Have you ever wondered what exactly a viper is? Obviously, I am not referring to the family of snakes known as vipers but rather the type referenced in my screen name.
Viper- A term for a cannabis consumer from the renaissance era in Harlem; The name is said to be derived from the sound of air flowing through a joint.
It was likely popularized and kept in popularity by a particular jazz tune written by one “Stuff Smith”. But the most famous versions are by Rosetta Howard and Fats Waller respectively. Fats is more commercially well known but originally it was Howard who became well known for the song first.
So a viper is much like the terms: stoner, head, smoker, chiefer, etc.
I also use the term in a verb form as “viping”.
So why did I name myself viper girl?
Because I really enjoyed the term viper and its particular connotations as a phrase born from the Black vernacular as well as its uniqueness and ambiguity in the term compared to others.
I wanted to try to bring the term back, specifically and especially amongst Black folks. I don’t know if it will ever catch on again, but I certainly do know that it should’ve never left and I will continue to carry it as homage to those who came before.
I was schooled in saying “reefer” even though that era had long passed for many because that’s the terminology as it relates to the age and cultural experiences of my elders. I think that’s just one of the things about me that is simple and authentic and I love the freshness it carries having largely left the white public lexicon.
I also respect the vividness of these individuals in being some of the cannabis “early adopters” in this country and fundamentally reshaping music with it.
I’d love to share some of the lines from the song which was originally titled “You’se a Viper”.
“ Dreamed about a reefer, five feet long! Mighty Mezz, but not too strong”
“ You’ll be high, but not for long, if you’re a viper!
These lines are iconic and the first time I heard them I was in awe at the majesty of life. I thought “so this is what I would’ve been doing”. These scenes and the culture around them regarding music and cannabis are deeply rooted in where I come from as well.
I also loved conjuring the image of a five feet (sometimes up to ten) long cannabis plant rising up in front of me.
The particular lyrics “mighty mezz” are a change made by Howard (one of several) and they reference famous Harlem dealer Mezz Mezzerow. A real tongue in cheek shout out to the plug and an excellent way to say someone has some real gas. Mezz’s name became synonymous with good cannabis in general.
I was introduced to the song by the incredible cannabis podcast Great Moments in Weed History(GMWH). Shout out to the incredible co-hosts Abdullah Saeed and David Bienenstock whom I hope I can refer to here as “Bean”as he is called by those who know him. The knowledge in the podcast is basic and essential history for navigating how much of our cannabis reality has come to be and to whom we owe our thanks for reaching this point.
Check that podcast out wherever you get your podcasts, I use spotify but you use whatever you like.
I hope that I was able to offer you some new history and perspective as well as an explanation for something that may not be readily apparent if you weren’t born in the 1930’s- 50’s or listening to music of that era.
I hope all you out there stay viped up and well and I look forward to sharing more content with you all.