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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Psilocybin Common Denominator in Several Upcoming Albums

Psilocybin mushrooms are the inspiration or vibe of a handful of highly-anticipated albums and music projects that are recently released or slated to drop within the next few months. As psychedelic decriminalization continues to unfold at the state level, artists are getting more comfortable with talking about their psilocybin experiences.

Björk, Ellie Goulding, Kid Cudi, and Lil Nas X all say that psilocybin is part of the mix in recent music-related projects.

Björk’s new overtly psychedelic album Fossora, was released on Sept. 30 via One Little Independent Records.

The album, by her own admission, is a direct “ode to mushrooms.” “It’s something that lives underground, but not tree roots,” Björk told Pitchfork. “A tree root album would be quite severe and stoic, but mushrooms are psychedelic and they pop up everywhere. My fungus period has been bubbly and fun, with a lot of dancing.”

The title is derived from Latin, loosely meaning “she who digs.” The cover art to Fossora is exceptionally trippy. On the cover, Björk wears a wig created by Tomihiro Kono that resembles mycelium, and she wears a bodysuit dress created by Paris-based designer Jisoo Baik.

Kid Cudi’s new animated special and album Entergalactic were named after a song of the same name that was inspired by psilocybin mushrooms. “I want a song that truly embodies the tone,” Cudi said. “And, like, ‘Entergalactic,’ from Man on the Moon, is a love song. It’s about me meeting this girl that I like, and we were doing shrooms for the first time.” 

The song is gaining new life after it was originally released on Cudi’s 2009 debut album, Man on the Moon: The End of Day, entitled “Enter Galactic (Love Connection Part I).”

Entergalactic is also the name of Kid Cudi’s eighth studio album. Anyone familiar with Kid Cudi’s work knows that he focuses on psychedelic experiences frequently, and designs his music videos to be watched while under the influence.

Entergalactic the animated project and album were released on September 30—the same day Björk’s mushroom-inspired album dropped.

Speaking on episode 408 of The Zane Lowe Show on Apple Music 1, English pop star Ellie Goulding discussed her new album Higher Than Heaven and a variety of topics including psilocybin, which she says is one of the inspirations for her new album.

Goulding explained that she was going through it when she was recording Higher than Heaven amid the COVID lockdown.

The album, she says, is about escapism and psilocybin-induced love. “That’s exactly what this album is. It requires a certain amount of pain to go through to write what I write,” she told Lowe. “This album is ultimate escapism about being completely, insanely in love. There’s a lot of sexuality in there.”

“It’s almost like a psilocybin-induced love,” Goulding explained. Sheg rarely talks about topics like magic mushrooms in interviews, and generally adopts a clean public image.

Last year, Lil Nas X released his album Montero which spawned the number one single of the same name. He explained to WSJ Magazine that his album was inspired by psilocybin mushrooms. “I was able to open up a lot,” Nas told WSJ Magazine. “I was able to write actual stories about my life and put it into my music. I actually did that for the first time.”

Grab one of these albums and enjoy—but remember that set and setting are key when dealing with something as powerful as psilocybin.

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The Smoker’s Club Lands in SoCal for a Massive 420 Festival

This April, a massive 420 event, packed with an impressive lineup of hip-hop and rap musicians, is heading to Southern California.

The Smoker’s Club Festival is an 18+ event will be held at the Glen Helen Amphitheater in San Bernardino, California, on Saturday, April 30—a destination that has been popularly chosen as the location for many other cannabis-related events in the past. If you’ve been looking for a sign to get out there and celebrate 420 in the sun, rather than in your living room, this is it. The Smoker’s Club announced the good news on January 20. “WE’RE BACK. APRIL 30. SO CAL,” The Smoker’s Club wrote on social media.

The 2022 event headliners include Kid Cudi, A$AP Rocky, Playboi Carti, Schoolboy Q (performing hits off his album Oxymoron), Wiz Khalifa (performing songs off his mixtape Kush & Orange Juice), 2 Chainz and so many more. Kid Cudi was busy in 2021, not only because he headlined Rolling Loud LA, but he also hinted that he’s got two albums in the works for 2022. Likewise A$AP Rocky headlined Rolling Loud Miami and ComplexCon 2021 last year and teased in a GQ interview that his new album, tentatively called All Smiles, would be released in the future.

This lineup has a lot in common with The Smoker’s Club Festival in 2018, which was held in Long Beach, California. Among its headliners were also Kid Cudi, Wiz Khalifa and Schoolboy Q, as well as Rashad, Ty Dolla $ign, Dom Kennedy, Lil Skies and Mac Miller prior to his passing.

Courtesy of The Smoker’s Club Festival

This year’s The Smoker’s Club Festival is also jam-packed with over 65 artists in the lineup—the poster advertisement contains so many individual acts that they can barely fit all of them on one page. Joey Bada$$, Danny Brown, Rico Nasty, SahBabii, Clams Casino, The Cool Kids, Asher Roth, Kreayshawn—it’s an epic setup that you’re not likely to find anywhere else. It has been a rough few years for musicians who rely on touring and in-person performances, so seeing some of these great groups and individuals in one place is a joyous occasion. Given the vast amount of entertainment contained in this one-of-a-kind event, tickets are priced at $222.99 for general admission, $408.99 for VIP access and $429.00 and up for hotel packages.

The Smoker’s Club is a famous New York City-based lifestyle brand founded by Jonnyshipes, Smoke DZA and Shiest Bubz. The trio first came up with the name in early 2010 at a humble smoke session. By March 2010, they had managed to put together the first The Smoker’s Club show at SXSW. Back then, it gathered artists such as Currensy, Smoke DZA, Kendrick Lamar, Devin The Dude, Big K.R.I.T., Schoolboy Q, JayRock and many more. According to the founders, people everywhere began requesting The Smoker’s Club shows in their home cities, and “so the legend of the Smokers Club was born.” Since then, the event has been held in over 100 cities and 20 different countries across the globe.

Twelve years following that first event, The Smoker’s Club brand now offers high-end streetwear and accessories. Some of their best sellers are oversized hoodies with and premium cotton T-shirts, and the brand also offers a wide variety of beanies, ashtrays, stickers, pins and other accessories as well.

Not to mention that The Smoker’s Club also offers three “connoisseur cannabis” flowers that are all described as hybrid/indica-dominant. Donuts is described as a smooth and robust smoke that has a strange but pleasant “creaminess” at the end of the exhale. Critterz smells of guava and chocolate, with a “gassy essence” but a fruit-cream-like flavor when exhaling. Lastly, Jobstopper brings a heavy fuel profile, but still offers sweet flavors such as vanilla cake, cream cheese frosting and whipped cream.

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New Music Friday: Kid Cudi, Channel Tres, Chance the Rapper, and Mozzy

Welcome back to another round of New Music Fridays. As we get deeper into December, we want to present to you a collection of softer hip hop and r&b tracks to help you relax on the shorter days. This week features music from Kid Cudi, Channel Tres, Chance the Rapper, and Mozzy. She Knows This […]

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