Legal Marijuana: How It Could Change Chicago's Rap Scene Forever


“Bitch, I’m leaning like a kickstand / I’m high I’m smoking ganja,” says 18-year-old Chief Keef in the song "3Hunna," one of the songs that catapulted him to fame from Chicago’s South Side.

Chief Keef sang about his love of marijuana long before he was famous, and his recent songs indicate that this love has persisted, despite the stardom. A large part of the allure of smoking marijuana for gang members and rap artists may be, however, the risk of doing something contraband and the exclusivity of having ready access to an illegal substance, in addition to the physiological effects. Will legalized marijuana change how much gang members and rap artists use marijuana, when the day finally comes?

Although Illinois recently became the 20th state to legalize medical marijuana and has no future plans to legalize recreational marijuana, it is likely that the day will come eventually, even within the next 10 years. For rappers and gangsters in Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods, will pot still be hot?

Before founding his current record label, Glory Boyz Entertainment, Keef recorded mixtapes and uploaded them to YouTube while he was on house arrest for pointing a gun at a Chicago cop. He boasted that “We smoke dope all day, all night” in his hit "I Don’t Like," and was soon noticed by fellow rappers, Chicago record labels, and even Kanye West.

Today one of his most recent videos, "Morgan Tracy," shows Chief Keef and his friends on a rooftop, rapping about all of the things they want to buy with their riches.


 


In addition to emphasizing how high he gets, Keef rattles off a long list of hedonistic pleasures that he is rich enough to indulge in: Yes, he mentions weed, but also mentions fast cars, women that want him, and his drink of choice — a dirty Sprite or dirty Fanta, where promethazine and codeine cough syrup are added to either soda.

In an even more recent video, "Citgo," Keef does the same. He includes one phrase about his love for a particularly expensive strain of weed, but emphasizes the image of himself as a rule-breaker and how he has access to only the most exclusive strains of weed. The rest of the song is a combination of threats to rival gang members, brags about the number of women that want to sleep with him, and outlandish displays of how rich he has become.


 

Uncle Ro, another lesser-known rap artist signed to Glory Boyz Entertainment, behaves in a way that supports this theory that weed may serve a dual purpose for Chicago’s young rap artists: to get high, but also to differentiate themselves as more elite from the rest. Uncle Ro wrote an entire song about how much he enjoys smoking weed. In "All We Smoke is Gas," Ro says, “I’m taking risks for the octane, I’m going to get it.” (Octane supposedly refers to Octane 93, a potent and rare strain of marijuana.)


 

What will Chief Keef and Uncle Ro do when there are no more risks? Inevitably they will continue to smoke marijuana, but I predict that the hype around weed will decline as marijuana becomes legalized. Perhaps the hottest new contraband will be a harder drug, like cocaine or heroin. Or perhaps it will be some new concoction like dirty Sprite or Fanta. It is doubtful that marijuana legalization will curb the drug's use to a great extent in Chicago’s South Side, but it might provoke trendsetters like Keef and Uncle Ro to find the neighborhood’s next most desirable substance.

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Jessie Bullock

A Stanford University M.A. Candidate, Spanish and Portuguese speaking girl, Jessie focuses her research on Latin American policy, drug policy, and agricultural policy. You can probably find her talking about Brazil with a newspaper in one hand and glass of wine in the other.

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