Monopoly and M-1, co-founder of Urban Aroma, sat down with Boardroom and exclusively shared plans for their Summer Series.
In June, Urban Aroma named John Monopoly as its CEO, where he will work closely with the company’s co-founders M-1, known as one-half of Dead Prez, and Umi, an artist and filmmaker to usher in its next chapter.
Urban Aroma serves as the leading cannabis platform connecting New York and Washington, D.C. consumers to cannabis brands, delivery services, and dispensaries that support legalization, social equity, fair access, and consumption for all.
One of Monopoly’s first priorities as CEO is Urban Aroma’s Summer Series, fundraising events in New York throughout this summer for philanthropic cannabis such as Mission Green and Fortune Society, also focused on social equity. The company will donate 25% of summer series sales to the aforementioned organizations.
Boardroom can exclusively report that the Summer Series lineup will include legendary artists Mike Epps, Rakim, and Styles P.
Monopoly, a music industry and marketing veteran, is credited with discovering and managing long-time client Kanye West. Ye shouted out Monopoly during a surprise appearance at the 2022 BET Awards, where he paid special tribute to the host of the evening, Diddy, as well as his longtime business manager, Monopoly.
During the speech, Ye said, “To hear the way someone chop a sample, and me and [John] Monop rushing to see who can get the Bad Boy mixtape and playback the original version of ‘[It’s All About The] Benjamins.'”
Ye’s love for Monopoly speaks to why he’s so fitting to spearhead the day-to-day operations for Urban Aroma: the ability to trust and believe in a vision, without being able to fully realize it yet.
Monopoly has also worked with artists including Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliott. His experience launching brands at the intersection of entertainment and technology sets him up well for the role, having worked with the likes of Pheed, Zumani, and Guff during his 25-plus years developing musical acts, brands, and cannabis companies alike.
Monopoly and M-1 sat down with Boardroom to unpack Urban Aroma’s mission.
Nate Louis: How has cannabis played a role in your own personal lives?
JOHN MONOPOLY: I have used cannabis as a medicine, along with the medicine that I take for my personal mental health issues. I have bipolar disorder. It’s something that I was diagnosed with when I was a child, and something I’ve been dealing with my entire life. Cannabis has always been a good way [to treat it], along with the actual pharmaceutical medication that I take. It’s helped me to regulate my mood and stay healthy. It’s been a great medicine for me.
M-1: I just wanna say hearing John is a testament to the role that the plant has played in my life. That of the plant medicine, the healing mechanism. I was talking to a recent constituent, and the plant, it helps us be more ourselves. And I do think that that’s important in a world where we’re in an existential crisis, and more than ever, we need to be more in touch with ourselves. I recognize this cannabis as a healing of the nation for us, and I’ve been medicating with it since I was a youth.
NL: How did you first come across Urban Aroma, and what made you both want to get involved?
JM: I was working with Kanye on his management team a couple years back, and he brought on M-1 as a consultant. I had always been a fan of his but didn’t really know him personally. Throughout the process of us being in close quarters, though, we developed a friendship and a mutual respect for one another. We were both hustling hard trying to help our brother achieve some big goals.
After that, we kind of just rocked and stayed in contact. I would always peek in on him and what he had going on, and vice versa. He told me about this project [Urban Aroma], and I was just intrigued, so we figured out a deal. Now I’m on the squad, and it’s been amazing!
M-1: I just have to follow and echo John’s sentiments. We met in the battlefield [the Donda rollout], and I had a reverence for his work for many years before, being someone I see as a contemporary, who I can learn a lot from.
Right upon meeting with John, I recognized a likeness in a lot of things culturally that we could deal with. I saw that he was astute around cannabis, and it was also a part of his life. Urban Aroma, for me, happened when I partnered with a former colleague of mine in the industry, around this idea of a cannabis directory.
I directed that with operating in the gray zones, meaning the areas approaching legalization in many different facets, but not completely green. So, we began to envision Urban Aroma as more than just the place for your local cannabis operations or dispensaries but also a place where people could find information, education, activism, and community. As we began to build this idea, we knew we needed someone at the helm who understands culture and how to bring people together like John Monopoly, so that’s how we ended up partnering.
NL: Can you speak to some of the work Urban Aroma is doing to support New Yorkers formerly incarcerated for cannabis through their partnership with Mission Green?
M-1: We see the way cannabis has, across the United States, been advantageous for the state government and even federal government to have legalized and decriminalized. However, it has not been advantageous at all to the Black and Brown community, who has felt the brunt of the stigma and the law.
Since there’s this new perspective and understanding of the plant being championed as medicinal, Urban Aroma has sought out to be one of the leading voices in balancing the scales of social justice. And that means talking about it with the people who have been directly affected by it. The people who are incarcerated, the people who already did the time and who still are living in that way. We call ‘em the “legacy operators” in this community.
We partnered with a guy by the name of Weldon Angelos [of The Weldon Project], a formerly incarcerated individual, who is very active in bringing justice to cannabis in a way that’s relatable, specifically to hip-hop music, as a record producer for most of the top names on the West Coast and even the East Coast.
Clearly, there is a relationship between hip-hop and cannabis. Welden, who also signed a bill that went through the Senate, which included names like Drake, Lil Yachty, Lil Baby and others, has been helpful so we decided to go further and do a campaign that directly contributes to incarcerated individuals in prison.
NL: How does Urban Aroma assist in creating a community that supports creative endeavors throughout the city?
JM: When you think about creative endeavors, it brings to mind the Summer Series program that we have with one of our partners, Legacy NYC, at 98 Orchard Street in New York City. You’re going to be seeing a lot of different activations, pop-ups, parties, and special events at that location for weeks to come.
M-1: There’s a recognition that New York is a community and the cannabis community, we are more powerful if we operate together under one mindset. There’s room in New York, and especially legislatively, for everyone to be involved.
So we want to happily partner and break bread with places like Happy Monkey in the city and Astor Club and our friend Pizza Pusha, who runs Stoned Pizza, and all of whom are in the community. The Zaza spot in Harlem. We have to create an environment where commerce is great, and we see cannabis as a viable and legitimate aspect.
NL: Not only are you guys helping to facilitate connections, but you’re also very much a voice for cannabis consumers too. Where does the curation aspect come in, and how do you know which places in NY and D.C. to suggest?
JM: We keep our fingers on the pulse of the culture because we are the culture. We’re a part of the lifestyle, and we live this. We have a network that spans, not only domestically, but globally of like-minded individuals that assist us in identifying those right places and curating those correct methods to get the data we need to give to the people that come to our platform.
M-1: I know that if you go to UrbanAroma.com, you’re going to find the top of the top in cannabis on the Eastern seaboard, and even in Barcelona, and we’re expanding to new cities.
NL: How crucial was it that Urban Aroma be consumer-focused, run by people like yourselves, and focus on solving real issues, such as social equity, faced by those who are actually consuming the products themselves?
M-1: Well, this has to be the way that we rewrite history. Cannabis is phenomenal, but we don’t speak on it just from the recreational aspect, but you know the economical impact, the social impact, the geopolitical impact. We know the power of the plant in real time, across many spectrums.
For instance, one of our partners Isaiah Thomas and one world farmer who is attempting to replace steel automotive parts with hemp-based automotive parts. He expanded a CBD farm of 4,000 acres that he has in South America, making him the biggest Black-owned SCBD operator in America. Many people don’t know that about Isaiah Thomas, but we have partnered with him and every intention we have in promoting the dispensary but also understanding how we can move the needle socially on how cannabis is perceived, even on a federal level, where we’ve seen there’s a Quagmire there.
With local government and New York City and what Mayor Eric Adams is saying versus [how] the Senate and Congress is moving, there’s a chance here to synergize a lot of people who stand unified on the question of cannabis. That’s how dead serious we take it.
NL: What lessons did you learn from the music industry that apply in this new space?
JM: I’ve been in the music and entertainment industry since June of ‘89. One thing I learned when I was very young is that no matter what you’re trying to do, you have to hustle to make it happen. So my first thing that I bring from music to this business is my hustle, my grind, my relentless efforts to make whatever I gotta make happen by any means necessary. I’ve worked on marketing and promoting, branding. Working on projects like that have taught me a lot of lessons that I bring to this space as well.
M-1: I just want to say that I’m proud to work with Mr. Monopoly. I think he definitely has his finger on the pulse of this community, which is the reason why you find him in these rooms with so many powerful voices. I don’t even have to drop names. They speak for themselves. But where I am sits directly in line with the legacy that I have from Dead Prez and speaking with a voice that’s from the people’s voice. This is a continuation of being an artist and moving the needle on our ideas about how the future’s gonna look.
NL: What can we expect in terms of collaborations and events? I see you guys have already worked with the likes of Talib Kweli, Nas and many more.
JM: Right now, we’ve got the Urban Aroma Summer Series. We’re closing a deal to do an event with Mike Epps and to do something with his brand. We’re securing Styles P, [and] securing Statik Selektah, Rakim [with his brand The Higher Frequency], so we’re talking to a lot of exciting people in the space.
M-1: The list goes on. Our Summer Series, a place where we can bring all these hats together in our event space, Legacy NYC. It’s gon’ be lit. [Laughs] Literally.