Interviews

Cannabis Branding, 4/20 Shows and More With Ru Johnson

Ru Johnson of Roux Black Consulting.
Ru Johnson of Roux Black Consulting. Glenn Ross
On Brand

Covering Denver’s hip-hop scene for Westword served as Ru Johnson’s introduction to the entertainment industry many moons ago. With that inside perspective, she eventually developed her own company, Roux Black Consulting, with the goal of elevating various creative institutions through campaign development and operational work.

In 2017, Johnson's company began to focus on brands that use their platform to lessen the impact of the War on Drugs. Combining her interests, she began building connections among Denver's many art, entertainment and cannabis projects. We caught up with Johnson to find out what she's learned while monitoring the city's shifting trends, and what the new year has in store for high minds.

Westword: You say that cannabis and music go together like first cousins. Can you expand on this notion?

Ru Johnson: Some people say that cannabis and music would be like brother and sister. But what’s really funny is that cannabis and music are more like your first cousins, because you don't do everything you do with your siblings that you do with your first cousins. Usually, if you have cousins, you know that there are life and worldly experiences that happen when you connect with someone who has similar values systems and maybe even a similar foundational structure as you — but they have a completely different perspective. That’s how it is with music and cannabis. You can definitely go to a music show and find people who don't smoke cannabis, but you're for sure going to find people who do, right? That's the basic level of it.

How have marijuana and the arts shaped Denver, specifically, as we know it?

In Denver, specifically, what we've found is that because of Amendment 64 and adult use, there was so much more economic freedom and connection between music and cannabis. People have considered Denver to be a flyover city, but once adult use came into the mix, people were bringing in artists from anywhere you can think of, because the economics were there. So that's one big change that we saw.

More cannabis brands [began] sponsoring live music and just enmeshing themselves in live music, especially in Colorado. Number one: Denver is a live-music city. If you want to find the largest group of people who are likely into your product, a live music show is where you’re going to do it.

What does Denver have to look forward to music-wise in the coming months? I hear there may be some exciting performances in store, especially around 4/20.

It’s 2022, so I don’t know if the world is going to burn down, okay? Every day we get up and we build Rome, and we hope that we wake up and our work is still before us. So with that caveat, I am very excited about where music is going in Denver on a high national level, and also on what the indies are doing.

Tons of really great shows are happening around 4/20. As always, Red Rocks is ground zero for the dopest stuff, the dopest concerts, and this year is not any different. I think it’s Redman, Method Man, Pepper and the Underachievers. It's such a unique and eclectic lineup. And, of course, there are going to be events and things happening throughout the city.

What I'm also really excited about are a couple of shows that are happening before 4/20, particularly Action Bronson. What’s so great is that Action Bronson is a character, and Mission Ballroom is one of my favorite places to see shows, so I’m excited to see him there with Earl Sweatshirt. Of course, I might have to trip a twenty-year-old to get in to Billie Eilish in March, right? I'm also excited about so much music coming out of the local scene, like the indie scenes. I'm really excited for Trayce Chapman's new album that's coming out, and outside summertime in Denver, because that's where all the real cool secret shit goes down, and it's really fun to just sort of mob around the city and see what we fall into.

Touching on the cannabis side of things, how do you think Colorado’s overall cannabis industry has evolved in recent years, and how do you see it continuing to evolve in 2022?

I think we’re seeing that a lot more people are paying attention to the depths of the cannabis industry. When a state legalizes or allows for adult use, a lot of times that can take up a chunk of the conversation. People are like, "Oh, you can go into a place and buy weed and it's totally legal!" And that was sort of the novelty, the honeymoon phase of the branding. What we’re seeing now is that more people are paying attention to the truly devastating effects of the War on Drugs and how many of those objectives continue to devastate some of the same communities today.

We know that in Denver, and all over the country, there are social equity programs that are designed to lessen the impact of the War on Drugs. These programs exist all over, but none of them are exactly working in the best way, and that includes Denver. I think what we're going to see is not only more conversations around how social equity applicants are able to benefit from the city’s programs — because we are going to see changes happening — but I think we're also starting to see increased conversations about the importance of minority ownership in the cannabis industry, particularly in a place like Colorado, where the minority percentage [in the population] is so low anyway that it's even lower when it comes to minority ownership. I think we're going to start seeing those shifts in conversations as policy turns toward really making sure that social equity is at the forefront.

In your opinion, what trends should those involved with cannabis, music, fashion and art look out for in the new year?

I think that consumer messaging is the most important thing. The reason this is so important is that the pandemic changed everything, and it's continuing to change, and people's opinions on it are continuing to change and evolve. If the messaging for consumers is not consistent in terms of how we are reconnecting in society, music, fashion or whatever, then we're going to have a big-time problem. Live music cannot survive if the messaging around who can attend shows and the requirements for those shows based on the pandemic are not clear.

Within fashion, we’ll never sit arm-to-arm, elbow-to-elbow, sneezing all over each other front-row at a fashion show ever again if this doesn't calm down, right? So you can take your freaking fantasies and throw them in the trash. We’re not going back to brunch. There are all of these potentials. So the trend that everyone is really going to need to tap into is going to be consumer messaging: how you're reaching your consumers, keeping them engaged, and making sure that your directives are clear so that we can operate together.

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