"Here's the flaw of having one big hit: It's best to have a small hit, a little bit bigger hit, then a really big hit. Unfortunately for some people, you come in nuclear. Boom! But then there's no possible way to do that s--t over."
The performer who relays the aforementioned advice, rapper Afroman, serves as a prime example bar few. "Because I Got High" brought him to new heights upon its release during 2001, success that was unprecedented for him at the time and remains just as unprecendented now: frequent airplay from Top 40 to Howard Stern, going to no. 1 in numerous nations, plus a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Solo Performance in 2002. "When it rains, it flipping' pours," he says with a shrug.
It is, fortunately, a storm that has continued raining on him for these 13 years and the performer makes no bones about it. He entered the song, joint in hand, soon after the beginning of his set August 31 at the Park Street Saloon in Columbus, Ohio and—although the majority of the crowd had gathered at the Fashion Meets Music Festival afterparty with the intention of seeing alt-rock standout Future Islands—everyone raised a beer to salute the anthem that celebrates shucking responsibility for kush, a message ever more relevant as the midnight hour rang in Labor Day. Crowd participation dropped drastically following the number but sentimental fans stuck around to greet the rapper and share a smoke, no doubt to later share the tale of how they toked with the man himself.
Afroman has made a career, essentially, out of one song, and he is grateful for the opportunities it's afforded him thus far. The 40 year-old who sits at the hotel south of Columbus has not shied away at all from his favorite habit. The reasons for partaking have shifted dramatically over the last decade however.
"I was so ignorant when I wrote 'Because I Got High,'" he explains, fingers rustling the bits of grey that have colored his beard. "I was just a drunk, exhausted rapper having fun...I didn't know I was possibly damaging the progress of marijuana. I had no clue."
He references the first anecdote from the track, where the protagonist puts off cleaning his room "because I got high." The issue wasn't that the narrator had gotten lazy, the rapper explains earnestly—It was because his mind had opened and he had found better things to do. Afroman, a high school dropout, details a personal renaissance brought upon by his habit. Dealing to his Palmdale, CA buddies—who did go to college—made him more curious and more intrigued by the world around him, worlds away from the twenty-something focused on where his next dollar was coming from. Although well-aware of the positive political impact legalization would have on race relations—four times as many blacks are arrested for marijuana use than whites, according to a study from the FBI/Uniform Crime Reporting Program—Afroman pushes most for the benefits of marijuana use, such as mental health and stress relief.
"It's kind of like a fire extinguisher, in case of emergencies. I don't think you should smoke anything," he says, somewhat surprising considering his lyrical predilection. "But...before you shoot up Walmart, before you hit your kids, hit your wife: Break the glass. Smoke some weed."
Hence why the rapper throws his support behind NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. The group holds celebrated smokers such as Willie Nelson and Tommy Chong as advisory board members, plus prominent figures including Bill Maher and 1993 Nobel Prize-winning chemist Kary Mullis.
Then again, many verses from "Because I Got High" deal with subject matter such as not paying child support and high speed escapes from the police ("now I'm a paraplegic and you know why"). Not exactly fodder that can be lumped in with the positive impact of marijuana, and it's these examples that Afroman is out to atone for. Two toddlers later, the rapper has redone his hit to eliminate the negative connotations and he'll go for "weeks at a time" without smoking to keep from exposing his children to the habit. Still, he doesn't aspire to be a line-in-the-sand parent. He hopes to one day catch his son drinking underage so that he can teach temperance and safe behavior, hoping to stem a problem rather than encourage it with paternal commandments. Nothing ruins his mood at a show like seeing "somebody's baby" unconscious and covered in vomit, and he doesn't aim for his own children to play that role.
"I think I wanna be like Teen Wolf's daddy, when the time comes show him my hair too," he explains, citing one of many non sequitur-yet-effective metaphors to come during the interview. "Be like, 'son, I know where you're coming from.'"
Another off-kilter comparison comes when he describes his white Gibson EDS-1275, a double-necked guitar that makes appearances at every show. Afroman wasn't even familiar with Jimmy Page's iconic axe when he bought the instrument, citing it as merely a method to one-up the guy that was onstage before him. He's a competent strummer, as well as with bass and drums, but the 12-string neck is more for visual bluster than audio. He cites '80s wrestler Jake "The Snake" Roberts, who taunted defeated rivals by placing a sizable Burmese python around their necks. "The guitar is my snake," he chuckles.
The range of musical talents comes in handy when he releases one-off albums that channel country, blues and other genres outside of his home territory of hip-hop. Having realized that he can't escape the shadow of "Because I Got High" as Afroman, the rapper aspires to performing albums in other genres, or other styles of hip-hop under a series of aliases to allow himself some breathing room. He reaches to Hollywood for his next metaphor, comparing "Afroman as musical actor" to the shapeshifting T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
Still, he'll never regret the hit that made it all possible. "This way I can enjoy the best of both worlds," he says, still excited. "It's a beautiful place to be in. To not be sick of your biggest accomplishment after so long."
It's just to be grateful for the single. Without that track he couldn't have released a litany of records in the years since, hip-hop, country or otherwise. He probably would have ended up just another forgotten dropout. But then he got high.