Cannabis is well-known for fueling creative innovation. For centuries, artists around the world have leaned on the drug in one form or another to open up doors of perception inaccessible to the rest of us. Music, unique for its ability to transcend time and language, pairs particularly well with the mind-altering effects of weed. Some more harmful substances have given “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” a bad rap, but cannabis’ integral place in modern music history can’t be denied. Here’s a look at some of the bands and artists who have found inspiration in cannabis, and have changed its perception in popular culture.
In the early 1960s, The Beatles were a wholesome and innocuous — albeit very talented — group of young Englishmen who made teenage girls squeal. In ‘65, however, they released Rubber Soul, a trippy pop-rock album that layered exotic instruments like sitar and harpsichord over surreal and introspective lyrics.
Bob Dylan famously introduced the Fab Four to cannabis in 1964
and the drug’s influence is clear in Rubber Soul — John Lennon later referred to it as “the pot album,” and the track Girl even features the sound of a sharp inhale on its chorus that sounds suspiciously like a toke. Although The Beatles went on to experiment with many more drugs and many more musical styles, Rubber Soul is emblematic of an entire youth generation’s headlong leap out of innocence and into psychedelia.
It would be foolhardy to make a list of stoner musical acts without including the Grateful Dead, a group whose musical and visual aesthetic influence was synonymous with 20th century drug subculture — and continues to pervade perceptions of cannabis today. The Dead brought improvisation to traditional rock, incorporating lengthy jam sessions into both their recorded and live performances. Meandering, subtle variations in melody and instrumentation on tracks like Scarlet Begonias and Dark Star can stretch out for over an hour, which, depending on your personal taste, make The Dead almost impossible to enjoy without being high.
A monument to the darker side of psychedelia, Pink Floyd transformed mainstream rock into an art form to be cultivated and studied. First helmed by brooding (and possibly schizophrenic) songwriter Syd Barrett, and later by bassist Roger Waters,
Floyd produced some of the most haunting lyrics and eerie sonic effects of the 1970s.
They also incorporated striking surrealist art into their overall ethos, typified by some iconic album covers and by the 1982 concept album/film The Wall. And although they’ve denied that it was ever intentional, Pink Floyd gave a gift to stoners the world over with the creepy synchronicity between their album Dark Side of the Moon and the 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz.
Sprung from the wastes of California’s Coachella Valley — a region now famous for an entirely different kind of stoner subculture —
Kyuss is largely credited with shaping the 90s “stoner rock” subgenre.
Kyuss (incidentally, named for a Dungeons & Dragons creature) brought heavy, plodding guitar and some unexpectedly syncopated rhythm to a metal scene that had been dominated throughout the 80s by formulaic music and cheesy glam antics. Some art rock flourishes, like the three “movements” that comprise their third album Welcome to Sky Valley, hint at psychedelic influences. Band members Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri went on to have some more mainstream success with their next band, Queens of the Stone Age.
Portishead’s lush production values and spooky, ineffable sexuality made them a favorite of stoner college rock types throughout the 90s, especially in their native UK. Singer and lyricist Beth Gibbons used her low, wavering voice to punctuate the dramatic, almost cinematic instrumentals on tracks like Glory Box and Roads. The band’s moody and absurdist music videos furthered their status as the favorites of a certain kind of disaffected Generation X slacker.
With her catchy hooks and irresistibly mellow voice, Rihanna has had tremendous pop success, selling over 200 million records worldwide. Although she had a mostly wholesome image earlier on in her career, she’s since branded herself as a sex symbol and outlandish fashion plate. The pop princess has also made no secret of her enduring love for cannabis. Her own album covers and Instagram feed have documented her smoking; one outstanding photo showed her rolling a blunt on her bodyguard’s head at Coachella. Rihanna has given female stonerdom some much-needed mainstream visibility. On What’s My Name she also gave Drake space to spit one of the dumbest, funniest cannabis rhymes ever:
“Good weed, white wine / I come alive in the nighttime.”
Lana Del Rey
Is she a fraud, created and marketed by producers? Or the real deal? Or some kind of trippy meta-commentary on the music industry’s conflation of the two? These are all things you ponder while getting high and listening to the moody, atmospheric music of Lana Del Rey. Although she’s been sober since 2004, the singer formerly known as Lizzy Grant has cultivated an edgy hipster persona that croons things like
“I’ve got feathers in my hair / I get high on hydroponic weed“ and “all I wanna do is get high by the beach.”
Del Rey’s music and aesthetic draw on nostalgic influences like Nancy Sinatra and Western movie soundtracks, making for a psychedelic trip down a particularly American memory lane.
Heavily tatted Wiz Khalifa has brought a decidedly languid vibe to 21st-century hip hop. The rapper, who once claimed to spend $10,000 a month on weed, rhymes unhurriedly over mostly conventional but moody beats and samples. His style is typified by albums like Rolling Papers and the brilliantly-named breakthrough mixtape Kush and Orange Juice. In 2016, Khalifa partnered with Colorado dispensary River Rock to sell his proprietary Khalifa Kush strain, an indica-dominant, high-THC strain with an earthy citrus flavor profile.