Essex House suite. He grins, passes me the fat end of a big spliff, and says, "Di herb mek I see with a clear inner eye." I remember Peter Tosh, after his arrest for smoking a spliff on a Kingston-Kennedy flight, standing in a Queens courtroom, bellowing, "I am the Prime Minister of Marijuana, brought here by Jimmy Carter to legalize the herb!"
"The turn to blunts was definitely influenced by rasta and reggae," says Hershey, a 24-year-old nonsmoking B-boy from a Trinidadian family, who's an A&R man for Freeze Records. "If it's keeping kids away from harder drugs, it's definitely a positive thing." The next record his company will put out? A tune called "Who's at the Door, the Buddha Man," by Sham and the Professor.
I'm standing in front of Jah Life's record shop on bustling Utica Avenue, in East Flatbush. Jah is a big Rastaman, his dreadlocks stuffed into a big round wool cap like a soccer ball concealed on top of his head. He's a venerated reggae producer with a 20-year track record of developing artists like Sister Carol, Barrington Levi, and Mikey Jarrell. I look him in the eye and throw him the hard ball: Do you agree that rasta and reggae music are responsible for the popular resurgence of marijuana as the drug of choice for urban America?
I could have said "partly responsible," but I wanted him to hear it the way he is bound to hear it, when pop culture's current romance with rude bwoys and spliffs, B-boys and blunts — marijuana, sinsemilla, hemp, cannabis, ganja, kaya, weed, cheeba, Chronic — runs its course, or is extinguished; when the time comes, as it always does, to hang the prophets.
Like me, Life is street-bred, ghetto, a survivor. He senses danger and is on his guard. He recoils and looks away. When again he meets my eye, the atmosphere has changed between us. His is a calm and studied stare.
I half expect him to say, Who the fuck are you, asking me some shit like that? The CIA? The FBI? Are you trying to stab me in my back, brotherrr?
But instead, he studiously says, "Me no really feel Marley and reggae have so much to do with it, cause nuff youth who never even heard of Bob Marley are now smoking blunts. Me have fi say television, news, and the movies contribute even more than Marley and reggae music."
Yes, there have been high-volume warnings about drugs over the past decade — warnings that double as advertisements. Nancy Reagan's JUST SAY NO!!! The cocaine death of Len Bias. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop's proclamations against cigarette smoking. Reverend Calvin Butts painting over cigarette ads. Heavy D, Public Enemy, and other rappers railing against malt liquors and other mind-altering ghetto intoxicants. B-boys, their minds blown from crack and angel dust, running crazed and naked through the ghetto. Such apocalyptic admonitions and examples did help drag B-boys away from cigarettes, malt liquor, angel dust, freebasing, crack, cocaine, methamphetamines.
Was there nothing left but those primitive earth men and their natural high?
Still, people with dreadlocks want none of the praise and none of the blame. Life hesitates, then admits that he smokes, though much less frequently than he used to.
"All smoking, including ganja, 'the holy herb,' can be bad for the body," the Dread explains. "It is better to boil it and drink it as tea. Don't keep a blunt on you all the time, draw it and draw it until you lose the feeling, the enjoyment of it. Whatever you do, don't abuse it."