In our series, "HiTunes," we investigate various marijuana lore throughout music history, debunking myths and sifting through hazy rumors for the blunt truth. What was the first song to reference weed? Why have multiple artists written songs warning others about smoking with Willie Nelson? Why do so many songs about weed reference Humphrey Bogart? We'll explore these urban legends and more.
Lists of the "best stoner albums" or "best albums to smoke weed to" are a dime a dozen (unless written by MERRY JANE, of course). Many musicians have written songs about getting high, and every stoner has opinions about what music best complements his or her smoking ritual. Big deal. What's more interesting, more untapped, and more difficult to determine is the question of weed intake by musicians while recording albums.
As every stoner knows, reactions and tolerances vary person-to-person, so while many say weed makes them lazy and unmotivated, it's like inspirational caffeine to others. This means that items under the umbrella of "stoner music" often have very different firsthand relationships to weed itself. On one hand, you have artists like Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa, who are clearly high when they record simply because they're high all the time. On another, some like smoking, but perhaps not when they're working. For example, Frank Ocean has hinted that he ended a tolerance break after completing his album Blonde. There are those who dabble in stonerdom for a record or two, which usually produces some clear changes in their music (see Pavement's unusually zooted Wowee Zowee). There's even the rare case of nonsmokers writing about smoking, as noted weedotaler 50 Cent has done on multiple occasions, most brazenly on "High All the Time."
Unless you're tallying up the on-record mentions of weed — which, as the case of 50 Cent reveals, may be misleading — determining the amount of weed smoked during the making of a piece of music is an inexact science. You pretty much have to go on the word of the artist. In interviews, musicians are often asked to estimate the amount they smoke day-in, day-out, but rarer is the question, "How much weed did you smoke while making x album?"
With the limited information available to us, we've scoured the web for interviews and oral histories in which artists or flies-on-the-wall attempt to put some sort of estimate — whether it be loose or exact — on the amount of reefer smoked during the making of infamous records. Again, this is not an exact science. Maybe Dr. Dre and Co. smoked 150 pounds of weed while making The Chronic, but we can't know for sure because no one's ever put a quantitative or even qualitative value on it in an interview.
With the exception of the last album on this list, which has been enshrined in legend specifically for its creators' ungodly intake of herb, there are probably plenty of albums that involved even more intense pot consumption during their making. If you, dear reader, know of any interviews, books, or documentaries that reveal such information and in doing so, trump some entries on this list, please shout them out in the comments. If we get enough evidence, maybe we'll even put together a Part Two.
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(Note: Stuff like, "My dad's old smoking buddy Earl told me that Bob Marley airlifted a literal ton of kush into Tuff Gong Studios before he made 'Exodus'" isn't good enough evidence. We need primary sources, folks!)
#4: Madvillain - Madvillainy (2004)
How much weed? "Stupendous amounts"; "giant mounds"
Producer extraordinaire Madlib tends to be a pretty private person, and that goes doubly for the mysterious, masked rapper DOOM, with whom Madlib recorded the 2004 opus Madvillainy. For that reason, we don't have any direct quotes from either, or any accurate numerical estimates. Due to the album's canonical reputation, though, the few others who were privy to the recording sessions have come forward with some juicy details on the making of the album that gave us "America's Most Blunted."
Despite DOOM's work on that song, and stoner quotables from elsewhere on the album (such as the lyric, "Doin' bong hits on the roof in the West Coast"), it's clear that Madlib is the chief chiefer among the two. Longtime Stone's Throw Records art director Jeff Jank was in and around the L.A. house where the album was recorded, and he claims that DOOM's predominant substance of choice was alcohol. He would have Jank pick him up from his hotel every morning and stop at a liquor store on the way to Mount Washington, where the house/recording studio was.
While DOOM wrote most of his rhymes upstairs, Madlib would be down in the Eisenhower-era basement bomb shelter with 18-inch concrete walls making beats. Jank described the producer's lair and process:
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It's like it was custom made for [Madlib] — he made music all day on a consistent schedule that really impressed me — all the much more impressive that his three breaks a day were to smoke giant mounds of green bud.
One man's "giant mounds" may be another's "tiny piles," but Jank works at Stone's Throw, a label that's long been a welcoming home to stoner-friendly acts from Lootpack to Mild High Club, and Madvillainy wasn't the first or last time he'd work with Madlib. He probably knows his bud. His superlatives are also corroborated by music journalist Jeff Weiss, who interviewed 'Lib, Jank, and Stone's Throw founder Peanut Butter Wolf for Pitchfork's oral history of the album four years ago:
Stones Throw foraged enough cash to rent DOOM a hotel, but most of his time was spent at the house in Mount Washington. Mask off, writing rhymes, demoing, drinking beers, eating Thai, and hitting a bong on the terrace. In his bunker, a solitary Madlib smoked stupendous amounts and feverishly kept pace.
While we don’t know the exact amount in this case, it’s telling that those close to Madlib emphasized how much he smoked during these sessions, as if to say that, even for a seasoned smoker such as himself, it was a lot. We're all the more thankful for his intake.
#3: Gorillaz - Gorillaz (2001)
How much weed? Two suitcases
Our next entry has a bit more specificity, but not much. In 2001, Blur and Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn was interviewed by Q Magazine about his latter project's debut album, which apparently required an awe-striking amount of grass to make. Gorillaz was recorded piecemeal in various studios around the world, and for some reason (*cough, cough*), Albarn chose to cut the vocal tracks in Jamaica. In the interview, he recounted why he "took considerable pleasure" in doing so:
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I flew in a little plane over Blue Mountains to the northeast of the island, and I was given a suitcase of weed. That lasted for about three weeks. We had to get another suitcase. I smoked spliff, drank rum, and ate ackee and saltfish and fresh mangoes for two months. By the end of it, the locals were hanging out every night. That's when we knew we had a good record.
Now, a "suitcase" is an imprecise unit of measurement if I've ever heard one. It makes the notoriously murky '70s term "lid" seem like a reading on a digital scale. Are we talking attaché cases or the Vietnam War-era body bags in which Frank Lucas smuggled heroin back from Bangkok? We don't know, because the Q reporter in question failed his duty as a journalist and didn't ask. If I ever get to speak with Albarn, you can be sure I'll do my due diligence — but for now, we have to speculate...
A Google image search of the phrase "Damon Albarn suitcase" doesn't reveal anything; we don't know Albarn's prefered size and type of bag, or if he even acquired said suitcases specifically for weed storage. Related: who is this dealer who sells bud by the suitcase? Or did Albarn tell his manager, 'Oi, we've done spliffed up the lot. Order us another case, will you, bruv,' with his manager then relaying the message to a thoroughly confused dealer who in turn said, 'Fuck it, these British guys have money,' and then emptied his usual storage containers into a knockoff Samsonite suitcase he bought on the Kingston equivalent of Canal Street? Did the plug just cram a duffle bag full of bricks? We may never know.
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I'm going to stop short of determining the average square footage of a pound of weed and the volume of the average suitcase, but let's estimate that Albarn and whoever else he was working with required 2-5 pounds of weed for a two-month-long recording session. If you want to call that estimate flawed and do the math yourself, be my guest.
#2: Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels 3 (2016)
How much weed? "No less than six pounds"
As an MC and a public figure, Killer Mike has no problem plainly stating facts or opinions (even if, as we've learned recently, those opinions are sometimes backwards, wildly unpopular ones). While this may present problems elsewhere in his life, for the purposes of our investigation, Mike's willingness to be straightforward is a godsend. No vague winks, "giant piles," or "suitcases" hemming and hawing here. Last year, DIY Mag asked him about the recording of his and El-P's third album together as Run The Jewels, specifically requesting an estimate of weed consumed throughout the process. Mike's response was characteristically candid:
We average 'bout a quarter pound a week to ten days. So, that's on average about a pound a month. I'd say – give or take a pound – and we're looking at a year here, I'd say honestly no less than six pounds to record an album.
Thank you, Mike.
Now, "a year" is a long time to spend recording an album, so Mike and El's total consumption that occurred during studio sessions might be less than some others below them on this list.
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That said, four ounces between two people every week is pretty heroic in and of itself. Run The Jewels climb this list due to the sheer time they spent in the studio, their consistent consumption of pot, and Killer Mike's willingness to divulge exact figures.
#1: Sleep - Dopesmoker (1998)
How much weed? Roughly 7.5 pounds
Whereas numbers #3 and #4 on this list involved difficult-to-calculate sums of weed because of imprecise measurements, #1 involves a difficult-to-calculate sum of weed because of the sheer mythology surrounding the album in question. As many have noted — ourselves included — Sleep's 1998 stoner metal opus Dopesmoker is, without a doubt, a milestone in pot's pop culture canon. It's also a historical benchmark, with regards to the band's tenacity for toking.
A chapter by metal journalist J. Bennett in Decibel Magazine's essential book Precious Metal: The Stories Behind 25 Extreme Metal Masterpieces explains the arduous composition, recording, and release of Sleep's third album, which consisted of one hour-long song called either "Jerusalem" or "Dopesmoker," depending on when you asked the band. As guitarist Matt Pike says in the chapter, "We were just a bunch of massive stoners trying to do something that no one else had done — which I think we accomplished."
Bennett broke down the stoner lore that's followed in the album's wake in a short documentary released by Southern Lord Records, in conjunction with their reissue of the album in 2012. "There are a lot of myths — legends, we could say — surrounding the making of Jerusalem," Bennett said, "The main one, I guess, is that they blew the advance on weed."
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In 1996, Sleep signed with now-defunct major label London Records and presumably got a much larger advance than they had for their previous album, which was released on metal label Earache Records. We don't know the exact amount, and members of the band dispute how much of it was actually spent on weed.
In the Precious Metal chapter, drummer Chris Hakius refuted the myth:
The story that we smoked our budget is not true. I can't say we didn't spend a few dollars on it, but I mean, it would have almost been literally impossible to spend it all on that.
However, in the aforementioned mini-doc, Pike has a different memory of the lore surrounding the album, saying, "Some of it might not be mythology… Well, the weed part's totally true. We blew a lot of money on weed."
So is it "literally impossible" or "totally true?" Well, let's see what else the band said about their weed intake in Precious Metal:
Pike, when asked about his most vivid memory of the recording sessions: "Well, none of it's vivid. I was smoking so much weed that everything was kinda surreal at the time."
Bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros, when asked about weed's importance in the band's creative process: "It was definitely a ritual that got more and more frequent. Personally speaking, I was really dependent on the space I got into when I was using it, and some of the lyrics are about that. It was pretty integral to the scope of my life at the time. The line, "Drop out of life [with bong in hand]," was kind of a creed at that point."
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Pike, answering the same question: "We were smoking a lot. Between us all, we were probably smoking two ounces a day or more."
There we go. A concrete answer. Now let's calculate the total. Dopesmoker was recorded in a studio in Mendocino County, CA (not so coincidentally one of the three counties that make up The Emerald Triangle) over a period of "about two months, altogether," according to Pike in the book. Two ounces a day for 60 days is 120 ounces, or 7.5 pounds. That's a fuckton of weed. In the late '90s, a pound of great pot could easily run you $4,000 (things have since changed, though). At a conservative estimate, the band likely spend upwards of $25,000 on weed.
So we've got our answer, but for some bonus content, what were the other weed myths surrounding Dopesmoker? Rumors spread about the band further alienating their label by delivering the master DAT tapes inside of a skull bong, which Cisneros called "very, very untrue" and Pike, when asked about it in the doc, admitted, "Well, no. It'd be a good idea, I wish we'd thought of it."
The band did, however, rub their label's face in their stonery ways on one occasion. They were once called into London Records' Manhattan office for a meeting, which Cisneros called a "totally surreal experience," and apparently brought a pipe and a quarter-ounce with them. While on speakerphone with a lawyer in label head Peter Koepke's office, Cisneros said, "we put the whole quarter-ounce into the pipe, smoked it, and put the pipe on the desk."
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I'm not sure how one fits a whole quarter into a pipe at once, but then again, I'm not sure how Sleep got a well-to-do major label to release an hour-long song about a stoner caravan traveling through the Holy Land.
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