How Blunts Came To Define Hip-Hop's Golden Age In New York City


I don't know whose idea it originally was to carefully crack open the cheapest cigar one could find, dump out the tobacco “guts,” tear off the rounded end and use the remainder as rolling paper, but that person is a genius. It's not genius in a "The Godfather" kind of way, but more in a melding of chocolate and peanut butter kind of way. I mean, weed and tobacco? Why not?

Phillies Blunt t-shirts and hats popped up in our high school hallways shortly after we heard them referenced in rap lyrics, which was just before I started smoking. It was the mid-'90s, and we were in our teens, an age and era that met in perfect harmony. From Nirvana and Pearl Jam to Wu-Tang and Biggie, there was a consistent message of, "F*ck the system!" in music. If you were more drawn to hip-hop, as many of us in New York were, you smoked blunts.

You had to be 18 to buy tobacco, but if you were cool enough to be buying weed in Harlem and smoking it during lunchtime, you were probably cool enough to have one or two bodega connections around town that were willing to sell to minors. Or, if you were like me, you'd leave your parents' car running in front of the local CVS, walk in, make a beeline to the boxes of cigars the employees naïvely placed on the shelves, shove one into your baggy jeans and walk out before anyone noticed. My adult self definitely feels guilty about this in hindsight, and I'm sorry we were so bad.

But, being "bad" was part of what blunts represented to us. Sure, we smoked the very occasional joint, and bongs were a great way to get insanely high, but smoking weed was obviously more than some chemical habit that happened to resonate so equally with all of my friends. It was another means of self-definition at a stage when we were so desperately seeking it. "Who am I, and who am I not?" It was about all of that confusing adolescence sh*t.

Blunts meant hip-hop. They meant urban culture, New York culture and frankly, black culture. Joints and pipes were symbolic of the white hippie culture most of our parents had come from, and what's more counterintuitive than a teenager's rebellion mimicking that of his or her parents?

Biggie and Nas rapped about blunts. Smif-N-Wessun showed the classic image of smoking in a cyphe in the "Bucktown" video (before weed was banned from music videos, and Smif-N-Wessun was banned from calling themselves Smif-N-Wessun). Redman came out with a song entitled, "How To Roll A Blunt." In the 1995 cult classic, "Kids," filmmaker Harmony Korine presses a proverbial pause in his story to offer a step-by-step, instructional segment on what became this culturally significant technique.

For some reason, there was usually a direct correlation between your blunt-rolling ability and coolness status in school. My blunts were better than average, but not nearly as good or consistent as my boy Chris', Frank's or Richie's. Everyone had his own individual style and technique, and most of us could pop into a cyphe halfway through and immediately identify who'd rolled the blunts.

It became quite the contest, the same way the the jocks compared how much they could bench-press. Being nominated to roll the blunt on a car ride back from Harlem became one of the highest crew honors. It was more complicated than using joint paper, where half the job was already done for you, and we surely took pride in our ritual's greater degree of difficulty. Here's how we rolled our blunts:

1. Use both thumbs to pinch a clean cleavage down the long way of the cigar. That way, you can create a square as perfect as those that come out of each EZ Wider packet from the stores.

2. Dump out the cigar tobacco in a trash can, toilet or just all over the ground, depending on where you are. We wanted to always keep minimal evidence in the car, so we'd sometimes hang it out of the window when we were going 70 mph on the parkway. Then, we'd watch it fly like confetti onto the poor person's windshield behind us.

3. Rip off the rounded end, including the “cancer paper” that is about 2 inches long. But, don't rip off too much, or you'll have a really short blunt.

4. You have a square. Roll it like you would a joint.

As we became more skilled and elitist, we learned we could make the square smaller and smaller, in order to maximize the weed flavor and minimize the actual Phillies Blunt flavor. There was a brief phase when White Owls were popular, and apparently Swisher Sweets were cool in places outside New York. But, none took Phillies' reign until Dutch Masters. When they did, no one ever looked back.

“Dutchies” were twice as expensive at 75 cents, but they were worth it. They were longer and burned more slowly. They used less paper, and their paper tasted better and smoother. The outer layer was a true leaf, with veins that made the process more challenging. But, skilled rollers used only that part, which made for an even better taste. Unfortunately (or fortunately), this was right around the time I quit. Otherwise, I'm sure I could have also mastered it.

I'm sure it was no coincidence that those who smoked blunts were the same people who preferred Newports and listened to Illmatic by Nas every day. We were kids, so to think there was no element of contrived pretension in our antics would be even more pretentious than said antics. Then again, I believe most things to be a relatively acquired taste.

I'm sure the hippie kids and older stoners could have loved blunts as much as we did. I'm also sure in a different time and place, we would have all had our own bongs and bowls stashed somewhere in the back of our closets, underneath plaid shirts and leather jackets. But, we were New Yorkers. We were teenagers in 1994, during what is now unanimously recognized as hip-hop's “golden age,” and we smoked blunts.

Notorious B.I.G.