Redman On Music And Marijuana: Now Is The Time For Some Action
Quick survey: you're going to the Word Wide Rollers Tour, presented by a group of weed connoisseurs called the Smoker's Club. Among the featured performers is a rapper named Berner and a DJ named TreeJay. The tour poster shows a Smokey the Bear type blunting in the woods. What do you pack?
Redman, the rap veteran who headlined with his longtime collaborator Method Man, has strict requirements: "Weed and energy."
I'd guess most of you saw that first one coming. But energy? Not the stoner stereotype you might expect from two of America's foremost weed rappers, but that's how Red and Meth have put together their long and impressive careers, stretching back to the early '90s: by working tirelessly with an almost vaudevillian level of variety, making everything from rap albums to movies to sitcoms.
The duo's stage show at the Best Buy Theater in Times Square — the last date of a 36-city tour — was a microcosm of this energetic showmanship. Due to bad weather and a rib injury Method Man sustained stage diving the previous night, their act started an hour late. But the show had to go on, and did it ever. There was stage banter ("Everybody yell 'F--- you, Meth!' 'F--- YOU, METH!' '... you guys are a--holes'"), choreography, a DJ battle for which the prize was a pair of Jordans, and at least one unaffected, real-life spit take from Method Man (who later stage dove, just because). I half-expected Red to pull a blunt out of Meth's ear.
Maybe it was the abundance of vapes in the audience, or the mostly-local crowd still in Manhattan the night before Thanksgiving, but the air remained mostly clear of smoke. You'd never know it from the stage, however, where openers B-Real and Taylor Gang's Berner rapped its praises for two sets. The latter got his biggest response when he yelled to the crowd, "Do you want marijuana legalized in this place right now?" But as hyped as the crowd were to burn sacrificial offerings with B-Real, the show hit another level when Meth and Red took the stage, imploring the audience to mosh and share verses of "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" in tribute to dearly departed Wu-Tang member Ol' Dirty Bastard.
So while weed is at once both inspiration and prop, energy is the duo's real drug. "I've seen a lot of new dudes, and people don't know s--- about none of they album, and they don't move until that one record that we hear on the radio come on," Redman explained backstage after the show. "And it's like, 'Uhhh ...' And I'm like 'Wow, that's they show?'"
Meaning it's not just the crowd that needed to bring it — Red and Meth did, too. "Our career wasn't built on putting out hot singles. Our career was based on energy and putting out a hot album," Redman told me. "It is very important for us to be [MCs], to control the crowd with the things we say, things for them to repeat back, with freestyling or whatever. And then our songs are mostly energy, which causes us to dance, which causes us to move."
As you can tell, the man has high standards (no pun intended) that he has consistently met. Redman has been rapping for over two decades, and his longevity does have something to do with the fact that he's made popular songs. His discography is littered with platinum and gold albums and he's collaborated with everyone from Meshell Ndegeocello to Shaq (yeah, that Shaq — they're both Newark, New Jersey, natives). His career with Method Man has yielded chart hits, like "Da Rockwilder" from 1999's critically lauded, platinum-selling album Blackout!; cult hits, like their 2001 Cheech and Chong pastiche How High; and, I'm just surmising here, bong hits.
But if such past successes don't clear Redman's bar for a "hot single," he and Meth have certainly secured something else: a devoted fanbase. "We have a cult fan," Red says. "These guys have been pumping this s--- since the '90s, so now they're part of something else."
That "something else" he's referring to is a growing community that reaches across generations and revolves around weed culture and rap. Chicago upstart Mick Jenkins — who has said he smokes for personal enjoyment and uses the imagery in his videos — played before B-Real, who's been rapping "Cops come and try to snatch my crops" for almost as long as Mick has been alive. Backstage, young Harlem rapper A$AP Ferg exchanged daps with Kool Herc, the DJ who 40 years ago originated hip-hop just a few stops on the subway from Ferg's childhood home. These days, the Smoker's Club is a big tent.
It wasn't always like this. Redman grew quickly from EPMD feature to Def Jam signee, and Method Man — who started out in Park Hill, Staten Island — followed his preternatural charisma to more widespread commercial success than any of his Wu-Tang partners. But while being on major labels for most of their careers has landed the rappers everything from aTRL hit to a FOX TV show, it also took them away from their base.
So Redman has seen mainstream recognition, but he knows who his people are. "I'm not on Def Jam no more. I could give a f--- about this radio, it's corrupting the minds out here," Redman says. "If major radio will have me, cool. But I'm not willing to be dancing all around for no radio time and s---, or shuffling and huckling and buckling. No, not at all."
Now he's ready to come back to his roots. "I'm going to stick to college radio, like I been started off, like I started off with in the day," he told me. "I'm going back to college radio, satellite radio and any other underground radio that will accept me. My fans will get the word through that vein, the same way as they get it through the vein of playing on a major label."
And to Redman, those fans have changed in recent years, thanks to their political advocacy of the subject that made his name: weed. He's in a position of leadership at an interesting time. "I think the audience is becoming more aware," he says. "Smarter."
Weed rappers like Redman and Method Man, as well as B-Real and Snoop Dogg, have acted as the welcoming committee for a drug that, even as it's beginning to become legalized and decriminalized in medicinal and recreational forms around the world, still carries the stigma of illicitness. And it's not like this is a solely hip-hop campaign: Jimmy Carter was talking about it in 1976 and his friend Willie Nelson won't quit.
Red says his fans are paying attention. "They want to be a part of what's going on, because they see what's going on in Colorado. I don't think they're scared of it, I don't think they're naive," he says. "When that happens it opens more doors for people to eat, as far as education, hiring more teachers, hiring more jobs, just opening more doors. And they want to be part of it now, early."
And so does Redman. "I was in some of those meetings out there [in Brooklyn], right before they decriminalized it," he says. "I think after they decriminalized it in Brooklyn, the audience now are taking it as though, 'OK, this s--- is serious. OK, it's not just to decriminalize it for us to get a break so we can get high, something's about to happen.' And now there are — you have people who are reading up on it to see, 'How can I be a part of this movement that's coming?' Because, hey man, for years, me, Snoop, Meth and B-Real have been preaching for this cause. Since the '90s."
Who would have thought that the comical long play is about to pay off in a serious way?
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.