Surviving the hash tag

Collie Buddz
with Slightly Stoopid, Cypress Hill
7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 20
Hard Rock Live, 407-351-5483

Ask pro-cannabis advocate Collie Buddz about the Legalize It 2010 tour and he says, "I've been on a high since day one." Whether or not the Bermuda-based reggae star intended it, the inclusion of a weed reference in his answer is apt. Few modern artists have cultivated an image as heavily saturated with marijuana paraphernalia as Buddz. His breakout single, 2007's "Come Around," was an ode to scoring herb; his next project is tentatively titled The Last Toke; his stage name is a tribute to pot. But with aging hip-hop stoners Cypress Hill accompanying him on the Legalize It circuit, could "creating a mellow vibe," as he puts it, quickly descend into a gig a little too laid-back and lackluster to warrant the ticket price?

Buddz refutes the charge. He openly admits the tour encourages a weed-enhanced experience, saying, "There are definitely people getting high in the crowd — you couldn't have a Legalize It tour without any smoke in the air!" But he's adamant the show never degenerates into an apathetic shambles: "I try to get the crowd involved somehow, interact with them all the time. That keeps the vibes up, especially if you show them you're interested in their enjoyment." And while Buddz cops to the occasional clichéd pot-perpetrated memory blank onstage when running through his lyrics, he insists he's safeguarded by a supporting band of musicians who "know how to catch me if I mess up so the crowd never really knows."

According to Buddz, the tour has been a sold-out success. He testifies that even after all these years of daily smoke sessions, Cypress Hill still put on an "amazing show full of energy." But when it comes to advocating the long-term benefits of weed in the workplace, he's less convincing. "Weed helps creatively 'cause it's about different levels and vibes," says Buddz, content to roll out the marijuana-as-musical-aid party line. "It makes you feel how you want the music to come out."

While reggae music's relationship with marijuana as a creative conduit is well-established, the case for its potency in hip-hop isn't as persuasive — and Buddz is a reggae artist who grew up under the reign of the rap generation. He collaborates with rappers like Lil Wayne, Busta Rhymes, Krayzie Bone and Yung Berg more often than reggae artists, and has started to etch out a role as the guy to call when an MC wants to infuse a song with a reggae lilt. But by ingratiating himself into the hip-hop scene, he's working in a world where it's arguable that the genre's love affair with Mary Jane prompts diminishing returns.

Along with Snoop Dogg, Cypress Hill is hip-hop's most iconic weed ambassador, but since debuting with rapturously received albums, both have failed to infuse their many follow-up projects with a sense of vitality and urgency. It's a change you could cynically chalk up to newfound riches and weed-on-demand. (Asked for his favorite Cypress Hill songs, Buddz predictably selects tracks from their self-titled first album.) These days, Snoop carries his career through force of personality, while Cypress Hill has sensibly realized the benefits of playing like an established rock band and touring off the back of early hits. Others haven't been so astute: It's a sober guess that weed consumption helped delude Nas and Damian Marley into recording an entire album ostensibly as a socio-political statement about Africa. The result, Distant Relatives, suggests they should have kept the concept to a late-night phone call between two sozzled stoners.

Buddz is confident he can avoid letting his focus lapse. He's forged a successful formula that blends his fleet and fluid vocal delivery with productions soft and palatable enough for daytime radio. And he sees the way he straddles the hip-hop and reggae scenes working to his advantage, citing his collaboration with Weezy for "You Ain't Know" as an example. "You're working with the biggest artists in the world — you have to stay up to standard, no matter what's going on in the studio," says Buddz.

A bigger twist in Buddz's career might come if his pro-weed agenda is fulfilled and made law. Overnight, an artist whose discography brims with song titles like "Herb Tree," "Sensimillia" and "Mary Jane" would lose a crucial taboo marketing angle. Asked if the decriminalization of marijuana would impact his opportunities — not least with the idea of a Legalize It tour becoming conceptually redundant — Buddz takes a long pause, then laughs and says, "Yeah, you know, it really would."

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