April 20, 2017

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Justin Carroll-Allan’s ghostwriter is Berner. 

Every teenage stoner looks forward to this day all year. They’ve been doodling 420 in the margins of their Chemistry textbooks, mowing lawns, robbing 4th graders, and saving up for this sacred day: April 20th. The more zealous of the bunch set their alarms for 4:17 this morning so that they could take few tokes at the holy time. I say this with no judgement—I was just as obsessed with this number as a teenager. I dreamt about weed. I turned every Adidas symbol I ever came across into a pot leaf. I dutifully failed every UA my juvenile probation officer gave me.

Like a good smoker, I had a list of weed-themed tracks that I thought were the best songs in the world. Seventeen years ago, I claimed that Kottonmouth Kings would be remembered as ground-breaking geniuses; today, I’m humiliated by this assertion. I do, however, still stand by the fact that “Smoke Dope and Rap,” the underground anthem that solidified Nickatina’s fate as the Bay Area’s king of the underground, is still the greatest song ever written about smoking weed.

I first heard Andre Nickatina’s “Smoke Dope and Rap” in my friend’s nine-year-old sister’s closet on a battery-powered boom box. This was on a visit back to Marin County, a few years after my parents moved the family to Montana in an attempt to curb my delinquent tendencies. Our theory was simple: if we smoked in the closet with a towel stuffed into the bottom of the door, no one would be able to smell the smoke. Sitting haphazardly on a pile of shoes and a stack of old The Boxcar Children novels, we used a Cherry Coke can fashioned into a pipe to smoke our way through half an eighth, and we listened to “Smoke Dope and Rap” on repeat.

The song starts by setting the scene: a group of friends is sitting around playing dominos. In the background, RBL Posse’s “Don’t Give Me No Bammer Weed,” plays quietly. You hear the sound of someone coughing, you hear the buzzed-slur of Nickatina’s voice as he brags to his friends. A phone is ringing; it takes a while for Nickatina to notice. This opening paints a vivid picture—I can see the bluish smoke wafting lazily up toward the ceiling, a discarded pile of weed stems just to the side of the domino game, and the friend who couldn’t quite hang passed out on the couch in the next room. Anyone who’s smoked weed more than a handful of times is familiar with this scene. It describes most of my teenage hangouts.

When someone named Pook finally picks up the ringing phone, Nickatina hits us with “I smoke chewy like a motherfuckin’ nut/you got a gram bag hit the zags and roll her up,” in his signature deep snarl over the opiated guitar riff from Southside Movement’s “I’ve Been Watching You.” This contrast between Nickatina’s crisp, well enunciated delivery and the hazy sound of the guitar is the perfect representation of a chewy high. (In the Bay Area’s lexicon, chewy is the word for weed dusted with coke.) Nickatina’s penchant for sharing San Francisco’s slang is one thing that drew me to him as an artist. Like Faulkner or Twain, the language of the world he builds is what makes it so cool and compelling.

That line is also a powerful declaration, especially considering that the song was released in ’93. The war on drugs was raging; not exactly a great time to be announcing to the world that you smoke weed mixed with cocaine. Nickatina’s moxie—to use my grandmother’s favorite word—was intoxicating to my teenaged self. Nickatina gives us permission to be stoners here, to break the law, and to have a good time doing it. Most of the songs about getting high I’d heard up to this point spoke about this act in codes; Nickatina saw no need for this. He waves his stoner flag proudly, and that was subversive.

“Smoke Dope and Rap” is filled with beautiful one-liners like that first declaration, which is the reason that I’ve had this entire song memorized for fourteen years (I’ve just whispered it out loud three times to confirm). Hell, I haven’t smoked weed in more than ten years, and I still listen to this song at least once a month. A song is truly great when it coaxes listeners to return to it time and time again. This is rare. There are plenty of songs I still love from my childhood, but I leave them in the warm chest of my memory, fearing that re-examination will reveal some terrible flaw.

When we emerged from the closet, stoned and stunned by the sunlight streaming in from the windows, I demanded my friend to burn me copy of every Nickatina song he had. I took the CD back to Montana with me and introduced everyone who would give me four minutes and thirty-six seconds of their time to “Smoke Dope and Rap.” When I was shipped to a halfway house three months after our closet smoke session, I had my friend send me a new mix. Since we weren’t allowed to listen to anything that reminded us of our old ways, I’d wait until lights out, then sneak into the closet and listen to “Smoke Dope and Rap” on repeat.