Giving Out Flowers

N.O.R.E. went to school to be a human resources manager. He never imagined he’d be the co-host of one of the biggest hip-hop podcasts in the world, let alone an accomplished rapper. But in 2016, he and DJ EFN (short for his real name, Eric Fernando Narciandi) turned what was a passion project into a legitimate platform—Drink Champs. Seven years later, they’ve fielded hundreds of guests, some more controversial than others, and thrown back way too many shots to count, but they’re thriving.

“My vision in life was to be a rap star,” N.O.R.E. tells High Times. “That was my goal. But now that we’re being honest, my first goal was to be the biggest drug dealer in the world, and I realized I wasn’t going to achieve that. Pablo Escobar did that already. Then I wanted to be the biggest rapper in the world. But then I realized rap is probably one of the most dangerous jobs in life. We interviewed Bert Kreischer yesterday, and it’s probably one of our favorite podcasts ever.

“It’s all about identifying with human beings. I really feel like I’m a therapist at this point. I really feel like I can break a person down. I can make you cry if I want to. I can make you spill the beans if I want to. I can make you talk about everything if I want to.”

High Times Magazine, August 2023

And Drink Champs has accomplished that. Over the course of 363 episodes (and counting), N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN have watched DMX get emotional just months before his death, Kanye West go off the rails about the police killing of George Floyd (the episode had to be pulled after Floyd’s family threatened legal action) and Murder Inc. Records co-founder Irv Gotti make some wild claims about his romantic relationship with Ashanti. It’s all par for the course in rap journalism these days—the more outrageous, the better. But that’s not necessarily Drink Champs’s motive. As N.O.R.E. mentioned, the show is very much like a session with a therapist; feet up, inhibitions removed and more fact than fiction. Add alcohol to the equation, though, and there’s no telling where it can go. Luckily, N.O.R.E.—whose loud, gregarious personality can often trump anyone in the room—has DJ EFN to act as the anchor for the show.

“If you ask people that have known me over the years, they would actually say I be pretty wild, I’m a loud Cuban guy from Miami,” DJ EFN says. “I would drink and get tipsy and talk even louder. But when it comes to me and N.O.R.E., I don’t try to outdo somebody to prove something to the person next to me. I’ve always hated conference calls for that reason. So naturally, I’m gonna take a step back. I’m not gonna try to out character N.O.R.E. I’m used to being behind the scenes and that’s always been my role. I never really wanted to be in the forefront. I’m in the DJ role, N.O.R.E is gonna be the MC who’s in the forefront.”

It took some convincing on DJ EFN’s part to get N.O.R.E. to agree to do a podcast. In fact, N.O.R.E. was initially resistant to the idea because he thought podcasts were for “nerds.” Then veteran hip-hop producer Alchemist inadvertently changed his perspective.

Photo by Adrian Enningham @drainflix.

“I didn’t like the name podcast,” N.O.R.E. admits. “I just thought the word ‘podcast’ was corny. I thought they were for nerds, but I didn’t realize I was a nerd, too. Alchemist did something for me. I was stuck in hip-hop purgatory, which is like being stuck between heaven and hell. You’re not exactly broke, but you’re not exactly rich, so you’re just stagnated. I was at Alchemist’s studio. He was like, ‘Do you know who you are?’ And I was like, ‘No.’”

N.O.R.E. was about to find out. That night, Alchemist ended up taking him to a Kid Cudi show in West Hollywood.

“It was nothing but nerds in there,” he says with a chuckle. “They were all nerds, these millennial kids.”

Kid Cudi asked N.O.R.E. to perform a couple of songs, so he wound up rapping two of his classic singles for the unsuspecting crowd, 1998’s “Superthug” and 2002’s “Nothin’.” Then it dawned on him—he was a nerd, too.

“I go into the crowd and there’s nothing but a whole generation of Pharrell kids,” he remembers. “They came up to me and they’re like, ‘Yo! You’re the God.’ And I’m like, ‘What?’ Pharrell birthed a whole generation of kids who are not tough. They’re sensitive people, and I have something to do with that. For that simple fact, that makes me the biggest nerd in the building, so I realized I was a nerd at that very moment and I embraced it. I went and bought the glasses and everything [laughs]. I’m a full-fledged nerd.”

With that, Drink Champs became a reality. But there were many moments where they nearly threw in the towel. At that time, they weren’t making any money. N.O.R.E had just relocated to Miami and there was “no way” his accountant was going to let him go back to New York City after the amount of money he’d just spent on his new penthouse. He had no choice but to make it work.

Drink Champs chops it up with DMX. Photo by Adrian Enningham @drainflix.

“We was $80,000 in the hole between us both,” N.O.R.E. says. “Six to eight months into making Drink Champs, we never made nothing. We didn’t want to take the $500 ads or the $200 ads and we didn’t want to take the $15 ads. We knew what we was worth, so we sat around and waited eight months before we actually took an ad.

“We just didn’t want the normal people to invest in us. If you’re going to invest in us, we wanted the highest quality. So we used our own money. There were at least three times we called each other like, ‘Are we sure we want to keep doing this?’ It was definitely scary at first.”

The risk paid off. In January 2023, Drink Champs signed an audio exclusive licensing deal with Warner Music Group’s podcast network, Interval Presents. Under the new agreement, Interval Presents gained the exclusive licensing rights to the audio version of the podcast on all major podcast platforms. The best part about the deal is N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN get to continue doing what they’re already doing: providing an entertaining platform for important conversations with their flurry of high profile guests, while banking on their innate chemistry to keep people coming back week after week.

“I think people see themselves in us,” DJ EFN says. “I think that’s why we inspired a lot of people to start their own podcasts. I don’t want the legacy of Drink Champs to inspire people to get drunk, but I think it’s cool we’ve inspired people to give podcasting a shot. People always tell me they feel like they’re drinking with their friends or their uncles or their crew. We’re not journalists having this real serious Q&A with a guest. It’s just crazy, off-the-cuff talking, but you’re still going to get some stuff you’ve been wanting to know about these artists’ careers and backstories about the culture.”

N.O.R.E. adds, “Giving out flowers is the most rewarding part for me. I’ve had a successful career. I have platinum and gold records. Me giving flowers to a person who has probably never had one gold record or never even toured the world always makes me a better person. It takes nothing away from me as a grown ass man who’s done phenomenal things to give somebody their flowers.”

Drink Champs smokes out the studio with Wiz Khalifa. Photo by Adrian Enningham @drainflix.

DJ EFN knows their “livers can’t sustain this forever,” but N.O.R.E.—who’s been smoking a blunt full of moon rocks during the entire interview and admits to having a half ounce to three ounce a day weed habit—has a method to his madness.

“It’s a lot,” N.O.R.E. says of the drinking. “That’s why I only drink what my body’s used to. Usually, I get up and run two to three miles then put on a suit, sit in the sauna and sweat it all out. I drink a gallon of water a day. I do all the precautions.”

But one thing N.O.R.E. isn’t going to do is let society dictate what “living your best life” means for him. He explains, “There’s so many people who live life and don’t actually live life. And I’m not saying alcohol is the way to live life, and I’m not saying even cannabis is the way to live life, but you have to choose your version of having fun. You have to have fun. There’s so many people out here that’s living a boring, corny, stupid, miserable, dumb life because they’re living the standard life of what America says. Go live your fucking life.”

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

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Method Man’s Tical Official Makes New York Debut

If someone would’ve told me that my favorite rapper—and one of the founding members of legendary East Coast hip-hop collective the Wu-Tang Clan—would build an empire entirely separate from his storied music career while maintaining his status as one of the greats of the genre, I would have said that they’re crazy. But it’s true. Method Man, the gravelly-voiced MC from Staten Island, New York, who made a career synonymous with cannabis use or “TICAL” as he has affectionally dubbed it, has reinvented himself as more than just a hip-hop icon. The Renaissance man’s cannabis brand, Tical Offical, is led by three of his closest friends and is rapidly taking the US by storm.

Cannabis Now had the chance to sit with the three co-founders of Tical Official (T3 for short), Nathanial “Nutta” Vereen, Joshua “Raz” Rassin and Bryan “Z” Zabinski, to discuss the brand, its backstory, and what motivates them to keep pushing.

“This brand, our team, works so well because we are all close friends who share a common vision for TICAL as a movement,” Vereen says. “We are doing the best we can to ensure cannabis is seen as the life-changing medicine that it is.”

Tical Official NYC.

Tical Official has a colorful story of becoming a reality. “In the years of being close friends with Meth, I have always wanted more for him and his moniker. No matter where we go, Meth gives 110% of himself and fans love him,” Vereen says. “I knew whatever I ended up building with him needed to be special. Ultimately, after a few failed attempts at getting various projects off the ground, reconnecting with Raz and venturing into cannabis is where things started to go right.”

“I’ve known Nutt and Meth for a hot minute,” Raz says. “We always rolled in the same circles on tour and Nutt helping get my brand “Tree-Shirts” in front of (and subsequently on) Meth. We’ve always shared a connection and kind of knew one day we would eventually work together.” At the time, Raz was also working on the creative side at Under Armour and Nutt thought it could be great to connect them with Method Man for a signature shoe. “I mentioned a shoe, he (Meth) smiled, then I mentioned Under Armor and his excitement kinda changed,” Nutt says. But they didn’t give up there. The idea of creating a cannabis brand felt very natural, but there was some hesitation. “I knew I had one more kick at the can here with Meth, I couldn’t waste it,” Nutt says.

This is when they realized they needed one more person, Zabinski, to help make things a reality. “I have known Z for probably two decades; he has managed or worked with A-list celebrities and was, at the time, running Hunt and Fish Club in Times Square,” Raz says. “He knows the ins and outs of scaling companies.”

According to Zabinski, he and Raz have known each other for over twenty years and bonded over their shared love of cannabis, saying that the two have “maintained a very strong friendship.” Raz and Nutt approached Zabinski in 2018 with the opportunity to work on Tical Official. “I don’t think there is any reality where I would have said no to this opportunity,” he says.

And thus, like the snap of Thanos’ fingers, the concept was a go. After a very successful pitch, which included a Lacrosse stick (Easter egg trivia for all you Method Man fans), the decision to move forward was made. Meth gave his blessing to use his moniker and offered to come in as a fourth vote if a tie-break was needed. 

T3 banded together and decided to self-fund this venture, accepting no financial support from Method Man and only using his name and platform for marketing purposes. “We literally sold our cars to make this happen,” Nutt says. It didn’t take long for the idea—and the investors— to get going. Within three months, Tical Official had raised $500,000 US, vetted and chosen a state partner in California. It felt like nothing could stop them.

Then, COVID happened and the money stopped. All their grandiose plans were postponed and strategy pivoted for a few months to survive on the initial investment. “We were already kinda flying high (so to speak): we had a great product, killer branding and a state to sell into,” Raz says. “Rather than go heavy on marketing, we decided to go with the hand-to-hand approach, choosing four independent, black-owned stores to launch in.” And this strategy worked; soon after the launch in California, Tical Official identified partners in Colorado and Nevada and started selling into states that had already legalized adult-use cannabis. “Things have felt incredibly surreal; we feel blessed to have had so much support so early on,” Zabinski says.

Tical Official
Method Man.

Through trials and tribulations, Tical Official has thrived in a very saturated North American cannabis market. Currently operating in six markets—including Michigan, Arizona, Las Vegas and Arkansas—and expanding to 10 within the next 90 days, the brand is showing no signs of slowing down—not only in sales but also support from Meth himself, whose frequently spotted wearing the merchandise, doing retail store appearances across the country and Face Timing with customers. He’s currently on tour, so he took the opportunity to take Tical on the road by wrapping his tour bus.

The core team remains incredibly grounded in spite of the brand’s success. “I have been through a lot in my life and want to ensure, through the success of this brand, that I give back in a meaningful way,” Nutt says. “It’s really great to work with Meth, to meet—and partner with— licensed producers across the country and get our product out there. But, at the end of the day, if we don’t stay true to the culture and show love, this is all meaningless.”

Tical Official makes its New York State debut on September 15 and will be available at Housing Works, Strain Stars, Stage One, Greenery Spot and Flynnstoned.

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Mick Jenkins Is Finally Doing Whatever He Wants

For the better part of the last decade, Chicago-bred rapper Mick Jenkins has proved himself to be one of the best pure lyricists in the game. With a vicious pen that’s truly mightier than any sword, a dedicated cult-like following that spans across the globe, respect from his peers on both sides of the mainstream and underground market, he’s had a longer and more sustainable career than most rappers do.

Despite all of this, like similar independent artists before him, Mick’s brand of smooth laid-back raps over jazzy instrumentals has been largely underappreciated by major music media outlets and mainstream hip-hop fans alike, and his patience with all of that quite frankly has worn thin. The Patience is less an album about the virtues of patience as it is Mick expressing the frustration of he’s experienced from a myriad of topics, from his constrictive label situation at Cinematic Records to rappers who are seemingly unable to rap about anything other than shallow materialism. This frustration spills over the most in standout tracks like “Pasta” and “Guapanese” with him literally shouting his bars. The end result has ultimately produced what could potentially be the best music of Mick’s already impressive catalog.

One of the core elements of his music lies in his open love for cannabis. The JID-assisted “Smoke Break-Dance” was the first single released for The Patience, providing mellow stoner vibes that’s more aligned with the sound of previous projects. When it comes to the list of all-time great weed rappers—or artists who just rap about cannabis more frequently/better than the average MC—Mick definitely belongs in the conversation. He has taken this appreciation for the plant even a step further beyond music, starting his own legal weed brand back in 2020 with The Healing Component (named after one of his albums) in collaboration with Trap House Connection in Washington state.

I had the chance to chop it up with Mick via zoom. I puffed on a hand-made donut hole with Honey Banana flower and Jenny Kush live rosin while he casually smokes on a joint of Mountain Sage by Cannabiotix as he shares the inside scoop of his new album, and his budding weed enterprise.

Congratulations on the new album. How does it feel to finally be free from your previous label and make the project you wanted without constraints?

Thank you. I’m just trying to do my own artistry and be independent in the business, and now that I have that experience, it feels good to put my first ideas and iterations in action. From the music to the videos to the rollout to all the extra content that we have to surround and build out this world. It’s all a product of me and my manager’s thoughts, with help from RBC [Records] and BMG that I’m signed to now. And so what people are seeing is a direct reflection of that. I couldn’t really ask for more in my situation with fairness, unless niggas just wanna give me a million dollars for no reason (laughs).  

So, in that regard, I’m happy. Life is lifeing. That happens to everybody, but I’m pretty happy even with my connection to this music. I do feel like this is the first time where I’ve done everything I wanted to do.

You’ve got some notable features on this project. You’ve mentioned in interviews how you formed an organic relationship with each guest, but I’m curious on how you even chose to have those artists on The Patience?

I don’t, bro. It’s who’s available. And whose time is free when your time is free. I think people misunderstand that a lot. You don’t just get to choose who you want. Like you choose what you want and then see if it’s possible. And a lot of times it’s not possible so you got to pivot to other people. A lot of the time like, if I had who I wanted on here, I don’t know if any of these niggas [would] be on here. But it’s because like I can’t get Andre 3000 bro, like I don’t know Kendrick, Earl hasn’t hit me back in like a year, you feel me? (laughs).

But, I know JID. We send music back and forth. We push each other’s pens back and forth. We send each other unreleased shit. I’ve been a fan of Vic for a long time, you know what I’m saying. He’s gone through a huge change in his life and we started talking on just real organic shit in that way. Freddie finally hit me back after I had been messaging him in the middle of night at like 2:30 in the morning, like ‘Yo, I’m about to do this record.’ I’m like, “Oh, shit that’s crazy!’ You know what I’m saying, just like, shit like that. Whereas a lot of times in my past, I found myself campaigning for shit that didn’t even happen, ya’ feel me? This time, all I did was kind of like, let people know what I had going on. And they was just like, ‘Oh yeah, I gotcha.’ So it’s refreshing because well, I’m sure you already know as a journalist trying to chase rappers for interviews is crazy. Tryna chase niggas down for 16 bars is even crazier, I promise you.

Switching gears to weed, you have a line from The Water[s] where you say “Told myself I’d never be a smoker/Fail, watch me inhale” and it always makes me laugh because I also used to be a straight edge kid in high school. So I’m just curious as to what your first time smoking was like and what are your go-to strains today?

I’m a sativa guy, first and foremost. I love indica too, but I just can’t smoke it all day. Tangie is my favorite, and there’s a lot of derivatives. I just had some really good Haze from Verde Natural. They sent it to me, and usually when people send me weed, I don’t ever say anything about it, but I haven’t had any Haze that looked, smelled, tasted this good, and gave me that even-keel high like a Haze does like that in a while. I had to hit them up like ‘Yo, this is amazing,’ so shout out Verde Natural. But yeah, [Tangie and Haze] are the two go-to strains, and then some indica for the night.

My first time smoking I was 17 at the time. I was by myself, I didn’t know how to roll, so I stuffed a Black & Mild. It was pretty fluffy weed so it was easy to break down, whereas if it was that dense ass weed I would have been lost as to what to do because I didn’t know anything about a grinder. But it was pretty fluffy so I was able to break it down and toss it in there. I hit it twice and it was just so nasty out of that fucking Black & Mild that I didn’t hit it again, and I wouldn’t smoke again until my freshman year of college. And that time I got high as fuck with some homies. There was like a dip-off off campus and we just kind of sat there in silence while listening to music. But that first time is fucking hilarious. My big cousin Jordan used to smoke and I used to look at him like ‘Eww, I can’t believe you smoke weed.’ (laughs)

I know you also have your own brand in the industry. Truth be told, you were one of the first Chicago rappers to ever have your own legal cannabis brands even before Vic Mensa started 93 Boyz. How did you venture into that business?

Yeah, so it’s The Healing Component and Trees & Truth. We’re operating out of Washington—Seattle, specifically—but we’re all over the state. Right now we’re trying to get connected with some growers so that we can get into the markets in L.A. and Illinois, specifically. You know that’s a process in and of itself. But I worked on it with my mans Blake. He approached me while I was on tour with Davido in Seattle and he dropped off some gas. He was like ‘Yo, I’m not giving you weed because I want you to smoke it, I want to work with you.’ He was saying how he thought The Healing Component was a good play on THC and that it could make a good brand, and that he ran Trap House Connections and worked with nine other brands. I was like aight, smoked that shit and it was gas (laughs)… 

And now it’s doing pretty well! We’ve been working together for like four or five years. I came back recently to our farm in Yakima, Washington. I went on a dispensary tour and met all the people selling our product, so it was just interesting to see everything from top to bottom. It started with me just doing marketing, because obviously like I said he was running a few different brands already. So it’s nothing for him to just essentially like choose some flower and slap my name on it, essentially. But now we’ve got like our own strains that we’ve been cultivating. And that’s been the most difficult thing, like trying to get somebody that can grow the same way as we grow in different states. For Illinois, when it comes to the weed in dispensaries, you completely recognize the difference in quality and that just has to do with what’s available and a lot of other variables. So, we’re still growing. We want it to be a partnership. I told him I was like not super concerned about taking profits in the beginning. Because I wanted to actually be in this world and I knew I had a lot to learn. I knew that I didn’t know.

Cannabis has always been a big part of your music. From your first project being Trees & Truth with “tree” being a weed reference, The Healing Component is abbreviated THC, even the first single from the new project is “Smoke Break-Dance.” I feel like you’re one of the best when it comes to quote-unquote “stoner rappers” with the likes of Curren$y, Wiz, Cypress Hill and Snoop. But the way in which you rap about weed a lot of times is so clever and subtle, I feel like it goes over people’s heads so they may not immediately think of your name in that category. Is that intentional?

I try to do that. Even with “Smoke Break,” I feel like a lot of times I make songs like this, it’s like okay, you’re making another smoking song. How are you gonna make this different? I think though, that question kind of leads me to talking about [weed] in the unconventional ways that I do. Just because if I don’t do that, then it’s going to be a lot of the same. And that’s not a knock to anybody. That’s just me trying to push my own creativity. I’m definitely a stoner, so it’s definitely gonna come out of my raps. I just tried to make sure there’s variance, so I’m not saying the same thing over and over because you know, it’s just smoking. It’s not like there’s that much to it.

Yeah, my favorite smoking song from you is “Percy” and it’s a shame it’s not on streaming (currently only available on YouTube). That’s one of my favorite songs ever, period. I know you also directed the video for that, so what was that whole experience like?

That’s my favorite song too. Me and Qari just made that song on the fly, and I think everything else about it was on the fly. It wasn’t anything too crazy, obviously. But that was my first time [directing a music video] so I didn’t give myself too much pressure. I just wanted to do something like all the way through. And that’s why it was released as a single. We didn’t worry about clearing the sample or anything, which is why we don’t have it on streaming. It was just something I wanted to do for myself. Me and Qari both snapped on the verses, and I do think it’s a shame. There’s a few songs that I have that I’m like, ‘Damn, I should have treated that right.’ Should have gave that one a proper release, you know, but yeah, that’s definitely one of my favorites.

What is the influence of cannabis in your life outside of music? I personally feel like it has some spiritual and healing properties.

I mean to me, it’s just something I like to do. There’s some escapism. It has some relieving properties for sure. Like it’s a relief for me at times. But, I mean, I’ve had to reduce how much I’m smoking because I recognized that I was smoking too much. At one point I was smoking an ounce a week for real. I know people who smoke more than that, but it’s just like that’s too much. That was too much for me. Especially because I’m married, you know what I’m saying? I have a crib I gotta pay for, it was too much so, I’ve had to reduce how much I smoke at different periods in my life. It’s just some habitual shit though. I don’t know that the amount of healing that I get from it outweighs the reality that I just like to get high (laughs).

At least you’re honest, man. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. In keeping with the theme of the album, do you feel like weed makes you more patient? What do you do to take care of yourself?

No, no, it’s just something to do while I wait. It can definitely calm me down while I’m trying to be patient. But I think patience is more than how you feel. I think it is an action. I think it is a doing of a thing. So I don’t think it really makes me more patient.

I hoop a lot, but recently I fucked around and tore my LCL. But yeah, I hoop, I hike, sometimes I skate, I go to the beach a lot. I live in L.A. now so it’s just there’s a lot to do outside so I be outside. I’m definitely a nature dude, I go on picnics a lot with my wife. We walk a lot. We take walks around at the park like around the track and shit. So I do a lot of different physical shit, just tryna stay healthy.

Let’s talk about hip-hop. I was listening to your Fader interview, and you spoke on the frustration about the lack of love that the underground has been getting from all these so-called celebrations of hip-hop at mainstream shows. So I just wanted to ask you, who are just some underground names you want to give love to, whether they’re current or old school?

Hi-Tek, a producer from Cincinnati, fucking amazing. Little Brother, Phonte never get the flowers he deserves even though a lot of niggas inspired by Phonte. My nigga Rhymefest from Chicago. Definitely, The Cool Kids don’t get the credit they deserve and they really fucked the culture up. I don’t know why my R&B nigga BJ The Chicago Kid don’t get no love, but now this is turning into a Chicago list. 

I fuck with Mach-Hommy heavy on some rap shit. He’s one of the newest rappers in the last five years where I’m like this is crazy. I don’t know if these guys are underrated because I just started listening to them, but Coast Contra—they’re crazy—it’s like five of them in there. A lot of the old heads I listen to are lit, so they’re not underrated. They for sure don’t get the love they deserve, but they’re legends now so it don’t even matter. Oh, and my dawg SLLIME, Sllime Ghoulie, Sllime64 (Chicago-based producer/rapper and Mick’s long-time tour DJ).

When are we getting the greenSLLIME and Mick collab project?

Oh, that’s next! Facts.

Word?! Other than that, what else is next for you? Any final words you want to share?

Music, music, a lot of music. A lot of content surrounding music. I’m dropping music, period. 

Thank you for having me. I am trying to go to the High Times Cannabis Cup. I need to be a panelist or judge or something so maybe you can plug me (laughs).

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Vic Mensa Details Books He’s Sending to Prisoners

In an interview with Book Club Chicago, Vic Mensa described the details of his Books Before Bars program, which aims to supply prisoners with books that can transform their lives. Mensa also mentioned his Books Before Bars program to High Times in 2022.

Currently, tens of thousands of prisoners are currently locked up on federal and state cannabis-related charges, which is one of the reasons why some cannabis brands and the leaders behind them aim to change that.

Mensa is one of the rappers trying to do that. He explained that Books Before Bars can trace its story back nearly a decade ago. Mensa gave a copy of Huey P. Newton’s autobiography Revolutionary Suicide, 1973, to an incarcerated friend.

The book tells the story of how Newton, co-founder of the Black Panthers, “mastered his memories and, essentially, transported himself mentally beyond the walls of a prison” during his own time behind bars in the ’60s.

“I’ve seen how the right book at the right time can be a seed which, if watered and natured, can grow an internal freedom even within the walls of a modern-day plantation,” Mensa said. “I started [Books Before Bars] with the cannabis company because I wanted to provide a freedom.”

According to data from the Illinois Department of Corrections, in 2019, the department banned hundreds of books including many about race and racism, before being forced to change its policy after public outcry.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Illinois has the third-highest racial disparity in cannabis possession arrests, with Black people 7.5 times more likely to be arrested than white people despite consuming cannabis at similar rates.

Some of the other books include The Autobiography of Gucci Mane by the Atlanta, Georgia-based rapper to Sister Outsider—a collection of essays and poems by Audre Lorde. Mensa told Book Club Chicago that he buys the books in bulk from the Black-woman-owned bookstore Semicolon which is in the Wicker Park area of Chicago. 

Semicolon is scheduled to be closed until August as it converts into a nonprofit model, however Mensa bought books in bulk before the store closed. 

Books Before Bars program is an initiative funded through Mensa’s cannabis line 93 Boyz. Mensa said he launched 93 Boyz to “address prison reform and equity in the cannabis space.” Books Before Bars is a big step towards that goal. “Cannabis has been used to snatch freedom from so many families,” Mensa said. “I felt it was imperative to provide freedom in whatever ways I could. It wouldn’t be responsibly aligned with my values to not have that socially minded angle within the larger framework of the cannabis business.”

A year ago, Mensa explained to High Times how he’d be launching a project with Books Before Bars, which was in the early stages at the time.

“Our first project that we’re launching […] with the release of our full strain portfolio is a project called Books Before Bars,” Mensa told High Times in the October 2022 issue. “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.”

93 Boyz is Chicago’s first Black-owned cannabis brand. Mensa co-founded the brand with rapper Towkio about a year ago. The brand sells eighths of flower, pre-rolls, and vape pens, and you can find strains like Jet Fuel, Gelonade, Gary Payton OG, Rainbow Belts, or The Lotto.

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OhGeesy Lets His Work Ethic Speak For Itself

The sun keeps shining on Alejandro Carranza’s world and he intends to keep it that way. Carranza—known professionally as the rapper OhGeesy—is a founding member of the Los Angeles hip-hop group Shoreline Mafia and has since gone on to have a quite formidable career as a solo artist.

He attributes his success to his work ethic, one he feels is simple input/output: Work hard, see results—keep working hard, exceed those results. In many ways, it’s the same philosophy in any business—when things are hitting, lean in, and that’s exactly what OhGeesy plans to do. “Becoming a father made me want to double down and really focus and concentrate [on growing my career] now more than ever,” said OhGeesy in a phone interview with High Times. “I want to set an example, show my son I work hard and show him there’s a way to do whatever you want in life.”

For his latest record, GEEZYWORLD 2, OhGeesy wants fans and audiences to appreciate his growth, not only as an artist, but as an individual. Fatherhood has changed his mindset from his earlier days, and he hopes his maturation is something fans acknowledge and applaud when it comes to his current output from the studio and the stage.

Over the course of our conversation, OhGeesy touches on how he cultivates self-confidence, his creative process, and how his relationship with weed started with him selling it.

High Times: What was your first introduction to music growing up in Los Angeles?

OhGeesy: My first introduction was probably all the old West Coast stuff like NWA. My uncle used to have all of the CDs and he put me on them and really started showing me music from all over the world.

High Times: From there, was there an experience that led you to pursue music as more than just a hobby or interest?

OhGeesy: When I was a kid, I never thought I’d pursue music. I started doing music at like 19, and before then, I never thought a career in music was possible. Once I started doing it, I just kept putting my all into it and put all of my effort into it.

High Times: So it was something you started to do more for yourself, and then—over time—it became your career.

OhGeesy: Exactly.

High Times: The more you kept at it, was there a validating “first win” or experience that came after you embarked on the journey of pursuing music for yourself?

OhGeesy: After getting a few hundred-thousand plays on SoundCloud from a few different tracks, I thought, “Okay, this is what I was meant to do.”

High Times: Creatively, what inspires you and what do you draw from when creating a track?

OhGeesy: Just life experiences. Going out and living life. I live a hectic life, so I just talk about everything I’m doing, like the lavish lifestyle.

High Times: In terms of that lifestyle, how does your cross-cultural background from your Mexican and American roots play a role in what you create?

OhGeesy: I live a vigorous life because of my work ethic. I work hard. Mexicans have some of the best work ethic ever. Working hard to get what I want keeps making me want to work harder and get everything.

High Times: For your new album GEEZYWORLD 2, what went into the album and what do you hope audiences and fans take from it?

OhGeesy: I just want them to see how I’ve grown as an artist and how my sound has evolved and changed. I want them to be proud because they’ve watched me grow from who I used to be and how I used to sound, to how I sound now.

High Times: Did cannabis play a role in the album’s creation? What role does it play in your life in general?

OhGeesy: Cannabis has always been around in my life. I grew up selling weed and all types of stuff. So the biggest role it ever played for me was making me money [laughs].

Also, when I made the song “Musty,” which got me to where I am today, I was talking about weed.

Courtesy OhGeesy

High Times: Literally the economics of weed have been impactful.

OhGeesy: Super impactful [laughs].

High Times: For your own consumption, do you prefer Sativa or Indica?

OhGeesy: When I smoke, I prefer Hybrids.

High Times: Does smoking aid with music creation?

OhGeesy: That’s a separate process. When I create music, I have to be one-hundred percent sober. Whenever I smoke, it’s just for recreation and for me to relax and have a good time. With my work, it’s work.

High Times: Do you ever go back though and listen to a beat or a track while stoned for a different perspective?

OhGeesy: For sure, especially when we’re finished with a project and listening to it. We’ll have a drink and we’ll smoke something.

High Times: Beyond the new record, what else do you have coming up that you’re excited about?

OhGeesy: Just my tour. I’ve got my tour coming up right now for GEEZYWORLD 2, so I’ll be able to get out there and see the fans’ real life reactions to the album, which I’m super excited about.

High Times: What’s the experience like from recording in a studio and then performing live and receiving that initial fan feedback?

OhGeesy: That’s the best part, that’s what I do it for. Just to see that energy and the reactions from the crowd and seeing them sing every word, word-for-word.

High Times: That’s a pretty awesome feat. Are there any specific habits, strategies, or keys to your success?

OhGeesy: I think becoming a father made me want to double down and really focus and concentrate [on growing my career] now more than ever.

High Times: To both provide and set an example?

OhGeesy: To provide and set an example. I want to show my son I work hard and show him there’s a way to do whatever you want in life.

Follow @ohgeesy and check out for tickets and tour dates

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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. 

The post What and Where Is Cannabis Culture Today? appeared first on High Times.

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. 

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