It’s light outside, sunny, even. A dawn wind stirs on the great marsh. Our blunts are being attended to with the most almighty care: the Lords of Ganja are in our presence. Thoughts of George Washington appear, of him, our nation’s first president, growing marijuana (and hemp) somewhere in Upstate, New York, and smoking it, and perhaps laughing or just being happy. But that was then, and this is now.
It was maybe three years ago that cloud rap became a buzzgenre, and what’s left in its wake are a bunch of producers like Top$, who release free music on Bandcamp and theoretically smoke weed. This is a different culture than those Woodstock days of guitars and long hair: now we smoke in our apartment rooms, the curtains drawn and the beats overflowing, open to the ambience surrounding our lives, without the need for lyrics, guitars, or non-MIDI instruments. All we need is the beat. It isn’t exactly revolutionary for younger rappers to rap about weed with a religious intensity, but it’s pointed to the relaxed situation the US federal government has with marijuana, especially in Colorado and Washington, where it has been legalized (marijuana is a lot cheaper than sports cars and diamonds, too). A spiritual transformation is at hand, it seems, and through music, it can be realized.
Nowadays, the life of a young beatmaker has been foregrounded: we want to know all we can about them, to give them a cult of personality, even though so many remain anonymous, mere comet dust on the Milky Way of Music, like Top$ (the only thing we know is that Long Island is the origin of the music). Now that Colorado and Washington are on our side, and now that the younger generations are smoking, albeit more politically and consciously, admitting on Bandcamp your engagement with the ganja isn’t ethically galvanizing. The images accompanying each song on Top$’ SoundCloud speak through to me as language: a paper Solo Cup, a polar bear, Nas rolling a blunt in front of the Queensbridge Projects, graffiti, an optical illusion, Steve Buscemi in The Big Lebowski, an African-American saxophonist in front of an all-white audience in what seems like the 50s or 60s, a waterfall, a beach, a subway. The sentiment with these images is that a larger culture — where the racial divide between a black performer and a white audience can be followed by the funniness of Steve Buscemi bowling or the environmental concerns of what’s going on in the Arctic — weaves through the music, surrounding it with non-musical influences. But the most important image here is his SoundCloud avatar: hands — the left holding a ready-to-go blunt, the right holding a green lighter. Things are about to get real here. A single silence hangs from pixel to pixel.
This is all about self-referentiality: music created while high and intended to get high to. Blunted beats made by someone who knows a thing or two about smoke. Put in a larger context: Games is about the language of marijuana rendered as music, not lyrics. There’s no rapper here required: the attention to beats — like the attention to the physicality of paint or the canvas in visual art, or the attention to your breath during meditation, or the attention to your muscles during yoga — is enough. The sounds of chimes, bells, and swooshes of ambient air relax us, sharpening our minds. It’s relaxing and comforting, but also spiritually exhilarating.