Hearing about a rapper's new weed strain is sort of like hearing about a celebrity's new podcast. Your eyes roll, and life goes on. Well, East Coast hip-hop luminary N.O.R.E. has both — but unlike most of the shit we smoke or hear with a famous person's name attached to it, N.O.R.E.'s work brings a fresh, piney breath of authenticity.
N.O.R.E.'s Drink Champs podcast, a series of recorded conversations with his hip-hop friends during which they drink and smoke pot, has gone viral several times because of the confessions and stories he's pulled out of rappers, who are notoriously tough to crack. His new cannabis strain, a collaboration with wholesale grower Cherry that produced the OG-heavy Super Thug (named after one of his most popular songs), is as pungent and powerful as the rapper's personality. We recently chatted with N.O.R.E to learn more about his love for the plant, his blunt-smoking record against Snoop Dogg, and how cannabis has impacted his career.
Westword: So this sort of reminds me of when LeBron James picks out a new Powerade flavor. What are you looking for when picking out a strain named after you?
N.O.R.E.: Shit, thank you! I think the most important thing is the people I'm in business with. Rappers having a strain is a fad right now, so I wanted the actual company to be something to believe in beyond my name. I visited Cherry a couple times, and I love what they're doing. And I wanted an OG strain. I'm from New York City, born and raised in LeFrak City of Corona, Queens, and we're smoking on Sour Diesels and OGs out there. This was all a no-brainer.
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With so many rappers having their own strains and cannabis lines now, is this just another thing to talk shit to each other about — who has the best strain named after them?
Oh, yeah. That's happening right now, and I believe I've got the best one [laughs]. I'm up for the challenge with anybody. But yeah, I think that's dope — the fact that this is now a business at the end of the day. I think that rappers in general will start having more strains, because it's sort of contagious.
What's behind the bulk of your cannabis use? Is it a creative thing? Do you use it for medical purposes?
I don't want to sound crazy, but I don't do anything without cannabis. If I have to take a shit, I roll a blunt. Before I brush my teeth, I roll a blunt — and after I brush my teeth, I'll smoke that blunt. It's just a part of my life, and an everyday thing. I'm medically approved in Miami, too, and I don't believe this is a drug; I believe it's medicine. When I smoke, life isn't that bad.
What about the creative process? How does cannabis impact that?
Some of the best ideas I've ever had came from smoking good cannabis, and some of the worst ideas I've ever had came from smoking some bad cannabis. You gotta watch what you do, ’nawmean? But anything that makes you think is an advantage. Anytime I'm being creative, whether it's my show, Drink Champs, my other shows or performing, it's all a creative process where cannabis is involved.
How do you get guests to become so comfortable on the show with you? Most of these people have high profiles and don't drink or smoke pot for a long, recorded conversation.
I think part of it is trust. Who I am in hip-hop is a trustworthy person, and it's easy to fall in front of a person you trust, because you know that person isn't going to [pull out his phone] and start filming them.
Even though you are filming them...
[Laughs.] Even though we are already filming them! But I put people in a position where they forget the cameras, and they trust me. And sometimes they shouldn't, because they have to realize they're a public figure. But sometimes it's great to see people be human. If rappers were superheroes, then the best thing about them should be their alter-egos. The best thing about Batman is Bruce Wayne, and the best thing about Superman is Clark Kent. You can't have one without the other, and that, to me, is the best thing about hip-hop.
Anyone ever get too stoned to participate in the podcast?
No. If they're too stoned, we like that. If they're too drunk, we like that, as well. What we don't like is people showing up drunk beforehand. We beg our guests not to drink before they come, because we really drink on set. We start the show sober so you can see how the process happens. Treach, from Naughty by Nature, he's my brother, but boy, it was horrible. He showed up, and I was just like, "Shit," because we look like bullies if we get him more drunk. But for the most part, we all have a good time. I haven't seen someone be a part of cannabis culture with malicious intent. It's like a wonderland medicine, and I want to reflect that happiness.
How has procuring cannabis changed when you're on the road as legalization spreads?
I've been touring for twenty years, and I didn't realize at the time that I was building these little armies in all these cities. I got a homegirl here who I toured with in Germany, and I know certain places where I go visit. As soon as I land in Amsterdam, I have a place that will have a care package for me. The only place I didn't have a pure cannabis connection was Japan. That was the hardest place to get weed on earth, and I was going up and down. And then when we did find it, we found the smallest amount for $500 — and we bought, like, ten bags! It wasn't even the best shit, but what are you going to do when you're out there — argue with them?
In Jamaica, there's this stereotype that they have bad weed. But when I went there, I hooked up with the illest dudes who had the greatest cannabis in the world. Most tourists get off the plane and they get all the tourist weed. They get this big bag of tree bark for $100, and they think it's fine. Curren$y — he's a big cannabis guy, and he tweeted the other day that Jamaica had some bad weed while he was there. I hit him up and had my peoples come by with a big bag of high-grade — that's what they call it in Jamaica — and it just shows that you can find great cannabis anywhere, as long as you know where to find it.
I'm glad you brought up Curren$y, because you can tell that he's someone who actually smokes as much weed as he claims to in his songs, which is a lot. Who are some other rappers or friends of yours with iron lungs?
Even when I watch movies and I see people smoke cannabis in them, I can tell if they're just actors and they're not enjoying that shit. Curren$y is a real smoker. Snoop outsmoked me in New York, but I outsmoked him in L.A., so we're 1-1.
You keep win/loss columns about this?
Yeah, man. Ain't gonna lie, because I disappointed my friends the first time. Right after all the Death Row Records shit, Snoop wants to meet with me in a hotel in New York that he supplied. Some real Frank White shit. On our way up there, the alarm is going off for like six floors, and when we get to his door, there are police standing in front of the door. So we're thinking that it can't be Snoop's room, but then the police are just like, "You here for Snoop?" The police were protecting Snoop so he could smoke! This guy had pounds everywhere, in New York City, that he brought in. I was just like, "Holy moly guacamole," and we kept smoking, smoking and smoking.
I told them I needed to take a five-minute break, and my boy told me he'd never heard me take a five-minute break. I had to get Snoop back. So I went to L.A., and I got him back. I visited him on the night that he was on The Man Show. I finally made him quit. The second he said, "Nah, cuz. I've had enough," I was just like, "Yes!" One to one.
Rick Ross is another real smoker. But let me give you an amazing story. Styles P is a gangster, right? Well, we're in Amsterdam to be judges for this weed convention. So we're all there, looking [at the different strains], and my man Styles P pulls out the magnifying glass! It hurt me so much to see this gangster guy with a magnifying glass! I just told him, "We're rappers, bro, we're not going to get a job wit this shit." And he says, "I take my shit seriously!" Big ups to Styles, man, because he's a real smoker.
And didn't you just end up getting a job with this shit?
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Word! I actually did. That's hilarious.
How much does cannabis play a role in relationships and collaboration in music?
Since COVID-19, I don't think it has, because no one is sharing blunts anymore. But prior to that, that was the best way to squash beef or form a relationship. Sitting down and talking about what kind of bud you like, that's the best way to bond in life. It's not just a rapper thing.
What do you think of all these new ways to consume cannabis nowadays? Do you like dabbing hash that's over 90 percent THC?
I feel at home. Listen, everyone in L.A. is going to give me a whole bunch of slap when I say this, but I actually like Denver cannabis more than I like L.A. cannabis. I'm not dissing L.A. cannabis, but I just like the way it's grown here. If I had to go number one, I'd say it's Denver.