Getting High and Making Beats
Photo by N.ico, via Flickr
I resent the stereotype that weed-smokers aren’t productive. Sloth is merely one activity that goes well with smoking weed, and it happens in off hours. During the workweek, weed stimulates my creativity, or at very least relaxes my mind enough to come up with something different than the conventional train of thought would produce. Now, I manage to apply this method to my profession, but there was a time that all my weeded-out creative energy was focused on one thing alone—making beats.
If I had to choose one style of music that I love the most, it would be 90s hip-hop. I spent most of that decade in Thailand, where our access hadn’t gotten much deeper than MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice, aside from a prized cassette tape of Cypress Hill’s Black Sunday. (Incidentally, this was the album that taught me most of the marijuana terminology that I still use today, which is kind of loco). When we arrived in America in 1997, Biggie had just been killed, the Wu Tang heads were on their second round of solo albums, and sampling was becoming a legitimate art form (thanks DJ Shadow). Away at college, my brother had begun a collection of then-current production tools, including an SP 202 and a JX 305 Groovesynth, and my education in music production began shortly after we started smoking weed together.
I was amazed at how smoking weed facilitated the process of making hip-hop beats, particularly the sample-based ones from the 90s that I like. Previously, I had merely listened to songs, and now I scanned them for samples, my high revealing the loops and bits I would use faster than my hands could catalogue them. Before long, I upgraded to software and developed a workflow, opening the door for countless hours of experimentation in the dark, screen glare projected onto plumes of smoke.
By the time I got to college, I could flip a decent beat, but all I had was an ass ton of loops and just a handful of complete, sequenced tracks. That’s what undisciplined stoned production ethic will get you—the knack for momentary genius, but not the focus to make a complete work. I envisioned something epic and thematic, like Deltron 3030 or Prince Among Thieves, but that would require a lot more than just me, my computer, and a turntable. I stayed undisciplined, blazing and smashing out loops, until a new kind of concept album picked up popularity.
The mash-up album is a format made for the home producer. A perpetual goal when cutting samples is that you don’t just mimic the original song, but when you’re making an homage record, it behooves you to leave those riffs intact. And that shit is so fun to do when you’re stoned. I’d recently blown the dust off some Hendrix records when I found a pack of Wu Tang acapellas online, and before I knew it an exercise had turned into an album.
I released Tha Killa Beez Experience (note the “Tha” rather than the traditional “The”) in 2006, meaning I had my friend build a custom site where you could play the tracks and download a zip file, as Bandcamp and Soundcloud were yet to be invented. What I learned then was that I enjoy making music more than I enjoy promoting it, because I pretty much forgot about it after printing about 300 flyers and leaving them around town. I got right back to my routine of coming home and planting myself in front of Reason and smoking splif after splif, churning out beats.
A couple of years went by and I sort of got away with it, but then I got injured really badly and found myself homebound at my mom’s house. At that point, I needed more than a mash-up project to distract me, so I embarked on a weeded journey to remix Batman: The Animated Series. A steady flow of prescription opiates and repeated views of every episode I sampled synthesized the warped perception that I lived in cartoon Gotham City, and sometimes I was even off my shit enough to be Batman. That’s when the really good tracks came out.
After that ordeal, no matter how productive, I pretty much forgot about the Batman project too. I started working on my next remix project, trying to up the ante just a little more this time. I pulled together all the tracks DJ Shadow had sampled for Endtroducing….. and started chopping them into a whole different album. I had made about seven decent skeletons when I had a hard drive crash that completely destroyed my momentum. I pretty much stopped making beats after that.
I moved to New York in 2010 and, for whatever reason, there was a huge spike in my weed smoking. I started feeling the itch to make a beat whenever I was stoned at home, so I gripped a copy of Ableton Live and a new controller and started producing again. Turned out I’d lost quite a bit of juice. Whether it was the change is gear, the lack of practice, or just being in the wrong state of mind, no amount of weed could help me make a satisfying loop, and I gave up again.
A year later, I heard news of an official Wu Tang / Hendrix mash-up album and sort of smirked. Maybe if I didn’t suck so much at promoting my work, someone would have told them it’s been done. Then someone pointed me to a bunch of YouTube uploads of my tracks from Tha Killa Beez Experience that each had tens of thousands of hits. The one with the most plays, clocking in around 31K was the first one I made, and definitely the shittiest one on the record. Someone even put one of the tracks to a fight from a kung fu flick. What struck me was that people actually liked the tracks. I’d never gotten a high enough volume of feedback from the general public to know if it was palatable or not.
Like these tapes, I’ve done lots of creative projects while I’m stoned simply because I enjoy it, never really considering if they’ll play well with other people. Hell, Weediquette is one of them. This is me getting high and writing stories from my life, which is equally as fun as smoking and cutting samples, albeit in a different way. I just feel lucky that in the past few years, all the dumb shit I do when I’m stoned is actually managing to entertain some people.
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