Welcome back for the second installment of our bi-weekly Cannabis Cuts playlist, a tribute and appreciation of the symbiotic relationship between music and Mary Jane. Hopefully our debut 4/20 Special got you in the holiday spirit and showed you a new artist or song or two along the way.
In Volume Two, we’ve decided to dedicate this entire installment to hip-hop tracks worthy of your next joint, spliff, blunt, bong-rip or whatever your prefered method of consumption may be. Blunt-worthy bars and blunt-worthy beats were the only criteria for these selections, and with that in mind we generated 20 of our hand-picked, road-tested, hip-hop toke favorites and written about why we think they’re top notch candidates to lift you to higher spirits:
“Be (Intro),” Be, Common (2005)
KG: “Common… okay I’ve seen him on TV and a few movies before (Haha he is totally in Date Night), but wasn’t he a rapper?” This was the first thought that crossed my mind when I was being introduced to Common’s 2005 comeback album, Be. And while it was apparent that I had shamelessly ignored the entire first half of his discography, I quickly learned that Common has the musical chops to brush away any stigma toward his hip hop career. “Be (Intro),” a Kanye West (Voldemort) production, displays many of He Who Must Not Be Named’s signature beat-making techniques and is about as good of an opening track to an album as possible. The beat is minimalistic while retaining a surprisingly lush sound, notably when the buzzy synthesizer riffs over a powerful string sample. Common enters half-way through the song and proceeds to spit a minute straight of conscious rap bars that are quick and complex off the tongue. All together, it creates a glorious harmony between two of Chicago’s finest.
MC: Yes, this whole album is a masterpiece…but it only hints at the game-changing potential Common would let run rampant at the introductions for this year’s NBA All-Star Game. This is the man who would go on to give us instant-classic, generation-defining bars like, “Making his second all-star appearance / He runs the team like a mogul / From the Los Angeles Lakers / The coach, Frank Vogel,” and “A four-time all-star / He handles the rock like Gibraltar / From the Boston Celtics / Give it up for Kemba Walker.”
“LIFE,” CARE FOR ME, Saba (2018)
KG: Staying in Chi’ town, Saba burst onto the scene in 2013 after appearing on Chance the Rapper’s classic Acid Rap mixtape. A few collaborative mixtapes and a debut album later, Saba released his sophomore effort CARE FOR ME to widespread critical acclaim. In simple terms, Saba is one of the best narrative rappers in the game right now. He enunciates his lyrics incredibly well for an artist who raps so quickly, which make his often dark personal stories easy to follow along to. “LIFE” is no exception to these traits, a hard and booming track that gives a brief peek into some of the hardships Saba has faced. Juxtaposed with the previous track from older Chicago legends, it’s nice to see the future of Chicago hip-hop in great hands.
“Free Lunch,” The Sun’s Tirade, Isaiah Rashad (2016)
MC: Believe it or not, the outrageously smooth beat for this track crafted by producer Cam O’bi was originally rejected by J. Cole for his 4 Your Eyez Only album – presumably because he couldn’t envision himself rapping about doing laundry over it. Fortunately for us, Isaiah Rashad picked it up for the lead single for his excellent debut album. Rashad’s laid-back cadence on these verses melds seamlessly with the jazzy production and resulted in one of my favorite tracks of 2016, which was an unusually deep year for the genre. Last week, the Tennessee rapper dropped “Why Worry,” his first new track since 2016 and hopefully an indication that his sophomore album is coming soon.
KG: Top Dawg Entertainment power ranking of label artists off the dome: 1. Kendrick Lamar, 2. Schoolboy Q, 3. SZA, 4. Isaiah Rashad, 5. Jay Rock, 6. Ab-Soul, 7. I can’t remember any more.
“Shame,” Piñata, Freddie Gibbs & Madlib (2014)
MC: Listening to Freddie Gibbs boast about his sex life might not be traditionally what you choose to spark up to (or maybe it is, no judgement here), but this Madlib beat affirms, and then reaffirms, and then reaffirms again that his status as an all-time great producer is nothing but deserved. Driven by an early-70s Manhattans soul sample, the production is as lush as can be and mixed so well that it’s tough to tell where the samples end and the BJ the Chicago Kid hooks begin. Freddie, technically solid as always, holds court about his love life with his classic gruffness, humor, and bravado.
“Millenium,” ATLiens, OutKast (1996)
MC: The production on this is downright spacey and psychedelic, and Andre 3000 and Big Boi come through with a packed three minutes of creative imagery, social commentary, and the kind of wordplay that secured their legacy as all-time greats. It also happens to feature an unorthodoxly catchy chorus that’s the verbal equivalent of a very cozy case of couch lock.
“Guillotine (Swordz),” Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Raekwon (1995)
KG: Raekwon’s debut solo album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, is the third greatest hip-hop album of all time. There, I said it. And while I have your attention, I will stand on my Google Docs sized soapbox and tell you that it is better than anything the Wu-Tang Clan (group) ever put out. Why am I making these brave, courageous takes? This is showbiz, baby. The beauty of any solo album from a Wu-Tang Clan member (Give Liquid Swords by GZA a peek too) is the, without a doubt, inclusion of a track that features verses from multiple other Wu-Tang members. For Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, this is that track. Inspectah Deck, Ghostface, and GZA all join Raekwon on a bouncy New York beat, and spit some of the best consecutive sets of bars you will ever hear.
MC: Stopping by to remind readers that the views of the Kevin Gordon Hot-Take Machine do not necessarily encompass the views of Culture Blender as a whole. Despite Raekwon’s debut being an all-time rap classic, 36 Chambers is the premier Wu album.
“Christ Conscious,” B4.DA.$$, Joey Bada$$ (2015)
MC: Peak no-bullshit East Coast hip-hop. The beat sounds timeless and Joey fires off on all cylinders with some of the hardest delivery of his career. He also sneaks in the phrase “lyrical fajitas,” which, for me, single-handedly puts him in the rap Pantheon.
KG: In the throes of my Sophomore year of high school, I attended a mini-festival in Chula Vista, California headlined by some of the iconic names in hip-hop history: Wiz Khalifa, B.O.B. (nothin on yoouuuu baby), and a Trinidad James during the peak of his power. At the very bottom of the lineup card was a young rapper named Joey Bada$$. Joey ended up no-showing his 6:30pm set, which wasn’t yet disappointing because I didn’t know who he was at the time, but I DID end up smoking weed for the first time in my life that night. I guess all roads do lead to Rome.
“Off Deez,” DiCaprio 2, JID (2018)
KG: JID wears his influences on his sleeve about as hard as Greta Van Fleet attempts to masquerade as a Led Zep tribute band. But the difference is, JID’s creativity shines through and adds enough flair to distinguish himself from his Kendrick Lamar sounding style. Also, don’t let my dear friend Max scare you away from the J. Cole experience. While he has his moments (extended moments) of corniness, this track really shows off his versatile flow.
“Wesley’s Theory,” To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar (2015)
KG: My favorite song on Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece, To Pimp a Butterfly, is a certified head bopper no matter the context you are listening to it in. In a car with your friends? Head bop. Curled up in bed next to your dog? Head bop. Exhausting your mind and body to the point of constant existential dread, while you slave away as a member of the proletariat with no hope for a more equitable future due to the generational greed of capitalist scum such as Exxon Mobil, Nestle, and Elon Musk? Head bop.
MC: Thundercat and George Clinton featuring on a Flying Lotus-produced Kendrick track is the stuff of my dreams and somehow this manages to live up those lofty expectations.
“It Was a Good Day,” The Predator, Ice Cube (1992)
MC: It’s year 2028, Supreme Leader Trump has just been elected to his fourth term as US President. Meanwhile, in the country of California, the Bear Republic flag flies triumphantly basking in the golden hour’s glow as the day draws to a close. The voices of schoolchildren ring out loud and bright-eyed about how “the Lakers beat the Supersonics,” and the time Ice Cube “fucked around and got a triple double” in a game of pick-up hoops (the proto-Westbrook, if you will). The comforting lights of the Goodyear Blimp glisten over the Southern California skyline spelling out “Ice Cube’s a pimp.” The sun settles below the horizon, marking the end of another good day. End scene.
KG: 2028 Trump gonna look exactly like Palpatine from episode 9. Good thing the Rey of our timeline, AOC, is gonna kick his ass.
“Heat,” Get Rich or Die Tryin’, 50 Cent (2003)
KG: As Gangsta Rap descended from its peak of greatness in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, 50 Cent decided to sneak in at the very last second of relevance and drop an album that would surpass many of his contemporaries in staying power. Get Rich or Die Tryin’ blends 50’s unique voice and cockiness to the point of outright narcissism bars, with gritty East Coast production to create the perfect send off to classic Gangsta Rap. This song specifically brings the HEAT you’ll need to enjoy a casual spliff. The beat is literally the noise a gun makes when cocking it back, and gunshots… with some kick drums added in for good measure.
“Feel So Good,” Harlem World, Mase (1997)
KG: This song is 100% perfect. You can’t convince me any changes to “Feel So Good” would make it better. Zilch. Nada. Bye. Listening to “Feel So Good” once is the musical equivalent to a person’s first interaction with a George Foreman grill. I didn’t think life could possibly get this great, is there any going back from here? The answer is no. Dance your booty off to this intoxicating track and forget about the days when grill-less burgers needed to be cooked in a pan… savages.
MC: If you can’t vibe to this track I don’t know if I can trust you as a person.
“Gimme Your’s,” Doe or Die, AZ (1995)
KG: AZ is the owner of the boyish voice that surprisingly keeps up with Nas lyrically on “Life’s a Bitch,” from Nas debut album Illmatic. And if, like me, you wondered what else this guy might have made, then you have come to the right spot. “Gimme Your’s” is a hypnotic dive into New York’s boroughs that suck the listener in with spacey piano lines and strong drums. These sounds are the perfect complement to AZ’s youthful voice, which he equips to perfection in creating this hazy gem of a toke track.
“Numbers on the Boards,” My Name Is My Name,” Pusha T (2013)
KG: He Who Must Not Be Named is a really really good producer. “Numbers on the Boards” was being made right as he was in the middle of his industrial rap phase (think Yeezus) and the shaky sample that forms the heart of this beat is exactly that. It sounds so rigid and harsh that you could never imagine it to fit well in a song, but blended with Pusha T’s kingpin flow makes it feel just right. Shout out to Push for making me jump out of my chair for every “YEUUGGH” he growls.
MC: You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in history who has found more creative ways to say they’ve dealt coke, Push’s wordplay is at its finest on this left-field banger.
“Fruits of the Spirit,” A Written Testimony, Jay Electronica (2020)
MC: After over a decade of anticipation, this was the year the world finally got Jay Electronica’s debut album. The album didn’t disappoint, and featured him and Jay-Z going back and forth on nearly every track. While this cut lacks a Jay-Z feature, it’s a highly-enjoyable minute and a half of Jay Electronica weaving references about the Avengers, Vince Staples, and Wimbledon into social commentary on ICE, Palestine, and Flint all over a great No I.D. beat.
“Rhymes Like Dimes,” Operation: Doomsday, MF Doom (1999)
KG: No lie, I heard this song at a Chipotle once and I lost my shit. MF Doom, the supervillain, caught in public at an establishment as miscellaneous as a Chiptole? I guess that’s just how it goes, but this song is as cool as a cucumber. A jazzy beat that would be played on repeat without any vocals is brought to life with MF Doom’s meticulous word play and unmatched ability to rhyme.
MC: Nothing says “give our new Queso Blanco a try,” like a classic MF Doom bop at Chipotle.
“The Hop,” Beats, Rhymes & Life, A Tribe Called Quest (1996)
MC: In 1996, Q-Tip and Phife Dawg created this undeniably cool track which ranks up there with some of Tribe’s best work. Like many songs from the group, its lyrics discuss racism, police brutality, poverty and other socially conscious themes. It features one of Phife’s finest verses, yet its greatest legacy may lie in how it created a bedrock for hip-hop instructional dance tracks to grow and evolve, culminating Drake’s 2020 artistic pinnacle, “Toosie Slide.”
“Potato Salad,” Potato Salad – Single, Tyler, the Creator & A$AP Rocky (2018)
MC: This song feels like the sonic equivalent to shooting the shit and passing a joint back and forth with a good friend. In verses that maintain the loose and off the cuff feel of a freestyle, Tyler and Rocky sound laid-back and conversational while quipping about Cole Sprouse, Yao Ming, mumble rap and differentiating between a purse and a satchel – all over a vintage Kanye beat. Rocky seems to benefit the most from stepping away from the self-seriousness of his solo work and comes through with one of my favorite verses he’s ever put to tape. It’s goofy, it’s relaxed, and it’s got a crisp beat with rhymes to match – what more do you need?
KG: There have been rumors for years about Rocky and Tyler collaborating on an album, and if this is any indication of how awesome that would be, then I’m completely here for it.
“The Joy,” Watch The Throne (Deluxe), Jay-Z & Kanye West (2011)
MC: Like my writing partner Kevin, I’m participating in a bit of a self-imposed boycott of one of my all-time favorite artists, Mr. West, due to…well…due to most everything he’s said over the last couple years. However, I’ve gotta exploit the “Jay-Z-has-first-billing” loophole on this track because it’s too damn smooth to not include. Originally released as a part of Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Friday’s series, both MCs are in fine form on this cut with unusually relaxed and reminiscent verses. The real star of the show, however, is Curtis Mayfield’s “The Makings of You,” which Pete Rock samples so liberally that the late, great Curtis is given a feature on the track.
KG: THE MORE YOU SAY HIS NAME, THE MORE POWER YOU GIVE HIM. But while we are here, let’s bask in the glory of Curtis Mayfield’s years of incredible work.
“Knight,” Doris, Earl Sweatshirt (2013)
MC: Really any track off Earl’s classic debut album would have fit snugly into this playlist with their hazy, creative productions and the nineteen-year-old Earl’s dense rhyme schemes, outrageously-good wordplay, and stoned worldview. The pitched down voices and tempo changes make it a hell of a closer for that album, so why not make it a closer here.