Legado 7’s lead singer Alex Guerra noticed that the vibe at his band’s concerts changed as their subgenre of Mexican regional music, the stoner-friendly corridos verdes, began to rise in popularity. “It used to be all about the alcohol,” he remembers. “But instead of drinking, people started bringing marijuana, smoking in front of the stage. That’s what you always see at the High Times events, Kushstock, all those festivals. But this was a Mexican crowd.”
Keep in mind, Guerra is usually hitting a blunt between stanzas himself. Those who don’t listen to regional Mexican music (a U.S.-created umbrella term that refers to sounds like norteña, ranchera, banda, and mariachi) might think that the soundtrack of marijuana culture is Snoop Dogg, Bob Marley, Afroman — even the Grateful Dead, depending on sonic orientation. But for a significant portion of U.S. Chicano and Latino communities, an ideal blunt-rolling playlist is corridos verdes (green corridos), a strain that runs through the regional genre of corridos, and one that Guerra and his band helped pioneer.
In addition to northern Mexico, California has long been a center of corridos, a reputation powered by vast Chicano communities and influential Latino music industry institutions. Guerra immigrated to the state when he was just 12 years old from his childhood home of Michoacán, making the perilous trek across the deserts of the U.S.-Mexico border with a coyote.
Guerra wrote his first song at a tender eight years old, and he’d soon find that his talents lay outside the classroom at Orange County’s Santa Ana High School. Guerra wrote his first corrido verde about a stoner friend during these teens years, but it wasn’t until he met accordionist Ramón Ruíz that he finally had the push that he needed to starting recording tracks. The two formed a group and came out with an album that would ignite a subgenre of its own; Legado 7’s100% Corridos Verdes. The breakout hit was the blunted “El Afro“. Translated sample lyric: “The corrido I sing isn’t for a mafioso, it’s for a stoner.”
Legado 7 is far from alone in today’s corridos verdes cypher. Ely Quintero gets “bien happy bien relax” in her 2018 anthem “Quiero Andar Al 420.” Hijos De Leyva document cannabis’ party-starting properties in “Humo Tranquilizante” and Lenin Ramirez sings the praises of a nice post-work indica in “El Del Blunt De Mota”. Some of the best-known corridos groups like Arsenal Efectivo and T3R Elemento release corridos verdes. The vibe has even bled into the powerful Latin trap genre — check Mexican duo La Plebada’s trap corrido “La Galliza” with beloved corridos baritone El Ezequiel for a good sum-up of the auditory state of regional stoner affairs.
Such is the popularity of the genre that three years ago, Legado 7 and their label Rancho Humilde’s founder Jimmy Humilde came together to start the Smoke Me Out Tour, dedicated to the stoner side of regional. The event series kicks off its third year on 4/20 with a sold out show at downtown Los Angeles’ Microsoft Theater for the second straight year — in 2018, the team embarked on a 70-town tour afterwards.
The corridos genre is sometimes ambitiously traced back to the mid 18th century and rose to popularity during the Mexican Revolution, when songs told of battlefield exploits. But towards the end of the 1800s, came the birth of narcocorridos with lyrics focused on outlaws. At the time, that meant textile smugglers dodging authoritarian president Porfirio Díaz’s astronomical fabric tariffs.
It is possible to follow the history of Mexico’s black market anti-heroes through the corrido. The literally deified late 19th century Culiacán bandit Jesus Malverde was — and is — a popular protagonist. There were odes to U.S. Prohibition-era tequila bootleggers, the 1970s marijuana smugglers of Los Tigres del Norte’s “Contrabando Y Traición”, and the early ‘90s SoCal gangster rap-paralleling corridos of Chalino Sánchez.
Famously, the protagonists of Mexico’s late 20th and early 21st century drug cartels have become corridos protagonists, and groups dubbed “de la Sierra,” or from the mountainous regions where poppy and marijuana is grown in Mexico, are the bards of biographic chapters of Rafael “La Noria” Caro Quintero and the law enforcement Houdini that is ex-Sinaloa Cartel jefe El Chapo.
Note that many of the corridos’ historical anti-heroes have made their fortune and their name supplying the United States with contraband.
In a sense, the corridos verdes’ Californian-Mexican providence reflect the difference a border can make in attitudes towards marijuana. In Mexico, the Supreme Court has declared marijuana a constitutional right, and legislators are supposedly mulling a proposal made by the president’s interior minister Olga Sánchez Cordero to federally legalize recreational cannabis. But for now, the majority of Mexicans still associate marijuana with violence — to be expected in a nation where the government’s war on drug cartels has claimed some 150,000 lives since 2006, according to a 2018 U.S. congressional report.
The country continues to be one of the world’s top producers of cannabis, its sale currently limited to a black market powered as much by poverty and lack of other industry as profits. Of course, Mexico is not the only country that still deals with cannabis related violence; In the U.S., POCs continue to go to jail at (in some cases, growing!) rates for low-level marijuana offenses.
Certainly, biased policing and illegal market exist in the Golden State, but California is also the land of the wildflower bouquet dispensary promotional freebie and a legal recreational market that raised $345.2 million in tax revenue in its first year. The corridos verdes’ consumer — as opposed to trafficker — take on the marijuana market may also reflect shifting societal attitudes towards cannabis.
Longtime radio producer, regional music promoter, and exuberant non-toker Pepe Garza’s 2018 interview with Legado 7 on the “Pepe’s Office” web show serves as apt metaphor. Garza jocularly wears a gas mask to his interview with the crew at their HQ, filled with digitized smoke plumes by post-production. “The theme of the music is questionable,” Garza says almost apologetically. “But the music is really good.”
For industry types eyeing the crowds of the Smoke Me Out tour, the green may be hard to resist. “Before, people were afraid [of marijuana],” says corridos verdes singer Omar Ruíz. “Right now, it’s what’s going on, the style that’s been growing with time.”
That being said, Guerra affirms that the group has no interest in losing touch with its audience that bop to stories of Mexico’s cartels — which still employ large numbers of the country’s population and take in $19 to $29 billion annually.
“Not everyone is a narco, not everyone is mafia, you know?” says Guerra. “But people keep identifying with that music, that touch of street.”
In 2019’s green rush, it’s important to keep in mind that cannabis has not been divorced from violence and married to corporate profits everywhere. In straddling the line between exuberant legalization trends and Drug War reporting, corridos verdes groups may be creating the most accurate cross-border vision of cannabis culture we have today.