Photo: Nerissa Nefeteri
  /  08.11.2022

With anthems like “We Want Freedom” and “Be Healthy,” M-1 of the hip hop duo Dead Prez has always been a champion for education and forward-thinking within the community. Urban Aroma is a New York-based, social equity-driven cannabis platform. With locations in New York and D.C., plus a website, consumers can find resources that allow them to connect to cannabis brands, delivery services and dispensaries — all of which support legalization, social equity, fair access and consumption for all.

M-1 sat down with REVOLT to exclusively discuss how Urban Aroma began, the benefits of cannabis, the mass incarceration of Black and brown people for using cannabis, despite its many healing properties, and much more.

How would you best describe your company, Urban Aroma?

Urban Aroma is a tool. It’s a cannabis directory of sorts. It’s a cross-section of where you can do more than just find cannabis. You can interact, find communities, find information and the rest. So that’s what Urban Aroma is and what it’s about.

Awesome! How did you and your business partners come up with the concept?

I began Urban Aroma a few years ago with one of my partners who’s overseas and what we began to see was organizations like Weed Maps, who we have much respect for, were operating in green areas, but there was this big void and gray market in the cannabis area. So what we wanted to do was be able to provide that service because anybody who knows the legacy of cannabis and legacy operators on the East Coast, it’s as far and wide as it is in the West. The West wouldn’t even be the West if it wasn’t for the East. “The Chronic” changed the game and so we have been purveyors, connoisseurs, directors and operators of it since, and what Weed Maps does is connects and intersects those people with the culture of cannabis. We also add on the activism aspect of it.

Me, from Dead Prez and the work I do, and even with cannabis, there’s a lot left to be done to get real justice, especially for Black and brown people as it relates to cannabis.

That was an amazing introduction to what Urban Aroma is. I checked out the website and I saw that you have a ton of resources on there, such as allowing sellers to sign up and list their products.

Thank you. What we do as a service is really just shine a light on people who are already doing it. I’m happy to do that. Imagine what the world is like without it. You know what I mean? Us trying to connect in the dark. It makes everything much more difficult. With voices like mine and people who are involved, it’s not just weed. But you can definitely be listed, we curate that. This is carefully curated by the finest of tastes and varieties that we know in this community. They can vouch for it. You can come somewhere where you get what you ask for, whether it’s Sativa, Indica, or a brand that you rely on — Viola or Chemerinsky, Gumbo or Runtz. It’s a real Runtz. And that’s what we do.

Speaking of social justice, because you do a lot of work in that field, we have to talk about the headlines. Do you have any thoughts on what’s going on with Brittney Griner’s case?

Obviously. What it does is brings Brittney Griner’s case to international standards and puts cannabis so visibly high on the what to do next list. It raises the priority of how to perceive not only cannabis and the policies in America but even internationally. Because who gets thrown in jail for less than a gram of cannabis oil?

A vape at that.

We do, though. Who gets thrown in jail? We do. And that’s what you see in America. We paid the price. This is really a glaring example of what the Biden administration, who made promises to take on cannabis but has not delivered, should be doing. It’s an ungentle poke in the side of people like Kamala Harris, who threw so many people in jail because of weed in California, who must do right by this. Obviously for BG. Obviously we are throwing a beacon out there to support her and hope that when she does come home, she has the right kind of receipt that she should receive from our community. To me, it stresses cannabis policy. It stresses social equity. We are the ones who pay the greatest price for this so we should be the forward-leading voice in cannabis, especially in New York City, which is where I’m from.

There are so many people sitting in jail for this, yet it’s becoming legalized in a lot of places. We’ve got companies like Urban Aroma and in addition to connecting sellers and curating, you help with pardons and exonerations.

I’ve been a global force connector for a while and a revolutionary before people knew me in cannabis. You know me through Dead Prez, I’ve been fighting for the freedom and liberation of Black people for years and years with many organizations. That is akin to what we’re doing with Urban Aroma. We want to shine a light on community organizations that are taking action and really making moves. One of those, Mission Green, has a guy named Weldon Angelos who’s done crazy work. He works in the hip hop community with a lot of the big West Coast greats — Snoop Dogg and Cypress Hill and all of them — and he ended up doing some time. He’s come home and created Mission Green. The mission is to directly deliver resources to cannabis inmates to meet their commissary. I’m talking about bread and clothes. People need to know that you can give to that.

It’s different even asking people to give to, let’s say, a political prisoner. Cannabis has become, like you said, so normalized, so decriminalized that now grandmas [are interested in] it for their cataracts. When you talk to Al Harrington from Viola, he has told me that he got into cannabis because he [used] it for his grandma who was having glaucoma issues. He’d been in the NBA for many seasons before and never smoked it. So this is real medicine. The way people see and view cannabis has changed completely. It’s a champion today. Back in the day, we was crouching down in the corner or the alley trying to get high. We was looked at funny. People was getting thrown out of the club for it. Now we’re celebrating it.

The irony falls heavy on people who are still in jail while it’s being celebrated on the outside. So we’re here to free them, we’re here to shed light, we’re here to bring some home. I think this brother’s name is Andrew Kelly — in California right now serving a life sentence for the same amount of cannabis that BG had. In LA, right now. So, it ain’t just international. It’s happening right here, right now. Shout out to all my people who came home — Evelyn LaChapelle, Corvain Cooper, people who had life sentences and long a** sentences. That’s what justice is gonna look like. So Biden if you want to do something, you gotta bring the people home, all of them, not just some of them. All of them.

I can’t even wrap my head around how the cannabis industry is so helpful with issues like glaucoma or chronic injury like in Brittney Griner’s case, and even the Urban Aroma website discusses using cannabis to treat nausea — yet, so many have life sentences for it.

It could help more people if we studied it better. If we were allowed to study it better. If it wasn’t the type of drug that they’re considering it [to be], according to the U.S. government. We could study it better to see how we can target exact illnesses and really do therapeutic work with cannabis. And I’m just talking about the active elements — THC, CBD, CBG and the rest — we’re not even talking about hemp, yet. Which is a cannabis byproduct that has over 180 uses that can change the economy of the United States. I’m not even gonna go there. We’re just gonna stay in the medicinal aspect of it.

Earlier you mentioned how Mission Green works with artists like Snoop Dogg. Does Urban Aroma work with any to continue to educate people about cannabis?

Yes. The statement that Mission Green signed had Lil Yachty, Drake, Lil Baby, all the littles — just kidding. Not all of them, but Weldon was able to touch the “now” community. He’s not just talking to old rappers like me and Snoop. Shout out to the Dogg, who I was just with. I do wanna say that is the power of what we’re talking about as far as multigenerational. As far as Urban Aroma, to reach all the levels of community that we are, I’ve reached out to damn near every level of community that I know. In our galleries, dispensaries in New York — one in Brooklyn and one on the Lower East Side of Manhattan — even just on the walls of our gallery spaces.

I’ve reached out to my contemporaries who came up in the industry with people like Ernie Paniccioli, Daniel Hastings, who shot everybody from Tupac to B.I.G and DMX and Lox and people like myself. And Daniel Hastings who shot Raekwon, JAY-Z and his album covers. These are on the walls of our galleries. It’s all related to cannabis in that way. That’s just one aspect of the culture that we’re in. Artists who are rappers or musicians that we work with, people like Styles, Jim Jones, Dave East. We’ve worked with Rakim, whose got a line (Higher Frequency Flower). If you out there, I’m working with you. That’s what I do. I connect with the artists. If you’re reading this and I haven’t connected with you, soon come. Shoutout to Conway, we’re about to do Conway. Benny the Butcher and Westside Gunn. There’s no place we ain’t gonna touch.

So we know cannabis has medicinal properties, but what’s your best recreational story?

Ok, boom. Before it was popular, I’d always been kind of a weed snob. Even in New York, I always had the highest grade. Anybody who knows me knows that’s what’s good with M-1 of Dead Prez, which has made me really good friends with a lot of people. I’ve smoked with the greenest of artists and ball players. We used to blow big back in the day. So the story is, I go on tour. We’re doing 40 states on a bus. I make it my duty to pick up tree in every spot we stop. And I wanna get the finest. If it’s not good, we’re throwing it out the window. But I keep it on me. I smoke some of it, but I make sure I keep a little eighth. I roll it up, put it in my little box and put it in the freezer on the bus. The fridge on the bus is not that big, so it’s just a little space. But that’s my s**t. So I’m gonna have my weed in there that I collect from all the states. I think we’re in Texas at this point, we’d gone to like 32 states and I have —

A lot.

An array. A variety. So it’s one of the last dates of the tour. One of my homeboys takes the thing out of the freezer and he’s rolling some up on stage. It’s the last show. I’m bragging on stage about this exact little box of weed and how I’m gonna take it home to New York and smoke out everybody. Lo and behold, I left it right in that club. Whoever found that and my black Dead Prez hoodie, you’s a lucky motherf**ker.

They got a great show and a good collection. Now since you mentioned smoking with some of the “greenest,” do you have any tips for beginners?

Take it slow. Puff puff pass means just two puffs. You don’t need long puffs. It doesn’t take a lot, especially these days. Weed is powerful. It’s not the same weed that we used to smoke. I thought about that the other day. If I could time travel back to 1970, and show them a nugget of what the f**k we smoking right now, they wouldn’t believe that’s weed. I 100% believe they would feel that ball of furry s**t you got in your hand is not weed.

But real talk, it’s powerful. It’s grown with intent, especially the Indica. You have to know what you’re smoking and really be around somebody who can say, “This is gonna make you feel this way and that’s gonna make you feel that way.” So you can be guided through an experience, cause you can have experiences that you don’t wanna have. So with that being said, for a beginner, consult with a good budtender. That’s what we have at Urban Aroma.

Thank you so much for all of this information. It was a pleasure speaking with you. Where can we go to learn more about the company or to follow you personally on social media?

My Instagram is @m1deadprezrbg and the company page is @urbanaroma_. It’s been great speaking with you as well.

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