Old E is face first into an archway lined with the strain Sonic Screwdriver that’s towering at least 8 feet tall. He’s finished off several Backwoods blunts with his brother, who sits behind him at a patio table covered with recording equipment, in preparation to create the track “Smoke One.” Old E is prepared to complete the song in a single session, without reading from a paper, so that he can be properly inspired by the scenery around him.
Crystalline buds bursting with terpenes, a cross of Orange Cream Soda and Timewreck from the TGA Genetics seed catalog, form tightly around the area where he will lay down the verse. This is Mendo Dope’s ganja vocal booth and they are almost finished with their next album, “Live in the Garden.”
“Rolling another one was no question,” Old E raps. “Step in the circle of a smoke session.”
Out in the remote area near Ukiah, California, the only other sounds are cars passing along the roadway, the chirps of small birds and a pack of basset hounds at the neighbor’s house that occasionally take up a howling chorus in unison. The brothers may just be the only ganja farmers in the area that are hoping a helicopter flies overhead. They want to include the sound on their album to make the all-outdoor, cannabis garden recording session as real as possible.
When Old E raps, he chronicles his lifestyle as a cannabis cultivator. His authenticity is found in the sheer specificity of his lyrics, which range from how to grow cannabis to the genetic origins of strains. After releasing 241 songs on 12 full-length albums in 2012, the brothers teamed with producer K-Lou to release “Planters of the Trees,” a hip-hop/reggae double disk.
They are crafting a style of music they define as cannabis culture – a “new strain of music” and, as true cultivators of the sacred herb, they bring a fresh perspective to the rap genre.
“[Cannabis culture is] living off of weed, just surviving off of it, having the love for it,” Old E says. “The people that are in it, it’s a moment. The culture is a whole group of people who are just dedicated to cannabis. It’s a lifestyle, for sure.”
From the beginning, Mendo Dope’s musical development grew alongside their development as farmers. When a friend showed them a strain from TGA seeds, they started growing cannabis from the California genetics company run by Subcool and MzJill. Then, the inspiration struck to create a song for TGA and give it to Subcool at a Cannabis Cup. He liked the song so much that TGA sponsored the creation of “TGA’s 10 pack of Mendo Dope.” The album is a brilliant tribute to particular offerings in the TGA catalog. Each track, such as Jilly Bean and Dr. Who, is a strain-specific morsel of sound.
Soon the brothers, who started growing cannabis with a “baby plant” in their mom’s backyard eight years ago, had formed a full-fledged friendship between the powerhouse couple leading TGA. Impressed by the sheer size of their 2012 crop, Subcool visited often – filming video clips for TGA’s YouTube program “The Weed Nerd.”
Mendo Dope was on the rise until a fateful day in 2013, when their farm was raided. After authorities cut down and seized all their crops – 25 monster plants they predicted would yield 8 to 12 pounds of buds each – the brothers were left with nothing but their drive. The same night of the raid they began working on a song about their experience.
“That was the hardest song we ever made,” Bleezy says, explaining that creating “The Raid” was also a way of revisiting the experience over and over again.
The studio, he said, was the only thing they had left.
“They took a quarter mil from us,” Old E says, while noting having to retell the story of the raid was “like torture.”
In their newest studio – the cannabis garden – the music must be completed on a strict schedule. They have invited friends to join them, but harvest season is approaching.
“Next month the booth is gone,” Old E says.
For the musical duo, staying fresh means growing new strains and collaborating with other artists. While they got their start inspired by the rough, raw styles of rappers coming out of Vallejo, Calif., such as Reek Daddy and Mac Dre, their current projects are a unique fusion of styles and genres anchored by a concentrated knowledge of the cannabis plant.
As part of this fusion they have collaborated with musicians such as reggae artists Pato Baton and Marlon Asher. Reggae, Bleezy says, fits the inspirational tone of the music they are trying to create.
“[Our music] is not about money. That’s what a lot of other people do. Everything they rap about is about money,” he says. “It’s about how much money they make off of weed and how much money they get from their extracts and all the bullshit. We’ve never talked about money and pounds. We talk about everything else except for the profit of it.”
“This is what we do, just reppin’ for the people that are doing it for medicine and not just trying to make a million off the game,” Old E says.
Have you heard of Mendo Dope?