We’re in the midst of what many are calling the “rebirth of psychedelia.” Say this around your aging boomer parents and they might think you’re talking about some kind of peace, love, unity and respect renaissance movement. But there is no substantive social component to what I’m talking about. It’s all about two things, which are unsurprisingly the two most stimulating things we consume en masse: music and drugs.
On the music side this is manifesting in two ways: sound and style. And because it’s easy, I will unapologetically divide what I’m talking about by race.
In the white-dominated worlds of rock and electronic, we’re seeing a surge of neo-psychedelia. Rockers like Tame Impala and button-pushers like Washed Out are making music that could slot neatly into a Summer of Love outdoor line-up.
Which makes it no coincidence that on the style side a resurgent festival scene is having a major impact on pop music aesthetics. The looks of Coachella have bled out of the festival grounds and into boutiques, the streets, and a casual perusal of Vanessa Hudgens’ Google Image results page (done for the purpose of this piece, honest).
In the black-dominated worlds of hip-hop and R&B it’s less a question of a particular sound or style. We’re seeing elements and core tenets of conventional psychedelia repurposed. Put simply, the music has become more experimental. Rappers like Flatbush Zombies and singers like The Weeknd are abandoning traditional radio-friendly song structure and making music that sounds truly weird. And they’re presumably doing it with the help of a lot of drugs.
This is a new thing for hip-hop, and for black music at large. Booze is accepted at every adult level of pop culture, and that has always been the case. Weed has been a major part of black music since the Harlem Renaissance. But the harder stuff – or the weirder stuff – has historically been taboo. Hip-hop in particular has always been quick to extol the virtues of those selling but excoriate those being sold to. That’s all changed.
Flatbush Zombies rap openly about doing acid and mushrooms. The Weeknd’s music sounds like and references dimly lit rooms with mirrors on both walls and tables. Molly and syrup are ubiquitous, coke is creeping in, and in general things that were previously unmentionable are becoming romantic. Drugs are a creative exploration and ceding control to a chemically higher power is suddenly a brave and sexy choice.
One of the most acclaimed hip-hop records of the year came from 18-year-old Chicago artist Chance the Rapper. It’s called Acid Rap.
So what does this mean and where is it going?
To this point, this phenomenon within black music has been a fairly harmless one. There haven’t been any serious, serious problems. Kid Cudi has acknowledged a coke problem and Lil Wayne has had codeine-related seizures, but there’s no long list of overdosed martyrs a la the rock world. Two black names that probably come to mind are Jimi Hendrix and Michael Jackson, but with them race was always kind of beside the point.
It’s a morbid point to make, but it’s likely that this seepage of psychedelic and hard drug culture is going to be viewed as novel and bold until something bad happens. To someone young and “millennial” – Lil Wayne, not Pimp C. And when that day does come, are we going to feel guilty for our complicity? Or are we going to throw them in the 27 Club and celebrate the final step towards pop integration?
Featured image courtesy of AAA Backstage