In 1997, Steve Jobs fired shots at Bill Gates: "I just think he and Microsoft are a bit narrow. He'd be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger.'' Get it? I’m a Mac, and you need some LSD.
A few year later in John Markoff’s book on how the hippies and Vietnam War shaped the world of personal computing, Jobs famously cited acid-taking as "one of the two or three most important things I have done in my life." Don’t you see? Drugs help you Think Different, dude.
Drugs can also help you make music. But what kind of music might depend on the drugs. Thoughout the history of hip hop, critics, fans, and artists have always resorted to comparisons of popular rap stars with iconic bands of the sixties and seventies. When Jam Master Jay died, many likened the Beatles to Run DMC. Now some do it with Jay-Z, and arguments about which hip hop artists are most similar to the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, and Pink Floyd can extend long into the night. But amid the chatter, we forget about the drugs, man. The only drugs you hear about in mainstream hip hop are weed, alcohol, and Marshall Mathers. What if more hip hop artists went on hallucinogenic benders?
Herewith a list of hip-hop artists who might benefit from (pardon) less Hoodstock, more Woodstock, and a few nights out with Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.
Jay-Z: I was going to list The Throne as one artist. For a while I was hoping Watch the Throne would become The Black Shroom Album. Alas, the cover didn’t move the longer I stared at it. Plus, no duo is more different in terms of their public personas: Shawn Carter is the studious Big Brother, the black Warren Buffett, a Republican in Rocawear, a king who got his swagger back but keeps public displays of emotion to a minimum. It was refreshing to see him smile in the Otis video, but damn, have his emotions been so close to the vest that smiling is special?
As such Hov is the man least likely to try an exotic drug, but also the stiff with the most to gain. When Jay released his book, Decoded, a friend remarked that he’s probably the rapper who least needs “decoding." Everyone gets Jay-Z. And therein lies the problem for a man who is always talking the “great artist” talk, but more likely to put out another by-the-numbers blueprint. He's an undeniable genius at what he does, but has genius ever been so boring? Yes, it has. Frequently. But we can still demand better. And with the baby on the way, time is running out! Call in the LSD or shrooms! Expand your mind, Shawn, let your conscious be free, and get down with the sounds of LSD. Are you comfortable being the staid Bill Gates to Kanye’s hipper Steve Jobs? Don’t be scared of d’evils, Jay.
Kanye: It’s fun to speculate, but no one really expects Jay to get down with the hallucinogens. The little brother on the other hand, we probably just need a couple models offering hits and we’d be off and tripping the day away. Before his much-maligned fashion show, I was sort of wondering if Kanye had already dabbled in mushrooms or LSD. The leap from Graduation to 808s and Dark Twisted Fantasy was exactly the sort of unprecedented creative next-shit you might associate with mind-altering substances. But the clothes projected more old-school coke and booze vibes. The greatness of Kanye is that he’s always game. And while he’s hip hop’s most notable boundary-pusher, he’s still pushing from inside a small box. Kanye should make his next fantasy the most dark, beautiful, trippy thing he’s ever done.
Drake: Well, his album cover suggests he’s possibly on the hallucinogens already. With news that Drake pushed the album and tour dates back a few weeks to clear some samples, we hope he’s on a bender. Drake is the most well-known artist of the next generation in hip hop. The best positioned to take spots occupied by Jay, Em, Wayne. So he’ll have a choice to make: Will he respect his elders and abide by old-school black hip-hop orthodoxy, with nods to icons like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder? Hang out with Stevie you get your NAACP award, some Oprah cred. Solid path with integrity. But behind curtain No. 2 is the current drug-wave of spaced out crooners like Abel Tesfaye and Frank Ocean. Hang out with the Weeknd and you might end up in rehab, but the kids will love you.
Plus, nothing says emo-romance more than taking shrooms with the love of your life and watching each others' pupils dilate. Drake won't really know angst until he finds himself curled up in a ball on some girl’s lap crying because he thinks his sweaters are attacking him. It’ll be interesting to see if he goes the professional hip-hop route with Take Care, or rogue. With the extra weeks until release, there’s still time to literally watch someone’s heart melt into yours.
KRS-One: I wanted to get an old-school guy on here. Kris is still dropping albums and holding down the old-man rap circuit like no other, really. But ever since 2006 when he flipped out at a Stanford panel, the story on him has been that he’s lost touch a bit. What better way to truly lose it than by capping a 16-album career than with an acid album? We will be here forever, indeed.
Nicki Minaj: Looking at Nicki’s style, you have to wonder ... But her current track has her playing hip hop’s Lady Gaga role. So if she wants to distinguish herself as a personality, and allow her music to grow into more than a female version of Drake's or Kanye's, this could be a good look for her. She’s positioned to do shit no female rapper has done, and she seems willing to “Go there”. Will she?
Patrice Evans is a Grantland staff writer. Portions of the above post appear in his (excellent) book Negropedia: The Assimilated Negro's Crash Course on the Modern Black Experience. For more on TAN and his book, check out his Q&A with The New Yorker.