Pop quiz: It's April 20, 2018. Smoke is rising above a stage in the parking lot of the Anderson on Miami's Upper Eastside. What's the source?
A. A smoke machine
B. A fire
C. All the people smoking that loud like it's legal
D. Both A and C
The answer, of course, is D, because last night, III Points held its annual 4/20 extravaganza, III Joints. For 12 hours, from 4:20 p.m. to 4:20 a.m., this tiny bar and its immediate environs were transformed into a bona fide mini-festival dedicated to the joys of lighting up. Booths around the outdoor main stage (the "Reefer Theater") were hawking weed-themed merchandise, rolling papers, and even bongs and other paraphernalia. Adjacent to the stage, in the tropical "Cheech's Garden," dance music bumped courtesy of Dude Skywalker, Space Invaders Soundsystem, and other DJs. Inside the Anderson, "Chong's Hideout" hosted chiller, more contemplative fare for those too toked-out for the party outside. With the lights low, the room was fabulously atmospheric, taking advantage of the bar's '80s-inspired decor and beats from the likes of Nick León, Get Face, Nicolas G. Padilla, and others.
The headliner would have been Earl Sweatshirt, the former Odd Future rapper who was quite blunt in his need of weed on his album I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside. Unfortunately, he didn't show. The reason for his cancellation was not revealed, and it's hard not to think the bill lost something without him. At the very least, the main stage still hosted DJ Earl, the expert-level Chicago footwork DJ, as well as Suzi Analogue, the hardware-heavy New York hip-hop producer.
Then there was the second headliner — RZA of the legendary Wu-Tang Clan — DJ'ing along with The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, the low-budget Hong Kong picture that inspired the martial-arts-themed hip-hop group more than 20 years ago, giving it a live soundtrack made of his own beats. He matched Wu-Tang tracks and instrumentals with the appropriate scenes, chopping and skipping them in the right places to intensify particular moments. Where no preexisting song would fit, he built the beats live with a synth and drum machine. Occasionally, he placed himself into the show, rapping "Try harder, try harder" during a training montage or egging on characters who were about to fight. Sometimes he and fellow Wu-Tang member Masta Killa even stepped in front of the screen to rap their verses.
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This was a terrible way to watch a film. The screen was barely visible over the crowd. The dialogue, which is poorly dubbed into English, was often drowned out by the soundtrack, and RZA's rapping could be distracting. It begged the question: Is the film the center of attention, or is it secondary to the soundtrack that's supposedly supplementing it?
Yet even with all of this, it still kind of worked. Because this film was so highly influential on RZA, to the point that he's directed martial arts movies of his own, it's fascinating to see him remix it in this way. Somehow the hard beats suit the brutal battles of the Shaolin monks and warriors better than the original score on its own. They amplify the action and the mysterious quality of the film. It might be hard to follow the plot with the soundtrack, but it also wouldn't be the same without it. It’s the epitome of the remix culture that RZA shouted out near the end of his set that he believes is an essential facet of America. “You never know what culture is going to inspire you,” he said.
That inspiring mix was well on display in the guests. Only a select few in the crowd fit the traditional stoner image: Once in a while there was a bearded, dreadlocked guy in cargo shorts and a Bob Marley T-shirt or a tall, long-haired, hippie-looking dude draped in robes like a Buddhist monk. But for the most part, the attendees were young, stylish, multiethnic, and quite mellow thanks to the weed. They could be anyone, and they make the case that cannabis culture has become normal, cool, and hardly controversial. Evidence of that fact: The cops were outside on their phones. Weed is now just another knot in the fabric of American life, one whose illegality is archaic, and III Joints has proven it.