It is difficult to think of a lyrical cliche more cringe worthy than comparing love to a drug. It’s a cardinal songwriting sin that’s been committed countless times across genres, from the mainstream to the underground.
Justin Timberlake spent his 2006 reinvention, “LoveStoned;” J. Cole declared that love was the strongest drug of them all on “KOD;” and indie darlings, Die Antwoord, dedicated lead single, “Love Drug,” on their forthcoming album, 27, to the banal sentiment.
While drugs and music have often been inextricably linked by the listening public — there’s probably some stoned teenager in a basement somewhere, speculating about how out of his mind Freddie Mercury had to have been to write “Bohemian Rhapsody” — cultural tides have steadily shifted in recent years, in tandem with hip-hop’s rise to global prominence. As notable figures in rap take aim at new-school stars for their supposed glorification of hard drug use, marijuana has subsequently been redefined as a somewhat tame mainstay in the cultural pantheon. And not just in rap music. Ariana Grande, who might be the biggest pop star in the world right now, much beloved by the tween crowd, references weed with casual glee across her catalog. On the second track of her hot 2018 album, Sweetener, Grande harmonizes with Pharrell, singing, “Shawty, you can get blazed.”
Still, as weed has graduated from gangsta rap and psych-adjacent rock as an acceptable theme, pot continues to represent a sort of grimy hedonism, reserved for the lyrical palettes of avery particular social sector: men who use marijuana as an escape from reality. No matter how men employ it in their lyrics, smoking weed seems to fall into the thematic trappings of escapism, which, on some level, is acknowledged as toxic.
For example, Danny Brown is “breaking down the weed when the call got received” with news that a friend was killed on “Tell Me What I Don’t Know;” Killer Mike declares, “good pussy and good marijuana,” to be his “prescription” on Run the Jewels’ “Banana Clipper;” and, however inelegantly, Ed Sheeran recalls the thrill of being young and “just watching a DVD, smoking illegal weed” on “Nina.”
Those lyrics that don’t seem to imply a dangerous escape participate in the old tradition of marijuana as carefree indulgence, solidifying its stagnant position in our national artistic landscape. One step forward, and two steps back.
There’s a new vanguard of THC-based lyricism that flips epicurean stereotypes on the head, reframing those who smoke weed as those who are go-getters, instead of burnouts; those who are in pursuit of power (or already have it), and those who are in touch with the core essences of themselves: spirituality, sexuality, and bodily health. This movement has women at the helm.
Male domination across genres, from the time of the earliest blatant weed lyrics onto today, has heavily informed the female approach; it has in nearly every other genre convention. Consider Nicki Minaj and her scattershot approach to track list curation throughout her career, and how it reveals her dire attempt to prove that women in rap can do everything (failed experiments, also) just as easily as the boys can. In examining the female approach to writing about weed, you can hear echoes of Minaj’s infamous “pickle juice” monologue from her 2010 My Time Now documentary, and the ways in which up-and-coming women are rioting against the institutions that inspired it:
“You have to be a beast. That’s the only way they respect you…When you’re a girl, you have to be everything – you have to be dope at what you do, but you have to be super sweet, and you have to be sexy, and you have to be this, and you have to be that, and you have to be nice, and you have to…I can’t be all those things at once. I’m a human being.”
As a whole, female rappers aren’t afforded the luxury of not “being lyrical” without acquiescing to the venom of hyper-purist rap audiences – those who don’t go above and beyond to prove their worth are frequently accused of being backed by industry payola, or the coattails of more genuinely talented male counterparts. Interestingly, weed in female rap represents an empowering freedom from this rigidity – the freedom to engage in art and life with the carefree ease of the genre’s forefathers.
Perhaps, this is most easily witnessed in Leikeli47’s “Girl Blunt,” a swaggering ode to marijuana, and a carefree lifestyle, but one that’s steeped in old-school tradition. The beat on “Girl Blunt” is bare-bones, placing the onus of responsibility on Leikeli47’s pure charisma to drive the songs’ momentum. Remarkably, it works, and the Brooklyn rapper subverts familiar tropes in the process. Between the easy chant choruses of “This shit is a girl blunt / I only smoke girl blunts,” she boasts, “there’s nothing you can buy me,” and borderline coddles the men in her life, letting them know that they “can work at CVS, long as he don’t keep me stressed.” She’s the boss. It’s an effective role reversal, bolstered by her intimate knowledge of the iconography of rap figures like MF Doom (based on her choice to conceal her identity and wear a balaclava in every visual), as well as her vow to…something…to either only smoke blunts with her girls, or to only smoke blunts rolled by a girl. Regardless, the sentiment is clear, and it’s refreshing lyrical territory to employ pot.
This mode — the subversion of hedonism and “bossing up”— crops up across the work of several post-Minaj female rappers. Rico Nasty, who gained traction for her raspy, aggressive vocals that positioned her to compete with other punk-influenced male spitters of her generation, references weed almost exclusively as a symbol of her power and self-sufficiency. On “Countin Up,” Nasty raps, “make my own money and I buy my own weed.” On “Rage,” she growls a warning: “Don’t ask what I’m smoking on, cuz that shit ain’t for sale.”
While this may seem like run-of-the-mill hip-hop braggadocio, there’s an expedience to Rico’s proclamations — aside from her reframing of marijuana as a luxury good, a compelling way forward, fostered in large part by musicians of all genders — her business, her art, are exactly that: hers. Buying your own weed — the access to luxury without a male proxy — means you’ve attained true economic and social power. Sex be damned.
For New York rap artist, Junglepussy, marijuana takes on a spiritual quality. The halfway point of her slow-burning 2014 track, “Me,” is marked by an exasperated “Where’s my lighter?!” after ruminating on a “vision that came to me through a zephyr / Everything is light and whatever is whatever.” It’s not stoner rambling -“Me” delivers its platitudes with a knowing wink, framing lines like “I fight to blur the lines between dark and light” alongside “I just want to be me, swinging my titties from tree to tree.” Even then, it’s not all fun and games. The standout line in “Me” affirms the value of female autonomy: “What’s a girl to do when the world’s against you? Throw it in their face, let them know that you meant to.”
With an instrumental dripping in Erykah Badu influence, Junglepussy shouts out the name of Badu and other mothers of contemporary rap and R&B – Brandy, Foxy Brown, Lil Kim, and Patra. There’s an acknowledgement of the privilege Junglepussy has to pursue self-expression on terms more definitively her own after an era of oppressive male influence in solo female genre work. Badu, who once sang of “feeling kinda hungry ‘cause my high is coming down,” passes the girl blunt.
The female-led revolution on cannabis culture isn’t restricted to hip-hop. In 2015, the indie-mainstream tightrope walker, Lana Del Rey, released a song entitled “High By The Beach,” the musical equivalent of a long, languorous, and irritated sigh:
“All I wanna do is get high by the beach, get high by the beach, get high / The truth is I never bought into your bullshit when you would pay tribute to me, ‘cause I knew that all I wanted to do was get high by the beach.”
The music video for “High By The Beach” has amassed nearly 100 million views on YouTube, and has become one of Del Rey’s most ubiquitous, notable as a shift in her otherwise aloof Old Hollywood persona. In the video, Del Rey flips through tabloid magazines (presumably about her), runs from the view of a cameraman in a helicopter, and then shoots the copter down with a large, cartoon-ish bazooka. It’s a bizarre moment in Del Rey’s on-camera career; in her lyrics, too.
Del Rey conjures up the air of condescension at play in “High by the Beach” as she confronts the male subject of her lyrics: “Boy look at you, looking at me / I know you don’t understand / You could be a bad motherfucker, but thatdon’t make you a man / Now you’re just another one of my problems because you’ve gotten out of hand.” Later, she declares, “Lights, camera, acción -I’ll do it on my own / Don’t need your money to get me what I want.”
For a singer who was once decried by feminists for what was believed to be coded patriarchal sentiment, Del Rey’s assertion of dominance here is what complicates her as a songwriter; she is a woman of cultural power. It’s an exciting shift, and it’s fortified by the songs’ central question: All she ever wanted to do was get high, and is that too much to ask?
In profoundly fascinating fashion, the male artistic inability to further the cultural narrative around smoking weed has provided the ability for female artists to flip the script. Females can carry the baton further, subvert order, and luxuriate in the same benefits afforded to men who attain power and cultural relevance.
In this sense, weed is a symbol of autonomy and creative freedom, tangible enough to change cultural attitudes around the drug, and around the musicians that we take seriously. As time wears on, men will continue to hold the blunt, proverbially, while their story drones on and on. It’s time to pass it.