Dope as Yola is your favorite pot smoker’s favorite pot smoker. Hell, he may even be your favorite pot smoker’s favorite pot smoker’s favorite pot smoker. Tier three, dear readers. I don’t say this lightly. The 29-year-old “weedfluencer,” video maker, and cannabis culture arbiter is regarded as a walking, talking, toking authority on all things dank and green.
If you could smoke a 40-gram joint in one sitting, maybe you would be considered one, too.
Whether he’s documenting the latest consumption tech on his YouTube platform, hamming it up with Tommy Chong in a series called “Story Time,” or releasing THC-friendly clothes through his Push Trees brand, Dope as Yola has carved a particular niche within the cannabis space. Unlike the typical activist or entrepreneur, this pot personality focuses on entertainment first and foremost. Just peep his edition of our series “Consumption Report,” and you’ll get a puff of his weed-laced wit.
Rather, Yola and his creative partner, Jordan Kinley — former VICELAND creative director, as well as OG MERRY JANE fam — document the fun aspects of weed: Getting as high as humanly possible with the most next-level movers and shakers from the West Coast’s pot scene. And this approach clearly works. Since launching the YouTube channel in January, the duo has racked up nearly 400,000 subscribers, and millions of views to boot.
In effect, Yola embodies the entertainment industry mantra that it’s better to have 1,000 true fans than 100,000 fake ones. Except Yola actually has 100,000 loyal followers, and they unswervingly trust his taste and expertise when it comes to anything related to the sweet leaf. He’s got the budtenders, grey market hustlers, and extract experts singing his praises, but also translates to parents and amateur tokers. In other words, Yola can speak to both the heads and neophytes without sacrificing a nug of authenticity.
As such, it was only a matter of time until he launched his own cannabis company. You can only recommend so many cannabis products until it makes more sense to create your own, better brand. So this week, the “canna-celebrity” will release the inaugural Dope as Yola flower line, starting with a limited edition series of the custom strain, Red Velvet. (It’s a cross between Gelato #33 and Wedding Cake.) Then, every two weeks, Yola will pick a new strain to drop in small batches — not unlike a SoCal cannabis version of Supreme.
“This is an experiment as the brand-as-curator, not the brand-as-grower,” Kinley told MERRY JANE in an interview. More importantly, the Dope as Yola ethos “comes from a true, unabashed love of weed, versus trying to come into the space to make weed seem ‘smarter.’”
He means Dope as Yola isn’t trying to green-wash anything. The dude can smoke ungodly amounts of herb and (probably) identify a strain by scent alone — and he’s not going to hide that, thank you very much. When it comes to connoisseurship, wouldn’t you want a former weed dealer — one who can chief a pound in one sitting — to recommend what you smoke? Personally, I’d take his custom-picked releases any day over the overpriced jars sold by former rappers, VC execs, and other hucksters flooding the ganja game. You know, the ones who pander to Chardonnay moms but don’t know how to work a dab rig.
To celebrate the launch of the company, Dope as Yola and Kinley will be rolling in a party bus that will park outside a handful of LA dispensaries stocking the Red Velvet. Fans and strangers alike will be able to hang, smoke, and cop their own eighth before it inevitably sells out.
The two partners-in-pot made some time to chat with MERRY JANE about how the company came to fruition. While we sampled their premier strain, they explained what makes Red Velvet so special, why they focus on authenticity over profits, and how the brand will elevate cannabis to an art form.
MERRY JANE: You were slanging back in the day. Did you ever imagine a time when you’d be legally selling weed?
Dope as Yola: Oh, no. Not at all. I was selling weed out of my mom’s house without her knowing... because she’d kill me. I never thought in the world that I’d be selling weed past high school. Then start doing videos on it after that? Never. I always thought I’d be selling ten sacks out of Merced when I was a kid. I mean, obviously, I was moving up to packs when I was 17… but still. I thought I’d be working at some factory and selling weed on the side.
Can you bring me through this process of creating your own brand?
Dope as Yola: In January, I started talking with a friend who runs Cannabis Delights, and he was like, “I got the investment, I got all the licensing, let’s do our own line. When you’re ready, you can come under my wing, we can do a collab, you can do your own company.” So honestly, it was someone who, like me, was just trying to get their company started was the one who got me and Jordan the opportunity to actually create it.
Cannabis Delights is fully legal and Daniel Alfredo Ojeda, the CEO, has his own distribution and manufacturing company, and he has investors for everything. He said, “Work under me, I won’t fucking play you, it’s real.” So that’s where we’re at. Daniel is the man, and so is his partner, Walter Recao, the CFO. Cannabis Delights is super honest. And now they’re the ones giving out contracts. I had other opportunities but everyone is trying to take advantage of my fucking name — you have to do this, and you can only promote this… — and it’s like, “Get the fuck out of here!”
Starting with the launch of the YouTube channel, it feels like everything coalesced, and now you have a huge audience, prolific output, and your shit on YouTube isn’t getting shut down (for the most part). Then, you go from there to launching a Patreon and the weed brand. It’s like an explosion.
Dope as Yola: All that shit is more Jordan’s wheelhouse. He’s been focusing it.
Jordan Kinley: I sort of saw my role as someone who has to figure out how to lasso all the different things in Thomas’ life, and do it in a way that we could grow and scale and ultimately maintain his voice and maintain the spirit of the brand he already has. I took my background in media and advertising and tried to use those skills to amplify what was already there. That included things like teaching him how to edit and structure his pieces and organizing the videos into shows, rather than one-offs. In other words, we’re creating shows out of the things he was already doing, as compared to one-offs. Like packaging his videos into show series like “Higher Tech” and “Story Time.”
Can you tell me about choosing the flower for the initial launch?
Dope as Yola: I already know that everyone’s gonna be like, “Yo, you didn’t put OG in your jar? What the fuck’s wrong with you, you love OG.” Not every video I make is like, “Oh, I love that kind of stuff.” It’s more like, “I know you guys love that kind of stuff.” Not every shirt I make is something I want to wear, but I know that the shirt will speak to these people and they will be more stoked that I can hit all of it and still do my own thing.
So with the weed, it was like, what can I do to make everyone happy while staying true? It looks fire, it’s got color. If you don’t like color in your weed, you’re crazy. Not everyone just likes green weed. If you have color, people who like green weed aren’t going to complain, either. So you win right there. And the smell is un-fucking-believable. I was shocked at how good the weed was. I was nervous that I’d smoke it and it would be just OK. And dude, those growers up in Sacramento are killing it, man. They grew perfect fucking weed. It’s kind of fruity, but it also kind of has the musky taste of a fucking gas, but not OG. It was very weird. It had the elements of an OG taste, without being an OG taste. It’s the most unique taste.
Honestly, dude, I felt mellow. I didn’t feel like I was dying, coughing like I do with my gas OGs… I could still work and type while I was smoking a joint. Smoke it yourself, though! If it doesn’t smoke good, I’m not putting it in a fucking jar. Our strain? There’s NOTHING wrong with it. It’s perfect. There’s not one thing I could say, like, “Oh I wish the nugs were better, or I wished it smelled better.” No. It’s almost as if I had a dream nug, a dream strain, and they were like, “Yeah, here it is.”
What’s the actual name of the strain?
Dope as Yola: It’s called Red Velvet. At least, that’s what we’re going to call it. The cross is Gelato 33 and Wedding Cake, so it’s gas-y but it has so much color. The cross is usually called Ice Cream Cake, but I’mma call that shit Red Velvet. I can call it whatever the fuck I want, and it’s a little bit better of a name. And when that strain’s around, you know exactly what you’re going to get. I don’t want to compromise anything.
Will you both tell me a little bit about the branding? I’ve seen so many cannabis brands at this point, and I feel like your packaging and branding stands out like crazy. How did you guys develop that, and what were the goals?
Jordan Kinley: I kind of threw the concept out there, and then saw it come to life. What I like about it, in my head as an idea, is that it nods back to classic American ethos in arts and culture. We’re going to be elevating cannabis to an art form. It’s interesting because there are a lot more references that I didn’t really see, and other people have noticed them after the fact. I think the branding goes back to it being this classic American vibe, but sort of re-contextualizing it for the culture that we have now, and showing that cannabis has always been a part of American culture, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.
The brand comes from a true, unabashed love of weed, versus trying to come into the space to make weed seem “smarter.” There’s this instinct to make weed work for your grandma, and I think that’s always the worst possible instinct to start off with from a design process. I understand the instinct to make weed smarter in the context of prohibition, though, and we heavily respect those who have sacrificed their lives to free this plant. And if I had to guess, I’d say those people who have sacrificed their lives for this plant could relate more to Thomas’s life experiences and would appreciate his approach to cannabis more than the sterilized VC-funded brands emerging in the legal cannabis market.
You’re sick of companies pandering to “Chardonnay Moms.”
Jordan Kinley: Pandering to everybody. I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve sat in where they’re like, “We want our weed for everyone,” and I’m like, “OK, so you mean you want to reach no one… You have no point of view.”
It goes back to the point that we need to start comparing the cannabis industry to the alcohol industry. Everyone who says, “We want to make weed smarter because that’s what makes me want to buy it…” and I’m thinking, when you want recommendation for wine or beer, you don’t go to your nerdy friend who’s constantly trying to requalify beer as “smarter” or whatever. You go to your friend who’s probably a fun guy, but maybe slightly an alcoholic. At a certain point you have to start to pivot the conversation to showing people how and why to love weed.
Dope as Yola: The way I see it, I can tell an old woman everything I do, in a way where she’s like, “Oh… Oh!” Or I can tell someone my age the same thing, and they’re like, “Oh cool, that’s crazy…” It’s the same exact job, it’s just the way I say it. I see a person and I know exactly how they want me to talk to them. It’s the way I get it across. You don’t want to be abrasive to certain people because you’re going to scare them off.
Again, you’re not pandering to the Chardonnay Moms.
Dope as Yola: No, but I can talk to them.
Jordan Kinley: I’d honestly rather have Thomas recommend my mom what weed to smoke, rather than other people. He just knows… It’s an instinctual thing. You just meet people in life, and you know they’re mavens. They have instincts, and you trust their connoisseurship.
What are you doing to celebrate the product launch? What makes it official?
Dope as Yola: This weekend, we’re going to have a party bus outside these legal dispensaries, because you can’t smoke in a legal dispensary. And outside, we’re going to film. Jordan will set up a live stream. We’ve already filmed a lot of blog-style things leading up to this day, so this is like the final fucking party day.... This is what it’s all leading up to. Everybody who’s of age, that’s legal, come out! If you want to buy the weed, buy away! If you want to have a smoke-out, too? Come on the fucking bus! How cool is that going to be? Oh, I can buy the weed? Yeah, and we can have a party for three hours. Don’t worry, it’s going to be FUCKING sick.
How many dispensaries will the product be in to start?
Dope as Yola: To start off, we’re limited. We’re trying to be super limited on weed. It’s limited because these grows aren’t doing warehouse, mass-produced weed. Every plant is touched. These guys are fucking with every plant, every day. Pruning, everything. So there’s ten pounds at a time of this; there’s 12 pounds at a time of this. Not 50 pounds, like all these other brands do. But then again, all those other brands — when you open their eighth in a jar, it’s fucking old! Because it took them so long to trim it because there were 50 pounds!
So it’s almost like limited-edition drops.
Dope as Yola: Exactly. And that’s what’s so important. I want the person who hates me the most to smoke the weed and go, “Damn, that’s fire.” Then that means the fans who do like me and do like the weed are going to be so happy to support something without lying about it.
Something else I’m curious about is now that you’ve got the Patreon, the YouTube platform, and your own brand, how do you think they will all evolve, and how will each outlet inform the others? How do they all grow together from here?
Jordan Kinley: This is really where I trust Thomas on this stuff because he’s watched so many people come into this industry, do their thing, some successfully and some unsuccessfully. I think that he’s got this amazing sixth sense about what brings success in this place. I always lean on him as an arbiter about how we message things.
One of the messages that excites me most about what we’re doing is that I think people see that Thomas’s voice represents a time and a place and a culture that’s very important to cannabis as a whole, and specifically California cannabis, which is the mecca of the weed world. What the brand is promising is an extension of that voice.
And last question. Out of the other flower brands out there, what makes your flower special or stand out, besides you selecting it? Any additional thoughts you want to add about what makes Red Velvet so bomb?
Dope as Yola: It hit every single thing to the point where I can’t think about a bad thing to say about. I’m the biggest critic of my shit of all time. I criticize my shit the worst. So if I put something out in a jar, it better be great… I could leave it in a room, and come back in knowing no one will talk shit. I want to leave it in a room full of fucking dickheads and come back, and they’re going, “Yo, that’s fucking fire.”
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