Over the past few years, the musician Joy Oladokun has developed a fervent following for her impassioned take on folk music and R&B, which she frequently uses as a backdrop to explore one of the thorniest topics of our times: religion. Oladokun, who was raised by her parents - both religious Nigerian immigrants - in rural Arizona, and is gay, puts notions of faith and spirituality, and how they intersect with her own life, at the forefront of her songs.
Last year, she released in defense of my own happiness (vol. 1), her sophomore album. On tracks like the epic anthem “Sunday,” the hook-filled “Smoke” or the ballad “breath again,” Oladokun asks big questions about her own identity - and how she fits into a religious culture that often shuns her - with a singular deftness and grace. Her profound insights and rafter-shaking voice are resonating with big audiences: Oladokun recently performed on Jimmy Fallon and NBC’s TODAY, and her songs have been featured on the hit television show Grey’s Anatomy.
Yet despite her artistic triumphs and growing fan base, Oladokun’s journey has been long and full of challenges. As she explains in an exclusive interview with Wikileaf, however, cannabis has played an integral role in her self-discovery and development as an artist: it has helped her ease years of crippling anxiety, opened a window into her often fraught relationship with both her family and Christianity and given her a big boost in the studio. In short, Oladokun says, “Cannabis is helping me become a person in a way that I haven't been.”
Read on to learn more about the ways Joy Oladokun uses cannabis to improve her own wellbeing, her favorite products to enhance songwriting, her dad’s “secret” support of her cannabis consumption, and more. This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity. I figured a good place to start would be with the most important question of all: why do you aspire to be a Jewish husband?
(laughs) Yes, so I am in love with an amazing young Jewish woman. We had just started dating and she was on vacation in Utah with her parents. They were talking about her future Jewish husband. They didn't know she was dating a girl at the time.
I changed my [Instagram] bio when she texted me that. I'm going to make it happen. Amazing. As a listener, it feels like religion is very much central to your music. Have you been absorbing ideas about Judaism through your relationship? I’ve learned so much from Rachel and her family. There is a propensity for curiosity that Jewish people can have that wasn't available to me as a Christian kid. My girlfriend often says “I didn't start thinking about whether I believed in God until I was in my 20s.”
When I was eight, I was consumed by the idea of God and whether or not he liked me. I feel like Jewish people ask questions. They're open. There is a centeredness around community and acceptance of people from any walk of life that I think everybody could and should learn from. I dig it. I agree, with the exception of Jared and Ivanka, of course. We’re all there. (laughs)
People obviously discover cannabis in different ways. Was it part of your life from a young age? Was it taboo in your family?
I discovered weed later in life. Maybe a month or two after I graduated from college; ten years ago now. All throughout my young adulthood I struggled with really bad social anxiety. People would describe me as shy, but it was to the point that I would tell my mom my order at a restaurant to tell a waitress. In social situations, someone would pass me a joint or a vape pen and a lot of that anxiety would go away.
I was settling in to being myself. My job is very social (laughs). Cannabis has become my treatment. I'll take a CBD gummie before a meeting. [Before this interview] I took three bong rips. Chemically and physiologically in me, something is tuned to a lot of anxiety and static and noise.
Cannabis helps me bypass that. Are there strains or products that work best for you?
Give me it all. I want all the weed. I am a bit of a nerd. I have a little notebook where I keep notes of strains I've tried and liked or disliked. I use it creatively a lot in the studio.
There are these pills, Protabs, sativa tabs. I take two and work for a few hours. The cerebral high allows me to get a little creative production-wise or lyric-wise. Throughout the rest of the day I'm a pretty big indica person. It helps me chill. [Without any substances], I'm a ball of stress. I’m pretty much a complete 180 from you. The idea of being high and social is my worst nightmare, around pretty much anyone but my partner, and my dog. You always need to be high around your dog. It's so much better.
What's your take on weed going legal in Arizona, your home state?
My parents still live in Arizona. One of my two sisters lives there. My dad is secretly pro-cannabis, but would never tell my mother that (laughs). My mom is very anti; she's a Nurse Practitioner. She's done a lot of work on reservations and places where addiction is prevalent.
You mix that with religion and you've got a cocktail for someone that doesn't like weed. Weed in Arizona?
I mean, I’m jealous (laughs). I love the “medical marijuana to rec” rollout that a lot of states have taken. I think it's gonna be good for Arizona. It’s income. It’s clearly helping enough people that a pretty conservative state is willing to legalize it.
Has your mom’s opinion changed now that she knows that you’re a consumer?
I think her opinion has shifted a little. She and I are similar in that we will never admit that we are wrong. I occasionally do Youtube videos on my back porch, where I'll light up and talk about whatever. My dad subscribes to me on Youtube. When I first started doing them, he was asking me, “Are you smoking marijuana?”
I was super open [and said that] I think it helps me. He said, “I'm not going to tell your mom, but that’s cool.” He’s a pharmacist. The moment I appealed to his medical brain [his opinion changed]. Also I went through a period of trying to find prescription anxiety meds to help me, and that didn't work. To him now, it’s medicine.
You open your song “Smoke” with that image of you leaving a joint burning on the counter. Is there a story there?
I did and sometimes still do leave a joint on the counter (laughs). We have these beautiful marble kitchen countertops and an ashtray that’s similar enough [in color] that if I’m not paying attention, I'll set it straight down on the counter. There have been little instances, nothing catastrophic. I burned a hole in a kitchen towel, dropped ash on the couch. I get really guilty and shameful.
When I first started consuming regularly, I felt a lot of shame around it. My entire life I was told I'd be an addict, some sort of degenerate. “Smoke” came out of going out of the shame of burning a tiny hole in this thing that can be replaced to the freedom I feel when I'm high, when there's cannabis in my body. I am someone who has unfortunately been through a lot of trauma.
Studies show that cannabis helps my brain and helps me process it and not feel as if I’m living in traumatic events every moment. “Smoke” is about that. Cannabis is helping me become a person in a way that I haven't been. Do you feel like your experiences with cannabis factored into the sentiment behind your most recent album title [in defense of my own happiness (vol. 1)]? Yes. There’s “Smoke,” which is about how weed helps me process. Then there's “Mercy.”
The chorus is “I don't want to talk to God, I just want to smoke weed.” I’m defending this thing, this substance as a practice and a medicine. It’s part of my creativity and even spirituality because I get high and I meditate. I definitely think that it was part of [the title]. Having grown up in the church world, there are a lot of people who see me smoking joints or kissing a girl and they hate it. They still have strong opinions about it.
My album was honestly partially a letter to me - “Stop getting in the way of the good things in your life” - but also a letter to them: “Yes I smoke pot and I don't pray in your conventional ways anymore and love in your conventional ways but I still deserve to be happy and have a good life.” I love that.
OK, Joy, last question for you: what does success mean to you in your career and with your art?
I don't dream about playing arenas or having Oprah know my name. I just don't. What I respond to is people saying that my music helps them the way music helps me. The wall of my studio is covered with my favorite artists. Because I was socially awkward I was very lonely as a kid. I'd sit on the floor of my room and listen to records. Paul McCartney would give me advice, Betty Davis would teach me to be fearless.
I developed personal relationships with musicians and I think my goal is to make music to allow people to heal and process and grow in the same way that my fave songs [did for me]. That is success. If I set a benchmark to win a Grammy, what happens when I win a Grammy? I’d be sad. I hit my goal. Those things aren't attainable. We live in this crazy wild magical world where assholes like me can play on Fallon and no one asks questions about it. The benchmarks are less important than the result: what is the fruit of what I'm making? I really appreciate it.