From earlier hits like “Hold it Now Hit it” by The Beastie Boys in 1986, up until Missy Elliot’s “Pass that Dutch” in 2003, and “Young, Wild and Free” by Snoop Dog and Wiz Khalifa featuring Bruno Mars in 2011, hip hop and marijuana cultures share a long, intertwined history.

The intersection between the two is a product of their origins stemming from stigmatized underground culture. With its sudden rise in popularity and worldwide acceptance, hip hop has also been a key influence in the push toward the first legalization of weed in California back in 1996.

From a pop culture standpoint, weed’s popularity is not a surprise. A study showed that it is the most highly referenced drug across all music genres. In hip hop, several artists’ identities are also very publicly associated with weed such as Snoop Dog and Xzibit, who both have their own cannabis companies. While the marijuana subculture is slowly being destigmatized in Western countries, it is far from being considered acceptable in Asia.

Reception in Asia

(Trigger warning: mention of suicide)

The highly conservative Asian cultures frown upon the usage—even the mention—of weed in music. Possession, usage, and trading of marijuana is a criminal offense in the majority of countries and is even punishable by death in some.

Among Forbes’ list of Asian countries with life-threatening punishments for possession of cannabis are Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Malaysia, China, and Iran. The rest of the countries, on the other hand, impose strict laws against the usage of the drug, and even heavier punishments for its distribution.

In South Korea, for instance, artists and celebrities have had their careers severely affected by drug-related controversies, with swift public backlash. In 2017, Big Bang’s T.O.P. admitted to the drug use and received a 10-month jail sentence, with an additional two years in probation.

According to a 2022 interview, he considered his drug controversy as the “worst moment” of his life and even tried to quit music and commit suicide during that period.

Hitmaker PSY also admitted to being arrested for marijuana use back in 2001, shortly before he was relaunched back to fame. Just recently in 2021, five rappers—Nafla, Owen, Bloo, Loopy, and Young West—were arrested and investigated for smoking marijuana. Four of them were indicted for being first-time offenders, with only Young West who stood on trial. Their label apologized profusely and took responsibility for the artists’ actions.

In Japan, two members of the hip hop group Namedaruma were arrested in April 2021 for allegedly possessing marijuana. News outlets were also quick to point out that the group’s songs typically contained lyrics about marijuana usage. Earlier in 2020, hit rapper Kan a.k.a. Gami was also arrested for the same crime for the second time while he was out on bail.

In the Philippines, FlipTop rapper Loonie was arrested along with his sister and crew in September 2019 for allegedly selling high-grade marijuana. The case was later on dismissed after the police failed to secure witnesses. Loonie intends to file countercharges against the police.

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Similarly, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) called for the ban of the 2019 song “Amatz” by local rapper Shanti Dope because they claimed that the song promotes marijuana use.

In a statement, PDEA director Aaron Aquino said, “It appears that the singer was referring to the high effect of marijuana, being in its natural/organic state and not altered by any chemical compound.” He was referring to the lyrics of the song’s chorus “Lakas ng amats ko, sobrang natural, walang halong kemikal. (I’m so buzzed, it’s so natural, with no chemicals).

Shanti Dope’s management subsequently released a statement on his Facebook page, denying the allegations and condemning the banning of the song saying that it “sets a dangerous precedent for creative and artistic freedom in the country” and is a “brazen use of power, and an affront to our right to think, write, create, and talk freely about the state of the nation.” With a ‘war on drugs’ declared by the Duterte government, even artists who are allegedly singing about marijuana are targeted.

Changing times

With a growing acceptance in the West, Thailand made a bold move in 2018 to legalize medical marijuana, also becoming the first Asian country to decriminalize the cultivation and possession of weed for personal use.

Thailand’s Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said in a statement, “We should know how to use cannabis. If we have the right awareness, cannabis is like gold, something valuable, and should be promoted.”

Following Thailand’s lead, hip hop artists from other Asian countries are already making moves for the legalization of marijuana. In 2021, Nepali rapper Chirag Khadka, popularly known as 5:55, released “Psychedelic rap” with a music video that ends by calling for the Nepali government to legalize Marijuana.

Taiwanese hip hop artist YZ’s 2022 single, “ZAZA,” is a profession of love for “A1 weed”. According to an article, he told the press, “I just want to prove that Taiwanese hip hop music is creative so that everyone can see it. Maybe one creator will be able to make marijuana legal all over the world.”

Other artists are also releasing songs that incorporate the use of weed such as “Friday Night” in 2016 by Thai artists UST Boy$ featuring Sweeny, HN, and Sunnybone, and “BUDS MONTAGE/ 舐達麻” in 2020 by Japanese artists Namedaruma, G-Plants, Delta9kid, and Badsaikush.

Though it seems like there won’t be any immediate changes in Asian policies soon, hip hop has been contributing greatly to the destigmatizing of marijuana across highly conservative societies.