Long before cannabis went commercial, DJ Muggs was on the frontlines preaching the green gospel

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By Mike Usinger

Having spent most of his life in the often unscrupulous industry known as the music business, DJ Muggs is quick to note he has a finely tuned bullshit detector. This served him well when he branched out from the job that made him famous.

Muggs first made his name as a member of Cypress Hill, but he was also early to invest in the cannabis industry, initially during the black-market years and then in the era of legalization. Among the weed ventures he has stakes in today are Boom Family Farms and a Cypress Hill edibles collaboration with Bhang.

Ask Muggs what has him excited about heading to Vancouver for the upcoming International Cannabis Business Conference, and he says it’s getting to see people that he respects. Chief among them is Oregon-based medical-cannabis groundbreaker Alex Rogers, who founded ICBC, which bills itself as a travelling educational and networking showcase.

“I’m at a point in my life where I just want to have fun doing cool shit with cool people,” Muggs says, speaking on cell from Los Angeles. “I got involved with ICBC about three years ago. I was invited to Kauai to speak on a panel, and I was introduced to Alex. I liked ICBC and what it was about. And I liked Alex—the man is a smart dude who actually gives a fuck. He ain’t out here trying to get people’s money trying to capitalize on the green rush.

“He actually cared about the people that were there,” he continues. “He cared about who he had speak, and he built a platform for people who were green and wanted to invest with people who’d been in the industry for a while. It was about bringing good people together with no malice in their hearts. Ethics are really important to me, and it was like ‘These are some real motherfuckers, and I want to be involved with them.’ ”

Muggs helped create some of Cypress Hill’s greatest hits: “Insane in the Brain”, “Dr. Greenthumb”, and “How I Could Just Kill a Man”. He’s also the guy who created the backbone of House of Pain’s immortal dance-floor filler “Jump Around” and Ice Cube’s swaggering “Check Yo Self”. Not content behind the scenes, he’s also released records under his own name in collaboration with the likes of Everlast and the Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli.

Watch the video for Cypress Hill's "Insane in the Brain".

But music isn’t his only great love. Since the rise of Cypress Hill in the early ’90s, he’s been one of the cannabis movement’s most vocal advocates. Before Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson were lighting up together on the tour bus, Muggs and his Cypress Hill bandmates B-Real and Sen Dog were tirelessly devoted to the cause. Recall, if you will, “Insane in the Brain” lines like “Like Louie Armstrong play the trumpet, I’ll hit dat bong.” Or “Dr. Greenthumb” lyrics such as “People can’t live without the herb man/If not they’d be drinking and driving and swerving.” The liner notes to the group’s 1993 sophomore outing, Black Sunday, notably included 19 bold-type facts about marijuana that highlighted the plant’s benefits and debunked popular myths.

All this might not sound particularly revolutionary today, when legalization in Canada and various American states has made cannabis part of the mainstream. But it’s important to remember that when Cypress Hill first stormed the charts with its eponymous 1991 debut, attitudes towards marijuana were considerably different. America had just come off a decade when Nancy Reagan’s hysterical “Just say no” campaign changed the way people looked at drugs.

Hip-hop wasn’t immune. Think of Dr. Dre in the N.W.A days using “Express Yourself” to rap “I don’t smoke weed or sess/’Cause it’s known to give a brother brain damage/And brain damage on the mic don’t manage.” Or Rob Base salting the 1988 megasmash “It Takes Two” with “Don’t smoke buddah/Can’t stand sess, yes.”

“Even when we started making music with Cypress, if you go back and do some research, all the groups were saying ‘Don’t smoke weed or sess or you’ll give a brother brain damage,’ ” Muggs says. “It was Dre and a lot of groups. Once we came out, we kind of kicked the door open. Crack was big back then, so by talking about weed we suddenly started becoming cool. And that made smoking weed cool. Then, when Snoop came out, everyone really started getting away from other drugs and coming to weed.”

Indeed, by 1992 Dre had reevaluated his attitude towards pot, naming his debut solo album The Chronic. Today, hip-hop and marijuana are inextricably linked—one can draw a through-line from the Pharcyde’s “Pass the Pipe” to Nas’s “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” to Jay-Z’s “Feelin’ It” to Kanye West’s “We Major” to everything ever released by Post Malone.

As for Muggs, the 51-year-old acknowledges that weed has been part of his life since he was a kid living in Queens, New York.

“My mom hated marijuana—she was like, ‘It’s bad, don’t fucking do it,’ ” he reminisces. “You gotta remember, my mom comes from the ’50s—think of the movies and the music back then. Then you’ve got the ’60s, which is when my mom’s little brother—my uncle—came from. He shared a room with me, and it was all black-light posters, lava lamps, incense, and Led Zeppelin. I’d come home and there’d be this smell—and I didn’t know what it was. That was my introduction. I was nine the first time I smoked with him and his friends. They gave me a hit and I feel asleep. I smoked a couple of times when I was 12, but then I got really into sports. I started smoking heavily again when I was 17. And I haven’t stopped.”

What’s changed over that time, obviously, is that cannabis has gone from a black-market subculture to a respectable business, which explains events like ICBC. Those who’ll speak at the Vancouver conference include California Bureau of Cannabis Control chief Lori Ajax, former NBA player turned cannabis entrepreneur John Salley, and British Columbia lawyer John Conroy, who helped move legalization of pot forward in Canada with victories in court.

Estevan Oriol

Such events, Muggs says, are far removed from the days when Cypress Hill was going multiplatinum on the back of “Insane in the Brain” lines like “Cops come and try ta snatch my crops/These pigs want to blow my house down/Head underground to the next town.”

“Like anything,” he says, “once everybody starts liking something and the commercialization comes in, it becomes ‘Man, I liked it better when it was underground.’ It’s funny—motherfuckers who never smoked weed before are suddenly in the weed business and telling me about weed. So as much as I’m like, ‘Wow—really?’ I realize that I have to sit back and roll with it ’cause this is where we’re going.

“But I’m really happy,” he continues, “when I see people who’ve been talking about pot for years on the artistic side—guys like B-Real—being able to monetize weed and bring it to people. It’s not just guys in a new suit who are in the game because of the green rush. The people who put the blood, sweat, and tears into creating this industry have also won. And it’s gratifying for me to see that.”

Video:"Dr. Greensthumb", by Cypress Hill

The International Cannabis Business Conference takes place at the Westin Bayshore Hotel in Vancouver on September 15 and 16. DJ Muggs will headline afterparty shows on a yacht docked by the hotel. For more info, go to internationalcbc.com/.

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