I shouldn’t admit this on a hip-hop site, but I’ve never been a fan of weed. I think it should be legal, and I have many friends and family members who are avid stoners, but weed and I just don’t see eye-to-eye, bio-chemically speaking. Maybe it’s because I’m an abstainer, but weed culture has always driven me a little nuts. I lived in the Haight-Ashbury for years and my least favorite day was April 20, when tens of thousands of teenagers from all over the Bay Area convene upon Hippie Hill to smoke out, eat pizza, and slowly try to get back to Hayward. I’m totally fine with people smoking pot, but why do they have to be so dumb about it? I love beer, but I don’t wear shirts with beer puns and pretend that getting drunk first thing in the morning is an awesome lifestyle choice. In fact, my dislike of weed culture is one of the main reasons that I didn’t get into reggae until later in life. Growing up, I associated reggae with white guys with dreadlocks and “Got buds?” shirts abusing Jamaican patois. It was only when I got older that I realized there was a lot more to reggae music than getting high. It was Jamaican R&B, and the studios and sound systems put out music that could give Stax and Motown a run for their money. There are tons of great reggae love songs and protest songs. But almost every reggae album ever released has at least one ode to the sweet leaf. “Hi Grade Ganja Anthems Volume 4” collects 18 reggae songs about weed, kali, collie, sinsemilla, ganja, marijuana, or whatever else you want to call it.
If this were just a collection of stoner anthems, it wouldn’t be worth writing about. What makes “Hi Grade Ganja Anthems” worth checking out is the fact that it is a good representation of the last thirty years of reggae from all over the world. It has old-school songs, eighties songs, and more recent songs that represent some of the breadth of reggae music. Mighty Mystic starts things off with “Cali Weed,” giving shout-outs to the many fine strains of California sess. He adapts the rap-singing that you hear in younger R&B artists like Ty Dolla $ign to dancehall, combining the smoothness of singing with the fierce delivery of a rapper. Busy Signal’s “Hi Grade” reworks the Stalag riddim, giving the song his trademark old school throwback sound. I-Octane’s “Puff It” is as slick and Auto-Tuned as any R&B club hit. Keida’s “Ganja Tea” mixes roots reggae with dancehall and hip-hop, showing another path that reggae has taken to stay relevant in he new millennium. Alborosie is on hand to give a Sicilian’s take on reggae, referencing both Cypress Hill’s “I Want to Get High” and Bob Marley’s “One Love.” New Zealand’s Katchafire also sounds like he’s channeling Bob Marley on “Collie Herb Man.”
The older songs might not have the production values of the more recent tracks, but they still sound good. “Better Collie” is one of the better songs by Horace Andy, one of reggae’s best singers. Most of his output from the 70s and early 80s is impeccable, including “Better Collie.” The song, which reworks Derrick Morgan’s rocksteady hit “The Conqueror,” is a perfect celebration of sitting back, putting your feet up, and enjoying a spliff. Linval Thompsons “Marijuana” is more direct in it’s praise of the herb, and should be in any pot enthusiast’s playlist. The eighties are also represented with the digital reggae of Horace Ferguson’s “Sensi Addict,” proving even a crappy Casio keyboard can make great music. A remix of Sugar Minott’s “Oh Mr. DC” bridges old and new by adding verses by Fantan Mojah and Military Man.
Lyrically, all the songs are about getting high. There are a few that reference the troubles caused by the drug trade and by the government’s crackdown on it, but mostly these are songs to light up to. We’re a few days past 420, but if you need something to inspire your mid-afternoon joint, “Hi Grade Ganja Anthems Volume 4” won’t do you wrong. It will probably make you less paranoid than listening to “Dare Iz A Darkside,” and you’ll get a sense of the full range of reggae music from the past thirty years in the process.