A dozen rad weed songs from the land of reggae

Not confining ourselves to the island.
Bob Marley
Bob Marley / Paul Natkin/GettyImages
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For part 2 in our rundown of great marijuana songs, we’re heading for Jamaica. Don’t worry, we won’t confine ourselves to the island. But that’s where we’ll begin. Because that’s where reggae began. Reggae’s relationship to weed is long and complex, and no twelve songs could possibly cover the breadth of thought and feeling its artists have expressed through their music. But we’re gonna try. What follows is Team Reggae, captained by the King, Bob Marley.

What makes reggae’s treatment of ganja different from the songs we looked at on Team Americana is the role marijuana plays in Rastafarian culture and religion. It is sacred, and its usage is fundamental to a harmonious life.

However, during much of reggae’s reign as a dominant musical impulse in Jamaican and Caribbean Islands writ large, marijuana was illegal. When reggae exploded onto the North American scene after the release of Jimmy Cliff’s movie The Harder They Come in the early ‘70s, many of the most significant songs that followed were heartfelt pleas for legalization.

Team Reggae is the place to go for the best weed songs

Eventually, Jamaica decriminalized possession of recreational amounts, but it didn’t come easy. Once that happened, in early 2015, the subject matter of weed songs shifted. That is not to say that every single pot tune in the 1900s focused exclusively on legalization. Far from it.

That points to a second fundamental difference in how marijuana is treated in reggae compared to other genres. Most other genres typically write specific dope songs. That is the subject of the song. Reggae does that too, but given the prevalence of the herb, kaya shows up in plenty of songs that may be about totally unrelated subjects. It’s just a part of daily life.

After decriminalization, weed songs didn’t vanish. Musicians may have lost a dominant topic, but that allowed them to cast an even wider net and incorporate the joys and dangers of weed into an increasing variety of songs. As I said, no dozen songs can capture it all, but the following is a pretty good place from which to start.