CJ Wallace was five months old when he lost his father. And while his dad's memory lives on through platinum records, grainy freestyle videos, dorm room posters, Instagram captions, and the larger-than-life persona of The Notorious B.I.G., it was the man, Christopher Wallace, that CJ had long sought to know and understand. That search led him a number of places-talking to family, friends, even portraying his father in 2009's Notorious-that would ultimately inspire CJ, alongside co-founders Willie Mack and Todd Russaw, to launch Think BIG, a social movement and company centered around cannabis and its uses as a tool for "creativity, contemplation, and healing."
It's no news to fans that Biggie was an avid cannabis user ("Smoking blunts was a daily routine"), but the stories CJ gathered about the late artist helped paint a picture of the man-one who fueled his genius, like many others before him, with a generous helping of marijuana smoke.
"I got to talk to my uncle...I think he was actually the first person my dad smoked weed with, and I found out that we actually smoked weed around the same age. I was 16," said Wallace. "His first experience was way cooler than mine, in Jamaica. You know, in his homeland. I can only imagine the experience that he had. And he was with family, so he was probably very comfortable."
Today, Think BIG, in collaboration with Lowell Herb Co., is releasing its first cannabis product: The Frank White Creative Blend. Named for Biggie's iconic "Frank White" alter-ego (inspired by the mafia kingpin played by Christopher Walken in King of New York), it's a pre-roll pack made from "signature sun-grown California cannabis, custom blended with Orange Sherbet, Banjo, and Rattlesnake Sour Diesel." It's available at LA's Rose Collective and Sweet Flower for $40, and a portion of the proceeds will benefit California's Prison Arts Project.
CJ Wallace and Willie Mack hopped on the phone with Esquire to talk about Think BIG, cannabis legalization, and reversing the damage done by the war on drugs.
Cannabis has always been a part of their lives.
Wallace: Cannabis has sort of been in my family for as far back as I can remember. My youngest brother, Ryder, was diagnosed with nonverbal autism-my mom was always against using pharmaceuticals like Ritalin and opioids-so cannabis, CBD, was definitely an option we looked at and researched. We started giving him CBD gummies; as he's gotten older, he loves the Jayden's Juice product.
Mack: My first experience with cannabis came from growing up in D.C. in the '80s and watching a war on drugs devastate D.C. and New York. And watching the AIDS crisis, and people fighting to get legalization for cannabis seeds for nausea and things of that nature. Me, knowing I was a gay man, I was like, wow, a lot of things were in my head about fear-fear from AIDS, fear from having sex, and also fear from this drug that was going to fry my brain. So we both kind of had this familiar connection to cannabis that really put the foundation for what we wanted to start. We said, well, how do we change the conversation around what cannabis means?
Music and marijuana were part of growing up.
Wallace: Just living in Atlanta for a moment when my mom was working on Bad Boy. Everybody was living in the country club, like Usher. Bobby and Whitney were living there. A couple of the guys from 112 were living there. People were always in and out of our crib. We had this dope studio in the basement, and me and my brother and my sister, we were music heads. We were a musical family. We just loved being around that whole process. And cannabis was always part of the process.
"Frank White" is CJ's tribute to his dad's creativity.
Wallace: I've always been inspired by my dad and his alter-ego, by the ghostly figure of Frank White. I've always wanted to play with that, and this was my chance to do it. A lot of people don't really know this, but my dad actually went to jail a few times. His longest stint was about nine months. And that's when he made his decision to take his writing, his craft more seriously.
He'd always been writing, journaling, doing stuff like that before, but those nine months is when he really took it seriously. I think he wrote in over 10 composition notebooks. Probably some of his songs from Ready To Die and Life After Death were written in jail. So when you think about the darker songs, like "Suicidal Thoughts" and "N***as Bleed" and songs like that, I don't know what it takes to go to that place, but jail could be one of them. And that's definitely a story I want to share with the world, just as a creative to be able to take yourself out of that darkness and come up with such beauty is amazing to me.
Everyone should be fighting for legalization.
Mack: It just makes sense for the entire industry to be fighting for legalization, which would and should include social equity and criminal justice reform. From a purely economic standpoint, you're going to get a lot of people out of jail who knew the industry really well and who are consumers! When you add in the moralistic value aspect of it, it's like, how can you sit here and build a business when there are people in jail for doing the same thing you've done? Who actually built this industry?
They see a lot of hypocrisy in the legal cannabis market.
Wallace: We talk about this almost every day now. Just every other brand that's out there, if they don't have a criminal justice angle, they're doing a huge disservice to everybody. Everybody has, or should have, a responsibility to speak on that and do as much as they can to correct those wrongs.
Mack: It's disconcerting to see people like John Boehner and all these people who were sheriffs and D.A.'s now sort of having these...you know..."My views have evolved, and now I want to cash in." But not talk about, "Oh, I should make up for the fact that I was instrumental in putting lots of people in jail, breaking up lots of families, and writing policies that were created to criminalize communities." It's like, really? That's how you want to come out? The hypocrisy is astounding.
What are you doing to correct the wrongs? I'm happy your views have evolved; great. Have your views also evolved to start to lobby and petition for decriminalization and making up for the mistakes that you made? Otherwise, it's just lip service.
But we can all join the fight to right the wrongs of the past.
Mack: I was talking to a guy that was from NORML, who has been fighting for decades to get the laws changed. He had a good point. He's like, "If every person who bought weed had donated five bucks over the last 20 years, we'd probably have more money than the NRA." And I'm like, you know what? You're right. So I gave him $50. I'm like, "Here's $50 from me. Sorry. I'll send some more. I'll make up the last 20 years of not supporting you guys." We can all make a donation.
For Think BIG, Frank White is just the beginning.
Wallace: [I've got] so many different people in my head that I really want to work with. Just figuring out what's the right way. Puff is on the list, of course Jay is on the list. But you know, we want to make sure it's done right. So, you know, we've got some great ideas coming.
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