(Editor’s note: Jeff Weiss is one the most prolific young writers still going the print route, writing for the LA Times and LA Weekly besides running the excellent Passion of Weiss blog where he and friends riff irreverently on hip-hop and pop music at large. For his summer songs post, Jeff takes a hit off the nostalgia pipe and blows smoke rings in ode to his Jamaican weed adventure. –O.W.)

    Jeff Weiss: Summer Smoke–From Cali to the Caribbean

    Superficially, Southern California has little in common with Jamaica. But somehow, we understand each other—like fried chicken and waffles, Italians and Spaniards, Gucci Mane and polysyllabic, pasty white liberal arts students. I suspect it has something to do with the benefit (or burden) of constant sunlight, the omnivorous heat turning even the most lively souls languid, one endlessly slow and unspoiled season.

    Reggae is the purest summer music—the story (perhaps apocryphal) says that parturition occurred during one oppressive Kingston July, when ska seemed far too speedy. Even if the tale isn’t true, the facts line up—Los Angeles struts at a 4/4 pace, a dreamer’s shuffle consistent with the smoked-out votives proffered by those with Natty Dreads. The rhythm stays in your imagination, particularly for those with narcotic aspirations.

    Rita Marley-“One Draw”

    From Who Knows It Feels It (Shanachie, 1981)

    The city of “Indo Smoke,” “Hits from the Bong,” and “The Chronic,” can’t help but bob its head to this beat. Cypress Hill, straight out of South Gate, lifted the hook for “I Want to Get High” from Rita Marley’s “One Draw.” If potheads share a common bond, Jamaica and California, weed capitals of the world, may as well be Siamese siblings—along with Amsterdam, their quirky adopted brother.

    Peter Tosh-“Legalize It” (dubby version)

    From The Ultimate Peter Tosh Experience (Shanachie, 2009)

    Peter Tosh told us to “legalize it” 25 years before we did. Don’t let the High Times beatification fool you, Peter Tosh was a bad motherfucker, who wore his scars proudly and sported the nickname, “Stepping Razor.” Murdered in his home at just 42, Tosh never got the pan-global martyr treatment like his fellow former Wailer, but was massively influential. He is also widely believed to have coined the term “Hell A” to reference the City of Angels—like I said, Kingston and Cali are copacetic..

    Eek a Mouse—“Ganja Smuggling”

    From Wa-Do-Dem (Greensleeves, 1981)

    About a month ago, a fortuitous combination of circumstance and frequent flier mileage, landed me a trip to Sint Maarten, a 40 X 40 square mile, a half-Dutch, half-French strip stranded somewhere in the West Indies. Since federal law continues to consider ganja smuggling a crime, some stoners prescribe skeins of schemes to duck the Department of Homeland Security: hide it in your shampoo bottle, stuff it in a jar of peanut butter, alchemize it into suntan lotion and rub it on your skin. Basically, anything short of pulling a Stoudamire—i.e. walking through a metal detector clutching an ounce and a half wrapped in tin foil. Eek a moron.

    I don’t believe in ganja smuggling for two reasons: the first being that I don’t really enjoy courts, lawyers or possible prison time, the second is that it kills any sense of adventure. There’s something to be said about traveling to a foreign land and being forced to rely on your wits to score pot (that something to be said, is that I probably

    smoke too much).

    When my dreary U.S. Air flight dropped down over the lesser Antilles, my initial impulse was to make like Mittoo.

    Jackie Mittoo-“Hang Em High”

    From Keep On Dancing (Coxsone, 1967)

    It was the 4th of July, Dutch colonial style, and there was only one option for nightlife, a sleazy and cheesy club called “Bliss,” a misnomer on par with this man being named Tiny Lister. A flier hawked a “DJ Mr. Vince” and a “DJ Mr. Kue,” the latter of whom was advertised as one of the hottest DJ’s in upstate New York. Apparently, all you need to do to kill it in Utica is seamlessly transition between FloRida and Akon.

    Two watered down and overpriced whiskeys, four pairs of Apple Bottomed jeans later, a man stepped out of the shadows and introduced himself as Slick. He whispered “Weed, coke, and ex,” not slick.

    Nodding, I followed him to a spot in the corner, where he whipped out two grams stashed inside individual mini-ziploc bags. It was dark, but I didn’t need Junior Murvin to tell me what it was.

    Junior Murvin-“Bad Weed”

    From Police and Thieves (Island, 1976)

    “You don’t have anything better than that?”

    “Nah boyee, this is from Jamaica.”

    Compared to the fluffy, marshmallow nugs currently ubiquitous in marijuana dispensaries across the Golden State, this was stale three-day old bread beginning to mold. But desperate times call for desperate measures when you’re in the tropics and there is penicillin to fall back on.

    I purchased both sacks. As we shook hands, Slick offered a money-back guarantee.

    “If you don’t like this, come back in heyeah and axe, where Slick be at. I gawtcha brutha,” he said, with a dreadlock-thick Jamaican accent that I look absurd attempting to write out phonetically. Then he wished me a Happy Independence Day, we exchanged daps and pounds and a bunch of chintzy lime and lemon fireworks fizzled into the sky. The most logical option was suggested by Black Uhuru.

    Black Uhuru-“Big Spliff”

    From The Dub Factor (Island, 1986)

    So I rolled a log of the sere brown cess, that made up for in efficacy what it lacked in aesthetics. “Tropic Thunder” came on the hotel television, the air conditioning was turned way up, and Linval Thomson’s prophecies had been revealed.

    Linval Thomson—“I Love Marijuana”

    Available on Don’t Cut Off Your Dreadlocks.

    Or if you prefer a different nomenclature, I was happy that I’d found,

    Bob Marley–”Kaya”

    From Kaya (Island, 1978)

    Or even.

    Black Uhuru, “Sinsemilla.”

    From Sinsemilla (Island, 1980)

    Since this isn’t a travel blog and I don’t own a single pair of Bermuda shorts, I’ll spare the plot details. St. Maartin is a tiny island, ravaged by world recession, ignored by foreign capital, and sinking into a sad sort of tropical entropy. There is a gaudy casino-clotted tourist district or two, but otherwise it’s filled with crumbling banana and guava buildings, abandoned storefronts, unemployed teenagers loitering on motorcycles, and island women hawking license plates and handmade Caribe dolls.

    Sometimes, Calypso beach bands blare Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally,” during two-for-one well drink specials at the Sunset Bar, and the sun sets purple and maroon and it is some kind of wonderful. The place has a stubborn beauty that no amount of poverty can eradicate, and everywhere, Jamaican culture holds sway—from color schemes, to hairstyles, to patois, to pop culture. I originally had myopic notions of attempting to imitate Calypso ’70 and come home with a crate stocked with obscure Antillean albums, but only found a single music store, adorned in a Jamaican flag, filled with thick tufts of smoke, wool rasta caps and a rack full of Lee Perry, Bob Marley, and King Tubby CD’s priced at $17 a pop.

    When I asked if they had anything native to St. Maarten’s, a stoned clerk pointed me in the direction of The Isis Band with Falasha and offered a money-back guarantee. Upon later examination, the band was revealed to be from Aruba, but I suppose it was close enough.

    The Isis Band with Falasha—“Faya Faya”

    From The Isis Band myspace page

    For the next 48 hours, I listened to nothing but the Isis Band, while circling the island in search of a pulse I only found in fits in starts. By the end of the week, it was doubtful as to whether I really understood Sint Maartin, let alone Jamaica–but at the very least, I discovered that we smoke significantly better weed.

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