Gangrene

Ayahuasca, as cultural critic Erik Davis puts it, is now “swimming in the cultural water supply.” Ayahuasca crops up in the oddest places — the latest is in a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Aniston — and I continue to watch with fascination as ayahuasca slowly infiltrates American popular culture. As I have said before, ayahuasca now shows two faces in the popular media and on social networks: on the one hand, it is presented as healing and transformative and redemptive; on the other, it has become a trope for the edgy, the transgressive, the seriously cool. So I suppose we should not be surprised that ayahuasca has now been incorporated — if only briefly — into rap culture.

Vodka & Ayahuasca

Gangrene is a hip-hop duo composed of producer The Alchemist and rap figure Oh No. Their song Vodka and Ayahuasca is part of an album by the same name that was released in January 2012. But why a rap song about ayahuasca? “The thing is there’s a lot of cool drugs in rap right now and a lot of cool stuff,” they say, “but who is doing ayahuasca? You know what I mean. We just want to be different so we’re just gonna bring a new drug to the game.”

During the same interview, when asked to explain what ayahuasca is, they say, “I really can’t even get into that because it’s so much deepness to it that they gotta go on their own journey.” The conversation continues:

OK, so do you feel like ayahuasca is a spiritual journey for you?
A: Absolutely. And if you mix vodka with ayahuasca, I think you might die.
Oh No: This music is like a near-death experience.
A: But you live through it and you’re better.
O: You wake up.
A: The levels of serotonin are found to be lower in the body after hard drug use, you following me. If you take ayahuasca, the levels of serotonin are heightened after use. So this actually makes you feel better when you buy this album.

They explain the relationship of their music to indigenous spiritual traditions:

I think the title track, Vodka & Ayahuasca, embodies the full, enriched flavor of the product. I think you should stare at the album cover and try not to blink the whole time. Get really close to the album cover and put on the song, Vodka & Ayahuasca, and slowly, as the song progresses, slowly not blink and back up. Then you’ll experience a little bit of an enriched state. It’s like meditation kinda. That’s why we use loops because loops are repetitive. Like when the shaman is giving his ahh, it’s repetition. That’s what we’re doing, we’re bringing you repetition. It’s mad hip-hop. I’m looking out the car right now and I see cows. Just to give you an idea of the kind of shit we’re giving.

And, in another interview, they explain the relationship between vodka and ayahuasca:

Well I think basically vodka is your modern day party livener. I think we dug deeper. Me and Oh went on a couple excursions. We were out in the rainforest for a while buggin’ out and we kind of encountered different medical, herbal elixirs. Not your average thing but everyone talking, “Hey we got the loud, we got loud.” But do you have a cup of ayahuasca? Not a lot of rappers can say that. You know what I’m saying, they’re not really posted up with ayahuasca in the party so we’re bringing a new element but I think vodka represents now. So we mixing the now with the ayahuasca and it’s psychedelic.

It is easy, I think, to be dismissive of all this, but things may not be so simple. Rap music — provocative, incorporative, improvisational — can certainly be self-referentially ironic, and I suspect that is the case here. The rap music and lyrics, and the rappers’ own outrageous commentary, reflect — may be intended to reflect — the cultural ambiguity of ayahuasca itself — its popularization, the spiritual claims made for it, its transgressive edginess, and, ultimately, its status as just another hipster fad. Hey, dude, do you have a cup of ayahuasca?

The album has been generally well received. One critic writes that “the album’s thrust is drug-induced transcendence, and the beats are crafted with a like-minded mentality. Psych-rock samples make up most of the tracks: electric pianos, tambourines, fuzzy guitar riffs, and sitars all come together for grimy, dense landscapes full of trippy cross-fade.” Another critic writes that “the beats here tend to be swathed in buttery bass lines, spacey psych-rock guitar samples, and obscure dialogue from archaic-sounding TV shows, plus dozens of other subtle textures… Gangrene plies a weirded- and weeded-out aesthetic that, when done well, can make a listener want to spend hours with nothing else.”

You can judge for yourself. Here is the video:

And here are the lyrics:

[VERSE 1: Oh No]
This is a acid trip, rancid spit
Psychedelic capsules with some packs of shit
Vodka and ayahuasca to capture a glimpse of ecstacy
You won’t need a tiny pill in this bitch
Now overdose over the doses prescribed for Doc Nova
The pot smoker, too high to be sober
I bleed smoke, my weed smoke is keef-soaked
Then re-broke, then re-rolled
Enough to make three choke
One pass out, two re-smoke
When all’s gone we re-roachin it, re-toast
We boast about that kush we roast, best gross
Top dollar, top of the chart, that’s the West Coast
If I ain’t high then I musta just woke up
I stay high into the moon till the sun rose up
Then I made clouds appear, the gas is massive
I’ll clash your gastric, smash your glasses
Back from the ashes spread like rashes flashes
That man to man this be a classic
With new cuts, fuck that
Gashes active, you are now inactive
Bastards bend your back, it’s action
Double G

[DJ Romes]
(So high, I must be out of my mind) –> Nature
(In yo system with extra strength) –> Hieroglyphics
(Travel at magnificent speeds around the universe) –> Rakim

[VERSE 2: The Alchemist]
Mix the vodka with the ayahuasca
Indian shaman, the witchdoctor
Leave your whole body stoned like Jimmy Hoffa
No stoppa
Cause once I go under water I go lower than Davy Jones’ locker
Double G’s a showstopper
Headbanger, the dome rocker
Fix your noodle like pasta fagioli
The one and only Gang bacteria
So quarantine the immediate area
And it only gets scarier
Aerial attack, mosquito malaria
There’s no sparin ya
Don’t procrastinate, I’ll assassinate your character
Palm a Derringer, ‘Shoot to Kill’ like Tom Berenger
Yeah if I ain’t high I’m not woke
Still dreamin, still flyin through clouds of pot smoke
Blunt steamin, marihuana mixed with brocco
Places you can not go, waffle or birds like Roscoe’s
What you expect, though? It’s a psychedelic expo
What I’m poppin is not a Mentos
So tune in and drop out and let the best flow
Ballistic on the tempo
Madman Mike, Dr. Demento
Alan The Chemist fill up the jars, now it’s replenished
Mix the dimethyltryptamine with the Guinness
Double G Society’s Menace
OX tenants, hell up in Venice
Time for me to handle my biz
Hide women and kids
It’s Double G

[DJ Romes]
(So high, I must be out of my mind) –> Nature
(In yo system with extra strength) –> Hieroglyphics
(Travel at magnificent speeds around the universe) –> Rakim

But there is more to this story.

Jason Goldwatch

The director of Vodka & Ayahuasca is American artist, director, filmmaker, and photographer Jason Goldwatch, cofounder and executive creative director of the production company Decon. His work has included long- and short-form videos, documentary films, and experimental performance art, as well as commercial spots for major corporations. “For me, it’s about constantly breaking new ground and going further,” he says. “That’s been the basic premise of everything I do. Traveling through time and space in shock and awe, documenting it all.” And, relevantly, his upcoming projects include a collaborative long-format piece shot in conjunction with ethnobotanist Wade Davis, the renowned National Geographic Society explorer, student of Richard Evans Schultes — and expert on ayahuasca.

Goldwatch is also fascinated with found footage. He scours the Internet for odd pieces of evocative video, and he has created a series of psychedelic experimental shorts utilizing, among other things, the music of Gangrene to create new works of art out of discarded content. Here is his own visual commentary on Vodka & Ayahuasca:

And, speaking of self-referential irony, here is a promo video for the Gangrene album that Goldwatch created out of similar found video footage:

If you have decided that this rap is your new absolute favorite, or if you just want to burnish your hipster cred, you can buy a Vodka & Ayahuasca Deluxe Bundle here, which will get you the album on vinyl or CD, a limited edition Gangrene T-shirt, a Vodka & Ayahuasca velvet blacklight poster — really — and, best of all, a Vodka & Ayahuasca shot glass.

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5 Responses to “Vodka, Ayahuasca, Found Footage”

  1. Marco says:

    It clashed my gastric.

  2. marley says:

    I’m trying to be open to this rap-treatment of this sacred tradition. I’ve heard conscious rap before, rap that has a clear and positive message, but there’s nothing I can see in that video which even remotely resembles such statements. I can’t fathom the point these so-called artists attempted to make with that video. It looks like they’re just getting out of their skulls and flailing in mayhem. What’s positive there? What are the artists actually trying to say -that they’re too ignorant to understand the purpose and profundity of huasca? There’s nothing inspiring or insightful about that video.

  3. Meja says:

    The cinical left brain sees this and thinks, it’s only a matter of time before the profesional hand wringers get a hold of this and use it to their own ends. On the other hand I enjoyed it. Every time popular culture finds something to talk about, the culture critics tell us the same thing…. The sky is falling, the sky is falling. Ayahuasca is already a schedule one drug, so maybe they won’t bother. I don’t know. What I do know is that nothing can remain a new trend forever, and the culture critics like anyone else want to remain relevant.

  4. Dan says:

    Amazing analysis Steve. My friend actually recommended me to check out this song. I just came back from Peru and he’s a big hip hop fan. I have to agree with Marley on this one. Even though the word “ayahuasca” is conscious, there really isn’t anything conscious about their rap flows. The whole essence of the concept seems to be lost with their lyrics. I realize that it is rap, so they have to rhyme, but the lyrics don’t really make sense. Alchemist has made good music before. I haven’t listened to the album. The beats may be ok, but for this particular track, I’d give it a 4/10. I was hoping for better, but I guess that’s what to expect when you place the word vodka next to ayahuasca.

    Though for anyone that is against hip hop, there is very good stuff out there that is conscious. Foreign Exchange is one of them, though they do not talk about psychedelics.

    Thanks for the post Steve.


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