‘How High’: Songs About Drugs From UGK, Afroman + More
Producer The Alchemist and rapper Oh No, under the name Gangrene, recently released their drug-inspired LP, ‘Vodka & Ayahuasca.’ The hip-hop duo have a knack for keeping things simple yet complex on the effort. The authentic rhymes and beats satisfy rap fans but the album’s title keeps them on their toes. Just what is this Ayahuasca that they dedicated an entire album to? A very strong, exotic hallucinogen that allows its users to embark on a “spiritual journey.” In its entirety, the project really does seem to be under the influence of a bottle of clear liquor and the plant-based drug.
Encouraged by this recent work or art, The BoomBox takes a look at 10 hip-hop tracks that lean on drugs as the stimulant for the lyrical content. From songs featuring Eminem rhyming about colored narcotics to an old school rap track inspired by a powdery substance — it also helped to solidify hip-hop in America — these gems are sure to take listeners on an auditory high.
In early 2011, A$AP Rocky made quite a name for himself off the strength of ‘Purple Swag.’ The seemingly drug-induced song highlighted how engulfed the Harlem-based rapper is in Houston’s hip-hop style. From the start of the song, “This is for my bitches getting high on the regular,” to the end, the tempo is screwed. A$AP’s plentiful references to “purple drank,” “purple weed” and “purple smoke,” make the nearly two-minute track seem like four minutes. The longer A$AP goes on, the “higher” the hazy song feels.
In the year 2000, listeners were either absolutely enamoured with Afroman’s ode to the ultimate weedhead or they found this song to be obnoxious and annoying. Either way, it had to have been hilarious on the first couple listens. Over bluesy production, Afroman warbles about being too high to finish any task, from something as simple as cleaning his room as a teenager to spending alone time with his wife as an adult. Just as the five-minute song seems to be winding down — perhaps hiding a cautionary tale within the closing lyrics — the rapper bellows that he’s currently high and sleeping on the sidewalk because of it.
Last fall, the Orlando-to-Brooklyn transplant dropped a dedication to her first “big” summer as a rapper. The mixtape was called ‘Doobies and Popsicle Sticks,’ which she said defined her diet the entire summer as she moved from music festival to music festival, living what she calls “the rap life.” ‘Auntie Maria’s Crib’ is a wink at the mid-90s, a simple song about hanging out with friends, smoking and bragging about rap skills. Nitty Scott carries herself well on this track, and it reads as if she’s actually smoking in the studio and breathlessly freestyling in between pulls. The looped beat sounds like something Biggie would’ve salivated over, but Nitty holds it down with lines like, “Chillin’ in the green room/ Looking for a plug/ Shutterbug/ Puffing on a gateway drug…”
‘White Lines’ was released in an era where snorting a couple lines of cocaine before an evening out was pretty much the norm. The 1983 song is trippy, the production is heady and there’s a lot going on throughout. Listeners not paying close attention to the lyrics at first may think the track solely encourages play with nose candy but that’s not all. Melle Mel referred to the social effects of the drug from beginning to end. “Pay your toll/ Sell your soul/ Pound for pound/ That’s more than gold/ The longer you stay/ The more you pay…”
Over haunting production, the Compton newcomer shrugs off the assumption that all MCs smoke weed. Kendrick Lamar deftly weaves through the airy beat, breaking down the fact that his clever punchlines and intuitive rhymes aren’t derived from smoke. “I really appreciate that you’d share your hydro/ But a sip of Henny is the farthest I’d go…” He also speaks of his very first high and seeing “flying fishes,” which leads us to believe that’d be enough to stay away from anyone’s high-powered weed stash.
When Redman and Method Man joined up to do ‘How High’ in 1995, it’s doubtful that they knew it would be one of the best hip-hop offerings of that year. For cannabis smokers, the effort served as their eternal soundtrack. The song has since become a weed anthem for sure, as it starts off with the ramblings of someone obviously affected by a couple of profound pulls. The lyrics are classic hip-hop — braggadiocious and macho — but the bars are quick, nimble and nearly reminiscent of what’s said to be smokers’ etiquette, as the two alternate turns, passing the “mic” back and forth as they would a tightly rolled blunt.
4. ‘Good Times (I Get High),’ Styles P
On ‘Good Times,’ Styles P is fully aware that he’s addicted to weed and the Yonkers MC doesn’t care one bit. The song starts off with the unapologetic recognition of that fact, as he reasons, “Everyday I need a ounce-and-a-half…” Styles waxes poetic about trees over the bulk of the song, citing its therapeutic qualities as a plus when moving in a stressful, unfair world. But just as it seems Styles is moving into politics, he doubles back, barking, “I get high ’cause f— it/ What’s better to do?/ And I’ma never give a f— ’cause I’m better than you…”
3. ‘Pocket Full of Stones (Part 2),’ UGK
Pimp Ckicks this track off with a sharp and venomous delivery of lines from the perspective of a young drug dealer. He paints a vivid picture of a young man feeling desperate and cornered, “I don’t wanna do it but a n—- gotta eat…” Bun B pitches his own version of the same tale from the opposite end of the food chain, having made enough to move out of the hood. He tells a story of going back home to build a team, shrugging, “Couldn’t find my old clique/ So I got their little brothers…” This track realistically speaks to the issue of the endless cycle of hustlers in the ghetto.
This track tells a story from the perspective of the drug, but in true Jay-Z fashion, it’s chock full of double entendres. It’s a love story, or maybe more accurately, it’s about “lust” — a sentiment Jay repeats throughout the track. Only the subject matter doesn’t refer to actually being in love with an actual person, it’s the passion for a high. Pharrell’s vocals coat the hook, an insistent, “I know what you like/ Everything you love…” and the Neptunes signature twinkling synths almost make this tale about illegal substance withdrawal sound pretty. After two verses of back and forth raps, just like in a bad breakup, the drug reluctantly realizes that its lost control. “Your heart no longer pledges allegiance to me/ Damn I’m missing the days when you needed the D…”
The Dirty Dozen had a hit on their hands in 2001, with the release of ‘Purple Pills.’ The horn-heavy single was filled with colorful scenarios involving intoxicated mothers and visions of leprechauns. The Eminem-produced track — he also showed up on the chorus — was marketed to television and radio as ‘Purple Hills,’ but any junior high school student knew exactly what the Detroit-based clan was driving at. With the bouncy hook referring to “mushroom mountains,” “uppers” and “downers,” these guys were either out to terrify parents or just enjoyed a good high.