For about as long as music recordings have existed, give or take 30 years, people have been using songs to pay tribute to weed. In 1929, Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra laid down what's widely considered the first recorded tune referencing marijuana. "Muggles" had nothing to do with Harry Potter and everything to do with pot (which Armstrong adored). Since then, musicians of all stripes have made songs about the green's sweet temptations. Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35," Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf," and Ray Charles' "Let's Go Get Stoned" account for a tiny handful of examples.
Stoner metal notwithstanding, hip-hop has taken a special shine to the drug. Tons of rappers have smoked pot and written all about it -- Wiz Khalifa, Snoop Dogg, Kid Cudi -- but few entities in the genre have focused on marijuana with the sheer longevity of Kottonmouth Kings. For 18 years, the Placentia, California-based group has been grinding out albums deeply smitten with weed. You don't need to go parsing the band's lyrics in "Proud to Be a Stoner," "Pack Ur Bowls," and "Roll It Up" to detect the obsession. Hell, you don't even need those song names when you consider album titles like Rollin' Stoned, Joint Venture, and 2012's Mile High. The outfit hit its mainstream peak in the early 2000s when rap-rock dominated the world (the Kings' core hip-hop sound is greatly influenced by alt-rock and reggae), but Kottonmouth Kings still boasts a loyal fan base and consistently tours and records. The band's discography is increasingly sprawling -- at least 17 albums, said frontman Brad "Daddy X" Xavier in a 2010 interview.
Much like the Beastie Boys, Kottonmouth Kings' sound sprouted from hardcore punk roots. In the late 1980s, Xavier led the California punk band Doggy Style. He loved the genre's energy and idealism, but at the same time that he found his scene becoming more violent, he began thinking that punk was limiting. So, he moved to hip-hop, which he found carried on some of punk's same ideological positives while being more up his alley sonically. (He's a fan of old soul.)
Kottonmouth Kings has always focused on weed, with that lyrical theme popping up while writing the lyrics for the band's 1998 debut, Royal Highness, and the act never leaving it behind.
"Sometimes, people think it's a one-dimensional group," Xavier says, also noting this angle's cutting-edge quality at its inception. "Fair enough. I could absolutely see that. The theme is so heavy in the band's marketing, but really, it's about so many other things: personal freedom, positivity, life experience. It's not just limited to that lyrically if you really dive into it."
This candor is what makes the Kings' work and vibe enjoyable: Xavier has been repeatedly upfront about the aesthetic having a gimmick of a lyrical theme, and while that gimmick does dominate the group's imagery in every conceivable way, they're also willing to offset those chill-out jams with tunes about skating and getting your heart snapped in half. The band's never been out to demand too much of anyone.
In that way, Kottonmouth Kings is and always has been a Peter Pan of a band, sticking to one idea from their youth until the wheels fall off -- the band's next record, tentatively titled Krown Power of the Kottonmouth Kings, is set for release in early 2015 and likely won't stray from the shtick. Still, Xavier is upfront about the possibility of seeing an end to the group's road. "We're at a different stage in life now, where people have kids. There's different realities than when we first started," he says. "I don't see this going on forever, but as long as we still enjoy making music and doing the shows and people still enjoy it, we'll probably do it, but we'll do it on our own terms. The music will live forever."
Kottonmouth Kings is scheduled to perform Tuesday, August 26, at Joe's Grotto.
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