December 20th 2011

Letters From The Front: The Substance and Substance Abuse of Stoner-Swag Rap

If late 80′s and early 90′s gangster rap is to be viewed in the context Reaganomics and the plague of crack cocaine, mid 00′s conspiracy rap in the context of the paranoia and hysterics of our so-called post-9/11 world, then the 10′s stoner swag rap should be viewed in the context of the pessimism which followed the 2008 economic crisis. The near-implosion of free market economics had a profound impact on a culture obsessed with consumption and the music known for glorifying it. With the current economic outlook murky and the future uncertain, people would rather get high and not think about it. That being said, I am simply not high enough on (insert drug here) to truly appreciate the the majority of buzz-generating stoner swag rappers and their music. They exist on a frequency of zoned-out that I rarely-if-ever get, so there is a chance that I may never be able to determine their value or merit. I don’t know if I’ve ever been “on one” and maybe I never will. And maybe that’s sad, but I’ve got responsibilities and bills to be paid.

A$AP Rocky (lean, kush)
“I got these boppas goin’ crazy when they see me comin’/
Robitussin, quit discussin’, A$AP tell these niggaz somethin’”
Purple Swag

If A$AP Rocky is “the new face of New York”, as The Smoking Section put it, then New York is too high on drank and kush for me to look it straight in the face and consider its body of work in the context of the hype it receives and properly asses whether I believe it warrants it. I’m just not high enough on purp to truly appreciate it. The appeal is lost on me, and I’m not going to blame that on the music itself, I’m going to go ahead and blame it on my puritan, prudish self-imposed prohibition on codeine and promethazine as a recreational drug.

Swag Rap like A$AP’s leans – pun intended – heavily on its Southern Hip Hop predecessors to the point where many of his songs are pre-chopped and screwed and clock in at under 80 BPM. Lyrically his style is influenced by U.G.K. (most noticeably on Trilla), mimicking the structure, delivery, slang and subject matter of Southern Hip Hop, but there’s something missing. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but perhaps when taking a regional style and attempting to recreate it in a different geographic location without incorporating its own unique culture and influence into it, something is lost in translation. What is lost? It might be the lack of any semblance to energy or personality, but I can’t be sure.

Okay, I can be sure. I actually looked up the lyrics to Purple Swag and from a writer’s perspective, this guy is phoning it in at cups and string levels. The individual bar count of unique lines – I included the bridge and chorus bars but only their first occurence – clocked in at a whopping 14. To put that in context, that is 2 bars short of a typical 16 bar verse which would be one of two or three in a song that included a chorus and sometimes a bridge on top of that. I’ve gone through a few of A$AP Rocky’s songs, and I have the feeling he’s on some Bob Ross speed-painting us landscapes of nihilism, boredom and being high as fuck on purple stuff. Was the similarity in name to Aesop Rock intentional? Probably not. He likely doesn’t even remember that time he was high as fuck on his way to the store to get some swishas and Sprite and saw it on a discarded showbill or Village Voice while staring at his feet as he walked.

Smoke DZA (kush)
“Mile high member, High Times DZA/
Fly as fuck so I’m puffin’ on killa”
Continental Kush Breakfast

There’s a fine line between the smoking of marijuana being a part of your lifestyle and the smoking of marijuana being your life. To the casual observer on the outside looking in, this distinction ceases to exist and it all looks like the latter. As such, it is hard to tell from which perspective Smoke DZA is writing and to which niche he is targeting. It’s probably both, and to the casual observer, me, it’s probably the niche that smokes entirely too much weed for it to include me. I’m just not high enough on kush to truly appreciate it.

Seeing as puffing piff has been a mainstay in hip hop to the point that it could be considered the sixth element (beat-boxing being the so-called fifth), where does one draw the line between artists like Redman, Snoop Dogg and Cypress Hill and an artist like Smoke DZA’s lyrical content? Somewhere before the former became joint-rolling, bong-ripping Muppets. It’s the line between Ice Cube’s film Friday and Redman and Method Man’s How High. In Friday the consumption of marijuana is a plot device, in How High it’s the plot, but to the outside observer it all looks like Up In Smoke. Speaking of How High, how high does one have to be to write a line like “George W, the W stands for winner”? Smoke DZA high, apparently.

If How High is the hip hop Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, then Smoke DZA is the street cred Afroman.

Lil B (inhalents)
“Damn, Based God, pinky ring that’s a robbery/
Damn, Based God, all my bitches think I’m Bill Gates”
Think I’m Based God

From the Inhalent Abuse Wikipedia entry:

The effects of solvent intoxication can vary widely depending on the dose and what type of solvent or gas is inhaled. A person who has inhaled a small amount of rubber cement or paint thinner vapor may be impaired in a manner resembling alcohol inebriation. A person who has inhaled a larger quantity of solvents or gases, or a stronger chemical, may experience stronger effects such as distortion in perceptions of time and space, hallucinations, and emotional disturbances. In the short term, many users experience headache, nausea and vomiting, slurred speech, loss of motor coordination, and wheezing. A characteristic “glue sniffer’s rash” around the nose and mouth is sometimes seen after prolonged use. An odor of paint or solvents on clothes, skin, and breath is sometimes a sign of inhalant abuse, and paint or solvent residues can sometimes emerge in sweat.

If this is “swag”, then Pitchfork is Oprah Winfrey having Jenny McCarthy on her show to promote the false claim that vaccines cause autism. The latter we can credit for spreading misinformation unsupported by scientific evidence which allows for measles and mumps outbreaks and a resurgence of polio; the former, a Lil B and sole collaboration. The swag Lil B is on about sounds like something you practice safe sex to avoid.

Wiz Khalifa (kush and orange juice)
“Go on and pull my stash out, rollin’ out this half ounce/
puff pass, nigga, I puff grass til I pass out”
Smokin Good

Wiz Khalifa is the Elmo to Snoop Dogg’s joint-rolling, bong-ripping Grover. I like orange juice, I don’t much care for Wiz Khalifa.

This post was written by Canadian rap-artist Kwes, who every week shares his spleen with Lesson Six. Why not learn more about Rifle Eyes & Kwes while you’re at it?