|Born||May 25, 1951|
|Alma mater||University of Illinois|
|Years active||1968 — 2015|
|Organization||High Times Freedom Fighters The Pot Illuminati|
|Known for||Creating the Cannabis Cup|
Early life and career
Hager was born on May 25, 1951, in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, the son of Lowell P. Hager and Francis Erea Hager. While a student in junior high, he established his first publication, the Cap'n Crunch Courier, a humor xerox zine that was given away free. Two years later, while a student at Urbana High School, he created The Tin Whistle, a monthly newspaper that was eventually distributed in four high schools in Central Illinois. One of his friends, Jim Wilson (later known as Chef Ra), became the first black elected Senior Class President at Urbana High. Wilson was later banned from the football team, even though he had been the starting end and place kicker because of his association with Hager. Hager briefly visited Haight-Ashbury in 1968, and the following year he attended the first Woodstock festival. He obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theater (Playwriting), and a Masters of Science in Journalism, both from the University of Illinois.
After graduation, Hager moved to New York City, worked for a number of magazines before becoming a reporter for the New York Daily News. During this time, he began researching the hip hop movement of the South Bronx. His first article on the subculture was published on the cover of the Village Voice and was the first time the words "hip hop" appeared in the Village Voice . Hager based his article on interviews with Afrika Bambaataa, founder of the Zulu Nation, and one of the three original hip hop DJs (the others being Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash). Hager sold his original story Beat Street to Harry Belafonte, and the film with the same name was distributed by Orion Pictures. In 1984, St. Martins' Press released his book, Hip Hop, the first history of rap music, break dancing and graffiti art. (In 2012, an ebook version was published at www.smashwords.com.) Hager followed that book with "Art After Midnight," an examination of the New York club scene and its influence on artists, primarily Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf. (The entire text of Art After Midnight (including the much-quoted Basquiat interview) was reprinted in The Octopus Conspiracy and Other Vignettes of the Counterculture: From Hippies to High Times to Hip-Hop and Beyond as well as Adventures in the Counterculture.)
High Times and beyond
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In 1988, Hager was hired as editor of High Times magazine. He is most famous for removing hard drugs (e.g., cocaine and heroin) from the magazine, and concentrating on advocating personal cultivation of cannabis. Hager became the first editor in the world to publish and promote the work of hemp activist Jack Herer. Hager also created the Cannabis Cup, a cannabis awards ceremony held every Thanksgiving in Amsterdam, and The Freedom Fighters, the first hemp legalization group. The High Times Freedom Fighters were famous for dressing up in Colonial outfits and organizing hemp rallies across America. One rally, The Boston Freedom Rally, quickly became the largest political event in the country, drawing an audience of over 100,000 to the Boston Common. Hager created a garage-rock revival band called the Soul Assassins. The band played many of the rallies. Their biggest show was opening for the Butthole Surfers in front of 50,000 people in Washington, DC. During this time, Hager asked his friend from high school, Jim Wilson, to become a columnist for the magazine. Wilson became known as Chef Ra and contributed a cooking-with-pot article in every magazine for 15 years. Chef Ra was also a member of the High Times Freedom Fighters and became the featured speaker at many of the rallies. In 1990, Hager became the first person outside Marin County to promote 420, and Freedom Fighter councils, Cannabis Cup ceremonies, Whee! festivals were always scheduled for 4:20 PM.
In September, 1991, Hager wrote an article in High Times titled "Heritage of Stone," a comprehensive analysis of the John F. Kennedy assassination that has been widely circulated on the internet as a definitive article on the subject. Judge Jim Garrison cited it as "the best magazine article ever written on the subject." The article indicated Kennedy was likely murdered because of his growing opposition to the Vietnam War, and implicated J. Edgar Hoover and Allen Dulles in the cover-up.
In the mid-1990s, Hager turned the membership list of the Freedom Fighters over to NORML, and began concentrating on creating events that advocated the environmental benefits of hemp while also demonstrating the spiritual uses of cannabis. The World Hemp Expo Extravaganja, or Whee! Festivals, were held in Oregon, Washington, Michigan, New York, and Ohio. Unfortunately, most of the promoters who held Whee! festivals found themselves subject to intense law enforcement efforts to shut down their venues. The primary focus of Whee! was a silent, Sunday, sunset meditation for peace in the drug war. During this period, Hager was contacted by the Waldos, the inventors of 420, and became the first person to interview them. Hager created the Counterculture Hall of Fame in 1997 as part of the ceremonies at the Cannabis Cup.
Hager learned to shoot and edit video and started documenting all research on videotape. He has produced several feature documentaries including Let Freedom Ring, Secrets of the Dutch Grow Masters, The Cannabis Cup, Saint Stephen, The Tom Forcade Story, and The 20th Cannabis Cup, assembling one of the world's largest archives of cannabis-related video. In 2002 he directed the video shoot that was later released as Live in Amsterdam. In 2004, he wrote most of the narration for a/k/a Tommy Chong and also appears in the film. Hager appeared in Episode #12 ("Pittsburgh") of the Showtime series Weeds, playing himself at an event modeled on the Cannabis Cup.
Hager's 2004 book The Octopus Conspiracy and Other Vignettes of the Counterculture: From Hippies to High Times to Hip-Hop and Beyond compiles some of his previously published work; the chapter "Nomenclature of an Octopus Cabal" theorizes that a network of secret societies manufactures war for profit and social control. In 2007, he produced a reality television show based around his job at High Times magazine. Hager appears in the 2013 film 420: The Documentary and provides the history of the phrase and its ceremonial use, as well as his role in spreading awareness on the spiritual aspects of cannabis.
In 2014 Hager created Abakus Media in Denver, published the ebook Cannabis Cures Cancer?, and founded the Pot Illuminati. His essay "The New Pot Enlightenment" was included in the 2017 book Cannabis and Spirituality: An Explorer's Guide to an Ancient Plant Spirit Ally.
During the pandemic of 2020, Hager created a podcast titled Everything you know is Twisted.
- Hip Hop: The Illustrated History of Break Dancing, Rap Music, and Graffiti (St. Martins' Press, 1984; Smashwords, 2012; Amazon 2014)
- Art After Midnight (St. Martins' Press, 1986; Smashwords 2012; Amazon 2014)
- Adventures in the Counterculture: From Hip Hop to High Times (High Times Books, 2002)
- The Octopus Conspiracy: And Other Vignettes of the Counterculture from Hippies to High Times to Hip Hop and Beyond (Trine Day, 2005)
- Looking for the Perfect Beat (Smashwords, 2012; Amazon 2014)
- The Bitcoin Revolution (Smashwords, 2014; Amazon 2014)
- Killing Lincoln: The Real Story (Smashwords, 2014; Amazon 2014; CreateSpace 2014)
- Hip Hop: The Complete Archives (CreateSpace 2014)
- Killing Kennedy: The Real Story (Smashwords, CreateSpace 2017)
- When World's Collide (Green Hummingbird Entertainment, 2020; audio interviews with Basquait, Scharf, and Haring)
- Grass is Greener (Netflix; 2019; subject in film; consultant)
- 420-The Documentary (Harm Reduction Productions, 2014; subject in film; consultant)
- Beat Street (Orion, 1984; story credit);
- Chef Ra Escapes Babylon (High Times Productions, 1989; consultant)
- Let Freedom Ring (High Times Productions, 1990; producer)
- 8th Cannabis Cup (High Times Productions, 1995; producer)
- 9th Cannabis Cup (High Times Productions, 1996; producer)
- 11th Cannabis Cup (High Times Productions, 1999; producer/director/editor)
- Grow Secrets of the Dutch Masters (High Times Productions, 2000; producer/director/editor)
- High Times Presents the Cannabis Cup (Koch Vision, 2003; producer, director, writer);
- Live in Amsterdam (Fishbone album) (High Times Records, 2005; director);
- Miss High Times Swimsuit Video (High Times Productions, 2008; producer)
- a/k/a Tommy Chong (Blue Chief Entertainment, 2006; co-writer; subject in film)
- High Times Presents the 20th Anniversary Cannabis Cup (High Times Productions, 2008; producer)
- Hip-Hop Journalists Host Round Table Panel Discussion by Clover Hope -- Raquel Cepeda, former editor-in-chief of Russell Simmon’s One World magazine and editor of the book And It Don't Stop: The Best Hip-Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years, mentioned a piece by writer Steven Hager called “Afrika Bambaataa’s Hip-Hop,” as the first time the term “Hip-Hop” was coined in a major article. The article is reprinted in her book.
- Peter Gerard (Director) (2004). Just to Get a Rep (Television documentary). United States, United Kingdom: Accidental Media.
- Hager, Steven. Hip Hop: The Illustrated History of Break Dancing, Rap Music, and Graffiti. St Martin's Press, 1984 (out of print).
- Hager, Steven. Art After Midnight: The East Village Scene. St. Martin's Press, 1986 (out of print).
- Hager, Steven. Adventures in the Counterculture: From Hip Hop to High Times. High Times Books, 2002.