Having a hit song isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Just ask Afroman. His 2000 song “Because I Got High” was one of the internet’s first viral sensations. Heck, it was even nominated for a Grammy. And while it brought him fame, it also scared the shit out of him. He kept staring out the curtains, certain the cops were watching him. Of course, this shouldn’t surprise anyone. After all, one of the known side effects of getting high is paranoia.

“I kept thinking the government was setting me up for world’s dumbest criminal,” says Joseph Foreman, a.k.a. Afroman, from a Walmart where he’s getting the oil in his car changed. “It was funny back in my house, thinking about how high I was, but when the whole world is starting to watch me, I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. I’m freaking the fuck out.'”

Those days are now behind him. Today, Foreman has earned a steady following as a cult act, especially with college students. Though he struggled with these circumstances for a time, he now realizes that he’s far luckier than most artists.

“There’s the TV awards star, but there’s also another star like, they’re just as big, they’re just not on TV,” he say. “Like Run-DMC were poster boys, but we all knew and loved Too Short.”

Though he’s generally dismissed as a novelty act or a one-hit wonder, Afroman’s no EMF or Jesus Jones. He’s actually a talented rapper with a number of lyrical hustles, from stories about his old West Coast street-mates in “Palmdale” to fucked up clowning (“Drinkin on the Sidewalk”), Boys II Men-style soul-pop (“After the Party’s Over”), profane 2 Live Crew-inspired rhymes (“Scrollin’ Thru My Bitches”), and humorous X-rated send-ups of the Black-Eyed Peas (“My Chunk”) and Beyonce (“I Know All About You”). The last two were off of 2008’s Waiting to Inhale, which featured several such parodies.

“The majority of my fans want to hear about smoking weed, but then I got another group that wouldn’t mind hearing about Palmdale, another group that wouldn’t mind hearing about low-riding, and then I got another group of hustlers that wouldn’t mind hearing about selling dope and running from the cops,” he says. “So I made a bunch of albums according to topic. I got my hustler album, A Colt 45 Christmas. I got a low rider album The ‘Fro-riders. I have a country album called Save a Cadillac, Ride a Homeboy.”

If you haven’t seen Foreman perform, you might be surprised to learn that he plays guitar on stage, accompanied by a couple of iPods that play backing tracks. Each night, he’s up there, flying by the seat of his pants, ready to perform whatever anyone wants to hear.

For a while Foreman focused on playing his new songs and hawking his latest discs, but over the past couple of years, he changed his mind. Today, he plays what the folks in the audience want to hear. “I don’t mind having new fans, but I want to make sure I’m nurturing and taking care of the ones I have,” say Foreman.

It’s part of an overall feeling of acceptance and understanding that he’s found of late. He found Christ in the mid-2000s and struggled mightily with what the Lord expected of him. He tried evangelical rapping for a while, proselytizing to those who had come to see “Because I Got High.” Needless to say, that didn’t work. Then he tried to be Afroman while avoiding the temptations of sin, but he felt like a fraud. “I’m singing ‘Colt 45’ and I’m drinking and I’m smoking weed, but at the same time I’m thanking God who woke me up this morning for a whole bunch of things,” Foreman says. “As I get more realistic with myself, I tell myself the truth will set me free — in all my ways, even my bad ones.”

Finally, Foreman accepted that maybe it wasn’t his lot to be a saint. Instead, he reasoned he could be a jester who brightens the spirits of those he meets along the way.

“I think God put me here as a musical prescription for stress,” he says. “I’m here to help others to have a good time, that’s what I think my calling is. It’s like I’m saying it ain’t all good, but then it is all good when somebody smiles at me, and I think that’s what I’m here to do, play and make people smile and laugh.”

YouTube video

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.