When I arrived at High Times in late 1988, the only Black music the stoner magazine covered was reggae. It was basically read by white male rock fans who liked to go to concerts and smoke pot. Some grew plants in their basements and backyards.
Founded in 1973, hip-hop began to hit the charts with songs like "Rapper's Delight" in 1979, "The Breaks" in 1980 and "The Message" in 1982. This year marks the 50th anniversary; the Hip Hop 50 Live concert featuring Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa, Run-DMC and many more is happening Friday night at Yankee Stadium. I'll be there.
In the '80s and '90s, my taste in music steered towards hip-hop. I'd grown up on rock and the Beatles, but by the early '70s I switched gears and started listening to funk, soul and jazz. Hip-hop, with all of its '70s beats, was natural to my ears.
By 1991, my job at High Times was music editor. One day I received a call from Howard Wuelfing, a publicist at Sony, hyping a new hip-hop group from L.A. called Cypress Hill. Not only did they rap about weed on their eponymously titled first album with a potleaf on the cover, the trio had also reached out to NORML and become their spokesband. I jumped at the opportunity to interview them. This led to a cover story in the March 1992 issue. Cypress Hill were not a well-known group yet, but High Times placed them on the cover holding blunts with a big pile of weed. The issue sold well.
At the time, the marijuana legalization movement mostly flowed through NORML, an organization founded by lawyer Keith Stroup that consisted primarily of drug defense attorneys. NORML Conferences held in Washington, DC were pretty white affairs until Cypress Hill and other hip-hop artists embraced cannabis as a creative elixir and social cause.
High Times followed up in 1993 with a hip-hop issue featuing Redman on the cover, plus stories about Brand Nubian and Gang Starr. In 1995, we featured Ice Cube when he starred in Friday. The next year it was Method Man and Wu-Tang Clan's turn. The bridge was being built - from cannabis to hip-hop.
I'm proud to have been part of the period in High Times' history when closing the racial divide in cannabis was an imperative. Mission accomplished.
The '90s is noted for a plethora of weed songs written and performed by rappers. The same thing occurred in the '30s when marijuana was spreading like a wildfire throughout Harlem among the jazz cats who dubbed it reefer, jive, gage and shizzut.
So it's my opinion that High Times did a great service to the legalization cause by connecting Black and white pot smokers, showing how much they had in common even if they listened to different styles of music. I like to think High Times had a hand in that, which ultimately led to social equity programs and minority leadership in states like New York.
Here are High Times' hip-hop covers, in chronological order:
New York photographer Andrew Brusso stacked the three members of Cypress Hill – B-Real, Sen Dog and DJ Muggs – for the cover design. In the centerfold, B-Real showed how to roll a blunt. I wrote the stories.
Coordinating with the April release of Friday, starring Ice Cube, High Times featured the South Central rapper on the cover. It was shot in Los Angeles by Andre Grossmann with the story written by Casseus.
Casseus, photog Dennis DiChiaro and I arrived at the Wu-Tang Clan house in Staten Island early in the day. Many hours passed before the shoot could begin, because Method Man was not there yet. We smoked blunts to the point where we could barely see. Meth finally arrived, stole the shoot and ended up on the cover holding a blunt.
We returned to Cypress Hill, catching up with the band on the Smokin’ Grooves tour in Maryland. Raphael Fuchs focused his camera on frontman B-Real and I wrote my second Cypress Hill cover story.
After a number of false alarms, a Snoop Dogg cover shoot finally happened at Benabib's studio for the first issue of the new millennium. Most shoots are fairly fast, but this one went on for hours, to the point I had to wake Snoop up from a catnap on the couch when it was all over. Pat Charles penned the story.
This time, rather than smoking a large joint, Snoop had a blunt hanging from his lips and was holding two trophies he’d received at the High Times Stony Awards awards show. Brian Jahn took the impromptu photo backstage and I wrote the Stonys story.
Like the Ice Cube shoot 17 years earlier, HT had Snoop and Wiz pose to hype their stoner movie, Mac & Devin Go to High School.
Dubbed Mount Kushmore, Mark Mann took the photos of these four rap titans and Bianca Barnhill wrote the story. This was Snoop's fourth and last appearance on the cover, B-Real's third and Red and Meth's second each.
I left High Times in 2007. It's hard to track all of the High Times issues published since then (they stopped printing the mag this year). Buit I don't think I missed any hip-hop covers. The total remains at 14.
I'm proud to have been part of the period in High Times' history when closing the racial divide in cannabis was an imperative. Mission accomplished. Happy Hip-Hop 50 to those who celebrate!