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CJ Wallace has no memory of his larger-than-life father Christopher Wallace — aka The Notorious B.I.G, aka Biggie Smalls.
He was only five months old when Biggie was murdered on a Los Angeles street in 1997. For much of CJ’s early life, the picture he carried of his enigmatic father was the same as his public persona — a hardened gangster, a drug dealer, and a legendary rapper. But as he got older and heard stories about his dad from his mother, R&B artist Faith Evans, and his grandmother Voletta, a new portrait of Big Poppa started to emerge.
“You wouldn’t think about that just from the way he carried himself, but he was really a sweetheart. He cared about everyone around him. He was a loving guy,” CJ says. “I’m hearing so many stories from my mom and from my grandma about how much I’m like him.”
Among those many similarities was a deep appreciation for cannabis – not as a party drug or street corner hustle – but as a medicine and a means to tap into their abundant creativity.
Last week, CJ, 22, along with his step-father Todd Russaw and entrepreneur Willie Mack, launched their cannabis company Think BIG in honor of Biggie Smalls. Their first brand, The Frank White Creative Blend, are limited edition pre-rolls made in collaboration with Lowell Herb Co.
Think BIG has plans to expand into vapes, edibles, journals, apparel, sketch pads, and more. They will also focus on criminal justice and charitable causes. Both companies will donate a portion of the proceeds of the Frank White blend to the Prison Arts Project, which provides art education to incarcerated individuals.
We caught up with CJ and Willie to get the skinny on Think BIG.
What inspired the idea for Think BIG?
CJ: The origins of Think BIG began with my youngest brother, Ryder. He was diagnosed with nonverbal autism when he was around two years old. He’s always struggled with coming up with phrases and words and figuring things out. Early on, the doctors wanted to prescribe him with pharmaceuticals like Ritalin, but my mom [Faith Evans] was against pharmaceuticals. She told me one time she went to one of his schools and saw a lot of the other kids who were on Ritalin and other drugs like that. She said they looked like they had lost their souls.
We did our research and saw that there were so many other kids — not only autistic children but those with other disabilities — who had used cannabis to help treat their disability. It was really a no-brainer for us because we saw all of the benefits from cannabis and seeing how he had acted with us, it was immediate. No question that cannabis was helpful.
He became a lot less frustrated when he wouldn’t be able to come up with the words that he’d want to say.
At what point did you make the jump from seeing benefits of cannabis to creating a business?
CJ: We had been using different products with my brother since he was probably six or seven. Last year, me and my [step] father, Todd Russaw, started looking at other options, seeing who could help us get into the industry and put our ideas on paper to see what the reaction was. A mutual friend introduced us to Willie Mack
Willie: When I first met CJ and Todd, it was more a question of, What do you guys want to do? I wasn’t interested in just launching a celebrity brand like Biggie Blunts. We had an opportunity to do something else. The first thing out of CJ’s mouth was, "We don’t want to do anything obvious. We want to help people." He told me the story of his little brother.
At the time, I was the chief marketing officer for a company called Starling Brands out of Canada, and one of the products that we carry is Jayden’s Juice, a CBD tincture created for a little boy named Jayden, who’s one of my business partner’s son. Jayden had a thousand seizures a month from Dravet Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy.
Unbeknownst to me, CJ had also been researching Jayden’s Juice and trying to find it for his brother. That was the “aha” moment for us, like okay, we’re on the same path.
So what was the next step?
Willie: I believe that a business is a reflection of who you are as a person and your personal goals. If we can find those passion points and use them to pull out the values and the goals that exist within your life overall, it becomes much easier to shape and build a business around that.
With that as a framework, the questions became: What are your goals and wishes, hopes, dreams and fears as an individual, as a man, as an artist, as a creative, as a person, so that we can build this business and find those points that connect to who you are in the longer term.
It would be easy to go the route of doing Biggie first, but CJ’s a young man. As he starts to grow in the next four years, what’s his story? What’s his narrative? What is he building?
That’s when we settled upon the idea of cannabis being looked at as a tool for curiosity, creativity, contemplation, healing, and criminal justice. Those five things are important to all three of us.
CJ: The creativity definitely goes back to my childhood. Since I was little, I’ve always seen cannabis being used by my family and in the studios. We had a home studio when we lived in Atlanta (Bad Boy South), and there were so many different artists and people that would come to the house. Cannabis was always a huge part of the process. Hits were being made — from Missy (Elliott) to Farrell to Timbaland.
Willie: On the criminal justice side, we watched our communities and people of color be over-criminalized with this war on drugs, and especially the war on cannabis.
We’ve always believed that every cannabis business has a responsibility to address that, one, from a legalization standpoint so that we can move to federal and hopefully international legalization. Number two, how do we deal with all of the people who are locked up for nonviolent, illegal cannabis offenses?
CJ: Just hearing the early stories about all the struggles my father had to go through with cannabis, going in and out of jail. He got arrested eight or nine times. His longest actual charge was a cannabis charge. He was in jail for about nine months in Atlanta. That’s where he started his passion for writing and composing. That’s the story we want to tell in conjunction with, obviously, social justice and criminal justice. Getting people to honor cannabis and creativity and how they coexist.
You didn’t want to make this all about Biggie, but you did name the company Think BIG. Explain your thought process.
CJ: I really just loved the phrase “think big.” That’s really what the point of it is — trying to get people to be more curious and more open, but also more accepting and aware of all of the different disabilities and challenges people are going through. Think BIG is definitely both a play on my father and getting people to think bigger about themselves.
You were too young to know your dad before he died. When did you first learn who he was?
I wasn’t put on to my dad’s music until I was like six or seven. I think one of the first songs my dad played me was “Warning” or something like that, and he said that it was a very scary moment for me. I was in the back of the car, and he said he was looking at me through the rearview mirror and my face was just like, “Who is this?”
When did you find yourself really appreciating his legacy?
CJ: Man. I think after I did Notorious. I was probably like 13 at the time. I actually played my dad as a kid in the movie. That was the first time it soaked in. We were in Brooklyn, on the same street where they had his funeral. I was inside his apartment where my grandma and he lived when he was young. It was a lot of emotion, a lot of stuff I had never felt before. That was the real eye-opener for me in realizing who he was. There were so many people on the street watching us film.
What was your father’s favorite strain?
Lamb’s Bread. That was Bob Marley’s favorite strain, as well. My Uncle Dave told me about the first time he smoked with my dad in Jamaica. He was 15, and I was also 15 the first time I smoked. Just seeing that parallel right there — we both were interested in it around the same time. For him, the first time he smoked was in Jamaica. I can only imagine the experience, the quality, the natural flowers.
For people who don’t know, explain where the name Frank White comes from.
It’s from the movie, The King of New York. Christopher Walken plays Frank White, who is a big-time gangster. Basically, my dad took that nickname from Christopher Walken because he felt like he was the King of New York. So that was his almost alter ego, almost like his shadow figure. I was always really against using my dad’s image. However, I could shape the brand around the idea of him, like Frank White.
Why not just use your dad’s image and sell millions of blunts?
That was the easy way. My goal is how can I continue to be original, be myself, and tell my story as opposed to continuing my dad’s story that’s been told over and over? I want to tell the new story from the side that people don’t know about.
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April 16, 2019 at 10:11AM