Walking the streets of New York, the likelihood of coming across the scent of a pungently distinct odor wafting through the air is highly probable. While the city may be notorious for its odd stenches, this particular smell we speak of is that of marijuana being smoked, a past-time that has become increasingly common among natives, residents, and tourists alike. Dating back to the days of weed-stuffed manila envelopes and bamboo, New York City has been a hotbed for potheads, with everyone from the creative class to the everyman or woman looking to take a load off sparking one up. Regardless of one’s means of consumption, the affinity for the green leaf is one that continues to hold true within the five boroughs and has informed various facets of the city, from its culture to the music it produces.
Dating back to Hip-Hop’s genesis, New York rap artists have vocalized their propensity to get their puff on. Whether in their music or press clippings, these orators were among the first to embrace what was considered taboo and deemed an illegal drug, as political pundits, religious leaders and other detractors condemned the consumption of marijuana. Millions of entrepreneurs, predominantly from Black and Brown enclaves within the city, who sold it were arrested and incarcerated, forever altering their criminal record and placing an unwarranted stain on their professional prospects. Yet, the voices within the genre would continuously fight the power while bucking against these notions, singing the praises of the plant and listing its positive benefits, both recreational and medicinal. Defiant in their advocacy, members of the New York rap community would play a huge role in educating the public on cannabis culture while debunking myths surrounding it.
In 2023, New York, as well as other parts of the country, have appeared to catch up, as the state is approaching the two-year anniversary of marijuana legalization becoming official. On March 31, 2021, the Marihuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA) was signed into law, legalizing adult-use cannabis in New York State. This historic moment was celebrated as a watershed moment in not only the city’s history, but for Hip-Hop, it’s participants and its artists, all of whom stood on the frontline long before it was in vogue and considered socially acceptable.
Budega NYC spotlights five New York rappers that are leading the charge for the legalization of cannabis and the fight against discriminatory practices within its industry.
1. Smoke DZA
One New York rap artist renowned for his relationship with the cannabis community is Smoke DZA, as his name literally reveals all you need to know about his enthusiasm regarding the sticky green. While odes to the plant may be dominant in artistry, the Kushed God has also been a leading voice in the city’s fight for the legalization of marijuana for well over a decade. Long before the days one’s association with the cannabis industry could yield big press and add to their business portfolio, the Harlem native has been vocal in spreading awareness. In 2022, he took part in a video P.S.A. released by Cannabis Common, an initiative powered by HeadCount’s Cannabis Voter Project, which focuses on bridging the gap between the state’s legislators and their weed-loving constituents. Month’s earlier, DZA celebrated 4/20 by joining rappers MVP and 80 Empire for the song “Legalize It,” one of many instances in which he displayed his devotion to destigmatizing marijuana and *** the laws surrounding its consumption and distribution.
If a Mt. Rushmore of artists that have defined cannabis culture in Hip-Hop were to be built, it would be a foregone conclusion that Method Man and Redman’s likeness’ would be among those etched in stone. The veteran rhymers made their legend in music while also assuming the role of vanguards for weed-lovers worldwide, extolling the joys of puffing a fat one at every opportunity granted. That synergy led to Hollywood and television calling, resulting in their iconic 2001 film How High, as well as its accompanying sitcom, but for the duo, it’s more than entertainment when it comes to their devotion to enacting change for potheads and those who could benefit from the flower, medicinally. In 2016, the duo invested in the app Blaze Now, which directed customers to retailers they could legally purchase pot from. While plans to develop a strain in tandem have yet to manifest, Method Man has gone full throttle with his TICAL brand, which includes strains and products grown and manufactured by Clone Guy Industries. “Personally, it is essential that we use our brand to help bring awareness to the social, systemic and economic injustice in communities that have struggled with oppressive mass incarceration and racially-biased policing procedures,” Method Man said of he and TICAL’s efforts in the cannabis space. A native of New Jersey, Redman has made the trek across the water to the boroughs to support the cause on numerous occasions. Delving into the world of legislation, the 52-year-old introduced the National Cannabis Party at the recent Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition (CWCB) in New York City. The lyricist co-founded the new political party with Sephida Artist-Mills in 2022.
Harlem rapper Jim Jones’ participation in bringing eyes and ears to issues plaguing minorities in the cannabis world cannot be understated. The longtime connoisseur of the leaf has gone from being a mere consumer to a producer, partnering with celebrity jeweler Alex Todd’s Saucey Farms and Extracts, which he has played an integral role in building the brand into one of the hottest in the marketplace. Since joining the Saucey team in 2019, Jones and Todd have made it their business to assist various non-profit organizations and causes, including REFORM Alliance and 40 Tons. “There’s a lot of medical benefits when it comes to the marijuana field,” the Diplomat said of the positives of the growing interest in the plant. “There’s a whole lot of things we can do as far as giving back to the community with some of the proceeds.” Jones has also shared insight into his dealings involving marijuana and the plights affecting people from communities such as his own on Cannabis Talk 101 and other platforms involved in the fight for ownership and reform. The trendsetter he is, the Uptown legend has even brought Saucey Farms & Extracts products into the metaverse through a partnership with Higher Life CBD Dispensary, which was announced in February 2022.
From reminiscing on days splitting Phillies blunts in project stairways on his debut album to stuffing buds into his own line of cigars, Nas has spent the entirety of his career wowing listeners while engulfed in a cloud of smoke. The 49-year-old isn’t the young prodigy he once was and has evolved into an elder statesman, but that growth has also led to his increased involvement in matters close to the heart, such as the fight to empower Black and Brown communities to be able to profit and benefit from the legalization of marijuana. In 2020, the Queensbridge native helped spearhead the documentary “SMOKE: Marijuana + Black America,” which he narrated and executive-produced, and released a P.S.A. with Weedmaps promoting advocacy for minorities in the cannabis industry. “The people that have been locked up for marijuana should not only be freed but receive restitution for the damage done to them by outdated laws,” Nas once said. “It’s important to spread awareness on this.” More than a mere talking-head, the entrepreneur and venture capitalist has put his money where his mouth is, teaming up with Timbaland as investors in the California-based cannabis company Pure Beauty in 2021.
“The people that have been locked up for marijuana should not only be freed but receive restitution for the damage done to them by outdated laws. It’s important to spread awareness on this”
In addition to being regarded as rap’s hardest group, The LOX are in the running for the hardest advocates for equality among stoners of all hues. Reaching solo success with his 2002** smash “Good Times (I Get High),” Styles P has remained unabashed about his love-affair with the ganja for decades on end, as has his group-mates Jadakiss and Sheek Louch. Known as The Ghost, Pinero has increasingly lent his platform and efforts to making an impact on marijuana legislation in recent years, joining a handful of his rap peers in a video P.S.A. for the HeadCount Cannabis Voter Project Cannabis Common and speaking on the disparity between the repercussions for Blacks and Whites in relation to laws surrounding the distribution, sale and consumption of marijuana. While Styles has hinted at his imminent retirement from rap as a soloist, that didn’t stop him from gracing the stage as a headliner at the first-ever “Gold Flower Presents: The Finally Legalized Festival” in Queens last year. The event not only included performances from Styles and Rotimi, but presentations from community leaders and educators on efforts to legislate marijuana and level the playing field within the industry.