When trying to get Afroman on the phone for an interview, his booking agent tells us that it'll have to wait until after he gets a new driver's license photo, having recently lost his wallet. I don't remember that specific lyric being in "Because I Got High"—maybe it was in the extended version—but it's demonstrative of how the rapper born Joseph Edgar Formean hasn't changed much since he hit the top 40 for the first and only time in 2001 with his unforgettable tale of pot-induced woe, which we just named the greatest one-hit wonder of the '00s.
Afroman, 38, has a more domestic existence with his kids in Cincinnati now, but says he still lives the life of a "full-time rapper," rocking parties, recording constantly, and yes, getting high with regularity. The proud one-hit wonder talked with us about his signature song, how it changed his life, and how he's content being "the guy who ran from the cops."
Popdust: What was your life like before "Because I Got High"?
Afroman: Struggling like everyone else, trying to come up. I got a deal in 2001, but I was balling in 2000, I was ready to go to the next level. I was booking myself, making good money. I was basically delivering parties like pizzas, I'd go out to a party, I'd rock it, I'd give out my number. I'd get four or five people from this party to call me for another party.
What was the moment of inspiration behind the song?
I guess I was just laughing at my own mistakes, just trying to have a groove. I wanted to write me like a simple, catchy song. You can have a complicated song go to number one like "Bohemian Rhapsody," but then again you can have a low-budget, goofy song like "Don't Worry Be Happy." so I kinda wanted to do my hip-hop version of "Don't Worry By Happy."
There's kind of a dark vibe to the song, considering what a fun song it is. Was that intentional?
I mean I coulda wrote a happy ending to the song, but it wouldn't have been true. If I was singing that song about me, it took its natural turn.
So how many of the lines were based on actual things that had happened to you?
Uh, let's see…clean my room, go to class, work, child support, tour, cops, the girl…uh, all of it.
All of them? Wow.
What do you remember about the actual recording of the song? What was it like in the studio?
I recorded it in the hood in Hattiesburg, we got this house that sits up on bricks, because it floods down in Mississippi. I was in the back of my room, and I had a digital 8-track, and I had a dirty sock that I put around the microphone with a rubberband, and made the best song of my life in that raggedy shack. [Laughs.]
So are all the voices on the record your voice?
Yes. I got hip to that early on as a child, I noticed a lot of artists that would overdub. Smokey Robinson does it, Marvin Gaye does it…Too $hort did it, one time he had a rap song and it sounded like he was from outer space. He used to mess with me a little bit, coz I didn't know why two people was talking, but they both sounded the same. So I always wanted to make people think it was someone other than me. I wanted it to kind of be like a rap Eddie Murphy Nutty Professor, when he plays all the different roles.
Were you high during the recording of the song?
Ah, yeah man, yeah!! I was chain smoking kush blunts back then, so even if I wasn't high, I was high.
Do you mind that this is the thing you're most associated with, these stoner jams?
No, I don't mind. What I realized is, people want what they want. When I go to McDonald's, I want a Big Mac. I don't want Mac Sushi.
A lot of people know Afroman for "Because I Got High." So I respect that. Like, I don't want Michael Jackson to go to the mall and buy some new outfits. I want him to keep that "Beat It" jacket, I want to keep him in the penny loafers...When I do Afroman, I do what the people want. And then maybe sing a couple of new songs, 'coz that's all my crowd would usually tolerate.
A concert is a celebration of what you know. You go to a rock concert…they're all excited about singing the songs that they know the words to. [Sings] "SHOT TO THE HEART, AND YOU'RE TO BLAME!" Nobody wants to hear a new Bon Jovi song. Not tonight, dammit!
Have you ever tried to play a sit that didn't include "Because I Got High"?
No, that's suicide! [Laughs]. You think Tina Turner would try getting up there without singing "What's Love Got to Do With It"? And I'm proud of that song! If I gotta be a one-hit wonder, you mark me down for that one. I went to school with the guys who sang "I Swear," All-4-One—and I love 'em, they some cool cats—but at the end of the day, I'd rather be the guy who ran from the cops. I'm a musical streaker, I had more fun than any of these other musicians.
How did your life change after the song broke big?
You know, I'm good, I'm out here, I can work without working. I'm in the game, I'm a Pro-Bowl rapper. That's all I wanted to be. I wanted to be a known name, and be able to make a living and do what I love.
You still make a living off your music? No day job or anything like that?
No, man, I am a full-time rapper. And I'm ready to do some movies, and invent some other characters. Like I got a gospel side, and I invented this character called J. Edgar. So when I wanna go sing my gospel songs...which an Afroman crowd wouldn't tolerate, and I don't blame 'em, 'coz if I was an Afroman fan I wouldn't want to hear too much "Amazing Grace" without some "Colt .45" every now and then. So I'm doing this music thing, and I spend a little time with my kids when I get a chance, and I'm happy with it.
Did the kind of pot you were able to buy change after you hit it big? Are you smoking better shit now?
Aww, yeah man! Hands down. And it comes free, like Jesus or something.
Are your fans constantly harassing you to get high after your shows?
Aw man, all the time, all the time!
I'm from the hood, so that's like the ultimate respect. I'd rather people offer me weed than be the President of the United States.
How much would you say that you smoke every day?
Uh, It comes and goes. I think I do more on tour than I do at home. When I go home, I drink a bottle of water, ride a bike, hang out with my kids…when I go out on tour, I start getting nervous about if we have this chord or that chord, what time I go on, where is the hotel, next thing you know I need to just kinda calm down and relax, and blast.
You were nominated for a Grammy for the song. Did you go to the awards?
Yes I did. It was monumental and at the same time, not my style. I was happy to just experience it, just to brush off my shoulders and say "I got nominated for the Grammys, joke's on you…" I had a nice bowtie and stuff on, it was funny. But at the end of the day, I'd rather be in a hot, sweaty bar somewhere.
Do you have an all-time favorite one-hit wonder yourself?
Uh, I think about Freddie Jackson, but he got "You Are My Lady," but then he got "Rock Me Tonight." He got two hits. Then Cyndi Lauper, I'm thinking she only got "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," but then she got "She Bop…"
Yeah, she had a bunch.
Let's just say Bobby McFerrin, "Don't Worry Be Happy."