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Fab 5 Freddy: This Joint Is Jumpin’

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Fab 5 Freddy: This Joint Is Jumpin’

Fab 5 Freddy: This Joint Is Jumpin’

After decades of connecting pop culture dots, hip-hop icon Fab 5 Freddy’s cannabis moves are about to turn heads.

“Fab? Yeah, he used to get weed from Ricky Powell,” Saes says. I smile, struck with a welcome sense of the familiar. I’m talking with legendary New York City weed delivery service pioneer Mike Saes—also known as “El Saeso”—and I can faintly hear the sounds of Manhattan taxi cabs whizzing by him as I listen intently. I hit up Saes in anticipation of connecting with the one and only Fab 5 Freddy (otherwise known as Fredrick Braithwaite) for some insider info on any downtown history, especially related to graffiti, art, music, weed and the golden eras of NYC culture that might be relevant to my upcoming conversation. The art and culture of Gotham, of course, have been famously championed by Fab in his numerous roles as a producer, curator, presenter, director and all-around dot connector. And Saes is a guy I always trust to bless me with some interesting insider nuggets. The connection between Fred and Ricky Powell resonates.

For the uninitiated, Ricky Powell, sometimes known as the Rickster, was a fixture in lower Manhattan for decades before he passed due to heart failure in 2021. He walked the streets with his handheld radio, a camera around his neck and an uninhibited, vocal perspective on the relative corniness of everything always happening around him. He was considered “the fourth Beastie Boy” for his ever-present proximity to the group as they catapulted from downtown punks to a top-selling international hip-hop act. He also snapped famously candid pictures of folks such as Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cindy Crawford and Mike Tyson, among others. That he also apparently used to hook Fab up with a bag of weed here and there couldn’t be more on point.

I wrap up with Saes and check the clock. It’s time to connect with Fab, so I plug his number into my phone. I’m struck with a rare sense of nervous anticipation. Fab’s wide-ranging credentials and culture-defining pursuits are almost too numerous to list—and right now, they’re scrolling in list form through my head as I get ready to hit “call.”

The first hip-hop film that Fab and Charlie Ahearn brought to life back in 1983 was Wild Style, which documented hip-hop, graffiti and breakdancing with coherent authenticity. It was an important opening salvo for a cultural movement that, half a century later, still feels undeniably fresh. Fab popped up again just a few years after Wild Style as a presenter on Yo! MTV Raps, bringing hip-hop’s most vital personalities into living rooms around the globe with a cool, unforgettably stylish demeanor. It was yet another watershed moment for both hip-hop and American culture writ large. Of course, that’s all on top of his similarly impactful moves in the Manhattan art world alongside artistic peers Haring, Basquiat and Futura2000, rubbing shoulders with Warhol and bringing graffiti from the streets into the galleries and beyond.

The phone rings. Fab answers. “Yo!” I hear him say, or maybe I think I hear him say it, but how else would he greet me? It’s a salutation spoken from coast to coast and globally, much thanks to this man, now 64, who has proven his singular ability to observe and express the essence of culture as it happens. Accordingly, Fab’s penchant for connection has most recently manifested itself in the realm of cannabis, both as director of the Grass Is Greener [2019] documentary on Netflix, as well as the co-founder of B NOBLE (along with Ron Samuel), a social equity cannabis brand inspired by the harrowing story of Bernard Noble.

Bernard Noble, Fab 5 Freddy

Fab is flipping the green switch. Noble’s story is a key element of not only the new business he launched in partnership with global cannabis heavyweights Curaleaf, but also Fab’s aforementioned film. Noble’s prison sentence of 13 years for two joints worth of weed (2.8g to be exact) is a visceral example of the deep, exploitive injustice of the War on Drugs. It’s also a perfect thesis statement for a nascent cannabis brand looking to shine a light on these wrongs while also bringing great cannabis to stores around the world. Fab has found himself in the spotlight pushing culture forward once again, now in the realm of weed, and it couldn’t be more timely or appropriate. B NOBLE has a U.S. licensing deal with Curaleaf that allows the brand to distribute and sell legal cannabis in nine states.

To date, B NOBLE has donated $400k to support the restoration of communities impacted by the War on Drugs. Noble also recently opened a food truck in Kansas City, Missouri called “B & A Cajuns New Orleans.” In this mobile kitchen, Noble shows off his cooking skills and serves up eats inspired by his Louisiana roots. 

Bernard Noble

When asked about the seeds of his relationship to the plant, Fab paints a picture of an upbringing where the essence and importance of cannabis was celebrated, not marginalized. “I grew up in a cannabis household,” he says. “My dad was a jazz head and intellectual. Max Roach is my godfather, a pivotal jazz pioneer. The fact that people were fighting to legalize pot was information that came through my dad and his friends. They also smoked weed every day, but it was hush hush.”

Fab’s informed upbringing influenced his moves as a young artist, too. He seamlessly brought together burgeoning art and music scenes from uptown in the Bronx to downtown Manhattan and back without skipping a beat. “I’m just mad curious and these things worked out beyond expectations,” he says. “I had good hunches.” And thanks to his hunches, a matrix of creative relationships he forged became a pop culture blueprint in the decades that followed.

But what about the cannabis nuances of Big Apple culture when he was coming up on the scene? “Chris Stein from Blondie always had that really good weed,” Fab says. “I’d be like, ‘Wait a minute. What the fuck? What’s happening here?’” And in the art world, he notes that Futura always knew how to roll a fat joint with precision, but that wasn’t a trait shared by all his peers. “Jean-Michel Basquiat’s joint rolling was bananas, he didn’t give a fuck,” Fab says. “He always had a big sack with him, and he was just rolling big messy joints. It was just so crazy incredible. You could roll a normal size joint out of a roach that Jean left.” [Laughs]

As much as things change, they also stay the same, it seems. When it comes to The Empire State weed messes, much like Basquiat’s joints, New York’s stop and start rollout of adult-use cannabis has made many observers wonder how things got so off track.

But not Fab. His patient long view informs a deep optimism in the process.

Fab 5 Freddy

“It’s been rough going, but I’m confident that the intent is to get it right,” Fab says. “I’m still encouraged by the efforts in the market, and the momentum throughout 2024 especially.” His confidence in what’s possible is evident in his perspective on B NOBLE’s future. “We’ve recently joined the European market through the acquisition of German-based CanPharma, giving us access to distribute medical cannabis in both the UK and EU. And we’ve brought on Mario Guzman of Sherbinski as head of genetics for B NOBLE EU and Canada,” the legend says. “We’re doing big things. Coming soon we’ll be making an announcement about our exciting plans in Africa as we are truly, B NOBLE Global!” 

If the past is any indicator of what’s to come, there’s a very good chance that Fab 5 Freddy’s latest hunches are right on the money. Again.

This story was originally published in issue 50 of the print edition of Cannabis Now.

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