The Winter Emerge 2020 Virtual Cannabis Conference & Expo featured panels with an amazing array of canna-celebs and professionals. One of those was “A CLIO Fireside Chat: A Conversation with Berner and Run the Jewels about Music and Cannabis.” The prolific rappers and cannabis entrepreneurs discussed how the two industries overlap and share some of their earliest cannabis memories.
Introduced by Michael Kauffman, director of the CLIO Cannabis Awards program, the panel features Berner, Killer Mike, and El-P. The performers have a powerful presence in both the music and cannabis industries. Adding to the conversation are Will Bronson and CLIO’s own Amaechi Uzoigwe, co-managers of Run the Jewels. In this exclusive conversation, we dive into their origins, their passions, and the twisted politics of prohibition.
CLIO’s Amaechi Uzoigwe, CLIO Cannabis Awards Juror and Manger of Run the Jewels:
So talk about how this all came together, the union between Run the Jewels and Cookies.
Yeah. I mean, honestly, I think it’s as simple as the fact that we have this long standing relationship, Berner and I. But not just Bern and I, but Mike and Bern.
Back in the days when Bern was going to Atlanta on not so legal marijuana fronts, we would often find ourselves in hotel suites and various underbellies of Atlanta smoking weed and talking about things that we want to do.
And so as our past sort of built and we always, on the Run the Jewels side, always wanted to do weed like we do music and the parallels between Berner’s trajectory and Run the Jewels’ trajectory is twofold.
One is, they’re both craftsmen. They’ve always been good on purpose. And secondly, they both exist because the general industry or pop culture, however you want to say it, didn’t accept them for what they wanted to be and it forced them to trail blaze, no pun intended, and build these amazing businesses.
And so when it came time for us to start Run the Jewels 4, and we’d been looking at weed for a few years now, we were driving back from rehearsal and El looks at me and he’s just like, “Bro, how did Berner do it?” And it was the first time he had asked me about it.
And I just said, “Okay, I think we’re ready.” And I dropped him off at wherever he was going. I called Bern and I said, “Hey, bro, we’ve been talking about doing weed.”
We’re getting ready to do it a little differently. I said, “Am I tripping? Should we just not bring this home and do it all together?” And he was like “Yeah, we should.” And that’s the short version of that story.
And Bern, you’ve been ahead of the game. I mean, your status in the game is certified. And someone who’s already for years been fusing music and cannabis, those two worlds, right? You’ve been living in them both, pioneering in that sense.
I mean, talk about the alignment of those worlds of cannabis and music, how you see it growing in the future? And given that status you occupy in the game, you could work with anybody, literally anybody on the planet. Why Run The Jewels, why did that appeal to you?
Well, I mean, look, Mike is pretty dead on with his 420 posts. I don’t see him miss it too much.
As a pothead, I witnessed the dedication to the 420 posts and I was like, look besides Mike being someone I look up to on the music front, but being someone that’s supported me when I was super underground, we’re talking about like the White Album, which is one of my old school albums.
He jumped on a record for me. It was one of my favorites. And so not a lot of people endorse or embrace my music side of my career. They just want to talk to me about buttons.
So to have a friendship with Mike and now getting to link with El and just being able to build with these guys over the years, it’s just organic, it’s real.
And I’m glad that they decided to do it right. You see a lot of artists coming out now with herb and they don’t have any real lineage on what they’re releasing. What’s the strain?
The reason my eyes look the way they are is I’m in a crazy [phenotype] hunt right now. We’re smoking through 30 different jars, trying to select the next flavor for our menu. And so a lot of work goes into it and I think that if music and cannabis is paired right, it can be powerful.
But if it’s just like, hey, I’m an artist and I’m going to rap about some weed, put my name on it. It’s not so powerful. Music brings people together. Cannabis brings people together. You make music with purpose and we breed cannabis with purpose. So it’s like, if, we’re all putting our hearts in it, I work with people that put their heart in their shit. You know what I mean?
CLIO’s Uzoigwe :
Do you see it growing in any interesting ways in your opinion, or do you have a vision for how you see it could come together in the ecosystem in a larger way?
Yeah, I think it already is. I think that there’s stuff we’re doing, like the Ooh LaLa, it’s such a beautiful bag. It’s real genetics. It’s one of my favorite menus. I did it with the Lemonnade brand.
And so it’s like, at the end of the day, we’re putting stuff in the universe that’s a big part of people’s day, just like our music is.
And being able to do it nationwide. So you can go to Oklahoma and get Ooh LaLa, you can go to Michigan and get Ooh LaLa. You can get it here. And so at the end of the day, I think that music and cannabis is already kind of growing.
There’s going to be some people jumping in the game with the wrong intent, just like every other business. But it’s up to people like us to do some cool shit and keep it innovative.
CLIO’s Uzoigwe :
No doubt, no doubt. And Mike and Jaime, as Will said, we’ve been talking about this, sort of kicking this ball around for a few years and we decided to take the plunge. All right. So what, for each of y’all, what song were you listening to the first time you got stoned?
Oh, well, hold on. I just want to comment a little bit about real quick.
Oh, my bad, my bad. Go ahead.
I also got high before this little meeting and so I can’t stop myself from chiming in for a second. But to answer your question a little bit, obviously we both just smoke. Like that’s something we all… all of us smoke.
We obviously have done that all our lives pretty much. For me as an art kid, music and weed was, growing up as a teenager was, it was hand in hand with creativity, freedom, with mind expansion, with stress reduction, all of that shit.
But me and Mike’s friendship and our music and the way that it all kind of came about and the vibe that we had together played a huge role, always does play a huge role in our music.
It’s not necessary to make music, but it just happens to be that me and Mike definitely just smoke a lot when we make the music. So that being said, we’ve been wanting to do a strain.
We’ve been wanting to do something, but we were hesitant to. We didn’t jump into it. We didn’t want to jump into it because we know it matters.
And like Berner is alluding to, there are plenty of people who jump into this shit and they jump into it for a check and they jump into it for reasons other than sort of recognizing that it’s a real culture.
It’s something that actually matters to people’s lives. There are politics involved as well. So I think that we were just waiting for everything with Run the Jewels, for an organic moment.
You know what I mean? For something that made sense where we could all look at each other and be like, of course, of course that. I just wanted to say thank you to Berner for bringing us in because you were the missing link to that vision for us. It really, it’s been an amazing sort of thing to see and to see how genuinely tied into the culture of it you are and how genuinely tied into the music culture.
That’s something that we just really relate to. And it’s like, we’re craft artists. Whether or not we’re making craft art music and we’re making craft. We have a beer. We do a lot of collaborations with beer. It’s craft. Those people are artists. And this could be no different for us. So to get the opportunity to do it with someone who looks at it like that too, is a blessing. So I just want to say, thank you for that.
Yeah, I do… In addition, I do look at Cookies weed as being the Run the Jewels for music. Whereas I look at Run the Jewels as putting out the pound-for-pound best album every time they drop, just like I know that every new strand that Bern drops is that fire that you brag about to your homies. And so that’s why it’s the perfect collaboration.
Even on the music. And we both, both Run the Jewels and myself, we’re true to who we are. If we get on a record with someone and they’re rapping a certain way, I’m going to rap the way I rap every time. I’m just going to do what I do and it’s important to be yourself as artists too. So it’s like, same vibrations, it just makes sense.
And the thing that I love about it too, and I apologize if this needs to get edited out because I’m over-talking or something. But the thing that I love about it too, is that we are all also artists in this visual. We care about the visual aspect of it. It’s like, it’s all just an extension of art for us, right? Even the idea of us being able to take our imagery that we’ve worked on and cultivated and tried to make iconic through our mechanism and combining with the imagery and the art and the style that you’ve come with. I don’t know. I just, I think it was, I’m just really glad that we waited. I’m really glad that we waited and we found this situation.
And to your point about craft, right? Taking that art and being able to turn it into its own business. Being able to monetize that on your own terms with your own vision, right? There’s a similarity between what you guys have done as entrepreneurs. I mean, obviously, Bern, your footprint with Cookies is a massive one.
And what Mike and Jaime have done with Run the Jewels and owning everything and having a vision and being able to put it out there for the world, high quality product that you take great pride in and have put a team together that can execute that vision for you. I think there are two really great models of how you can be artists and achieve something like this, right? And be businessmen at the same time. I think you two both, individually, collectively, the three of you are incredible examples of that.
But, I still want to know what song you smoked weed to for the first time…
Man, I think mine was, it was a random one, man. We were riding in my boys, my best friend’s older brothers Impala. And he was slapping that, “Put it in your Mouth” by-
He was like, yo, check this out and turn it up. I’m in the back of the Impala feeling like a, you know, we’re smoking in a Walgreens receipt and we’re just smoking it. And that was the song that was on, man.
Hella random, but that beat in the car, that beat is so hard and it just hit different when I was high. I was like, man, this shit is crazy.
You know, what’s funny about that is that me and Mike referenced that song in a song called Love Again, but in parentheses, it’s Akinyele Back. Because the chorus is, “She put my dick in her mouth all day.” And it was straight up just an homage to that song.
I saw Akinyele last new year’s in Miami. The brother still looks great. A little more gray, but still looks great. First record for me since it was ’87, Jaime Freeman. My mom smoked [sinsemilla] and shit. So I’m sure I got contact listening to Donna Summer or some random disco that she was jamming.
But I discovered marijuana in terms of actually getting to smoking when my man Jaime Freeman stole some of his dad’s weed. And marijuana and Too Short in the same fucking year. Freaky Tales, we were playing that record. But Freaky Tales was the record that I remember feeling like it, even though I didn’t, it wasn’t the same. So that’s not my first time, at 12. When I got full on high I was listening to the ATLiens album.
So the two ways that I smoked marijuana first would be with Jaime Freeman and our nut ass six and seventh grade friends, because Jaime probably should have been in the ninth grade. He had like, a goatee. You know what I’m saying?
He was listening to Too Short. And when I really got full on fucking high was with Big Boi smoking some orange shit listening to ATLiens, which was amazing. Still.
I don’t remember. I don’t remember. I mean, it’s not even that. I’ve been smoking since I was 12.
But to be fair, we didn’t get decent weed in New York City until probably I was 19, 20 is when it went from dirt weed, straight up, when it went from dirt weed, which was just weed. For us it was like, weed was you went to Washington Square Park and try and got a bag of oregano and smoked it and we’re like, am I high? You know?
And every two out of three times, it was, you got burned, but you eventually stuck to your guns, got the right nickel bag and you got high with your friends.
It wasn’t until … In New York, the next wave was hydro. So there was no flavors. There was no you selecting what your mood was. It was either you’re going to get a little high or you’re going to get actually high.
But in terms of the music, I mean, look, as soon as weed entered into me and my friends lives, it basically just became everything for us. It was not only music, but it was also video games and comic books and skateboarding around the city and graffiti.
And it was like, it was just us and, quite frankly, not going to school. I hate to say that as though that’s what leads to it. No, I was already a delinquent. I just got high anyway.
But yeah, I couldn’t tell you though, man. I could not tell you what the first jam was. What was popping when we were in sixth grade, Mike? What was popping when we were in sixth grade?
What was popping, it was Ice, it was the year of Ice-T. Ice-T, Too Short … In ’86 to ’87, it was Ice-T, Too Short, Cool J, Too Live Crew… Yeah. By ’88, yeah, by ’88 it was…
Big Daddy Kane. It was Big Daddy Kane. So there was some good music out. I was listening to all of it. I was listening to all of it.
Well, the world, the world of cannabis has definitely evolved a lot since back then, right? It’s like, you’re talking about what, you would go to Washington Square Park and cop as to what you could go to dispensary like a Cookies now, right?
Well, I’m realizing how lucky I was. My mother smoked some premium [sinsemilla]. My mother sold drugs too, but she would, her Jamaican friends’ weed would be radically different. She wouldn’t smoke shit out of Texas. She just wouldn’t.
She’d smoke this Jamaican and this Bahamas. I think her old man’s coke and all that came through the Bahamas because he would just bring her out. But it was always mellow. My mom was Bohemian.
Always pack a bunch of chicks and artists and shit were around our house. We’d get to visit her on weekends and the whole house would smell like marijuana.
She made lemonade for us to drink and we could just lurk around adults that were stoned out of their fucking minds, chilling.
So it wasn’t … It’s a whole different world. And it wasn’t until I lived in Jamaica in the nineties for a while and I discovered then, that’s when I fell in love with cannabis.
I had smoked it, but I hadn’t fallen in love with what it meant and what it represented. And it was an incredible experience to see how it was used in so many ways and how it was thought of, right? And not just monetized, but the world is moving fast in terms of cannabis legalization.
Well, obviously we have a new administration in place now or will have shortly. How do you see that? And with the criminal justice and on non-violent drug offenders, what do you see the future as with the new administration impacting that going forward?
Well, they need to let everyone out for any kind of non-violent marijuana crimes. I think drug crimes in general. They just let out Richard DeLisi.
I did a little, with the Last Prisoner Project, did a Go Fund Me link for him. He was in for 32 years for weed in Florida. And we just got a sick ass license in Florida. So it doesn’t make any sense.
I feel like things are changing drastically though, and we’re opening up in Arizona soon and I got citizens arrest when I was young for weed in Arizona. I was like 13, 14 smoking weed in a park.
So things are changing. I think that hopefully the federal legalization is fair. I feel like the biggest thing that needs to happen in the legalization of cannabis is keeping people from the game in the game.
They’re awarding equity licenses to people with no clear path on how they should be able to move with that license. So I say that to say, if you’re going to give someone an equity license, there should be some kind of budget or funding that they could start their business with because they’re left to partner with bigger companies.
And again, fucking a lot of dealers. So that’s the thing that just needs to change. You need someone that understands the business to help them shape the laws that are coming out. But I think that the new legislation will probably federally legalize it soon. That’s my opinion.
You don’t say it no better than what Berner just said. That’s exactly what I’ve said every interview for the last six months. I totally agree. And I, the only thing I would add is press the mother line locally.
Plot, plan, strategize, organize. Literally, press the mother-fucking line. So locally, you can’t do shit federally, but locally you can make your local municipality decriminalized.
You can make them motherfuckers do it in one election cycle. It’s as simple as this. You want to be the fucking mayor, city councilman, you want to win that seat. You got to get pro decriminalization in the immediate and you got to make sure no kid can be charged for a marijuana crime to fuck up their shit when they potentially do scholarships and shit.
And then you got to make provisions statewide to say, if you’re only going to get five to six licenses, not only do you have to, again, give some equity license, but like Berner said, put some federal fucking dollars behind a program that will help the independents truly be independent.
That is the well-deserved reparations of the drug war. So I’m with the word of the general, I’m the lieutenant with him on that one.
Especially with the kind of taxes they’re charging. They’re charging us the craziest taxes in the world. 30% tax on cannabis, right? 30% tax on a bag of weed. You could take 15% of that, given an incredible amount to a fund that helps equity applicants and still eat hella much. So it was just, they got to get realistic.
Note what he said. He didn’t even say, I want to pay lower taxes. He said, take 15% and put it to a fund. So I want the people on the other side who vote for these punk ass lawmakers to hear the business people actually saying, we have no problem with paying the taxes so much as reallocate the taxes in a way that makes it fair for people reentering. That should be literally the mandate, man.
And you know, just as an aside, I mean, that is the responsible perspective in general. And that is the main gripe that people probably like us have with taxes in general.
It’s like, we didn’t say we don’t want to contribute to society. We said we didn’t want to contribute to the Gestapo.
You want to take my money and put it into some fucking trees or something beautiful, something that’ll help somebody. Great. When I wake up every day and I look out and I see a fucking tank rolling down the street and a dude, fucking, officer fucking McFlannery with a fucking bazooka hanging out the window and shit and I’m like, I’m paying 50% taxes on my shit.
I just didn’t want any potholes.
Yeah, but you’re making potholes with the tank that I paid for. But anyway yeah, and I think that one of the reasons why it felt right also to do it this way with this group of people was because me and Mike are legitimately sensitive to the political realities of the drug war and the way that it is.
And getting into marijuana is something that we, as hobbyists, as people that love the culture and who are genuinely involved in it wanted to do, but also there’s a dark side to it.
And the dark side is that you have all … when you have people leaving politics, people who have been complicit in putting hundreds of thousands of lives behind bars, simply because they could, because it was the law of the land.
And then the second that the regulation starts to change, you have the same motherfuckers leaving politics and announcing that they’re getting into legal marijuana. And you’re sitting here like this [mimes jaw drop]. And so there’s, it’s really, there’s a conflict.
If you have a conscience and you’re trying to get involved in a business, these motherfuckers don’t have consciences, so it doesn’t bother them.
But for people who are artists, people like us, we want to make sure that what we’re involved in has the right spirit and the right soul and the right intention around it.
So that’s another reason why being independent artists and independent businessmen and people who lead with a conscience who are trying to do something like this, get a different result.
Facts. Standing ovation, motherfucker.
I think that’s a perfect note to end this conversation on. Thank you for joining. Thanks to the CLIO Cannabis Awards.