When Afroman recorded "Because I Got High" in 2000, it became a stoner anthem almost instantly. It was the kind of song that inspired kids to roll up a joint, roll down their windows, and aimlessly drive around blasting it from their car stereos. Now, 14 years later, Afroman has just released a new version of "Because I Got High"—and, weirdly, it's kind of political.
The new version is a collaboration between Weedmaps and NORML, two pro-marijuana organizations for which Afroman is the new "brand ambassador." The music video, released today, features Afroman rolling through Los Angeles on a couch with wheels, his afro somewhat graying, his eyes heavy-lidded, while he raps about the benefits of smoking weed:
I had problems with glaucoma, but then I got high
Smelled a cannabis aroma, and I got high
Glaucoma’s getting better, and I know why (why, man?)
Because I got high, because I got high, because I got high
The drug is clearly Afroman's kryptonite—and, in his original song, caused everything from blue balls to paraplegia—but it's been totally rebranded in the new version. It's like Afroman is heading weed's PR team. The new verses preach about going to college, quitting alcohol abuse, and funding state schools... because he got hiiiiiiigh.
Kat Smith, CMO of Weedmaps, told me that they've aligned the music video's release with the upcoming ballot initiatives involving marijuana (Alaska, Oregon, and Washington DC are voting on full legalization in November; Florida is voting for medical marijuana). “Right now, we're really looking at this as a 'legalization anthem,' and we hope it brings people out to the vote for the November elections," said Smith. "Afroman spreads the good love about marijuana and how it can inspires you to do cool things.”
Screencap via Afroman's official Facebook page
"This is a well-known anthem that is very famous across generations," Sabrina Fendrick, spokesperson for NORML, told me. "It’s something we’ve all kind of grown up with. It just seemed like a really good opportunity to challenge the old stereotype."
If there’s anyone to “rebrand” marijuana, Afroman is kind of a questionable choice. He's a high school dropout who, all things considered, fits the classic "stoner" stereotype perfectly. But then again, maybe marijuana doesn’t need critical rebranding. Even Martha Stewart knows how to roll joints these days.
I asked Afroman if he had personally dealt with the issues described in the new song—like glaucoma, or the desire to go back to college. He said no, adding that the lyrics are a product of "research."
“I know what marijuana does for me personally, but I really wanted to know what scientists and people have discovered about it," Afroman said. "It’s informative. It’s educational. I learned a lot myself, and I think people need to learn about it. So let’s ponder. Let’s think.”
Back in 2000, "Because I Got High" was the original viral internet sensation. It wasn't popularized by a major record label or plays on the radio, but by people frantically sharing it around the internet and on Napster. It was only after the song became mega-popular that Afroman was signed to a major record label—Universal Records—which re-released the song on an album called The Good Times. The song sold over 1.5 million copies, earned a Grammy nomination, and was officially the jam of summer of 2001. Afroman later told Rolling Stone that the song took "two minutes and 11 seconds to write. Some chronic weed inspired it."
You could say that "Because I Got High" kept Afroman's career afloat. "It put me on the map," he told me when we spoke last week. "Everybody knew about me. It was almost unreal. That song was like the Macarena or something."
His popularity skyrocketed among the college-aged crowd, and the songs he released afterward were most often about heavy weed use—he created albums called Waiting to Inhale, Drunk 'n' High, Marijuana Music, and Pot Head Pimp. He also regularly rapped about having unfathomably wild sex and life in his hometown of Palmdale, California. But even the songs that weren't explicitly about weed were laced with Mary Jane references. And at the end of the day, although he made dozens of albums, "Because I Got High" remained his only mega-hit.
Photo by Jesus Hernandez
Why was the song so successful? Arguably, because it appealed both to those who were avidly pro-weed, and those who weren’t. The lyrics, manufactured as a relatable-if-exaggerated tale of too much weed, pointed to the hallmarks of stoner unproductivity. In a particularly low moment in the song, Afroman raps: "I messed up my entire life because I got high."
Of course, Afroman didn't really mess up his life. The only real consequence of his chronic weed consumption was fame. But the lyrics made a compelling case against marijuana use. In 2001, when a teenager was arrested for marijuana possession in Massachusetts, a judge sentenced him to listen to “Because I Got High” and write a report on the consequences of getting high. Notably, the judge referred to the hit as a “stupid rap song” and cited the couplet: “Now, I’m a quadriplegic and I know why / Because I got high.”
Afroman has said that it wasn’t meant to be taken so seriously. As he explained it to me: "I was just having a good time writing the song. I was just young and having fun. I was ignorant of the fact that someone cared!" Or, as he said in an interview with the Associated Press in 2007: “I was just telling a story... kind of like a slap your knee around the campfire having a good time. It is a stew. It's like a gumbo.”
In 2009, Afroman released a remake of “Because I Got High” on his album Frobama: Head of State. The instrumentals were smoother, slower—kind of like an "easy listening" version of the original—and the lyrics were changed to include Afroman's latest weed-induced strife:
I was gonna pay the IRS, but then I got high
Write 'em a check, I guess, but then I got high
They took off my underwear, and I know why
Because I got high, because I got high
If the original version cast a negative light on lighting up, this version wasn't any better. Not only did the song highlight a whole new set of weed-induced disasters, but the song opens with the sound of Afroman and friends crunching on Doritos and some weed-induced coughing, and includes some truly nonsensical lyrics, like “A E I O U and sometimes W, because I'm high, because I'm high, because I'm high." (What?)
Afroman, flush with fame from a decade ago, was lost in a cloud of marijuana smoke. He was still playing shows, coasting on his fame from the decade prior. Then, in 2011, Afroman was booked to play a concert in Columbus, Ohio. He never showed up to play. (Why? Do I have to spell it out to you?! Because he got high.) The concert venue served him lawsuit papers on 4/20.
Photo by Jesus Hernandez
But it seems that, since then, Afroman has turned over a new leaf. He lives in Ohio these days, where marijuana is not yet legal but could be on a ballot soon thanks to a burgeoning legalization movement in the state. There, life is more mellow and he can spend his time churning out music. A forthcoming album, called The N-Word, will shift the focus from lighting up and having a good time so that he can focus on other issues. In one song, "Call Me Something Good," he literally raps a history of the N-word:
The N-word is traced to the Latin word Niger
The noun we know, the Spanish word negro
The southern mispronounciation occurred
And that was the birth of the N-word
I'd say that's a surprisingly lucid oral history for a rap song.
Afroman also mentioned to me that he has 17 unreleased albums, which he said he's "stockpiled so that I'd never run out." If he really does have that much music piled up somewhere, it looks like we'll have years and years of Afroman's music to look forward to, because he got... well, you know.
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