Like all iconic moguls, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter has always known creating the product is only half the battle. A great album needs great songs, and a great song needs a great video. And a great hip-hop video needs beautiful people dancing in the background with its star wearing their own clothing brand, and so on. To that end, when Jay-Z partnered with Caliva — a California-based marijuana company — to launch his luxury brand cannabis label late in 2020, it was unsurprising that the product came with some bells and whistles.
For the average marijuana consumer, the first bell, or perhaps whistle, will be the price tag. For the moment, Monogram is only available in three options: Flower (or the raw product itself) in the two or four-gram variety, loosies (an individual joint), a package of four individually wrapped joints, and an “OG” large hand-rolled joint that costs a cool 50 bucks a pop.
The next eye-catching thing is the presentation. The flower comes in a futuristic matte black packaging that looks like a container Morpheus would use to hold his blue pills inside of the matrix.
”The packaging helps protect the product from UV light,” claims Monogram. Other companies use green, yellow, white canisters that likewise are light-resistant.
The Monogram website, which Jay-Z uses to purvey his wares on, features a playlist titled “Monogram Sounds from the Growroom” streaming in the left-hand corner via the mogul’s own “high fidelity” (no pun intended) music streaming service Tidal.
The site itself is inviting with its engaging, accessible, and welcoming design that makes it feel like you’re entering the VIP room. In the background, a video constantly streams showing Monogram’s production process — from the grow room to the rolling of the aforementioned $50 joints.
Also sure to attract its share of attention is Monogram’s newly launched streaming series High Tales.
“High Tales looks to the people in MONOGRAM’s orbit for a storytelling series that focuses on a first cannabis experience, how relationships with cannabis form and evolve, and what life is like in the world of legal cannabis,” according to the website.
The first two episodes feature rappers Jadakiss of the Lox and Noreaga (aka N.O.R.E.), respectively, so it’s clear that when they talk about Monogram’s orbit, they mean people Jay-Z knows. However, just like everything else surrounding Monogram — the billionaire businessman appears to have selected his ambassadors carefully.
“Weed breaks the tension in any room,” Jadakiss opines early in his episode. Since the series features the rappers talking directly to the camera while smoking blunts (of what we have to assume is complimentary Monogram since they don’t sell blunt pre-rolls), you’re naturally tempted to take his word for it, as he regales you with stories of him getting high with people from fellow rapper Nas to Penny Marshall of Laverne & Shirley fame.
As for the Monogram cannabis product itself, reviewers generally agree that — like it’s intended to do, along with every other brand of marijuana currently on the market — it gets you high. Though like Jay-Z himself, the product is cloaked in mystery.
Unlike most cannabis outlets, Monogram doesn’t use strain names or THC percentages to describe its products. Instead, it has a number and a verbal description for each of its five initial strain offerings. For example, No. 70 is listed on the site with the description: “Notes of sweet citrus and fresh pine give way to a spicy, hashy high that delivers intense sensation.”
Although some experienced consumers might find this a bit confusing, one Leafly reviewer noted consumers aren’t just buying cannabis, they are also purchasing “the story” of a brand associated with arguably the most successful hip-hop artist of all time.
At first glance, it seems like an odd pairing. Marijuana is basically considered endemic to rap and hip-hop culture. As N.O.R.E said in his episode of High Tales, “I believe if rappers stopped smoking weed tomorrow, the cannabis culture will disrupt. Because the thing about everything you discover from Runtz to Sour-Diesel — it’s not something you discovered. You know why? You heard it in a rhyme.”
However, Jay-Z has famously shown restraint in his marijuana consumption, and unlike most of his cannabis-consuming colleagues, he has almost never been captured in videos or photographs while puffing blunts or joints. In fact, one of the stand-out lines from “Feelin’ It,“ the fourth and final single from his debut album Reasonable Doubt, is, “Take one more toke and I leave that weed alone man / It got me goin’ shit.”
On the other hand, as an oft-quoted hip-hop lyric states: “Money is the motive.” Recreational marijuana use is now legal in 15 states and Washington, D.C, with more likely to follow as soon as this year.
Fellow hip-hop legend Lil Wayne has never been shy about his affinity for green and just recently expanded his cannabis brand GKUA Ultra Premium (so it’s good?) to 32 Colorado-based dispensaries following its 2019 California launch.
Cannabis is now a multi-billion-dollar, locally-legal industry, and it’s growing. It only makes sense that hip-hop’s first billionaire — and those like Lil Wayne who dream of hitting mogul status — would take advantage of the built-in synergy between hip-hop and marijuana.
Plus, Monogram is only a tent-pole in a multi-million-dollar cannabis industry merger, featuring, Caliva, Jay-Z, his entertainment management company Roc Nation, and Left Coast Ventures, a marijuana and hemp company. Yet for the mogul it seems that this project may actually be about more than just money or cannabis.
Jay-Z has also created a $10 million fund for minority-owned marijuana startups, the Wall Street Journal reports. It’s a move heartily endorsed by leading cannabis advocate California Governor Gavin Newsom.
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“Although we know we can’t fully redeem the injustices created by the ‘war on drugs,’ we can help shape a brighter and inclusive future,” Shawn Carter, who will become Chief Visionary Officer of Caliva, said in a press release. “The brands we build will pave a new path forward for a legacy rooted in equity, access, and justice. We’re creating something people can trust, and we’re investing in our future, our people, and our communities.”