“Hay” by Crucial Conflict is always in constant rotation in Chicago, but spinning it always means a little more around the holidays, especially the cannabis-themed 4/20. Wildstyle tapped into a high level of genius when he took Funkadelic’s 1974 underground hit “I’ll Stay,” and flipped it into the countrified sample on the group’s 1996 lead single, “Hay.”

No other track sounded like “Hay” at the time; it’s that distinction and the fast-rapping tradition of Chicago’s early MCs that launched the single and its accompanying album, The Final Tic, into gold status. 

And although everybody and their mama openly smokes and raps about weed today, “Hay” still ranks high among the OG cannabis and cookout anthems — so much so that even Beyoncé paid homage to the song during her highly-celebrated 2018 Coachella headlining performance. 

This week, TRiiBE culture correspondent Rome J caught up with Coldhard, a member of Crucial Conflict, to philosophize over the long-lasting impact of “Hay,” the evolving stigma around cannabis and the challenges they faced in the music game.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The TRiiBE: “Hay” is a weed anthem for your fans all over the world. It even gets love from the non-weed smokers, too. My uncle Jerry likes the song and he’s 72 years old. How does it feel for your music to be celebrated?

Coldhard: Honestly, it’s a euphoric feeling, man, because the nostalgia of it never stops. And it’s been 26 years now since “Hay” came out. It makes me feel really good. It makes us feel wonderful to have been able to set a stamp in the golden era of hip hop, which is the 1990s where there were so many different styles of music. And to be recognized in the millennium, and still be played with all the new music, it’s the greatest feeling ever.

What was the Chicago rap landscape like back then? How did “Hay” change the sound of Chicago at the time?

Well, in the beginning of hip hop in Chicago, we still had some greats. We had Black A.G. and Twista, Common. These guys were ahead of their time with rap in Chicago. Crucial Conflict started in 1988 and been surviving this long. Out of all those great rappers I just named, it feels good to be recognized. All of those guys were solo artists. Us being a group and getting international recognition for a smoke song is unimaginable. We still get a crazy response from the audience to this day. And for Chicago to give us our recognition for being, like, the first rap group in Chicago to sell a million copies, that’s a great feeling as well. All of our fellow comrades, Do or Die, Psychodrama, Shawnna, Triple Darkness, Da Brat, we love our city. 

The narrative around weed has changed since y’all came out with “Hay.” It was illegal back then, and seen as a harmful gateway drug, especially for youth. Can you talk about how you’ve seen the stigma towards weed change? What are your feelings about that?

It really was shocking to me. We already knew that it was a pleasant herb. We knew that smoking weed never caused violence. Everybody was too damn happy to be mad, you know. It was a social herb. I don’t like to call it a drug; maybe I just don’t see it like that. But weed was so hated. And then you would hear things about San Francisco prescribing weed to cancer patients and prescribing weed to glaucoma patients and different sciatica patients. And in my head, [I’m thinking], if you can prescribe this to the sick to heal the sick, why can’t the normal smoke it? Why can’t the non-sick [people] indulge in it? People were going to penitentiaries for certain amount of years for weed, but it’s not harmful to give it to cancer patients, but you send people to prison for recreational usage. 

Now you’ve legalized it [after] you’ve imprisoned people for several years. It’s just crazy.

It seems like now that white people can make money off of this, it’s, like, forget about all of the people we threw in jail, right? Now that weed is approved for recreational use in Illinois, do you think the cannabis scene in Chicago will ever be as strong as it is in California and Denver?

I don’t know. What I do see is a lot of dispensaries opening up in different sections of Illinois, but I don’t see them being as well off as a Cali dispensary or a San Francisco dispensary or a Washington, DC dispensary. I don’t see it being as popular as those guys because, honestly, Chicagoans’ ain’t dispensers. You know the hood ain’t going to the dispensary. The hood is the dispensary. 

By weed being controlled, it kind of run you away from wanting to smoke it. Because if you got dispensaries, what y’all doing to the weed. The weed we been smoking don’t f*ck with us. Y’all charging us a lot for a little bit when we got a whole lot and don’t charge ourselves shit. Y’all just now getting into weed. We done smoked 17 backyards-full of weed already. And we’re gonna smoke some more. We’re going to continue to smoke weed the way we been smoking weed. We’re not going to get it from no dispensary. We don’t trust the dispensary; not when we can go and crop it out the ground ourselves. We grabbed the plant, and then going to bag it up and smoke it. We don’t even want to sell it. We just want to smoke it. We’re musicians and different [creatives]. Our money comes from different places. We just smoking weed and we got a whole lot of it, [so] we don’t have to purchase it. That’s our smoke mission, to not have to buy weed. We just want to have it.

Back in the day, when y’all were trying to get exposure in the rap game, what challenges did y’all face while trying to get both local and national exposure?

Man, we still facing challenges. From the beginning of our career, [there’s been] a challenge. Putting out $5 mixtapes on cassette. In the beginning, we recorded to put our music out. And then we put our music out on cassette tapes. In the midst of us putting out cassette tapes, the world changed. They started to use CDs right when we put out our album. We had to package up cassette tapes and flip over to CDs. We had cassette tapes in stores already, but then we had to convert over to CDs during our album being out. That was a challenge. 

Then [we were] signed with too many entities. Like, say if we had our own personal label, which was a team effort. It went from all of us being one label to us being signed to the label. Then the label signed to another label. And that label is signed to another. What the hell is going on? We got distribution with Universal Records. Also, we with Pallas Records. Where all these entities coming from? Nobody was there when we were writing those songs. That was a challenge.

Then after your sales, you don’t see certain money. And you start asking, “aye, man, where the rest of that money?” Then it all started getting crazy. That’s all challenges. Then falling out with the label. You don’t have the same distribution to push your stuff around the world. You don’t have the same outlets that you had once upon a time with these different entities. So now it’s like a self-artist movement. You’re doing it yourself now. 

When you’re in the system first, you just know that you’re a rapper. You’re famous. You getting paid. You got new this, new that, but you ain’t got no business savvy. Now you’ve got to take out time to try to learn the business. Then while learning the business, the game change. They doing Fruity Loops. Nobody using the MPC 60s. Here comes autotune.

What’s missing in today’s Chicago rap? And on the flip side, what do you like about today’s Chicago rap?

What’s missing in Chicago is the business aspect of things. You have to learn it. And then it’s not easy to learn. It takes time to learn things. Sometimes it’ll take like five years for you to really just know what’s happening. And then as you get to that fifth year, the game will change into something else. Now, you got to start learning [something new] because the way you put out records in 1999 isn’t the same way you put out records in 2005 and 2010. And in 2020, I don’t know how to get back in the game. Everything in the world went down. The world was shook behind COVID. Now you got to sell to the internet, and it’s a million people or better trying to sell something through the internet. How do you get noticed? 

What I liked about the Chicago music today is that the vibes are getting good. The artists are maturing more. And they’re starting to say different things and try to project different things musically. By our city being so warzone-ish on all sides of town, it’s difficult. But I can see [artists] trying to unify in Chicago. I can see [them] trying to unify in the music game. It’s been artists working with each other here in Chicago. The scene still isn’t as strong as it should be. Everybody that’s from Chicago can’t expect to become Kanye West. Everybody that’s in the hip-hop game in Chicago can’t expect to become Twista. They can’t expect to become Da Brat. They can’t expect to become Crucial Conflict. Everybody ain’t gon become a Lil Durk, or a Chief Keef. You can try. You can want and work for it, but you should never expect it because it can go south. You gotta be prepared to know that. But what I like about Chicago artists now is that they not giving up.

Any other advice for the new generation of Chicago rappers?

Find peace within yourself so you can generate peace. You got to be a warrior, man. And you can still be peaceful as a warrior. Being great ain’t just being tough, man. The will to keep going is what I would like to see. I would like to see maturity in the artists in Chicago, man. I want to see growth in them. I want to see them convert over into better people and say better things and be better. If we all care, we all can get there. The care about things is not so good here. The team work isn’t so good here. But thank God for us being a part of a bunch of great people. If I do something, I show you how to do it. You [do something], and show me how it worked. Then we’ll be doing it together. 

is a culture correspondent with The TRiiBE.
is the editor-in-chief of The TRiiBE.