Shawn Carter, better known as Jay-Z or Mr. Beyonce Knowles, has been renowned in the rap world for years as a proudly cocky self-made billionaire with a lot of things to brag about. And now, per a July 9 announcement, he’s got another one: cannabis company Caliva announced their decision to partner with Jay-Z and name him chief brand strategist.
The California-based cannabis company trumpeted the news on the homepage of its website, citing common goals between the rapper and the pot brand, like an initiative to hire formerly incarcerated people and a desire to “shape the conversation surrounding cannabis, foster equality and fairness… promote awareness for the many uses and benefits of cannabis and empower consumers to feel free to use cannabis how, when, and where they want,” per the press release.
Jay-Z offered a comment in a similar vein for the release: “Anything I do, I want to do correctly and at the highest level. With all the potential in the cannabis industry, Caliva’s expertise and ethos makes them the best partner for this endeavor. We want to create something amazing, have fun in the process, do good and bring people along the way.” It’s a quote that brims with the quintessential Jay-Z swagger, and it’s also, frankly, hard to argue with.
He’s far from the first celebrity, the first musician or even the first rap icon to make such a move. Count Willie Nelson, Seth Rogen, Gwenyth Paltrow, Snoop Dogg and Dan Bilzerian among the figures who tasted fame before dipping their toes into legal weed.
But Jay-Z’s background, both as a mogul and a dealer from the projects, makes him an especially exciting entry into the cannabis space.
Though it remains to be seen how involved Jay-Z will actually be in Caliva’s operations, he’s a logical partner for an up-and-coming cannabis brand. This is far from his first foray into the business world, as the rapper has no trouble reminding his fans: “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man!” he boasts on the remix of Kanye West track “Diamonds from Sierra Leone.”
And a quick peek into Jay-Z’s myriad ventures lends an undeniable truth to this statement. The man co-founded his own record company and clothing line, owns a chain of nightclubs, is a co-brand director for Budweiser Select, owns a champagne brand and has held stake in multiple sports teams — and that’s not even a complete list of his entrepreneurial achievements.
But another foundational element from Jay-Z’s past makes him particularly well-suited for today’s cannabis industry: his history selling crack cocaine while growing up in Brooklyn, New York.
Jay-Z has long been outspoken about his illicit market past. It’s a major element of his musical oeuvre (the biggest recurring topic besides his own universal prowess, even) that he refuses to let his critics weaponize against him. He even sampled Tomi Lahren’s anti-Beyoncé rant in a 2016 track with Pusha-T, “Drug Dealers Anonymous.” “Your husband was a drug dealer. For 14 years he sold crack cocaine,” Lahren says. “B*tch I been brackin’ since the ’80s… 14 year drug dealer and still counting,” Jay-Z retorts.
The rapper has even cited his drug dealing experience as a formative influence on the way he conducts business. In a 2013 Vanity Fair profile, he talked about how selling drugs prepared him for the budgeting required in the business world. “To be in a drug deal, you need to know what you can spend, what you need to re-up. Or if you want to start some sort of barbershop or car wash — those were the businesses back then. Things you can get in easily to get out of [that] life. At some point, you have to have an exit strategy, because your window is very small; you’re going to get locked up or you’re going to die,” he told the magazine.
And selling crack, or at least growing up in an environment where selling crack felt central to survival, clearly influenced Jay-Z’s passions for community improvement and racial justice — conversations that are just beginning to be broached in the mainstream cannabis industry, though activists have long discussed them. “Most kids were in front of their apartment buildings dealing drugs,” Jay-Z said in the same Vanity Fair profile. “Marcy Projects was a danger zone then. So a lot of friends that grew up doing that got killed or went to jail.”
On his most recent musical release, a collaborative album with Beyoncé titled ‘Everything Is Love,’ Jay-Z utters one of his classic self-congratulatory boasts: “What would you do, you knew you couldn’t fail/ I have no fear of anything, do everything well/ I have no fear of jail, I was born in the trap/ I have no fear of death, we all born to do that.”
Though this cockiness may rub his detractors and rivals (although, let’s be honest, does the 2019 Jay-Z really have any rivals?) the wrong way, the fact remains that this kind of earned, value-driven confidence is exactly what the fledgling legal cannabis industry needs right now.
TELL US, which celebrity would you like to see enter the cannabis business?