Still Trill

Bernard “Bun B” Freeman was whipping through Los Angeles traffic to make his LAX flight after a whirlwind trip from his home in Houston, Texas. The UGK legend had vowed to fit in as many business meetings and lunches as possible prior to celebrating his wife Queenie’s birthday in Turks and Caicos. Just days earlier, Bun traveled to New York City to unveil his latest collaborative project with producer Statik Selektah, TrillStatik 2, before bouncing back to Houston to announce his first Trill Burgers brick-and-mortar restaurant. Cross-country treks have become the norm for the buzzing entrepreneur and famed Southern lyricist. Since the pandemic restrictions have lifted, he’s been back on the road, promoting his Trill Burgers venture and doing television.

At 49, Bun B has grown accustomed to constant change. Since launching UGK in the late ’80s/early ’90s, he’s been navigating the rise to rap infamy and its inevitable pitfalls with the focus of a trained sniper. Subsequently, he’s still here to talk about it all these years later. His UGK partner-in-rhyme, Chad “Pimp C” Butler, wasn’t so lucky. In 2007, he was found dead of a suspected drug overdose in a West Hollywood hotel room. A coroner later attributed his death to a combination of codeine and promethazine (commonly referred to “purple drank” or “lean”) and a pre-existing condition of sleep apnea. While Bun B was forced to continue his career without Pimp C, he carries his legacy like it’s his religion. In December 2022, Bun B and Pimp C’s widow, Chinara Butler, honored the late rap luminary with a 10th anniversary celebration of UGK Day, an event designed to provide public health resources to the Port Arthur, Texas community.

“That’s always been a part of honoring Pimp C,” Bun B explains to High Times. “His wife in the very early years of him passing away was doing a lot of work in that area. And every time she would honor Pimp C, she wanted to make sure that health resources were available in the community. And I know that was something they wanted to do as a part of UGK Day in Port Arthur [their hometown] as well, especially coming from a community where we come from where we know everyone doesn’t have proper health insurance. We know everyone doesn’t have a balanced diet, and we know there’s a lot of fried food that people eat and things like that. So we want to make sure that people at least have access.

High Times Magazine March 2023, Photo by Todd Spoth

“We all collectively sacrifice for the greater good of all. But everyone is also still responsible for their personal health, too. As I get older, I realize how much more responsible I should have been and could have been. And knowing that kind of stuff now, you’re almost obligated to do better at this point.”

That awareness has translated to Bun B taking better care of himself, too. The day of the interview, the news that fellow hip-hop artist Grand Daddy I.U. had passed away hit social media. It was yet another sobering reminder of our fragility.

“These are my contemporaries, give or take three, four years,” Bun B says, audibly bothered by the revelation. “And we all lived similar lifestyles, I would imagine. And I’m sure we didn’t foresee how foreboding it could have been to be partaking in some of this stuff. And now that we see people our age we know dying from things like that, it’s like, ’Well, damn, if he had a bad heart, what do I have?’ That kind of a thing.

“This is just a part of getting older—not getting old necessarily but just getting older. As you move into different parts of life, you realize, ‘Hey man, I can’t …’ You got to try not to fall down because you don’t bounce back up as quickly as you used to. You’ve got to take care of yourself. And it’s always good to be very self aware. The only way you know how to be fully aware is to constantly get checkups and keep going in for those yearly checkups. And if you’re on medicine, take your medicine and just do everything you’re supposed to do. Because I mean, what’s the alternative? At some point, we all got to grow up.”

Photo by Todd Spoth

While marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, the use of medicinal marijuana is on the rise and 21 states have legalized cannabis for adults. Subsequently, Bun B (who started smoking at 16 years old) finds it preposterous to quit now. He does have one challenge though—everyone wants to get him high.

“I spent a lot of years smoking weed when it was illegal in most places, and it was not cool,” he says with a laugh. “Back then, it was a big counterculture. So now that weed is accepted in most modern societies and it’s available legally in more places than it has ever been in America, why give up on weed now? But I have to be careful when I go to certain places. When you go to New York, you’re bombarded with weed. When I go to Washington, D.C., I’m bombarded with weed. And when I go to Illinois, same thing. I mean, God forbid I go to San Francisco! There’s no way these people could expect me to smoke all the weed that they’re trying to give me. That’s insane. But I do my best. I try not to let them down.”

The TrillStatik 2 album listening party was a perfect example. VIP guests were greeted at the door with a blunt, courtesy of one of the many blunt rollers on site. The Astor Club donated a half pound of RS-11 to the cause, while Puffco hosted a giveaway and Trichadelics and Pressure Labz handed out complimentary globs. Of course, Bun B had all the weed he could handle. 

He also continues to fight for legalization in Texas, something he’s been vocal about for years. While the victory has yet to be won, there have been signs of progress. Recently, residents in Denton, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin, and Harker Heights approved ballot measures that sought to ban arrests and citations for carrying less than four ounces of marijuana in most cases. They also approved new rules blocking cities from funding THC concentration tests and plan to remove marijuana smell as a probable cause for search and seizure. Now, they just have to convince city officials—not an easy task. 

Photo by Todd Spoth

In the meantime, Bun B is looking forward to LL Cool J’s Rock The Bells Cruise. He found success last summer at the inaugural Rock The Bells Festival with his Trill Mealz Food Court, which boasted culinary creations from Nas, E-40, Jadakiss, Styles P, Ghostface Killah, Mia X and, of course, Bun B’s Trill Burgers. He’s hoping to take the concept to the open seas.

“I think that’s what we’re talking about,” he says. “I’ve already signed on to bring Trill Burgers to the cruise, so Trill Burgers will definitely be there. With it being Rock The Bells, we would definitely like to present the Trill Mealz Food Court again. And we couldn’t think of a better place to have that available for people than on this cruise. We’re going to be talking to different vendors and, obviously, there’s so many different people in that space that we wanted to get for the first food court that we just simply could not coordinate in time. So hopefully with us having so much lead up time into this, we can try to get on people’s calendars earlier. We just have to manifest it.”

This article was originally published in the March 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.

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Bobby Shmurda: Sneaker Store Smokeout

Let’s set the scene. It’s Brooklyn in 2014 and here comes Bobby Shmurda and GS9 with a song called “Hot N——“ that the streets are going absolutely bonkers over, no matter what corner you turn. It seemed like only moments later there was Beyoncé on stage hitting the Shmoney dance. 

The music video was an accurate portrayal of NYC youth and a glimpse of what it was like when Bobby’s block was in full-on party mode. It didn’t take an intellectual to realize that GS9 was the definition of being outside. 

Meanwhile, as a hip hop purist, I was all the way inside. In spite of that, I was wondering where I heard this beat before. Curiosity killed the cat, and so I did my googling and discovered that sure enough it was from “Jackpot” by Lloyd Banks—a mixtape track Banks wasn’t ever banking on being a hit. In the case of Bobby, his version had him laughing all the way to the bank. Since his return from being on the inside, lately I’ve been seeing him outside more than ever! He’s constantly pulling up to spots promoting his various projects and brands, on top of his regular musical performances nationwide. 

Recently, I was over at an infused-only consumption lounge called Kakes in Long Island City that features a state-of-the-art Japanese air filtration system which I found to be quite pleasant. Their infused treats and drinks are out of this world, and while I was there I had the privilege of sampling The Shmurda Shmores Kookie Sandwich: a unique dessert collaboration they did with Bobby Shmurda and his Hoochie Daddy brand. It’s a scrumptious cookie sandwich, loaded with marshmallow, buttercream, graham cracker dust and chocolate drizzle, between two chocolate chip cookies with a toasted marshmallow center and frosting that spells out “Shmurda.” This is one of their signature infused treats that even had a special launch event to make a big splash.

When it comes to cannabis, Bobby has a vision for his role in the industry, and is taking it very seriously. He recently inked a deal with a legal dispensary in Cali called Bonafide. This power move is ensuring Bobby’s product will be premium level, plus compliant. That type of stuff intrigues me, so I wanted to link with Shmurda and learn more. One night, when I was doing my usual stoned Instagram scroll, I saw an ad for a meet-and-greet appearance at a sneaker boutique located in my hometown of Staten Island, NY called Sneaker Zoo

With that in mind, I knew I could barely leave my home (that is a mostly forgotten land with exceptional pizza and bagels) and still make my way over to the event at ease. 

With Operation Meet Bobby Shmurda in Staten Island fully in motion, I assembled a crew of homies to come through with me and eat some amazing local pizza and pay homage to Wu-Tang Clan via Kingdom of Kush in the Port Richmond section of the island. Kingdom Of Kush is owned in part by none other than Ghostface Killah, and is the home of his brand Killah Cannabis. I grabbed Bobby a couple of Ghost’s signature strains to try out. I’ve previously enjoyed the Runtz and Skyclub—they both smoke tremendously and are grown by Highland Labs in Perris, California. I also ended up linking with the team from 167 Exotics, with an exceptional roller named Real Bud Man in the squad. They brought some of their powerful hitters, including my personal favorites, RS-11 and Lemon Cherry Gelato by John Doe Supply Co as well as some fire Left lane by Chief Tokah

After getting thoroughly medicated, we pulled up to Sneaker Zoo, and to my high delight, the Food Boss was there serving up some of his extremely terpy plates of penne with vodka sauce. This was, to me, peak Staten Island-ness.  

Photo Courtesy of Scott Media Films
Photo Courtesy of Scott Media Films

Moreover, I brought the homie and big time plug Staten Island Mex a tiramisu that I promised him so that I could skip the line into the Sneaker Zoo and proceed to smoke out a retail establishment. As I entered, I was hit with an energetic contagious wave of positive energy that is Bobby Shmurda. His charisma and cannabis knowledge immediately struck a chord with me to the point of us having a pretty cool conversation as soon as some fire weed was lit up into the air. Before we got too high I squeaked out a few burning questions: 

Photo Courtesy of Scott Media Films

Do you remember the first time you ever smoked weed? 

Yeah, I was 10 years old. I used to live on the fourth floor. I was coming up the stairs, and I found my brothers and them on the roof. So I came up there and was like “What the fuck are y’all doing without me?!” They was like, “Nah get outta here,” and I was like, “Fuck all that, pass that shit.” Once they passed it, I knew it was on and poppin’!

And you’ve been smoking everyday since then? 

Every single day. I’ve been smoking in jail, outta jail, in the courtroom, in the strip club, on private jets, on yachts, in the car, everywhere!

It wasn’t hard to get weed in jail? 

They be having fire weed in jail. That shit will get you right. 

Was there a strain you remember getting your hands on while locked up? 

I got some white widow in the spot, it was lit up!

Photo Courtesy of Scott Media Films

How does it feel to now be involved with the legal cannabis industry?

I’m seeing back-end, I’m seeing everything, it’s crazy! I love being at the factory and seeing everything made from the ground up.

What can you tell us about the strains you are currently producing?

It’s no lemon cherry. I want to create something that is sweet but with a crazy spike. A smoke with a heavy punch.

Photo Courtesy of Scott Media Films

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What and Where Is Cannabis Culture Today?

Danielle “Dan” Guercio, a New York-based cannabis writer and creative, felt that cannabis news stories had to focus on “a brand, celeb, political or science angle” to get featured.

“The only culture stuff we get is from the same five dudes and their friends,” she said via LinkedIn comments

“There’s a little bit of an echo chamber happening in the professional space right now—too-similar circles circulating too-similar information,” she told me in a follow-up chat. 

The suggestion was certainly interesting. Were we running into an echo chamber where only a few similar voices speak for millions? I wasn’t sure about the number of representatives. But I certainly agreed when it came to the stories. With commenters telling me they wanted more success stories and relatable topics, is the news playing gatekeeper, or is the public short-sighting the current offering? 

When I pitched the topic to my editor, he told me I could pursue it “only if you go into it realizing you are one of those dudes.” I agreed to the condition despite not fully agreeing with the opinion. Sure, my work appeared regularly on a few outlets. Still, I could name several voices on this publication and numerous others that cover all things pot. And even if only five of us dudes are covering the scene, I can name at least two that probably wouldn’t consider me a colleague they’d want to associate with. 

I get it, if that’s the case. Those prominent writers certainly walk the walk more than I ever could. Maybe it’s the imposter syndrome talking, but I never thought a 30-something who can barely roll a J, hasn’t grown a plant and hasn’t been busted for anything really represents what many in the Western world consider authentic weed culture. Or, maybe it isn’t the imposter syndrome but rather the reality of the current situation. 

Before tackling if it is adequately covered in the media, I needed to unpack what cannabis culture is in the first place. To do so, I asked roughly 100 pot personalities, from underground operators to MSO execs to casual consumers. 

What is Cannabis Culture?

Cannabis Culture is a Canadian weed publication once run by this guy who did some questionable things…

Wait, wrong cannabis culture. That’s a story for another day. The cannabis culture we’re looking to nail down is a bit more ambiguous—just like it’s been for decades. 

Defining culture can be challenging at times. Taking pot out of the equation doesn’t help much, either. Culture’s definition varies depending on the source. Most would summarize it as our shared or collective knowledge, experiences, beliefs, patterns, behaviors, attitudes, religions and other components we’ve encountered as humans over many generations. We shape the world around us through our collective experiences. As time progresses, our culture evolves with it. Our worldviews grow while some once dominant traits or subcultures fade into the background as others gain prominence. 

That sums up cannabis culture throughout the ages, particularly today. While many may have clearly defined views of the culture, others contest that it has always been wide-reaching.

“It is a multifaceted phenomenon encompassing a wide range of social and behavioral aspects surrounding the consumption of cannabis,” said Kimberly Shaw, a 10-year cannabis grower and plant enthusiast. 

Thanks to legalization and expanding access, millions of newcomers are now part of the discussion. Does this make them part of the culture? It depends on who you ask. While many casual consumers are welcomed by most, fear over particular types runs high. 

“Excluding the overlap with mainstream pop culture–movies, music, celebs, etc.—the cannabis culture as it was once known has evolved into “industry” culture,’” said Benjamin Owens, a cannabis event organizer and author of psilocybin recipe book Mr. Boomer’s Magic Kitchen

“The culture has many faces and many independent desires,” said Alex Redmond via Twitter

“From MSOs to ancillary businesses—it doesn’t feel like we’re attracting the best and the brightest,” he added. 

Whether we like it or not, these individuals are part of the cannabis community, a now bloated but still technically accurate term for pot consumers. While some may not like the inclusion of casuals and atypical consumers or operators, there’s no denying these folks represent the evolution of the modern community and its culture.

“Cannabis culture today is evolving and being remixed across geographic boundaries, legal and legacy sectors, and consumer communities,” said Michael Kauffman, executive director of the Clio Music & Clio Cannabis awards.

Until recently, cannabis culture helped describe the few prevailing cannabis subcultures, including medical users, advocates, trappers and the hip hop community. But, some argue that view excludes today’s and past era’s cannabis consumers. 

“I always say the cannabis culture is a subculture of all other cultures,” said Ngaio Bealum, a prominent cannabis writer and comedian, among many other talents. He added, “Whatever it is that people do, there’s a subset of people that like to get high and do it.”

Similarly, Morgan Fox, political director for NORML, told me the cannabis community has always represented more than just its most vocal pot proponents.

“I think it’s kinda difficult to answer because cannabis culture has always been ubiquitous,” he said. Since prohibition has been in place, there’s been a kinship between weed consumers from various walks of life. 

“Even people that were super undercover about their cannabis use…part of the culture of cannabis use was that when they would find somebody else that they know also consumed cannabis, there’d be sort of like an instant rapport and understanding,” said Fox. 

The silent consumers throughout the ages certainly help contribute to the culture. But if you were to ask the general public during those times what they considered cannabis culture, few, if any, would say the silent majority. Instead, they’d likely mention the loudest communities and subcultures. Does that eliminate those not in those groups? It shouldn’t, but the truth is that many in the community, be it media, business or sometimes more sophisticated consumers, practice this approach. 

My hunch is that, like anything people hold dear, they feel responsible for protecting the cannabis community and culture they grew up in. As the world around them changes, they become protective of what they see as the proper culture. Without conflating cannabis into another massive societal issue, it feels like cannabis’ old guard is protective of its remaining culture as cannabis gentrifiers enter the community. While justified and correct in many ways, I do wonder if certain members of cannabis are shutting out passionate cannabis folks because they don’t fall into the standard personalities or perspectives we’ve established as “authentic.” If they don’t look a certain way, don’t know enough about the plant, or haven’t been arrested for it, are they still considered members of the culture?

The Pillars of Cannabis Culture?

The cannabis community has always been wide-reaching, even if consumers often stayed low-key. In recent eras, that quiet consuming approach helped minimize particular consumers as different subcultures became dominant voices. While true that culture varies by country, state, city and neighborhood, a few prevalent subcultures continue to shape much of the conversation. 

Few, if anyone, will deny that the medical community started it all off. While some could have puffed on the plant for fun in the early days, documented history shows that groups stretching across various continents and centuries turned to cannabis for its healing properties. One of the most heavily cited examples is the plant’s inclusion in ancient Chinese pharmacopeia.

“I think cannabis transcends almost everything because it’s biology,” said “Hawaii” Mike Salman about the body’s endocannabinoid system.

Salman, the co-founder of New York-based infused dining events Chef for Higher, grew up in the Bay Area and Hawaii cannabis communities. There, he began developing an appreciation for how the plant fit into daily life and wellness. His professional career saw cannabis converge with one of the most influential cultures of the past 40 or so years, hip hop. Like other genres of music before it, hip hop has continued to help shape cannabis while the plant has done the same to it. Listen to any track from today’s artists, and you’ll soon run into some bars about pot. Those odds increase when the track features names like Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa, Kid Cudi or [insert your favorite pot-loving hip hop artist here]. The trend is nothing new, with artists ranging from Rick James to Louis Armstrong shouting out the plant over the years, but hip hop has run with it like nobody else. 

As road manager for acts like Mobb Deep and editor for The Source Magazine, Salman was front and center as hip hop and cannabis furthered their bond. He credited hip hop’s influence in promoting both communities’ cultures.

“[Hip hop] is the broadest cultural expression that we have,” said Salman, saying the culture can be identified through music, fashion, vernacular and many other facets of life—cannabis included. 

Until hip hop’s emergence, the counterculture movement of the 60s and 70s was the best example of music and cannabis coming together, at least since the Jazz Era. Some may still argue that the counterculture movement is the most potent example due to drug culture and music helping advance societal perspective shifts. Simultaneously, the counterculture and civil rights movements, particularly for Black Americans, were the two groups targeted in the Nixon-era War on Drugs in an attempt to stop both growing influences in America.  

Whether it’s jazz, classic rock, hip hop or otherwise, the cannabis connection is forged thanks to another crucial subculture: the underground. 

Call them OGs, trappers, legacy operators, your guy or whatever you want. We wouldn’t have cannabis culture without the ones supplying the pipeline. The OGs kept the medical market thriving despite prohibition and draconian criminal punishments for often non-violent offenses. Until legalization, if you saw weed, you knew it came from the underground. They supplied pot to the musicians and club attendees throughout the decades, just as they did for you and I in these modern times. It’s been the same for ages because of the underground, no other way to say it. 

Without their contributions and sacrifices, cannabis culture wouldn’t have flourished. And we for damn sure wouldn’t have the legal market that often turns a cold shoulder to the OGs when setting up licensed businesses. 

These large groups of people help shape cannabis culture in the US and most other nations. Hip hop can play more or less of a role, depending on the country. However, the medical and underground movements are linked to the culture no matter in America, India, South Africa and even more restrictive parts of the world. Still, as legalization and access grows, so does the cannabis community. 

Therein lies the conflict: Are newcomers part of the culture or just the community? And are either of their stories getting told properly? 

Much More To Consider

The above groups have every right to claim a significant stake in the foundation of cannabis culture. However, many participants, new and old, could argue that their communities deserve a place in the culture conversation. 

Advocates and other plant-passionate individuals make up a huge portion of the community. It indeed can be argued that they are pillars just as much as the above groups. With the subcultures having their fair share of overlap, separating advocates from the medical, underground and hip hop communities and calling them their own pillar felt redundant. But others would do so and are correct in that approach. 

The term advocate has become a freely used descriptor as legalization efforts gained steam in recent years. Jimi Devine recently highlighted the concern around under- or uninformed folks calling themselves advocates or framing themselves as experts when they’re far from one. Still, the true advocates, the ones passionate about education, reform and eroding stigmas, are a community that deserve their recognition as cornerstones of the culture in the past century or so. 

Then there are the casuals. These folks like their pot quite a lot–sometimes consuming every day, sometimes less frequently. No matter how often they partake, when they do, they enjoy it. While they may love it, you won’t confuse this group for OGs. 

Some in the group pursue plant knowledge to become more informed consumers, advocates or otherwise. Parents and working professionals are becoming two of the more prominent voices in the casual consumer community. 

“Cannabis offers a safer and healthier alternative to alcohol, which is often the go-to choice for working parents,” said Tara Furiani, CEO at Not the HR Lady.

Other casuals aren’t that concerned about the plant other than how high they’ll feel. For some, all they want to know about is THC percentage or the difference between indicas, sativas and hybrids. Some don’t even care about that. I remember the most significant takeaways I got from the 2021 MJBizCon came from Vegas cabbies, who exclusively discussed price and THC percentages. Whether people like it or not, a lot of casuals just want the basic info or even less. 

While this group’s lack of knowledge and/or zero desire to learn more can frustrate some pot-passionate individuals, we can’t disregard the casuals from the conversation. If we do, the education gap will only grow. But, if we provide them with this type of basic information, they may become more interested, and thus informed than they ever intended. That is where I like to write most of my articles. I feel much of cannabis media has skipped over this group, instead focusing on the experts and passionates or the business community. Plus, everybody knows my ass isn’t OG. 

While casuals aren’t entirely representative of the culture, this group’s massive numbers shape cannabis society. Even if they aren’t impacting OG mindsets, they are the symptom of legalization, helping divide the consuming community into informed, passionate consumers and everyday folks who are helping erode stigmas whether they are aware or not. Should the casuals be leading the conversation on cannabis ethics, cultivation or other important topics? Certainly not. But their experiences and voices are shaping the cannabis community–one that many experts and insiders may not recognize if they stay within their echo chambers. 

This leads to the last question…

Is the Media Adequately Covering Cannabis Culture?

While many differed on what cannabis culture is, most agreed that mainstream media failed to adequately showcase it .

Respondents often told me they consider mainstream media to be traditional TV and print outlets, not including more niche cannabis publications in the grouping. Many felt that depictions in the news and in fiction-based media continued to rely on stereotypes rather than actual consumers.

“There’s definitely still a lot of caricatures and stereotypes that are popular,” said Nadir Pearson, VP of business development for cannabis brand WISECO

While you can find cannabis use normalized in select news and fiction projects, recent examples like Netflix’s now-canceled Disjointed series highlight the ongoing lack of quality cannabis representation in media. Others, like Hawaii Mike, highlighted concerns around the digital news model. 

“It’s skewed because we’re in clickbait culture still,” said Salman, saying that demonization pieces continue to generate clicks. 

Like traditional news, digital media thrives on the “if it bleeds, it leads” model. Meaning, sensational stories win out more often than not. Those that disagree should see traffic numbers for positive articles versus negative or sensational pieces. The model is also rampant on social media, with scores of influencers looking to cash in on “shocking” or informative content “no one will believe,” despite being easily sourced on Google or Wikipedia.

Salman’s argument is valid. When publications like the New York Times run stories about dogs eating edibles instead of more pressing cannabis topics, one has to wonder what’s getting passed over. However, it could be argued that these pieces target the casual consumer crowd, not those in the previously mentioned pillar or advocacy subcultures. While most of us reading this aren’t dumb enough to leave an edible around our dog, tons of NYT readers probably aren’t aware of the effects of pot on their animals–much less the impact of sugar, chocolate and other ingredients in those edibles. Those readers need this sort of information, but without less doom and gloom, ideally. 

On the other hand, most news outlets beyond mainstream TV and digital publications may not cover culture for different reasons. Some respondents felt the media is covering what the public is already consuming.

“People are really focused on news and business,” said Pearson, adding, “Those types of things versus the actual culture.” Pearson’s point can be supported by the vast array of cannabis business publications while many culture-based outlets have shuttered in recent years.  

News coverage also boils down to budgets, bandwidth and public importance. With minimal budgets to hire full-time writers or commission freelancers, media outlets, especially nascent pot publications, may be unable to cover all the stories they want. In that case, editors often go with their gut and/or performance metrics to determine what stories get picked up. In that case, you either need to pique an editor’s interest or prove that this kind of story will generate clicks, shares and comments. If publications don’t follow this model, they risk losing ad revenue and likely commission less work. It’s an ugly cycle that nobody other than Google and social media ad platforms seem to enjoy. 

That’s why I propose cannabis news seekers evolve alongside the culture. Don’t abandon your traditional news. Pot-focused outlets are still producing helpful and often must-know information. But, you may need to bounce around to various outlets to find comprehensive coverage spanning current events, business, politics and culture. I’ve got an Excel spreadsheet if you wanna look it over. Hit me up.

Simultaneously, expand your sources of information. Social media can prove beneficial, like Reddit’s r/trees community, as well as in some groups and conversations found on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Just like traditional news, some of these sources can also produce lackluster results. A certain level of critical thinking and analysis is required. At the same time, Oldheads like myself must also keep up with the times. Branching out to YouTube, Discord and TikTok can all open up avenues to insights from different cannabis community members and content creators. 

Let’s not entirely discount independent journalists, either. While it’s a good rule of thumb to disregard the opinions of nameless, faceless accounts, some are providing excellent news, often on regional levels. Critical analysis is even more important when sourcing news here, but there are trusted names you can connect with and follow for more insights. 

Meanwhile, more cannabis-specific apps and platforms are helping reduce noise while focusing on the culture. Pearson’s Hybrid app cultivates a dedicated following based on a calendar highlighting drops, community events and other authentic experiences. Hybrid is currently available for Apple users. 

And as always in life, it’s good to step out of the digital sphere occasionally. Don’t forget how important it is to show up. I’m not one to talk, with my introversion, disabled dog and pandemic really ramping up my desire to never leave the living room this past year or so. But let me tell you from experience, showing up is the best way to understand the pulse of the community on a local, national and international level. If you can, go to info sessions, meetups, rallies, public forums and anywhere else where pot is in the discussion. I stay in the loop on all things New York State cannabis thanks to Mannada’s Kristin Jordan and The Maze Calendar newsletter. 

At the same time, try to save up the cash to attend events like Spannabis, the High Times Cups and various other national and international gatherings. Find the ones that cater to what you want to learn about and dive in. 

Do these options fix the media’s lack of cannabis coverage? Absolutely not. But I would argue that cannabis culture is covered more often by more people than credit is given. But with the task of covering an already large and evolving culture, some critical stories won’t reach the masses. Be it a hesitation from major media or other limitations facing many smaller brands, it isn’t easy to adequately tell the legacy and ongoing news in cannabis culture or its surrounding, growing community. 

But, if you continue to evolve with the times, you can discover a world of cultural content out there–and most of it isn’t coming from me and four other dudes. At the same time, folks like myself need to keep an open mind and hear out the voices that sometimes aren’t being heard. We don’t need to pitch every suggestion we receive, but there are more voices to consider than the ones we rely on. 

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Time To Chill Out and Listen to B. Cool-Aid

A debate about which album aged better: The Game’s Documentary or 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’. One party suggests 50 Cent’s seminal ‘03 debut due to its cultural relevancy and influence on the commercialization of Gangsta rap. Another party presents The Game’s solo debut simply because of “Hate it or Love it.” On the television is a pre-fame 50 Cent on a rooftop, offering advice on absorbing knowledge, self-manifestation, and the parallel between the hood and corporate America—Pink Siifu and Ahwlee, or B. Cool-Aid, sit inches apart: Siifu on the low-rising couch and Ahwlee on a chair close to the table. Siifu changes the television, putting on a video of D’Angelo Voodoo session outtakes. The air is relaxed and sweetened with the aroma of marijuana. Ashes pile in the wooden basket on the table. Siifu, with a slab of Rastafarian decorated marble, fronto leaf, and his sealed flower of choice, while I roll a joint of my own on my lap. 

Jazz-soul fusion duo B. Cool-Aid is preparing to release their first album in four years, Leather Blvd, due March 31st. “Something flashy. We wanted to be running sexy with it,” Siifu says about the album title. Both Siifu and Ahwlee resonate serenity in the room, a still calmness that’s also in their music. During their four-year absence, Siifu and Ahwlee became successful artists in the underground rap scene. When asked why a B. Cool-Aid record now, they reply, “life” and that it’s the right time. Siifu, an enigmatic artist from Alabama, has released works with Flyanakin, Yungmorpheus, and AKAI Solo, along with two studio albums—one of them being a punk-thrash project titled Negro—and a collaborative tape with producer Real Bad Man released last year. Bay-area producer Ahwlee released two instrumental albums, VII in 2020–an EP with Chill Children the same year—and Ftrs last year. B. Cool Aid takes the relaxation of Ahwlee’s lo-fi compositions and Siifu’s ear for live instruments to conjure music that taps into vintage soul, funk, and jazz.  

B. Cool-Aid first met at a Boiler Room set in Los Angeles, where both Siifu and Ahwlee shared the same bill. Ahwlee knew he wanted to work with Siifu following his performance: “It’s that kind of Lil Wayne willingness to go there. Just step into his own and do what other people aren’t doing. I knew he had the courage and the skill to step into a place where niggas weren’t at and that he could keep doing that.” The name “B. Cool-Aid” materialized in 2016, working on their debut Brwn a year before the duo established themselves. Compared to Siifu’s past work, B. Cool-Aid allows him to explore the neo-soul side of his artistry. “I feel like back talking FlySiifu’s is different, even though it’s still rap, and it’s still Southern based…it’s still different.“

We are in the home of streetwear brand Trash Co. and DC-based rapper Obiisay, a mainstay haven for neighboring underground rap acts. The walls often rumble from the trains clattering on the tracks near the building. Artwork hangs on the walls, colorful and reimagining various cartoon characters. It’s a fortress for creatives to stay creative. With joints burning and mimosas on the table, B. Cool-Aid talks to High Times about their early beginnings as a group and their upcoming album Leather Blvd

I feel like the soul in hip-hop and in general, music right now has diminished. How important is it to keep that meaning and purpose intact in your music? 

Ahwlee: You can’t translate that. You can’t prefabricate it, and sort of manufacture shit. Niggas are all some row of assembly line type shit, as far as music goes, in my opinion. Living the music you make is a lost science.

Siifu: I mean, that’s the thing too, bro. Everything that we kind of said on this record is like everyday shit. Niggas don’t. And it’s cool to fabricate tough shit. And to be a fictional “wrestling” type of rapper.

At that point, you’re an entertainer 

Siifu: It’s like you’re a fucking entertainer, yeah. And we’re not real gangsters, we’re not real artists and shit. Somebody could say, if you’re doing this, you’re not a gangsta all the time. You’re making money. With me and Ahwlee, with this soul shit, what he came up on, it’s all just real shit. I’m not going to say all the Neo-Soul, the soul is out, because I do fuck with niggas like Smino, Mike, Booker, and Ari Lennox. I guess, a few niggas like going crazy, like they’re making me feel something.

Photo by Tony Lyas

It’s been four years since the last LP. What made now the right time to bring back B. Cool-Aid for another tape?

Pink Siifu: It’s right on time. We feel like it’s done. Shout out to Butcher Brown again. They helped us really, because we’ve been recording.

Ahwlee: We ain’t even stopped making music the whole time.

Pink Siifu: Yeah, yeah. We’ve been making shit, you feel me? But I love sequels. I really like them. If I made a movie and I had a sequel, I would take my time. So I feel like this is our sequel because SYRUP was the EP for us first. We feel like it’s bigger than us. Like fuck it, make it like the world.

I like first the single, “Cnt Go Back,” because when I hear it, it takes me back to the early days. Do you ever look back at SYRUP?

Pink Siifu: Yeah, I don’t remember what I was doing around SYRUP. I feel like I was kind of living good. I did start fucking with my baby momma, my baby.

Ahwlee: Because she was at the SyrupHands video. I still trip on that.

Pink Siifu: Right. She’s on the cover of SYRUP. That’s her and another home girl eating breakfast, of pancakes and syrup. Yeah, it was a good time. It was right before ensley too.

Ahwlee: Yeah, he was getting his ensley bag.

Pink Siifu: I was starting to produce and loop shit. I remember we were playing as B. Cool-Aid at Lodge Room, after SYRUP, and I dropped ensley that night. I dropped ensley in the Green Room at that show.

In the second part of that song, there’s reassurance for listeners that things are going to get better someday, and things will turn around and pray through. Why is that?

Pink Siifu: That’s Jon Bap. That nigga, he came and he got in and just laced that shit, bro. He flipped the beat. That’s him flipping “Cnt Go Back,” but he just flipped it. Then, I asked that nigga to sing on the original, and he just gave me that, with a verse, and that nigga doesn’t really even rap. That nigga’s a singer and a producer.

It sticks with you.

Pink Siifu: Yeah, and then he inspired my version. 

Ahwlee: Yeah, that song just got longer and longer, and it went on a whole different tangent.

Pink Siifu: We’re working with musicians. Ahwlee is already one of my favorite producers. So one of my favorite producers linked up with a band. They gave us everything we needed. A pack that we could sample. I loop shit from that. So that’s like the intro and two interludes I looped. That’s my first time even touching production on B. Cool-Aid. But that’s off of ensley, and that’s off of me fucking with shit now. So that’s that whole four years. Ahwlee fucking playing keys like a motherfucker right now, getting hella musical.

Your craft has evolved obviously, so with that craft though, your life has also advanced. I’ve noticed the lyrics have themes of fatherhood and maturity

Siifu: Have we?

To me, I think…

Siifu: No, I feel that. No, you weren’t there while we were making it, so I want to know what the fuck you’re talking about? I feel that. You feel like it’s got the father. I feel that.

How does it affect you as an artist coming into this album I feel like some circumstances were different, probably maybe a year or two ago.

Ahwlee: Yeah. For sure. I mean, before the pandemic, in the zone where he is or is working on this, a lot of shit changed for both of us. We moved around and then we left that kind of golden zone that we just got through talking about.

Siifu: Yeah, we would just link up all the time, and make shit.

Ahwlee: Yeah. Just finding shit and going out and having fun. It got hella serious with everybody. So the music kind of reflects that change that we all had to make as people.

Photo by Tony Lyas

Siifu: It’s cool, this is fun, we love this shit but now we’ve got to take care of shit in a whole new way.

There are possibilities now.

Siifu: Exactly. I mean, that’s all good though. It’s all good. I’m definitely changing. You’re definitely going to hear more and more of that in my music. 

You hear the maturity growth from record to record. This record specifically has vast differences.

Siifu: That’s the thing though, with GUMBO’! and just my solo work in general, I’m just cultivating and I’m sequencing everything. I’m doing everything, and in these collaboration projects, it’s easier, but I give the same focus and attention to what we’re building. Tight shit. But with the solo shit, GUMBO’!, it’s going to be so different than this, but also I’m growing, so my next shit is going to be different from GUMBO’! For sure. But because I’m a dad, a full dad now. We’re getting older, the music’s getting crazier.

Were any of these songs created, during the GUMBO’! sessions, and creatively, are there differences from working on an album like GUMBO’! versus something like Leather Blvd.?

Siifu: Yeah, I booked some studio sessions and I had one room where we were doing B. Cool-Aid, and one room I was mixing and adding shit to GUMBO’!

Ahwlee: A few cuts you might hear at a later date.

Siifu: Like the track, the interlude track on GUMBO’!, with Ahwlee, that Ahwlee beat, I forgot, it’s like I think, right before “BACK’!” But like I made that off of making some B. Cool-Aid shit. I was like, “I need some Ahwlee shit on this shit.” We’d been working on B. Cool-Aid for a minute and GUMBO’! was a surprise. I wasn’t even going to make GUMBO’! it wasn’t in the cards.

But Butcher made so much sense with this B. Cool-Aid shit. Working with him, I was like, “Oh, wow,” because Ahwlee is already a fan of Butcher and DJ, so it was just like, we made sense. At the tail end of GUMBO’!, finishing with GUMBO’! a bunch of Brown tracks came in, in the middle, because GUMBO’! was originally all tracked.

Where’s Big Rube come in?

Siifu: Big Rube came in GUMBO’! I got to call him too because I want to get him on my next shit too. I had to tell him. I was like, “Bro,” because I started doing poetry. I wanted to source the rap. I started rapping. I did rap verses here and there, but I wasn’t really rapping until college, till out of high school type shit. Our school was doing poetry.

I was doing poetry, open mics, doing that shit. My nigga Peso, who was on GUMBO’!, Peso Gordon, he was working on the album with this nigga and they let me do poetry on that shit. That was my first ever real feature, for real. But my first idea was to do a poetry album. It was like not even a rap album, like some poetry album.

Is that still on the horizon?

Siifu: No but I would love to curate some shit like that. Like, bring back that Def Jam poetry-type energy. I’d love to do some shit like that.

Photo by Tony Lyas

Leather Blvd. creates a world where Black excellence is untouched by racism, criticism, and economic hardship. It’s about the power of Black culture. To strengthen the community. What inspires y’all to make this album such a safe place?

Siifu: Shit, because it’s unsafe out here, bro. Niggas who are trying to make it unsafe for niggas.

Ahwlee: Leather Blvd. ain’t safe. It’s actually Black shit. You’ve got to deal with the growth and the obstacles. It’s like confidence-type shit.

Siifu: I felt like Leather Blvd. was really a place for conflict and discussion.

Ahwlee: It’s like the whole block. That’s the barbershop. You’re not going to get through life, being in a safe space. You’re not going to get through life without being in conflict. But it is a way to navigate that. This shit is shining a light upon that. It is a way to navigate that. It is a way that the culture has survived to this point, and it ain’t by it all being good. It’s by survival and perseverance. That’s what is happening on Leather Blvd.

How important is it to have that established?

Ahlwee: It’s not important, bro. It’s not important because the times are telling us to forget and to throw that shit away, and that’s all the negative aspects. They’re not necessarily, everything is pointing towards the good in everything, which is positive, and which is a good thing. But on the same token, those two sides aren’t a token, and they’re not the same. And it’s stuff to learn, on either side. This is bringing both sides in, in a way that you can accept and grow from it, or something better and stronger. It’s not anything to be down about. It’s important because it’s going to help you grow.

Is that what you’re trying to broadcast as the album as a whole?

Siifu: You walk down the block. Just like any shit, you bring it to the block. But also, just like on some real shit, diamonds are stress. You get your stress diamonds. In some tracks, you feel yourself flirtatious. That’s just nostalgia, just for having fun. Like you’re feeling things, but it’s a lot of different shit where it’s like stressful relationship shit. Like fucking around with the wrong folks. Not in the right, wasting time type shit. I feel like we got all that shit in. Everything that, what niggas been through in the past, for years, that is their life I feel like. It’s in that shit. Especially as Black people. It feels like a movie, so I wanted to treat it like that. Like some shit, you could really sit down with.

Ahwlee: It’s like, when it comes, welcome to Leather Blvd., enjoy the experience.

What would you say is B. Cool-Aid’s purpose?

Awhlee: To end the beef between the Jewish community and Kanye West. 

Siifu: To calm niggas the fuck down.

The post Time To Chill Out and Listen to B. Cool-Aid appeared first on High Times.

Vic Mensa Pays It Forward

Victor Kwesi Mensah—known professionally as Vic Mensa—is a man who fully embodies what it means to be an artist. He’s got the drive, the spirituality, the sound, and most of all, the confidence. But how does one attain the knowhow to be a successful artist, let alone be successful at anything?

The answer lies in a strong support system. Mensa has been surrounded by supportive people for most of his life, dating back to high school where his band Kids These Days was drawing the eye of major record labels and prominent record producers. It was during these formative years that Mensa realized he had talent, honed his craft, and was propelled by the love and support of family and friends to tap into his potential. That potential is now culminating with a second full-length album, a record that’s sonically rooted in hip-hop, jazz, and African music.

When we connect over Zoom, Mensa reveals more about his upbringing and how it helped shape the man he is today. He lays bare his longtime relationship with cannabis, morphing from a teen trying to sell pot he didn’t possess, to owning a socially conscious weed company—93 Boyz—Chicago’s first Black-owned cannabis brand, and how the intersection of weed, fashion, art, and music provided the bedrock for his ascension from a Chicago fresh kid to an inspiring artist kids can look up to.

High Times Magazine: Growing up in Chicago, did you always know you wanted to pursue music?

Vic Mensa: I was a skateboarder first from age 6. By the time I was in third or fourth grade, I was starting to choose my own music, and was more interested in rock and roll. So I started playing guitar when I was 10. After that, I started writing graffiti, and that was really my introduction to hip-hop.

I was climbing 15-story fire escapes, painting rooftops and jumping on train tracks to paint trains before I was technically in my teens. Zoo York was a big influence of mine and there was a Zoo York video—I think they called it the Zoo York Mixtape—that had some KRS-One in there, which was probably the first hip-hop that really resonated with me.

Did you have a particular style of graffiti art and/or skateboarding, and did that style evolve into what you were doing early on with music?

I think all of those things are intertwined because they’re street culture and counterculture. As far as a particular style of graffiti art, in Chicago, we have a lot of styles but I think we’re most known for straight letters, and I was influenced primarily by the Chicago graffiti legends. Straight, block letters, a kind of straight letter tag style. But I was also a student of the game from my earliest days. I was studying Los Angeles graffiti crews like MSK and New York guys like SKUF and Cope—all the OGs.

When I started to release and promote music, I was already familiar with traveling across the city promoting my name [through graffiti], even though at first it wasn’t my real name. I’d do my own wheatpaste posters and shit like that when I was in high school. I mean, I’ll still do a wheatpaste poster to this day, don’t get it fucked up, but off top, I’d definitely be out on a street corner with the bucket and the posters, treating it like graffiti. Because in a way, graffiti is street marketing. A lot of the people that do street marketing for record labels are graffiti guys. So graffiti and skateboarding are my two primary stylistic inspirations.

Photo by Gabe Oviawe

So you’re immersed in the graffiti world. Was there a moment when music suddenly became the primary focus?

Probably around freshman year of high school when I started to record. Just receiving positive feedback and reinforcement from people around me—not everybody, obviously, but from some people that I respected—did a lot for me. I recognized that I had a particular talent for writing rhymes, but you know man, honestly, I think one of the reasons why I focus myself on doing so much for the youth is because in the dawn of my youth, I know how much those votes of confidence did for me.

Like my big brother Dare who I have tatted on my wrist and who I’ve written a bunch of songs about—may he rest in peace. He was older than me—near my age now when I was a kid—and he brought me into Jam Crew, which was the primary southside Black graffiti crew and took me under his wing. He was like, “This my shorty, he’s dope. He’s dope in general.” Nobody knew I could rap, but they were just showing me love, boosting my confidence, and giving me opportunity. As I found my own path in what I really wanted to do, I already had that network of older guys in the city who supported me and would let me rock stages when they’d have shows and stuff like that.

So your brother helped you see that you were dope in a particular way—just as a human—and then from that, you were able to grow into yourself musically from that sort of base.

One-hundred percent. Those same people who showed me love when I was a kid trying to dress cool and do graffiti and all of that shit—those same people when I picked up a mic or released music to this day still give me opportunities.

In Chicago, one of our primary forms of cultural currency and a hub of creativity came from the boutiques and sneaker stores. We had a shop called Leaders that’s still around that was incredibly impactful to all of our upbringings, a place called Sir & Madame, which is also still in existence, and a place called PHLI. All of those places were these centers of inspiration, creativity, sneaker culture, art, hip-hip, and graffiti all at once.

Some of the first guys I knew who were heavy with weed, who were cutting edge, having the best weed and the most knowledge and information—all played into our existence as fresh kids from Chicago. We’ve always been involved with art, we’ve always been involved with fashion, we’ve always been involved with music, and we’ve always been involved with weed.

How did your relationship with the plant start and how did it evolve as you evolved as a human?

My relationship with cannabis began when I was 11. I was just like any other kid living in the city, sneaking out of my mom’s basement to smoke in the middle of the night, before school, or after school. In those ways, I became very familiar with weed and trying to sell it. But the problem was, I didn’t have any weed to sell!

So I was trying to sell all types of shit. I was trying to sell blunt guts in a bag to the kids at the private school down the street. I remember the first time I tried to sell some weed I was in seventh grade and had a dime of Reggie. I tried to take it across the way to the high school in the area and tried to sell it to one of my friends. He was like, “Damn, man. You ain’t even got no mids?” I was like, “Man, this is all I got right now. You gonna buy it or not?”

As I got into high school, a lot of my big homies sold weed and I caught a couple plugs and became the guy with the specialty product. It was me and my boy Joey Purp—we had the best weed in the school and we’d pride ourselves on having cutting edge strains at the time. I really thought I was the man when I had Jack Frost, which was a Jack Herer cross strain. I’d be having the OG Kush, the Master Kush, some OG Master Kush. That was our thing, being at the cutting edge of our community as far as weed was concerned.

I used to go as far as bagging up my weed in Nike SB lace bags. For somebody I was trying to impress, I’d bag up an eighth of Jack Frost in the Nike SB lace bag and they’d be like, “Oh, this thing’s fresh.”

I honestly learned so much from selling weed. Selling weed was my first entrepreneurial pursuit. Before I was selling a mixtape or anything like that, I was selling weed. To make it to school on time, I had to get up and bag up mad early. Sometimes people would want to shop super late, so I’d need to stay awake. I had to be punctual—or as punctual as a weed man is—but I’m just a punctual person in general. In those ways, selling weed provided the building blocks for my understanding of work ethic, and through selling weed, I funded all of my first music projects, purchased all of my studio time, paid for all of my music videos—everything. Cannabis enabled me to be in the studio and to express myself.

Photo by Gabe Oviawe

When it got you into the studio, was there a moment or set of experiences where it became clear that music had taken over and was going to be your main path?

The moment when I sort of stopped everything else was when I got robbed, as a high schooler selling weed inevitably does. I was hustling serving guys who were way older than me—guys in their 20s who had newborn babies but were shopping with me buying quarters and halves daily—and I’m just a little ass kid. Eventually, I did get set up and robbed and lost a laptop with a bunch of important music on it. But around that same time, my father was really supportive of my music shit and was sometimes giving me money to go to the studio. So I just kind of fell back, you know?

It was the same way with graffiti. We kept getting arrested and eventually that was just in the way because music was starting to support itself. Everything else became ancillary—graffiti, hustling—things that were not my primary focus anymore—and I dove into music headfirst.

As you started to hit a certain level professionally, was there a “good omen” like in the Alchemist book that made you feel entrenched in music?

I was in a band in high school and we were performing at SXSW and different festivals courting all of the major record labels. In fairness, a lot of that was people reaching out to me, but I was loyal to the band. People loved the band as well, don’t get me wrong, but No I.D. reached out early on and was rocking with me so much that he was like, “I’ll check the band out.” The real life attrition was there, and this was the blog era, too, so we were getting love on all the blogs—2DopeBoyz, iLLRoots—and building relationships with all of those people. Even before music was paying anything, it was already real in high school and we were building a grassroots fanbase. We were selling out 1,500-person venues in Chicago when we were 16 and 17, so pretty quickly, the music became real.

I personally already had an understanding of grassroots marketing and communication from graffiti and hustling, so I’m selling tickets in the hallway the same way I’m selling dope, you know? Maybe at the same time. I’m putting up posters and stickers all over the city the same way I was just busting tags. On top of that, we were just making good music. The music became a clearly viable pathway pretty quickly.

Throughout your career, you’ve been outspoken about psychedelics and mental health. When did you start to understand the benefits of psychedelics and did they play a role in your success?

I got into psychedelics when I was 18 or 19. The first day I ever took shrooms I was sleeping on my manager-at-the-time’s couch and Chance [The Rapper] came over and he had a hook and a verse for a song that would become Cocoa Butter Kisses. I took the mushrooms, went into the other room, started writing my verse, and just caught a spirit. It was like, “Whoa, this is different.”

From there, I was taking mushrooms constantly in the making of that album called the INNANETAPE and [mushrooms] became a real part of my lifestyle. Throughout my life, plant medicine has been important to me and has played a big role in my different journeys as a human being. I chilled out on shrooms for a while after [INNANETAPE] because I had just overdone it.

The ways in which I’ve used mushrooms in recent years have been in a microdosing capacity and in a much more healing capacity. I started taking antidepressants when I was 15. I started seeing psychiatrists at that same age—therapists shortly after—and in the last 14 years, I’ve taken over 10 antidepressant medications. In that same time period, I’d probably had one year when they were effective, which is a dismal efficacy rate.

I’ve found that plant medicine has just been far more impactful to me in addressing my mental health than pharmaceuticals have, and I think the pharmaceutical industry is scared shitless about the potential for disruption that all of these different medicines present.

It’s like you start taking [pharmaceuticals] and you think that it’s helping because if you miss a couple of days you’re like, “Oh shit, I’m really bad, I’m suicidal now.” Then you remember you were never suicidal when you started taking the medication! The medicine is making me dependent on it. I was struggling when I first started taking it, but I wasn’t trying to kill myself. When you’re dealing with some of these plant medicines, you’re getting a more straight deal.

In the best moments, I think [plant medicine] can help move inhibition. Creativity is not of man in its purest form. It’s given to us from whatever you believe is above us. If it’s God or it’s Allah or the universe or the ancestors—at the end of the day—I believe we’re all just a vessel for a more powerful, divine energy. In the best moments of our creativity, we’re the most uninterrupted sacral. It’s like a radio, and [plant medicine] can help you pick up [the frequency]. They can help pick up the signal.

I’m learning more how to harness things as tools, but to train myself to be the primary influence. These days, I stray away from relying on being under the influence of anything other than myself. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever have external influences, but I work on my meditation a lot. Meditation has been the most powerful tool for me in addressing my mental health.

I’ve been meditating since I was 16, and in recent years, my meditation has become far more consistent and more extensive. I’ve learned more techniques, I’ve been on five-day silent meditation retreats, and I’ve studied different meditations from different places in the world. In terms of cannabis, some of its traditional uses were as a meditative tool. People think of Rastafarianism as a happy-go-lucky “by the beach, mon,” lackadaisical idea. In reality, those Rastas are vegan, deeply spiritual, deeply meditative, deeply revolutionary, and they meditate with the ganja. Meditation is my medicine above all.

If I haven’t meditated in a day, I find myself getting aggravated over little things I can’t control. Meditation is my first line of defense.

The paradox is that sometimes you’ll need a plant medicine experience to understand that you don’t need plant medicine to get to an elevated place.

There are breathing exercises and meditations you can do that will get you as high as any weed or psychedelic spirit medicine. One of my favorite things these days is to microdose mushrooms and complete an hour-and-15-minute-long meditation from a book by Dr. Joe Dispenza. I usually don’t do guided meditations because I like the practice of disciplining myself, but the meditation in this book Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself is so wicked that it’s like being on an astral plane. When I microdose, I’m taking non-psychoactive doses, which helps me tap into my internal power.

Photo by Gabe Oviawe

In January, you had an incident with psychedelics that made headlines. How did it go down?

I was headed to Ghana for about a month and I’d decided to get off my antidepressant medication. For the past few years, I’ve been dabbling with microdosing, but not really in the most consistent way. I had that experience that I mentioned previously where I had recently started taking a new antidepressant, took a few days off and started to feel suicidal. But I then realized I wasn’t suicidal when I’d started taking the medication, and decided to get off of it.

So I was off to Ghana and was going to quit the antidepressant cold turkey. I was going to get on a real microdosing regimen, not have a drink when I got there, and take this step for my mental health. I reached out to a couple different companies just to get the right microdose of shrooms and they sent me a bunch of shit. Pretty carelessly, I threw it all in my bag and took off.

I had a great experience there, no issues getting off of the antidepressants. All of the microdosing was cool and I just put all the shit back in the bag, wasn’t thinking too hard about it, and then I ended up going to jail.

In all honesty, what I had on me probably added up to an eighth of shrooms and a single tab of acid—which was an LSD microdose—so the entire bottle was one dose. It was a very miniscule amount of psychedelics in big packaging. But I was in such a cool place in my mind, had been meditating a ton, and was in such spiritual alignment that I wasn’t stressed.

I’ve been working with a lot of folks recently in the prison release space and was actually able to help a friend of mine come home 12 years early on a 25 year sentence in 2020. So at the end of the day, being involved in clemency processes and legal processes for bringing other guys home made being in jail for a couple days—especially with the perspective that I have of these friends who are living years of their life in prison—a miniscule experience.

My meditations also gave me a brilliant edge in there, to the point where I was just meditating the whole time to avoid thinking negatively. I’d come in front of the bail court and she was like, “Yeah, we’re going to move your court date to three months from now.” It’s those things that will make your mind want to freak out, but I was in a place of real alignment, so I wasn’t stressed and decided to see things as a blessing in the form of a lesson, and was like, “I’m going to get into the psychedelic game, too!”

Photo by Gabe Oviawe

At this point, the medical and health benefits are undeniable.

The actual, tangible, biochemical serotonin levels in your mind are boosted. It’s like the laws of this nation are proven time and time again to be ineffective at meeting the needs of the people. The people are sick, are in constant fear and danger of gun violence, are poorly fed nutritionally, and the laws of this nation are incapable of addressing any solution to those many needs. So sometimes, you gotta go to jail for some shit that’s stupid.

In May, I launched the first black-owned cannabis brand in Chicago, Illinois—93 Boyz. We’re in quite a few dispensaries and are rapidly expanding. We all know what the War on Drugs has done to Black and brown communities, but it still stands that our representation in the industry is miniscule. So we’re taking steps to change that.

Our brand is standing on high quality and cutting edge genetics in a market that doesn’t really have that yet. Also baked into our ethos is that a portion of all of our proceeds are going to community-driven efforts. And that’s what 93 Boyz is all about: Tastemaker weed mixed with socially-minded initiatives.

Our first project that we’re launching in August with the release of our full strain portfolio is a project called Books Before Bars. We’re putting over one-thousand books into Illinois jails and prisons. This is an idea I had from my own experience sending literature to people in prison and seeing how their entire life experience can be—and has been—shifted by reading the right books. If you can’t attain freedom yet in the physical, you can get it in the mental while you’re still in the cage. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

The post Vic Mensa Pays It Forward appeared first on High Times.

M-1 of dead prez Discusses Criminal Justice Reform, Last Prisoner Project Benefit Concert

People remain behind bars for cannabis-related convictions despite the abundance of legalization and decriminalization measures that roll out in the U.S. Rather than be apathetic about cannabis prisoners, it’s time to do something about it.

Keep Austin Weed is partnering with cannabis criminal justice reform nonprofit Last Prisoner Project (LPP) and pioneering hip-hop group dead prez. LPP focuses on three key criminal justice reform initiatives: prisoner release, cannabis record clearance, and reentry support. 

Dead prez will be performing at a benefit concert for LPP on March 13 from 6-10 p.m. at the Far Out Lounge & Stage during the South by Southwest (SXSW) tech, film, music, education, and culture festival in Austin, Texas. The Far Out Lounge & Stage provides more information about the event Let’s Get Free on the website.

The event marks the appointment of Mutulu Olugbala, aka M-1, of dead prez, to LPP’s Board of Directors. He’ll be joining cannabis industry leaders, executives, and activists who are committed to supporting LPP’s mission to free cannabis prisoners who still remain behind bars.

There will be a performance by dead prez along with special guests, including Blindspotting creators Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs (Hamilton), both of whom appear in the original 2018 film.

Arrests Continue

According to the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer, state and local law enforcement agencies reported 170,856 arrests for cannabis possession in 2021, slightly down from over 226,000 in 2020. And Texas was home to the highest number of arrests, with over 60,000 arrests.

Despite all of the decriminalization measures, including Texas’s city-level decriminalization measures, the arrests continue, and people remain behind bars for outdated laws. LPP estimates at least 40,000 remain incarcerated in the U.S. for crimes involving cannabis. 

“Indeed this is fundamentally wrong,” M-1 tells High Times. “It’s plain to see that the U.S. agenda of mass incarceration is still their priority. This is glaring due to the changed public perception and recent decriminalization of cannabis. These contradictions expose the depth of injustice in this country as the undeniable power of plant medicine continues to grow.”

The mixed messages we get from the government aren’t going to work. 

That’s one of the reasons M-1 agreed to join Last Prisoner Project’s Board of Directors.

“The Last Prisoner Project has done tremendous work fighting for the justice and freedom of cannabis prisoners which completely aligns with work I have been doing as a revolutionary cultural worker. I’m excited to be seated on this board and bring my years of experience and resources to this mission,” M-1 says. “LPP is the counterbalance to a growing cannabis industry which should be celebrating this legacy and people who paid the price to push our culture forward.”

Courtesy Last Prisoner Project

Get Political with dead prez

Check out LPP’s latest Pardons To Progress campaign that puts pressure on local governors to use their clemency power to release those incarcerated for cannabis offenses on the state level if you want to get involved, M-1 says.

If you’ve been listening to dead prez for the past two decades, the group has adopted a strong political tone since day one. 

“Since everything is political in my opinion, we have to hold this government and present administration to their promise to release cannabis prisoners,” M-1 says. “It’s imperative that we engage in this fight in every circle we may find ourselves in as most of us have been affected by the unfair imprisonment of so many of our family and community. I have been fortunate to use music and culture and tools to spread our word and raise our platforms.” 

Let’s Get Free Concert hosted by Keep Austin Weed takes place in Austin where voters decriminalized cannabis, along with a handful of other cities in Texas. The next step is anyone’s best guess.

“Abolishing prohibition in Texas (and nationally) would be a tremendous victory for our populace. The economic benefit alone would literally be reparations to all of us who have been impacted negatively by this outdated legal system,” M-1 says. “Dead prez will be shouting this message from the stage along with some special guests at the Far Out Lounge in Austin. With a global spotlight on Texas during that time, LPP will have a great opportunity to gain more support.”

Cannabis Prisoners

Richard DeLisi served 32 years of a 99-year sentence for a nonviolent crime. He was released from prison on Dec. 8, 2020. But during his time in prison, DeLisi’s wife and other family members passed away. His daughter was paralyzed, and he missed many memories. At age 71, he was released from prison in Florida, making him the longest-serving, nonviolent cannabis prisoner in the U.S. People like DeLisi deserve to have an early hand in legal cannabis, probably more than anyone.

“First of all—free all cannabis prisoners!” M-1 says. “Welcome home to Mr. DeLisi and I’m so happy to be sharing a space with him to call for more people like him to get what they deserve… Justice!! The Legacy Operators should be the fashioners of what the transition to legal cannabis should look like in order to avoid the bureaucracy that has happened in other states that are attempting to build competent weed policies. Richard DeLisi has a legal cannabis brand named DeLisioso and they are actually the presenting sponsor of the concert.”

Police brutality and general overreach continues to overlap with outdated cannabis laws. In Denton, Texas, for instance, cannabis was decriminalized, but city management and police chose to arrest people anyways.

“I have endured the traumatic experience of law enforcement harassment many times,” M-1 says. “Part of what must be done is to deal with mental health challenges that have arisen around our colonial relationship to the police. I represent a generation of people who have been persecuted for recognizing cannabis as a wellness.”

Join dead prez March 13 at the Far Out Lounge & Stage during SXSW in Austin.

“We will right these wrongs, M-1 says. “Free ‘em All!!

The post M-1 of dead prez Discusses Criminal Justice Reform, Last Prisoner Project Benefit Concert appeared first on High Times.

How Hip-Hop Icons Naughty By Nature Blazed Past the Sleepers

Vincent “Vin Rock” Brown and Keir Lamont Gist—known professionally as DJ KayGee—are two of the most recognizable names in hip-hop. Along with founding Naughty By Nature group member Anthony Criss aka “Treach,” the rappers are thought of as legends in the hip-hop community—a role they hope to continue by both creating new music and paying it forward to the next generation of artists.

Vin and KayGee have now formed another group called Illtown Sluggaz, one which will feature DJ and Producer Slugga—a bear and mascot in the vein of a deadmau5 character. The Sluggaz are part group, part record label and part artist management development platform, with new music to be released and a new Slugga Music Concert Series kicking off March 25th at The Wellmont Theater in New Jersey. The concert series aims to give up-and-coming artists a chance to share the stage with veteran performers in a way to help them grow organically. 

When we connect over Zoom, Vin and KayGee are eager to discuss their almost 40 years of music industry experience, celebrating the 30th anniversary of their 19 Naughty III album and smash hit “Hip Hop Hooray,” the role of cannabis in their creative process, and how they used hate from the “sleepers” to fuel their decorated career in music.

High Times: Growing up in New Jersey, was music always the path?

DJ KayGee: Growing up, it was really the early days of hip-hop and the culture. Just seeing everybody around the way, listening to the music, seeing the graffiti—all the things associated with the scene. And then finally, for me, it was seeing the movie Wild Style. That’s what really made me say, “Oh, I want to try to get into that culture.”

High Times: What about the movie specifically did it for you?

DJ KayGee: It was Grandmaster Flash DJing on the turntables in there. When I saw that in the movie, I said, “I have to try that.”

Vin Rock: For me, I’m the youngest of seven—five sisters, one brother—and my brother used to play the drums all of the time. He’d play Heat Wave, Kool & The Gang, Con Funk Shun on the record player and then would try and drum exactly how the drummers were drumming on the records. He’d get frustrated and kick and throw his drums all over the place because he couldn’t get it exactly right.

Fast forward to the Gladys Knight & the Pips music video “Save the Overtime (For Me).” I believe they had the New York City Breakers in there and I saw the guy do the backspin and was like, “Oh my goodness, that’s incredible.” I had a guy—Mark Young, we called him ‘Loco’—who lived on my block and always used to listen or have access to the underground mixtapes and “battle” tapes of all the live hip-hop performances that were in New York City.

I remember hearing Doug E. Fresh beatboxing and sounding like he had rocks in his mouth. I was like, “Wow, that stuff sounds crazy. How does he do that?” I spent a good part of my youth trying to get that Doug E. Fresh sound in my mouth—until I finally got it. That’s what did it for me.

High Times: Once your interest in music was established, how did Naughty By Nature’s formation take shape?

Vin Rock: All three of us [Vin, KayGee, and Treach] were from the same hometown of East Orange, New Jersey, though KayGee and I lived closer together. I lived on 15th Street, he lived on 18th Street. So if you did the math, we were three blocks away from each other, and Treach lived across the way.

There was a train track and you had to go under the trestle, and there were housing projects Little City and Kuzuri. Treach lived over on that side. Kay and I always knew each other and I used to breakdance with his neighbor—a guy named Terry Peppers—who lived directly across the street from Kay. So I was a breakdancer and beatboxer, and after I finished breakdancing with Terry, I would hear Kay DJing on his sun porch. I’d go across the street to Kay, beatbox for him while he DJd.

KayGee is a year older than Treach and I and he was a senior in high school and wanted to participate in his senior talent show. We needed an MC, so I told Kay there’s this guy in my health class who always rhymes to me. Every other day he’s coming with another rhyme while I beatbox—and that was Treach. I brought him over to Kay and we kind of formed the group from there.

At that first talent show, we didn’t even have a name for the group, we were just doing a routine. At the beginning of the routine, Kay scratched in a Beastie Boys “It’s the new style” lyric, and after the show—the show went well—we recapped how it was a great show and how the intro really worked. We were like, “Why don’t we call ourselves The New Style?” That’s when we first really gelled as our first group being The New Style.

High Times: What was the first inclination where you felt the group could actually be something?

DJ KayGee: After we had the initial performance for the senior talent show, we started doing local talent shows and clubs and we started winning them. As we were winning the talent shows—originally they had it where the crowd would judge them—they changed the rules because we kept winning and winning. Other people and other artists started complaining that New Style comes with their built-in audience, that’s why they’re winning. They’re coming with their blocks. So, they started bringing in celebrities and other different people to judge the shows instead of the crowd, and that’s actually when we first met Biz Markie, Cool V and guys like The 45 King and Flavor Unit. Once we started winning those talent shows, we felt like we had something.

High Times: And it sounds like the talent shows also brought you onto the scene where you were able to meet your contemporaries like Biz.

DJ KayGee: And they’re starting to see us and be like, “Wow, those guys are good.”

Vin Rock: It was a process because we weren’t recording at that moment, we were just live performers. We knew we had a group and we saw what was happening with hip-hop, but then it got to the point where we were like, “We can take it seriously and start recording,” and that’s when we thought we could actually have a recording career and evolve beyond just performing locally.

One thing led to another and we met our guy—Mike C—who was a local MC already signed to the old Sugar Hill label. He introduced us to Sylvia Robinson and Joey Robinson, Jr. from Sugar Hill Records and that’s when we started to take ourselves seriously as far as recording artists. We began recording under the name The New Style, and once we had our demo together, we presented it to them and they signed us under The New Style for our first album.

Sugar Hill Records at that time—of course they had Melly Mel, Grandmaster Flash, all of the legendary music—but they were at the tail end of their run. It was almost like signing with Death Row after Death Row was over. Sugar Hill Records ended up changing their name to Bon Ami Records—which was part of a settlement of a lawsuit they had with MCA—and so our album just sat on the shelf and never did anything. But we believed in ourselves and we knew we had more to give, so that was that pivotal moment where we were like we’re not going to give up. We pursued Mark The 45 King and Queen Latifah from The Flavor Unit because they were our contemporaries right in our own backyard. We wanted to get down with The Flavor Unit and began auditioning for them, threw a party for ourselves and invited Flavor Unit over, and then once Flavor Unit signed us to Flavor Unit Management, we changed our name to Naughty By Nature. That was the moment we were like, “Now we really have to go for it.”

High Times: And you didn’t let the business stuff discourage you from pursuing what you knew you had.

DJ KayGee: While we were with Bon Ami, we did a whole album, and we thought we did okay with it. It was the beginning stages—and like Vin said—we had never been in the studio. We weren’t fully, fully developed yet but we did think we had something to start off with. People were starting to say “You guys have something, you guys have something.”

We felt like we sort of got the short end of the stick coming out under Bon Ami, but at the same time, we learned how to get better and where to record. Within that process, we started paying for the studio time ourselves and started really developing what you hear—and what you heard—as Naughty By Nature. That’s when we started working on “O.P.P.” and all of those records while still doing talent shows and getting better and better. Not only did we feel we had perfected how to perform live, we had started to come into our own in the studio as well.

After we were feeling zoned in after that first album—Naughty By Nature—that’s when we did the whole thing with The Flavor Unit and threw our own party and met with them. At that point, we had “O.P.P.” and knew we had a bomb with it and knew that once we had some better people with us, we’d be able to break through. We were rocking crowds without a record, so if we took the whole thing and put it together, put it on wax, and then did what we could do with a record that people knew, we would be unstoppable. We just needed to get the politics to kick us through the door, and Flavor Unit was the politics.

Vin Rock: I would say one of the biggest catalysts for us back then were—they call them “haters” today—but back in the day, they’d call them “sleepers,” the people who were sleeping on you—the doubters. I remember when we had the twelve-inch single as The New Style called “Scuffin’ Those Knees,” then we had the album which we put up in a local sandwich shop—Sandwiches Unlimited. We were just coming out of high school and we were the hometown heroes, but the album never really broke through, so a lot of people were like, “Nah, they didn’t make it, they’ll never make it.” That really pissed us off and made us be like, “You know what? We really have to prove to these haters that we can make it.”

High Times: You took that sleep, took that hate, and turned it into something positive that ended up being a success.

DJ KayGee: Definitely. We were starting to hone in and perfect it all. At that point, it was just like, “We really love this.” There’s no turning back. Once you start doing it, you start creating and enjoying it. It came from just being a part-time hobby to being something that became a profession that we took really seriously.

High Times: And by taking it seriously, you were simply taking your live crowd-rocking abilities and recording them in a way that more people could consume.

DJ KayGee: That’s why when you hear the records we’ve made they’ve always been call-and-response or party-driven records. We come from that era and that style of artists. Period. We had to rock crowds and win people over without a record.

High Times: Which is different from how it’s done today.

DJ KayGee: They don’t do that anymore. People just put records out and then they throw you on the stage after. There is no honing of the skills, taking your losses. We got “booed” plenty of times coming up. We’ve been through all of that. A lot of these [new] guys—and it’s not their fault—it’s just music has changed now.

Vin Rock: As a matter of fact, last night we all went over to DaDa’s birthday party and guess who was there? Big Stan, yo. He’s the promoter who booked us at Red Alert’s birthday party when we were The New Style—just before we transitioned to Naughty By Nature.

We’re from New Jersey, and back then, it was all about the five boroughs of New York City and they were so possessive of hip-hop. If you weren’t from the five boroughs, don’t even think about coming into New York saying you’re a rapper because you are literally uninvited.

Because of KayGee’s older brother, he had a relationship with this guy Stan, who was a big promoter back then. Stan had thrown DJ Red Alert’s birthday party and the who’s who of hip-hop was there: KRS-One, De La Soul, Queen Latifah, Tribe Called Quest—you name them, they were there. And [Stan] gave us a shot as being Jersey artists coming into New York City for Red Alert’s birthday party. Well, we get in the venue, I grab the mic and say,  “What’s up, y’all. Jersey’s in the house! They booed us endlessly. We couldn’t get through our routine, we played the first record and they booed booed booed booed booed. We had to just stop the show and step off. The weirdest thing about it was that it was winter time. When we drove into New York City, the roads were clear. After we got booed, we went outside and there was three feet of snow. We had the longest ride back to Jersey. 

High Times: An experience like that teaches you something.

Vin Rock: Oh it taught us everything. At that point, it was not only our peers and high school mates who were doubting us—although we had a healthy support system and had a lot of people rocking with us—it was those one or two comments like “Ah, you’re crap” or whatever that make you feel like they’re screwing you over. We had the hometown that we had to prove to that we could break through, and then we went into New York City knowing we were outcasts and knowing New York City wasn’t checking for any Jersey rappers. We may as well have been from Alabama back then. When we went to New York and got booed, it just lit that fire under us and we were like, “Nah, man. We’re really going to get these guys.”

We called them sleepers and made songs like “Thankx for Sleepwalking,” and as we evolved into Naughty By Nature, we made bedsheets and pillow cases so people could “sleep” on us literally [laughs].

High Times: And profit off their snoozing.

Vin Rock: On our second album, we had the inserts there for Naughty By Nature merchandise. Tommy Boy Records had the inserts and we literally sold the bedsheets in the cassettes and CDs back then. In the “Hip Hop Hooray” video, there’s a scene where Treach is in bed and he pulls the sheet over and it’s Naughty By Nature bed sheets. We definitely monetized it.

Courtesy Naughty By Nature

High Times: In terms of “Hip Hop Hooray,” it’s now the 30th anniversary of the track and the album 19 Naughty III. What went into the track and album at that time?

DJ KayGee: Number one, it was the second album and a lot of people—and I’m sure even Tommy Boy—probably weren’t sure what they had in us yet. Everybody was always worried about the “sophomore jinx,” like is it a one album or one record fluke. Can you really get through, or is it a one-hit-wonder thing.

We were out touring and touring and touring—”O.P.P.”, “Uptown Anthem,” “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”—we had all of those records, so we were on tour for like a year and a half straight. Tommy Boy was telling Flavor Unit, “The guys need to get in and get a new record. We need to capitalize off the success of the first album. What’s up?” So we were working but we didn’t really feel any pressure. Like I said, we felt like we knew what we were doing. We knew what we were doing and we were just gonna do what we do. We weren’t going to be stuck or try to be something that we weren’t, we were just going to make our records. And that’s what we did.

Even going into “Hip Hop Hooray,” we didn’t approach it trying to make a big record or trying to do anything. It was just another track, another chorus, another idea. Once it was done we knew we had another monster, but it was just like, “Hey, we’re going to work our records.” And even with that, we knew we had a good record but never even handed the record in.

We went up to KMEL in the Bay Area and were doing a radio show for their Summer Jam and were just like, “Yo, let’s test this record out.” We performed the record there and that’s where the whole hands up “Hey, Ho” came from. Treach just started [moving his arms on stage] and the crowd started doing it. So we were like okay, that’s going to carry over.

People went so crazy that the program director called Tommy Boy the next morning and said, “There’s this record that Naughty By Nature performed last night. If you don’t send that to me now, we’re going to play the live version on the radio.” Tommy Boy was calling in to Shakim [Compere] like, “What is going on? What record are they talking about?” And were like, “Oh, that’s ‘Hip Hop Hooray.’ We just have to mix and finish it. We just tried it out out there and it was dope so, yeah, we’ll get it to you soon.”

Vin Rock: Another thing that was so genius about the record “Hip Hop Hooray” was that although we were from Jersey, although we were ostracized coming up, and although New York City didn’t accept us, once we finally broke through and began to get idolized after the first album, we started to win over the New York guys and New York peers. The first single off the second album—”Hip Hop Hooray”—it gave props to hip-hop, and I think it was genius what Treach did.

Instead of being bitter like, “Yeah, look at us now, we’re the shit, blah blah blah,” the song gave props to hip-hop. We shouted out all of our forefathers and that’s what it was—giving props to everyone who came before us, which is why I say to this day that “Hip Hop Hooray” is the ultimate ode to hip-hop.

Even right now as we’re celebrating fifty years in hip-hop, no better record sums up fifty years in hip-hop for me than “Hip Hop Hooray.” It represents inclusion, gives props to the forefathers, and is the ultimate party record.

High Times: Did you know ahead of time that Spike Lee was going to direct the music video?

DJ KayGee: We were just sitting around or something and somebody was like, “What do you think of Spike Lee directing this?” We were just like, “That would be dope.”

Vin Rock: We had rhythm then, so all eyes were on us—and although Tommy Boy was indie—they were a small, strong machine. So they were reaching out, and I’m sure they reached out to Spike Lee. He saw the energy Naughty was kicking out there and we definitely made that happen.

With Spike being from Brooklyn and us being from Jersey, we actually shot in both cities. We shot in Brooklyn, we shot in Jersey, and then we had the cameo list. From Run-D.M.C., Queen Latifah, Monie Love to D-Nice, Eazy-E—you name it.

Funny enough, 2Pac was there on the set, but for some reason he did not make the cut. In the crowd scenes though, 2Pac was there.

DJ KayGee: Yeah, there’s a picture of him standing on the circle thing or whatever.

Vin Rock: I think Pac was just so young in the game [at that time] that he wasn’t really on the map yet. That’s probably a Spike edit, but I’m sure Spike has that raw footage. We’ll have to break into those 40 Acres and a Mule vaults and get that. It would have been dope to do a remix video with that original footage and use edits and cuts that were never in the original video.

DJ KayGee: And a lot of people were at that video.You talk to a lot of our counterparts and they’ll say they were at that video.

High Times: So it was more of a “Who’s Who” event as much as it was a music video for you guys.

Vin Rock: Exactly. It was a party, man. That’s what I remember. I remember it being a party, I remember all of the chicks being around. We were like twenty-three back then.

High Times: In terms of parties, what role did cannabis play in your music creation process and in your personal lives?

Vin Rock: We grew up in the streets, and not to incriminate ourselves, we were street kids. So selling weed was part of coming up. 

DJ KayGee: That was the weed era.

Vin Rock: Especially in the eighties, man. Late eighties.

Vin Rock: Shit, even the mid-eighties. I remember being the stash man when I was fourteen or fifteen years old. Again, I’m the youngest of seven, so there’s a huge age gap. My oldest sister is now sixty-five years old and I’m fifty-two. So with five sisters, Colt 45, playing backgammon, and spades—I’m the youngest guy sitting around. Sipping beer and smoking weed—I picked that up as a thirteen/fourteen year old.

Creatively and musically, one of the most famous lines on one of our records is on “Uptown Anthem.” It starts off with: Hey you could smoke a spliff / On a cliff / But there’s still no mountain hiiiiiigh enough / Or wide enough to touch. It starts off with weed.

We came with “O.P.P.”, then we had “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” and then the song “Uptown Anthem” was the single off the Juice soundtrack, which they eventually attached to the first album, but the first bar has to do with weed.

Treach and I are the weed smokers of the group. Kay just sold it [laughs], but it’s always played a role in our creative process.

DJ KayGee: I couldn’t get high on my own supply.

High Times: Did you sell it to Vin and Treach?

DJ KayGee: Absolutely [laughs]. But then it got to the point where I started giving it to them.

Vin Rock: I remember at one point when I was selling, I used to pick up from Kay and then sell our weed in the park and stuff like that. So Kay was the plug back in the day.

DJ KayGee: A little bit of weed never hurt anybody. It’s legal now, but it never hurt anybody.

High Times: Creatively, how did it help you?

Vin Rock: Definitely when you’re performing. You relax, you get in the mood. The combination of weed and some alcohol is all we ever did. It just sets the tone for you to go out and rock the crowd.

Even in the creative process, you could be sober writing rhymes, writing lyrics, coming up with ideas—and then when you want to relax a little more and you blaze a little bit—it gives you a different mindset and you’ll think of things you didn’t necessarily think of when you were sober. After you sober up, you can go back to the material you developed when you were fucking blazed up. It’s a good balance. You come up with what you need to record.

High Times: Another tool in the toolbox.

Vin Rock: Exactly. It’s like another dimension.

Follow @naughtybynature4ever, @unclevinrock, @kaygeebn and check out the 30th anniversary of 19 Naughty III dropping everywhere 2/24.

The post How Hip-Hop Icons Naughty By Nature Blazed Past the Sleepers appeared first on High Times.

Film Review: ‘Grass Is Greener’ Documentary Nails It

I have a thing about most documentaries; it’s not unlike the thing I have about Brussels sprouts: I never want to watch/eat them, then I’m always glad I did. Happens. Every. Time. And the idea that I had to sit through a documentary that’s already nearly three years old, well, let’s just say my enthusiasm meter wasn’t exactly jumping with mind-blowing excitement.

Grass Is Greener ostensibly follows hip-hop icon Fab Five Freddy on his often-disturbing trek to uncover the truth about the history of cannabis prohibition in the US. Commencing in the 1920s New Orleans jazz clubs where Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington were forced to perpetually fend off being arrested due to overtly racist policies, the documentary concludes by interviewing rap legends Snoop Dogg and B-Real of Cypress Hill as they expertly discuss the current state of cannabis.

The film, streaming on Netflix, also provides perspectives from relevant lawyers, cannabis advocates and activists. By far the most harrowing are examples of families torn apart by America’s pervasive and unjustified obsession with convicting people of color for minor marijuana infractions. It’s a lot to take in.

The riveting examination provides us with a villain early on, the cartoonishly bigoted first director of the Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger. The political appointee enforced fabricated policies while ignoring definitive scientific studies specifically targeting two groups still grappling (and demanding) social justice in this nation: African Americans and Mexican immigrants. In fact, the very name “cannabis” was purposedly changed to “marijuana” to further connect the supposedly dangerous narcotic more directly with the feared Mexicans crossing the border. It’s all as infuriating as it is outrageous, but given the current societal climate in the US, not at all surprising. C’mon now, is Harry Anslinger all that different from, say, Jeff Sessions, the enforcer of the draconian child separation policy at the US border during the previous administration? Here’s a hint: He’s not.

Grass Is Greener features commentary from music legends Snoop Dogg, B-Real and Damian Marley.

But wait! There are good guys, too. Most surprising, perhaps, was former New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who commissioned a report on cannabis that refuted all of Anslinger’s preposterous claims. “Instead of science, the government knowingly and willingly chose propaganda, chose racism over and over again,” said one astute subject of the documentary about the irrefutable evidence found in LaGuardia’s report. But the direct line from Anslinger, to Richard Nixon’s War On Drugs, to Ronald (and Nancy) Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign and to Bill Clinton’s odious Crime Bill all relegated cannabis to be perceived as nothing short of premeditated evil. And it was all a lie.

I was amped up for action by the time Grass Is Greener gets to Jack Herer’s revelatory The Emperor Wears No Clothes, the truth bomb of a book that blew the lid off the perpetuated untruths about weed the US government had been spewing for a century. And by the end of the doc, I’m left with not only a crystal-clear understanding of the history of cannabis, but an even better understanding about American jurisprudence and how acutely unjust it has always been. Always.

Grass Is Greener should be required viewing for cannabis lovers, yes, but also for lovers of our country and democracy and justice. I’m so glad I saw this remarkably important documentary. Not surprisingly, I’m now craving a heaping serving of Brussels sprouts. I got the do-something munchies for sure.

This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.

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Oh, To Be Wiz Khalifa

What kind of entrepreneur gives his product away for free? Judging by the decade Wiz Khalifa has enjoyed, a very successful one. (Spoiler alert: He doesn’t give everything away, and definitely not Khalifa Kush.) 

A walking, talking, and—as befits the reputation of a man who once claimed to spend $10,000 a month on cannabis—smoking embodiment of the requisites demanded by the “slash” economy, in which the line between patron and artist isn’t so much blurred as it’s one contiguous broad stroke, the musician-slash-businessman-slash-social media-powered marketing machine broke the internet for three solid days way back in 2010, when he chose to release the critically acclaimed mixtape-slash-lifestyle manifesto Kush and Orange Juice for free. His winning ethos: partying, hanging out with beautiful women, chasing positive vibes and staying extremely high.

The business genius lay in knowing that gifting his audience content also meant growing his audience, and thereby his dollars. The next year, Wiz Khalifa was riding on top of the Billboard 100 with “Black and Yellow,” the addictively catchy anthem paying homage to Pittsburgh—his adopted hometown where his acumen in the recording studio attracted attention from record labels before he was even old enough to drive. 

By 2013, the prodigy was generating $14 million a year, according to Forbes, enough to be mentioned in the same top-ten list as other luminaries—and similarly multi-faceted business empires anchored in music—including the likes of Drake, Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg. Of course, there was one major difference: Aside from Snoop Dogg, Wiz was the only one doing it while also centering weed. And he was doing it well before cannabis legalization entered the mainstream. 

Had he been coming up a decade earlier, that might have been dismissed as too risky of a move by Wiz’s handlers in the marketing department over at his record label. Of course, by that time Wiz had already ditched Warner Bros., his original label, for taking too long to release music and went independent via his own label Taylor Gang—and relying on his demonstrated social media virality to do the job a whole floor’s worth of marketing music professionals couldn’t, even if they tried. 

The Taylor Gang co-founder launched his eponymous cannabis company, Khalifa Kush, in 2016.

Looking back now, centering cannabis wasn’t a conscious or calculated decision, Wiz tells me candidly. It was just who he was and what he was about—and what he believed to be right and true. 

“It really wasn’t a choice, just how I came up and the lifestyle,” he insists. “I’m like, ‘This really isn’t that bad of a thing.’ People thought I was crazy putting weed on YouTube on college campuses, but that’s just what it was.”

More than a dozen years later, the man born Cameron Jibril Thomaz outside a lonely North Dakota US Air Force base remains as omnipresent and as squarely on the cutting edge of just about everything there is in popular culture. 

And I do mean everything: In between demanding real estate, in popular video games while also dropping new music in the Metaverse; collaborating with fellow Yinzer Girl Talk and other producers on Multiverse, his seventh album released in July 2022; organizing a free concert; critiquing other rappers who claim to wear expensive outfits once before moving onto the next fit—“not a flex,” Wiz said and praising President Joe Biden’s potentially revolutionary first step towards federally rescheduling (or, maybe, finally, legalizing) cannabis, Wiz visited Florida to launch the latest collaboration selling his eponymous Khalifa Kush—this time in concert with Trulieve, the Sunshine State’s most powerful cannabis business empire. (Along the way, he’s also studied Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai kickboxing, and is raising his nine-year-old son, born when Wiz was married to the model and media personality Amber Rose.)

Whew. That’s more of a lifetime to-do list than it is a résumé, but it’s all there. How does the hip hop superstar stay focused on so many lanes all at once? He doesn’t, at least not with any kind of one-at-a-time tunnel vision.

“They all feed each other,” Wiz said in between a flurry of meetings and appearances. “I love making music and I love the companies I’ve created. I’ve built a trusted team around me, that knows the vision and knows how to make shit happen.”

Of course, as a brand and as a reputation grows bigger,  the bigger the risk of dilution. Perhaps nowhere has this been more prominently and more keenly felt than in commercial cannabis, where industrial-scaled offerings from Big Weed continue to struggle to compete with tax-free, cottage-industry grown traditional market fire. Trulieve grown-and-sold Khalifa Kush will avoid that trap, Wiz assures me, in part because he has inserted himself into the quality-control process, as any true aficionado would.

The cannapreneur recently announced Khalifa Kush’s latest collaboration with Trulieve, Florida’s most powerful cannabis business.

“We only partner with people that we know we can trust, and that give our genetics the love they need,” he says. “I’ve been smoking KK for more than a decade, and it’s the same thing we put in jars and grown with the same love…  it doesn’t get more authentic than that.”

As for other celebrity cannabis brands and their struggles to break into and stay in a competitive industry, Wiz isn’t all that concerned. 

“There’s a ton of room in the industry for other people to do what they do,” he said. “We focus on putting out only the highest quality products using our exclusive genetics. We just dropped our second strain ever, Khalifa Mints, a cross of KK x The Menthol. We have a bunch of new genetics on deck to launch over the next year and beyond. We’re working more than a year out at this point. It’s all about the strategy and patience for us.”

Someone this busy and this successful might have his very own joint-roller in a swollen entourage, but as befits someone who took heat for a fashion ensemble that’s more athleisure than it’s runway-ready, Wiz says he keeps it simple.

“I usually grind and roll myself, but if I’m extra busy I’ve been prepping cones ahead of time so I’m good for a couple days,” he says.

“If you follow me on social media, you know I’m always rollin’ with it.”

After celebrating his 35th birthday in 2022, Wiz Khalifa still has a few years of growth to go before the mid-life landmark of 40. As for what the next couple of trips around the sun will entail: well, probably more of the same, with whatever else is new and good thrown into the mix. Twitter, Metaverse, Instagram or something else entirely: With Wiz Khalifa, what you see is what you get, and the formula seems to be working just fine.

“When you’re visible it’s important to set an example using your platforms,” the talented Khalifa says. “I focus on being a good dad, raising my son the right way, working hard and taking the stigma out of being a stoner.”

After all, he says, “Everyone smokes weed.” 

This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.

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Afroman Announces 2024 Run for President

Hip-hop artist and cannabis community icon Afroman announced over the weekend that he is running for president of the United States in 2024. Afroman, who became a hero of the weed crowd with his song “Because I Got High” in 2000, announced his bid for the White House on Sunday during a concert performance at the Black River Coliseum in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, according to a report from TMZ. Two days later, he took to social media to spread his message to a broader audience.

“My Fellow Americans, there comes a time in the course of human events when change must be affected,” Afroman wrote on Instagram on Tuesday. “That time is now. Americans are suffering, and the status quo is no longer acceptable. Inflation is out of control. The economy is in shambles. The housing market is staggering. Politicians are corrupt. Bad apples are allowed to remain in law enforcement, amongst our noble and brave officers.”

“It is my immense honor and pleasure to formally announce Afroman as an independent candidate for President of the United States of America,” he added.

Afroman, aka Joseph Edgar Foreman, was born in Los Angeles in 1974 and got an early start in the music business by recording songs and selling them to his classmates by the time he was in eighth grade. He released his first album in 1998 before relocating to Mississippi, where he made contacts in the music business who would eventually produce and perform on “Because I Got High.” The song, which detailed how marijuana could interfere with the chores of modern life, became a hit in 2001, the year the track was featured in films including Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Afroman released his latest album, Lemon Pound Cake, in September.

Afroman Pledges To Be ‘Cannabis Commander in Chief’

Referring to himself as the “Cannabis Commander in Chief” and the “Pot Head of State” in his social media post, Afroman promised to make cannabis reform and other issues a priority of his campaign for president.

“Medicinal plants are criminalized, while pharmaceutical companies enrich themselves on chemicals with unknown side effects,” he wrote. “The media sows the seeds of hatred 24 hours a day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year. They attempt to divide based on race, religion, gender, sexual preference, and every other category that they can think of.”

In a separate post on Instagram, Afroman outlined eight priorities for his 2024 presidential campaign. First and foremost was decriminalizing cannabis and “other substances with low harm profiles.” He noted that federal law still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance, the strictest classification under the nation’s drug laws. He promised change, saying he would deschedule and decriminalize cannabis and launch a public service ad campaign to publicize the benefits of the plant.

Afroman also pledged to make criminal justice reforms, noting that more than 40,000 people are incarcerated for cannabis at any given time, at a cost of more than $1.5 billion per year. He committed to commuting the sentences of all nonviolent federal cannabis prisoners and said he would “work hard to right the wrongs of the past, in all areas where Americans have been failed within the criminal justice system.”

He also called for law enforcement reforms, an end to all foreign aid, and reparations for African Americans. Other priorities of the campaign include tax breaks for professional athletes to encourage celebratory displays, the legalization of prostitution, and the “promotion of unity, peace, and love.”

“We need a candidate that is truly elected by the people, and for the people. We need a man that can step up and lead with a firm hand,” wrote Afroman. “The people are starved for a Commander in Chief, that leads from a place of love and not hate. In these dark times, we need a leader that truly embodies the American dream.”

The post Afroman Announces 2024 Run for President appeared first on High Times.