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For decades, Hip hop has been celebratory of cannabis. With its legalization sweeping the United States and Canada, the culture is transitioning from celebration to vertical integration. Instead of promoting a strain of cannabis in songs and not seeing any monetary compensation, rappers are leveraging their reputation as connoisseurs to sell their own brands. Grammy-nominated producer Sonny Digital is doing the same, turning his rep as the plug for the best cannabis in Atlanta into his new company Rolling Grams.
In June 2019, Sonny co-founded Digital Venture Partners, an investment and incubation firm helping people like Sonny enter the legal cannabis market, with Ryan Rapaport and Andrew Farrior. It’s the parent company of his Rolling Grams brand. Sonny originally wanted just his own strain before his partners convinced him to expand his outlook. His entrenchment in the cannabis sphere has been a double-edged sword, giving him access to artists such as Travis Scott and Drake, yet also ensnaring him in the clutches of the wrong side of the law. This resulted in him being placed on a six-month probation that ends on Feb. 28.
“My probation is almost up. So, it’s hard to remember everybody. But, I have my own studio. So, everybody comes there and when they come into town they ask, ‘Who got the weed?’ I tell them who got the weed and I tell them it’s good weed.”
Around the same time Sonny co-founded DVP, hip hop started getting more serious about cannabis. Wiz Khalifa launched the first cannabis oil product from his Khalifa Kush Enterprises in June. Drake owns 60% of cannabis production company More Life Growth Company, a joint venture with the largest cannabis producer in Canada, Canopy Growth Crop, which he launched in November 2019. Lil Wayne launched his own brand GKUA Ultra in December of that year. Waka Flocka Flame is healing people with CBD, and 2 Chainz has been selling people Gas product since October 2018. DVP’s co-founders see Sonny as more of a natural fit for his brand than a lot of the other hip hop artists that have entered the cannabis space.
“Sonny was the perfect prototype for that. He’s someone who’s been in the culture a long time. He’s able to get in contact with everyone just through his working relationships and him being so talented, successful and personable,” Farrior told REVOLT. “He may not have 10 million followers, but he has a relationship with everybody. If you follow Sonny, you’d see him chilling with Travis Scott one day or playing a song on [Instagram] Live with Drake.”
While Sonny is based in Atlanta, and currently on probation, Digital Venture Partners has been helping managing the company in California with the help of Play Pendergrass. Even with America easing up on cannabis use, similar racial barriers that have made black people 3.73 times more likely to be arrested over cannabis than white people have complicated black Americans’ place in the market. Almost 99% of people who own licenses to operate a legal cannabis business are white, a racial disparity Sonny has noticed on his own path.
“It’s still a game. They legalized it to make money, but for a certain type of person to make money. They made it really hard to become a legal drug dealer, honestly,” he adds.
In an exclusive interview with REVOLT, Sonny spoke about how he’s going to have a cannabis business without selling it, how race has complicated many people’s entry into the legal market and much more.
What is your Rolling Grams brand and how’d you get started?
It’s a reflection of what I like. I know people who like the same kind of weed I’m in and smoking what I’m smoking. People always ask me what I’m smoking or what the best weed is when they come down to Atlanta. I already had a brand and I just recently solidified it. As of right now, I want people to take my word that whatever weed I put my name on, they’ll know it’s good. That’s how I want to start it, but I would love to get into selling flower. But, that costs a lot of money and you have to deal with a whole bunch of regulations. So, I’d rather be the person that’s going to tell you what’s good.
Will you only be giving recommendations to just your rapper friends or the average consumer about your products?
I want to work with the average consumer. I have enough money to buy all the good weed. All I have to do is put it in the packaging. I can hand out the weed for free to the people who it needs to go. When my people come into town, I can give them something in my packaging. I’d rather give it away at first because I know how the average consumer works. If they see someone they like smoking it, they’re going to be quicker to buy it.
Six months ago, before I was on probation, people would see the packaging and they’d associate with me. Even if they saw another regular consumer with it, they’d wonder where they got it from or what kind of weed’s in there. In Atlanta, since it’s not all the way legal, so I’m limited to what I can do with the weed. I’m not a drug dealer, either. I can only do branding out here.
Cannabis is still in a legal grey area with yourself on probation. How has the legal system affected you entering the market?
It didn’t really affect me. It just taught me a little more. The only thing it affected was me not being able to smoke because I’m on probation. That’s not such a bad thing because it’s me taking a break. Sometimes I forget Atlanta isn’t L.A., so it enlightened me that I have to be smoother. I’m still really into it. I just have to tiptoe around it for now.
Have you noticed any racial barriers trying to get into the market?
As of right now, no, because I’m not trying to bust into cannabis... But, I feel [cannabis legalization] has worked better for white people than black people. It costs a lot of money to get into the actual cannabis business and have a store. It’s probably only a handful of black people who are in it. I feel it’s more suited for white people to get ahead right now. I know it takes a whole bunch of licenses and stuff that a lot of black people don’t have the funds for or can’t get a loan. If you see black people in the business, they probably went through somebody else. I’m not saying everybody, but a lot of them probably went through somebody else to get their license.
How do you plan to spread the Rolling Grams brand?
Since I’ve been on probation, I haven’t been able to smoke or push out the brand how I want to and how I was doing six months ago when I wasn’t on this probation. The way I was doing it in Atlanta was I had packaging. I had people putting their weed in the packaging. They’ll know that if they see my packaging, they know it’s going to be good weed.
So, it’s going to be you connecting with your network of rappers instead of you going to the masses?
As of right now, yes, because we’re based in Atlanta. In Atlanta, weed is not totally legal, so there isn’t too much I could do with the flower.
You connect people who come to Atlanta with other dealers?
Yeah. I don’t put them onto anyone who is going to crack their head and overcharge them because of who they are. It’s easier with me because I have my own studio and I know people who have weed that just be at the studio. So, I’ll just be like, ‘This is what I’m smoking. You don’t have to go anywhere. He’s right here. I’m smoking it. I’m clearly high. If you want to get high, then buy some from him.’
You worked with Travis Scott on Astroworld. Did you put him on to any weed?
With somebody like Travis Scott, it’s hard to put him on to some weed because he’s actually in L.A. If anything, we’ll be asking each other what we’re smoking on. I know he got some good weed and he knows I got some good weed. When we out in L.A., [Travis and I] get our weed from the same people.
Have you tried helping your artist friends enter the legal cannabis market?
I ain’t really throw the idea to them yet because I don’t know how it’s going to register to them, and I don’t know if they have an interest in it. I think a lot of my rapper friends just like to smoke weed. I don’t know if they’re interested in how much they can get out of it. Everybody wants to make a strain. That’s cool and all, but you want to be a reliable source.
When cannabis is legalized in more states, how do you see that affecting the black community, as well as hip hop?
It depends on what you got going on. A lot of people are on probation for some weed shit, and even though they’re legalizing it, you have to do what you have to do because you got caught when it wasn’t legal. It’s still a game. They legalized it to make money, but for a certain type of person to make money. They made it really hard to become a legal drug dealer, honestly.