Beats, rhymes and life are three of the corners where hip hop intersects. Few other TV shows have been able to cover all of these angles in-depth and authentically quite like REVOLT TV’s “Drink Champs,” which thrives on its candid conversations with the biggest and most influential figures in the game. In honor of such a one-of-a-kind show, REVOLT will be recapping each weekly “Drink Champs” episode, so you can always catch the gems that are dropped in each lit interview.
On the latest episode of “Drink Champs,” N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN welcome former NBA star Al Harrington and music industry veteran John Monopoly to talk about their business partnership through cannabis company Viola.
Harrington, a native of Orange, N.J.; was drafted into the league by the Indiana Pacers in 1998 and went on to have a 16-year career playing for other teams such as the Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors, and the New York Knicks, among many others. He launched Viola in 2011 and over the last decade, he’s grown the brand into one of the nation’s leading Black-owned cannabis companies.
Monopoly, who hails from Chicago, has been instrumental in the Windy City’s music scene for over a quarter century. He’s held executive positions at Violator and Jive Records, and has managed a host of big-named artists including Kanye West, Missy Elliott, and Busta Rhymes. Now, he works as the chief strategy officer of Village, a portfolio partner of Viola.
Later during the “Drink Champs” sit down, Harrington and Monopoly are joined by music exec James Cruz and Viola co-founder Dan Pettigrew, and the cannabis conversation continues about decriminalization and tobacco companies moving into the industry.
To help give fans a recap, REVOLT compiled a list of nine things we learned from the Al Harrington and John Monopoly episode. Check them out below.
1. John Monopoly on Meeting Chris Lighty and Joining Violator
Music exec Chris Lighty co-founded Violator with Mona Scott-Young and the company managed artists such as Mariah Carey, Missy Elliott, LL Cool J, Nas, and more. Monopoly explains to N.O.R.E. and EFN during his “Drink Champs” interview that he first connected with Lighty during his days as a party promoter in Chicago in the ‘90s.
“I was a party promoter in Chicago with DJ Timbuck2,” he said. “He would DJ my clubs. I became friends with somebody who used to come to my club, who was friends with Chris. She told Chris I was managing producers like Kanye West and No I.D. [Then] Me and Chris got cool. He told me if I ever decided to come to New York, he would give me a shot. I was a little timid, but I looked up to him so much. And Mona embraced me. So, that’s how I became a Violator. I’m a Violator for life.”
2. Al Harrington on How His Grandmother Sparked His Move into the Cannabis Industry
During his sit down, Harrington explained that he didn’t really use marijuana while he was in the league. However, after reading about all of its medicinal benefits, he convinced his grandmother to try it. “I signed in Denver at the Denver Nuggets and the cannabis programs were just starting,” he explained.
“I convinced my grandmother to come see me play. I put her on a plane, she got there. I took her bags downstairs, and I could tell she had a pill bag. She opens it up and she takes 30 pills. So, I just looked at her like, ‘Grandma why are you taking so much medicine?’ She was like, ‘I got high blood pressure, diabetes and glaucoma.’”
Harrington then told her that marijuana helps treat glaucoma and she shot the idea down. But after the disease was severely impairing her vision, she agreed to try it. “Later, I went to check on her and asked her, ‘Grandma, how do you feel?’ She’s crying tears. She said, ‘I’m healed. I haven’t been able to read the Bible in three years.’”
3. Al Harrington on Getting into a Verbal Altercation with Michael Jordan Back Once
Harrington talks about getting into a verbal spar with legendary baller Michael Jordan while he was with Indiana, and Jordan was playing for the Wizards. He explained that after fouling Jordan, things went left.
“I fouled him and I looked at the ref like, ‘I didn’t even touch him,’” Harrington said. “And [Jordan] said, ‘You fouled me, hoe!’ And I was like, ‘Who you callin’ a hoe?’ So we go at it.”
He goes onto explain that after the game, Jordan got the last laugh after he sent him an unexpected gift that subtly sonned him. “So, they win the game and I’m in the back. And the ball boy comes in walking with his sneakers. And it was like, ‘Best wishes, keep working hard.’ I didn’t even ask him for his shoes!”
4. Al Harrington on Creating a Coalition of Black-owned Cannabis Brands
Minority ownership is important to Harrington, and he revealed that he wanted to create a coalition of Black-owned cannabis brands called “Black Flower Family.” “That’s my vision of all Black-owned brands working together,” he said. “And I think that at some point, if we continue to build together, we can dictate in the way that the industry is moving. Everything starts with us.”
5. Al Harrington on Giving Back to the Community
Viola has been super successful since its launch over a decade ago. But, the boss also believes it’s important to give back and one of Harrington’s ultimate goals is to put money into other people’s pockets. “Within our giveback, we feed people, we do expungements, and we help with re-entry back into the community,” he said. “My biggest thing is social and economic empowerment. We can march and do all that shit as long as we want, but until we figure out how we can put money into the pockets of the people in the community, what’s ever going to change?”
6. John Monopoly on Meeting Kanye West 30 Years Ago
Though West’s beats are what originally gleaned him a buzz during his Roc-A-Fella days, Monopoly explains that he first met the emcee as a member of a Chicago rap group in the early ‘90s. “I met him in 1991, through my boy, Lucien,” Monopoly said. “He was in a rap group called State of Mind. Lucien, Kanye and another guy named Gene. I started working with Kanye as soon as I met him. He was always so ill. He was never wack. Them beats was always crazy. His raps were always hard.”
7. John Monopoly on Kanye Always Speaking His Mind
In 2007, when West dropped his third studio album, Graduation, it featured a track named “Big Brother” where he detailed his relationship with JAY-Z. Though the pair has undoubtedly experienced their fair share of good times, West also describes a few frustrating moments on the track. Like the time Hov performed at Madison Square Garden, presumably for his 2003 “Fade to Black” show, and West was told that he had to purchase tickets like everyone else.
N.O.R.E. asked Monopoly about the song during their sit down, and the mogul spoke about West’s unapologetic candor and also confirmed that the ticket story was true. “I think he was just being honest as he always was,” Monopoly said. “He never would hold back. That’s why people just love him so much. Still to this day. That [ticket story] really happened. Back then, we was getting fronted on.”
8. Dan Pettigrew on Being Bought Out by Marlboro
As the cannabis industry continues to boom, tobacco companies have started investing their dollars to capitalize on the budding sector. In 2018, tobacco giant Altria, who owns Marlboro, invested $1.8 billion in Canadian cannabis company Cronos Group.
During the interview, N.O.R.E. asked Pettigrew if they would be willing to sell their company to Marlboro if they made them an offer. He explained that he would decline because he’s sure they wouldn’t pay them their worth.
“I think Marlboro is not going to give us our value,” he said. “It would be flattering if they were interested, but I would assume that they wouldn’t give me the most that we can get for what we’ve built. I think that’s not the best way to get where we’re trying to go.”
9. James Cruz on Pushing to Exonerate Minorities Locked Up for Weed Crimes
Cruz explained during his conversation with N.O.R.E. and EFN that he’s proud of the many Blacks and Latinos who have garnered success in the cannabis industry, but wishes there was more of a push to help exonerate minorities who have been in prison for weed crimes over the years. “I never thought that it would be this much of a great business for young Blacks and Latinos to get into and to really benefit from it,” he said. “But for me, it’s also a double-edged sword to see so many people incarcerated behind it. That’s what needs to be dealt with. I just wish we were more invested to help these guys out to get them out of jail.”